I was first introduced to computers in 1986 in Japan. In an odd turn of events that can really only happen in Japan, I got a job that required me to know Macintosh computers. I was given a Mac Plus with a 20 megabyte serial hard drive. Since then I have owned a number of Macs. Through the 90’s when the Apple product line was a complete disaster I bought Macs. In my house today there are four Mac , three iPads, four iPhones (2 of them iPhone 5s) in daily use. For years I have managed my music and video collection in iTunes and my photos in iPhoto. I am the only one in my family that does not still use an @mac.com email address, although firstname.lastname@example.org does still land in my inbox. For twenty five years I have been a proud, self professed Apple fan boy.
Steve Jobs was the visionary and guiding force of Apple. Steve was the reason that Apple products were different. Steve made things insanely great. Without Steve Jobs, Apple needs to find some one else who is crazy enough to provide the vision and design that differentiates Apple products. As evidenced by the Apple Maps debacle and the recent iTunes makeover, Tim Cook is not the man to do that nor has he yet managed to put a team in place that can. Apple Maps is terrible. The new iTunes looks like something Microsoft would release, the user interface now a convoluted mess. Professor Peter Morici very accurately defines the problem that Apple faces in this article.
When I joined Roku (you’ve seen Roku3, right?) two years ago, I asked if I could get a Unix based computer instead of the standard Windows laptop. They told me to pick one out, they would order it. I had used Linux before and wanted to support the Linux community so I looked for a system that came pre-installed with a Linux distro. I discovered System76. I ordered a Meerkat which has worked out really well. It came with Ubuntu 10.04 installed. My computing life was wonderful. With Ubuntu 11.04 and the Unity interface (which I still hate), I switched to Kubuntu. This was a real ah-ha moment. The KDE user interface is elegant, fun and kool. I enjoyed using it. Even more than I enjoyed using Mac OSX.
For a long time Open Source software offered a free alternative to commercial software but it came at a cost. It was typically more complicated to install, never quite completely compatible and always a lot uglier to use. OpenOffice was, and possibly still is, the typical example. It does work. It does offer the basic Office components. The user interface is ugly and under-developed. The functionality offered in the spreadsheet is short of Excel et al. Calligra offers an elegant, functional free open source solution that, so far, seems very plausible as an Office suite replacement. LibreOffice puts an elegant face on OpenOffice and improves the functionality making it a very viable replacement to Microsoft Office. In the graphic design world Inkscape replaces Adobe’s Illustrator. Krita is a digital paint program that replaces Corel Paint or Adobe Photoshop. Open Source software has matured to the point that I think it is completely viable as an alternative to the Apple/Microsoft/Adobe commercial software. The communities that have built up around these open source products are knowledgable, helpful and friendly. And the software is free.
My wife’s next computer will be a System76 Wild Dog Performance. My next computer will be a Lemur Ultra. The cases are not as nice as Apple’s hardware but I like the software better than what Apple has been producing lately and I definitely like the price a lot better. For my next smart phone, I am looking at Google’s Nexus 4. $300 to own an unlocked phone with no contractual obligations to any carrier. And if I get deployed again, it will work there too.