An astronomer’s delight

The hot trend at the moment appears to be Planet. I have been reading Planet Classpath for quite a long time, and now we have Planet KDE, too. Nice initiative, but the consequences are a bit daunting, at least for me and my poor webserver.

You see, if you’re reading this posting from Fading Memories itself, you will have had to click on the “Read more…” link to see this paragraph. In order to conserve bandwidth, reader patience and now and then the pointe or clue of an entry, I tend to break my postings in an intro and the story proper.

Planet software publishes the complete story. I don’t have a problem with that, if I had I should ask Chris Lee to de-list Fading Memories. But I worry a bit about readers, about my ADSL connection which has to serve up my screen shots — but most of all whether these constraints will mean that I will find myself writing different things in a different way.

For instance, I hesitated whether I should write this little entry because it could sound like whining, combined with the mail I sent Chris and the bit of discussion over on KDE Developer Journals… Which of course meant I had no recourse but doing so, because otherwise I would have just done what I fear I would do. And things suddenly start getting convoluted.

Planet software, by the way, is interesting because it is, just like Akregator, one step back towards the good old times of Usenet. There is, in fact, an nntp RSS feed reader that makes your preferred feeds available as good old news to your news reader of choice — KNode, of course.  Nothing ever changes in the English countryside.

Still, Usenet, because of its extreme ephemerality (despite Google groups),  doesn’t produce as much anguish…

Checking out the opposition

While I’m bravely forging with Krita, I’m very well aware that mine is not the only game in town, and that it’s often a good idea to check out what other people are doing. An interesting conclusion is that natural-media type paint apps must be easy to do, since there are several cheap options that are really good. So: here’s an overview of what I’ve found floating about on the net. Most of it is Windows stuff; all of it trialware. Here’s my very cursory survey:

TwistedBrush by Pixarra

TwistedBrush is fun. I haven’t explored all the possibilities of this app yet — and I doubt I will, given the time-limited nature of the demo and the fact that I boot into Windows once in a blue moon. But the brush effects are way cool, the way you can define brushes and collect them (in the little box of marbles on the left) is actually prettyu useful. All effects work, the only thing missing is a mixing palette for colours. Definitely one to keep in mind.

Available for Windows, $49,95

Photogenics by Idruna

The main claim to fame of this app is that it can handle images with 16-bit channels, and handle them well, not in a limited way like Photoshop (which cannot paint in 16-bit). The other interesting idea is that filters don’t work on a selection, but as a brush; you paint with filters. That’s really nice, and a good idea. The tools are a bit limited, though, and the sidebar really doesn’t work all that well. But I have no doubt that this is the app of choice if you want to work with high-colour photographs or film material. I wonder if it uses OpenEXR.

Available for Windows, Amiga, Linux, Pocket PC, $699,-

Corel Painter

I regularly use the lite version of this app that came with my Wacom Graphire tablet on my mac. The lite version is fun, but a bit slow, and with a lot of lag in the painting. The full trial version for Windows is just as slow (even though the computer is about six times faster), and horribly buggy. That seems a Corel trademark, though, even in the days of yore, when I used Corel Draw on Windows 3.11, and their photo app, their apps used to crash regularly. It has a nice selection of brushes and things, but I cannot but feel that it has kind of over-grown, like an un-pruned vine. And, of course, as with all the natural media apps, Painter simply fakes the media, instead of really modelling oils and so on. Given the smooth, stable way TwistedBrush and Smoothdraw work, there’s no reason to invest in Painter.

Available for Windows, OS X, $249,-

Dogwaffle

I frankly don’t understand this app at all. I think it’s immensely powerful, and can be a lot of fun to use, but I cannot handle it. It’s not that it uses some weird custom widget set designed to mimic the Amiga (so does Smoothdraw), but it can do things I wouldn’t know why I would want to do it. It’s intended, I believe for people creating cells for animation movies, and no doubt it’s perfect for that purpose. But it’s cheap enough to simply buy to experiment with, and there’s nothing wrong, in the end, with idiosyncracy.

Very interesting colour mixing palette — works almost natural.

Available for Windows, $67,-.

MS Paint

Hah! Got you there, haven’t I? Thought I would class this little thing in with the big boys. But actually, it’s what I used to save the screen captures of the other Windows apps, and it’s nice to compare to Kolourpaint, below.

Available for Windows, free

Paintshop Pro

A cheap, but capable, Photoshop-clone. Look at the nice way the wave brush morphs the paint I put down before. It’s not a paint app, rather
an image retoucher, but it can do a lot. It has nice pipe-lined brushes, a bit like the Gimp (which nicked the idea from paintshop pro), and can do everything Photoshop can do for you, as far as I can see. Maybe no CMYK, but that’s no biggie for the ordinary home user. Most colour inkjets are R*G*B* anyway. Only… The interface is so crowded, cramped and tiny that I keep clicking the wrong thing. Good tablet support.

