I read John Gruber's article about a week ago concerning how Mark Pilgrim has switched to Ubuntu after using the Mac operating system since its early days. Though there are very good reasons for switching, I decided that it was not a big deal for some long time Mac users to switch to a different operating system, especially if it is not Windows. After all, there must be a ton of users switching operating systems everyday, right?

However, today O'Reilly Radar posted an article on Pilgrim's switch. Pilgrim is joined by Cory Doctorow (he might be really famous to some, but to me he is just another contributor at BoingBoing, nothing more nothing less). And then after that article was released, it was slashdotted, generating a lot of comments. I suggest you go read that article first since there are a lot of valid points from both sides of the camp on this issue.

If this switch were to happen to a Windows user switching over Linux or Mac OS X, there will not be too much hype about it. In fact, Jason Kottke might be a bit presumptuous in saying:

If I were Apple, I'd be worried about this. Two lifelong Mac fans are switching away from Macs to PCs running Ubuntu Linux (kottke.org):

"If I were Apple, I'd be worried about this. Two lifelong Mac fans are switching away from Macs to PCs running Ubuntu Linux: first it was Mark Pilgrim and now Cory Doctorow. Nerds are a small demographic, but they can also be the canary in the coal mine with stuff like this."

Switching operating systems is a rather normal part of a computer user's life. Only die hard fan boys will stick to their favorite operating system from bygone years even though there is no longer any support for it. I believe the hype is due to the fact that no prominent figure has yet switched from a Mac to another operating system. Especially since Cory Doctorow is supposed to have a Mac icon tattooed to his bicep somewhere. However, many fail to remember that Steve Jobs himself switched from a Mac (or Apple) to OpenStep. And subsequently, OpenStep was incorporated to become OS X. I am actually glad that he did. Before OS X, the Mac operating system was rapidly crumbling and losing market share. Steve saw that OpenStep was better than what OS 9 was. He took the plunge and was rewarded for it.

Similarly, I guess that both Pilgrim and Doctorow have seen that there is something better out there for them. In this case, it happens to be their little pet peeve with closed and proprietary file formats. For most people, this is not going to be an issue. After all, there are open source alternatives to most of the applications that come installed with OS X. However, as Pilgrim himself notes, he is going to miss a lot of the OS X applications. No, and I really mean no open source software on Linux can compete with iLife. Google's Picasa comes very close though as a decent iPhoto replacement.

Some people feel that they have been bitten by the closed source formats because they cannot switch applications to view the same files. Nonetheless, few realize that most file formats that Apple uses is actually easily exchangeable with other applications. For text, there is always plain old .txt or even .rtf and .pdf. For images, you can easily organize your photos by folders named by date and keep your photos in .png or .jpeg. Similarly, you can always elect to store your other information in plain txt. And most Apple applications allow you to do this.

Pilgrim himself gives an example of how his iTunes database was corrupted. He postulates that had the iTunes database been open format, he would have been able to try to recover it. I, and some of the people who left comments on this blog, have a better idea: back it up! Corruption is tricky thing. Sometimes recovery is possible, but that is if the file format is designed to support that in the first place by introducing some redundancies. Most of the time, a restore from backup is still the best option.

When the bough breaks [dive into mark]:

"Why keep running them on an operating system that costs money and restricts my rights and my usage?"

Because, as many people will tell you, some of us just do not have the time to fiddle with the settings in an open source operating system no matter how well documented it is. Some programmers just need to code in Java or Ruby. The internals of the operating system matters very little. Or imagine your normal school teacher. Would she care if the file format is proprietary or open source? So the question everyone should ask themselves: do I care enough about open source formats? Don't just drink the kool-aid that all open source software is good and benevolent and all closed source software is bound to lead you down to future incompatibilities. Pilgrim might have the clairvoyance to worry about being locked down to the Mac in the future. However, potential switchers should be prudent enough to weigh their options at the moment and decide on the best time to switch. It's anybody's guess how Apple might change their operating system in the future. While completely making it open source sounds a bit far-fetched (as I recall, all dying operating systems in the past became open source projects during their end of days. I will be interested to see the future of Open Solaris 10) Apple might just be more transparent with their file formats. So, holding off the switch might not be such a bad idea considering the pain that comes from switching from one of the more user-friendly operating systems out there to one where you have to actually edit a text file to change your screen resolution.

Anyway, my prediction on this? I supposed that some other people (who are already on the verge of switching, mind you) will see this as the impetus they need to switch from the OS X to some other operating system. However, this number is going to be small. And it is going to be offset by the number of people who switch from some operating system to OS X. Moreover, people who can think objectively by themselves will be able to make up their own decisions. And not be influenced by these two people, be they Mac Nerds or not.

Heck, if Steve Jobs leaves Apple, I might be tempted to switch too. Who knows what kind of operating system his successor might approve of. It's all a matter of time and the number of choices available. At the moment, Windows XP is definitely not worth switching to. But who knows, Vista might be able to offer something better? Or Linux distros might have gotten so much better in a few year's time that it is worth switching over? But right now, yes this very moment, I do not see any reason to switch from OS X. It serves me well and I do not really care about open source formats.

Oh yeah, by the way, no matter how hard Ubuntu becomes for these two prominent figures, I predict that they will NEVER swallow their pride and switch back. Well, maybe they will but that is another story altogether. And then we will get another round of excellent slashdot comments.

By the way, here is a link to an article on LinuxDevCenter.com. The author is a long time linux user and just could not get used to the restrictive nature of OS X. In such a scenario, I agree that it is a perfectly good reason to switch back to Linux.

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