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July 25th, 2009

An All Macintosh Household…Finally

[Geek Alert…]

My Windows/Linux workstation, Mowgli, died some weeks ago.  It’s had a recurring problem having to do with somehow loosing the keyboard state when it was turned off and refusing to turn back on again until I’d gone through this ritual of unplugging the keyboard and switching off the power supply at the back end and then plugging the keyboard back in and switching back on the power supply.  It was a frustrating exercise in appeasing recalcitrant hardware and I was getting tired of it.  But simply replacing Mowgli’s motherboard wasn’t a simple option.  Ever since Microsoft went to its software branding anti-pirating technology what had been the painfully slow, gruesomely ugly chore of reinstalling Windows took on an added test of wills between Redmond and its customers. 

Please activate my license again.

You’re stealing our product!

No…I’m just reinstalling it.  Please activate my license again. 

This is not the same computer you licensed this software for. 

I had to replace the motherboard. Theses things fail you know.  Please activate my license again.

Ah-Ha!  The hard drive is different too!  And the video card!

Duh.  I figured as long as I was buying a new motherboard I’d upgrade a few other parts to.  Why is it every time Windows Upgrade runs my computer gets a little slower?

This is a different computer.  You are not licensed for more then one computer.

No…seriously…you think I’d go to all the time wasting nail biting hair pulling cursing profanely pain of installing Windows just for kicks and grins??  Hey, I know, I think I’ll reinstall Windows today.  No idiot, my fucking hardware failed and I had to buy new parts!  Activate my license again.

You’re a software thief!  You must buy a license for this software!

I ALREADY HAVE A LICENSE!!!

Please wait while you are transferred to our sales department…

&#*@%#$!!!…

I’d planned on just giving up on Windows and running Linux on Mowgli long ago.  But Linux has posed its own problems lately, the killer one for me being that for some reason "the community" decided to break Samba somehow.  Samba is the open source networking layer that lets you connect to Windows computers and share resources such as files and printers.  Previous versions let me network just fine with Bagheera, my art room PowerMac G5, and Akela, my Powerbook G4, just fine.  More recent versions can’t seem to talk with them at all.  Windows XP never had any problems talking to the Macs, so if there was a problem it was either something introduced in Vista or something introduced in MacOSX Leopard that only affected Samba, but not Windows XP.  Since I started networking Casa del Garrett, I’ve taken advantage of being able to balance my storage needs between the art room and the front office.  Networking here has to work, or I’m running up and down the stairs with a flash drive in my hand.  And while the exercise is probably good for me, the frustration isn’t.

I’m at a stage in my life now where I just need my computers to work.  I don’t have time anymore to keep on fiddling with them just for kicks and grins.  I have work to do, both at home and for my employer when I’m working from home.  I need things to be reliable here.  And the only absolutely reliable computers in the house for the past half decade have been the Macs.  I have never had any problems with either Bagheera or Akela.  Never.  I’ve had Mowgli apart dozens of times.  And when it hasn’t been apart, I’ve been struggling for hours to resolve either some Windows issue or some Linux issue, usually right in the middle of some other important project.  I need computers I can mostly just setup and use and they keep working.  That’s the Macs.

And the Macs had the added benefit of Much nicer software licensing terms.  There is no branding…at least none that’s visible to the end user.  You just install OSX and it runs.  I assume Apple already knows its own computers are supposed to be running its OS.  And I’ve upgraded both Bagheera and Akela twice now with no fuss at all.  What is more, I’ve actually replaced the system drive in Bagheera with a bigger one and simply file-copied over the old to the new drive and the new drive booted OSX without complaint.  You just can’t do that with Windows.  You need to use drive imaging software for that, and pray the anti-piracy code in Windows doesn’t decide you’re running an unauthorized copy.  Hell…I can file-copy the system drives of either of my Macs to an external drive and boot from it if I need to.  Try that on a Windows box, go ahead.

And the five license "family" OSX packs cost less then two single licenses.  That’s also true for the "productivity" software Apple sells too, such as iLife.  Ever since they came into the house, the Macs have just been all-around easier machines to live with.

I’d been considering becoming an all Mac household for some time now. My plain was to replace Bagheera, which is a PowerMac G5, with one of the newer Intel multi-core Mac Pros next year, and then move the PowerPC box up to the front office where Mowgli was.  But Mowgli died before I could put that plan into action, and my budget this summer just didn’t have room for a Mac Pro.  I considered a Mac Mini, but even one of those ended up being over a thousand bucks when I’d added the extra memory and disk space I figured I’d need.  And you’d better buy one of those with everything you want already in it because you are not opening it up yourself to add anything later.  

I really wanted something more like what I had in Bagheera.  The tower case Macs are so cleanly, so damn elegantly laid out inside that getting into one to add memory, or a new hard drive, is a pure pleasure.  I wanted to keep the option of working on my own hardware open.  I remember my jaw dropping when I opened Bagheera that first time to add memory to it and saw how beautiful it was in there.  Then later, when I opened it again to add a second hard drive, I was floored to see not only how easy it was, but how Apple had even put the extra screws I’d need for the job in a series of screw holes right next to the empty drive bay.