Available for Windows, $84,-

Photoshop

When the previous incarnation of the company I worked for went broke, and was re-created from the ashes, a lot of superfluous hardware was sold to its employees. That’s how I got my Pismo powerbook, and with the powerbook came installed Photoshop. Since nobody at Tryllian uses Photoshop for OS 9 anymore, I guess I have a more-or-less legal title to the app. Two versions: 5.5 and 6.0. As far as I can see, the main difference is that the brush options are a sort of long toolbar in 6.0, taking up lots of screen space and cluttering my app experience. I really like 5.5; I was quite surprised how much I liked it. Especially after my father demoed a few features he was familiar with from the Windows version.

This is the app and the version on which I want to model the first version of Krita, both UI-wise and feature-wise (without of course making a complete and blatant copy; couldn’t do that anyway).

It’s interesting, by the way, that my first reaction after having drawn a line with the Photoshop brush tool was ‘Wow. That’s way better than the Gimp’. But Smoothdraw, TwistedBrush and Sketchbook do a better line.

Available for Windows, OS X, $649,-

Sketchbook

The interface of Sketchbook — the little circle in the lower-left corner — is a remnant from the tablet pc days of Sketchbook. It’s actually very usable and leaves a lot of empty screen space for the drawing. Sketchbook draws a nice, smooth line, feels a lot like a 2B pencil in use. But the brushes are very limited — no natural media look-alike stuff, just fuzzy lines, sharp lines, wavy lines in various colours. Fun, but not as much as TwistedBrush or Smoothhdraw, and between three and four times as expensive.

Available for Windows, OS X, $179,-

SmoothDraw

I very much hesitate whether Smoothdraw or TwistedBrush is the better — sometimes I like TwistedBrush’s palette of brushes better, sometimes SmoothDraw’s row of tools. Both have a nice line, and are a lot of fun to use. Perhaps TwistedBrush captures the feel of natural media better, while Smoothdraw is easier to just start and sketch. Oh, and Smoothdraw works perfectly under Wine, too — almost a reason to plonk down $45,-, the price of a good book. And it’s in Delphi: parts of it are open-sourced.

Available for Windows, $45,-

KolourPaint

Clarence Dang’s successor to the monumentally inept KPaint of earlier KDE releases. Actually quite a featureful application (beautiful zoom dialog) — but marred by one problem. It uses the QPainter class of Qt, which means ugly aliased lines, like Photoshop’s pen tool makes. But this app has come a long way in a few months.

Available for X11, OS X, free

the Gimp

Earlier versions of the Gimp were merely idiosyncratic: from version 2, the Gimp feels actively user-hostile. It might just be an impression enforced by lurking on the extremely unfriendly Gimp developers mailing list, but I feel that the Gimp goes out of its way to punish non-expert users. The very worst misfeature is the dialog you get when you close an image that has changed. Instead of telling you it’s changed and asking whether you want to cancel, save or discard, it asks you wether you want to cancel or discard, with discard being the default option. That has bitten me so bloody often…

The rest of the design, with all the floating palettes that take focus when you click on one (which means that frex. ctrl-s to save your image doesn’t work after you have changed a tool setting), the uglification set in with the move towards Gnome HIG-compliance, and countless other irritations make this an unpleasant app to work with.

Only… Except… It is the only free, capable image retouching app available. Krita doesn’t come even distant, let alone close. So it’s what I use to work with photos and produce screen shots, even screen shots of Krita. But I really wish the developers would quit being so arrogant and would deign to look at other paint apps, and look at what people are used to a bit.

Available for Windows, OS X, X11, free

Krita

Did you know that making a paint app is a whole lot of work? I cannot imagine how people can do that work and sell the result for a mere fifty dollars. I’m beavering away like anybody, working my fingers to the bone, neglecting all my other hobbies^Wobligations, and what have I to show for it? An app that can paint a little, zoom a little, and save a bit. And most of the work has been done for me, too. But it’s also fun to do, and an educational experience. I finally know why I should have taken a few maths lessons…

Available for X11, OS X, free

Conclusion

If I were in the market for a paint app for Windows — a paint app, not an image retouch app — then I would buy both Pixarra’s TwistedBrush and SmoothDraw. Both applications are easy to use, easy to learn, fun to use, so affordable they’re cheap, are in continuous development, have great effects. I wouldn’t spend money on either Sketchbook or Corel Painter. Particularly the latter is a bloated, buggy monstrosity while the former errs on the side of bareness. Dogwaffle is interesting, but not for me. Photogenics is cool, but not easy to use and certainly not affordable.

As for the image retouch apps: Paintshop Pro is no doubt capable and draws a beautiful line, but the busy interface get horribly in my way. I’ve got both Photoshop 5.5 and 6.0 for OS 9 — legally, I hasten to add — and 5.5 wins in my eyes because it’s got a cleaner, sparer interface and still plenty of power. The Gimp, by comparison, is a UI nightmare. Definitely not something to copy for Krita.