So I looked around at the second hand market, and found a company that deals in used Macs.  They had another PowerMac similar to Bagheera for about $450.  With added memory the total cost came to $550.  It’s sitting beside me now, and I’ve named it Baloo. 

Baloo came vi FedEx in a huge box swaddled in what looked like spray insulation foam.  The first thing I did after unpacking it was take it up to the office and plug it into everything and boot it up, to make sure it arrived in working order.  It was running Tiger (OSX 10.4) and seemed to be in fine shape. It was only later that I discovered it was not the machine I ordered.  I had ordered a machine similar to Bagheera, a 1.8g G5 with 1g of system ram.  What I got was a 1.6g G5 with 512meg of ram.  But I’d also ordered an additional 2g of ram to put into it, so I still had enough to run a decently fast machine.  Instead of it being topped up to 3g though, it would be 2.5g. 

I spoke with the company I ordered it from and said I’d be willing to live with what they sent if I got a refund for the difference.  It was annoying, but not fatal because I had the extra memory and the difference in processors wasn’t that great.  And I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of sending it back and waiting for another one.  The company agreed to send me a refund after apologizing for the mix-up, so I’m satisfied.

I got out my Leopard install disk and did a clean reformat and install on Baloo’s system drive.  I’d saved money by buying the family license pack for two household Macs…I was saving more now by adding a third.  Problem is none of the household Macs, which are all PowerPCs, will run the upcoming "Snow Leopard" version of OSX, so the next OS upgrade, when it happens, will be a lot most costly.  But I’m not going to be in any big hurry for it.

When Mowgli died I pulled its data drive and put it in a IDE to USB converter box.  Then I hooked it up to Akela, then copied its contents over to an external Firewire drive I’d partitioned and formatted in the MacOS file system.  While I was running Akela as my front office computer, I kept the firewire drive attached to it and used that as my data drive.  With Leopard installed on Baloo, I simply unplugged the firewire drive I had connected to Akela and put it on Baloo and now I had all my data on Baloo now. At some point, I’m going to add a second data drive to Baloo and copy the firewire drive to that, and then use the firewire drive as my backup drive.  I’m going to keep the external backup drives I used with Mowgli archived in case I find I need something off of them later.  The backup drives have data backups for both the Linux and Windows systems I ran on Mowgli and not all of that was copied over to the firewire drive I have on Baloo now.  I’m also archiving the original data drive that was in Mowgli.  Baloo starts with a fresh set.  Hard drive space is cheap.

I’ve been adding the software I normally use in the front office to Baloo as I go along.  Firefox… Thunderbird… Neo Office on the Mac rather then Open Office… the NetBeans IDE for Java development…  Oh…and MoneyDance, the checkbook software I’m using lately.  MoneyDance is a Java application, so it runs on Windows, Macs and Linux, and the user license attaches to the user, not the computer.  So if I want to run it on any of the computers here at Casa del Garrett I can, provided that it’s me that’s using it, and only one instance of it is running at any given time.  Nice.

So Baloo 2 and I are getting acquainted and the process is happening just the way I expected it to…smoothly and without fuss.  Baloo was the name of my old IBM PS2 Model 80, which is headed for the recycling center soon now.  So I’ve passed the name along.  In Kipling’s Jungle Books, Baloo was the wise old teacher.  In its first incarnation, Baloo was the IBM PC I used for maintenance work on the old DOS programs I’d developed back in my early contractor years.  I had an Ethernet card in it, and actually had it networked to the other household Windows computers with a copy of Windows For Workgroups For MS-DOS.  I haven’t fired up Baloo 1 in years though.  In its second incarnation here, Baloo is the old PowerPC mac that’s taking care of my front office chores while I figure out what to do with Mowgli. 

I still need a machine I can run Windows and Linux on occasionally for work related tasks, so that’s what Mowgli may become eventually.  Or not.  I have a whole new test center facility that I’m working on at the Institute and I can use that if I need to for any Institute work.  I really don’t feel like bothering with either Windows or Linux at home anymore. 

One Response to “An All Macintosh Household…Finally”

  1. tavdy79 Says:

    I’ve been humming and hah-ing over whether to get a Windows or Mac laptop next year. Having just recently had to buy my fourth copy of XP for the same machine because of Microshite’s attitude I’m increasingly inclined to go for a Mac. I’ll probably wait just long enough to find out whether Chrome is worth considering, though I could easily have it as a dual-boot on Delenn (the XP machine, 3.8Ghz Athlon with 1.5GB RAM) since I’ve heard it’ll be based on Linux. I have Ubuntu on G’Kar (my old computer, 0.8Ghz Celeron with 384MB RAM) and it runs almost as fast as Delenn, so Chrome should run like a whippet on amphetamines.

    Another reason I’m getting leery of Windows is my mother’s laptop. She got a good mid-range computer with XP 4 years ago, and it’s already running slower than a dehydrated snail after one too many spliffs. She’s had several people look at it, but nothing seems to work. I want something trouble-free, and Windows machines just aren’t.

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