Ps.: There are, of course, others, that I haven’t investigated yet. Ambient Design produces Art Rage, which is actually free…. RightHemisphere has Deep Paint, which costs $45,-, and can also be used a Photoshop plugin. Nature Painter gives us Nature Painter Digital Canvas, which looks fun to use, and is now $39,95 — usually $49,95. Finally, Eusoftware has Wizardbrush
at $30,-. Time for a reboot…

Visiting the Dark Side

Unless you count the few times I’ve putty’ed to calcifer from my father’s computer when I was visiting him, I haven’t used a modern Windows computer at all. My tax computer is Windows, true, but it’s Windows 95. My first laptop still runs Window 3.11 — and while both Naomi and Rebecca have windows partitions on their laptops, neither is really aware of that fact — I’ll wipe them one of these days, giving them extra room for their /home.

But when I got my computer back from Dell and found that I had to re-install Linux anyway because they had apparently given me a new motherboard (and kept one of the little rubber feet, grumbl, of course
it would be the one on the fan side), I tried to reinstall Windows XP. From the CD that came with the laptop, and that wouldn’t let me install Windows before. Now it did.

But gosh… To have to reboot a computer because you plug in a network cable. And the sheer lack of fun… (Although, in fairness, I’ve installed Gnome 2.6 on the Linux side of this laptop, and it’s just as much unfun as Windows is.) It’s quite a chore, telling Windows that it’s just a dhcp client.

And frankly, I don’t know why people complain about SuSE’s YOU script to download and update the NVidia drivers; with Windows I have to install a complete cd-full of stuff to get those drivers.

On the other hand, and this is an important point: Windows XP is on this 3Ghz laptop a whole lot more responsive than Linux. Gui apps pop up instantly, actions are carried out instantly, webpages render instantly (with FireFox) — XEmacs loads faster and is snappier in use. And Windows boots a lot faster.

And this is a Linux issue, not a KDE issue, because even if I run WindowMaker, then XEmacs and FireFox are still a lot slower than their Windows counterparts. Window manager actions, no matter which window
manager I use under Linux, are slower than under Windows. There’s a whole lot of room for improvement here.

The reason for this exercise was to install the various paint apps that exist for Windows only and mine them for ideas. I’ve hurried up and taken screen shots within the fifteen days trial allowed, and that investigation will be the topic of my next entry.

SUSE 9.1

In a previous posting, I mentioned in passing that I had received my copy of the new SUSE 9.1. I first installed it last Friday; both on my laptop, and my Rebecca’s laptop. Naomi wisely argued that she was satisfied with her 9.0 installation, and begged me not to bother. Ten years old, and already knows the value of the old adage ‘never mess with a working system’.

Installation on Rebecca’s laptop went without a hitch. And, in some ways, installation on my Dell wasn’t that problematic, really. I mean, ten years ago I would have been floored, flabbergasted, astounded and struck with awe with being able to install any Linux on any computer in half an hour from inserting the medium (of course, ten years ago, that would have been Slackware floppies) to hearing sound (but ten years ago I didn’t have any computer with sound), to seeing X11 run happily, have networking with the pcmcia wifi card work instantly. Ungrateful me, therefore, to be disappointed that even after a weekend of tinkering, suspend and resume nor DVD playback work. And the great apt repository on gwdg is still inordinately proud of their large repository of 9.0 rpm’s — and have precious little for 9.1.

And I didn’t spend much of the weekend hacking: Saturday afternoon, I spent painting something I’m going to call ‘The Contented Bureaucrat’, Saturday night I went to Church, as I did Sunday morning, and Sunday afternoon I became godfather to a dear friend who is currently hospitalized. And Sunday night, I was completely tired out…

Anyway, I’ve planned Wednesday night as the Suspend And Resume Will Work night…

Fairly frustrating

Yesterday, the postman tried to deliver my shiny new SUSE 9.1. Today, I had time to collect the package from the post-office, and even some time to try and install it on my new Dell Inspiron 5150 laptop. By now — five minutes past eleven, post meridiem, I am feeling fairly frustrated.

I was having such high hopes for this particular release. A 2.6 kernel should mean that suspend and resume works; SuSE 9.0 was a high quality release that gave me great font rendering, and I saw no reason why that wouldn’t be the case with 9.1. And SuSE 9.0 had supported all the hardware on said Dell, with the proviso that I had to manually do a modprobe hid to load the modules for the USB splitter cable that enabled me to use a ps/2 keyboard and mouse with this ps/2-port-less laptop.

However, it took a bit of fiddling — but not too much, and all was doable from YaST — to get the wireless network card working. Getting X to run was no trouble at all — but I haven’t tried to get the binary-only, proprietary, sick NVidia drivers that allow me to play dvd’s without jitter to work.

I still need to manually install apt-get, because SuSE doesn’t bundle that bit of essentiality with its distribution, afraid, perhaps, that people won’t buy a new box if there’s an easy way to keep up with all new software, instead of just security fixes. Sound seems to work, midi doesn’t, however.

In order to enable click-by-tapping-the-pad, I had to hunt for information on the web, only to find I had a choice between compiling a special XFree driver (only SuSE ships X.org…), or using a deprecated boot parameter for the kernel. I choose the latter, even though it was deprecated — I don’t need all the power of that special X driver, could do with the finicky install procedure, and needed tap==click. That should have worked out of the box.

And then the clincher: suspend nor standby works. Suspend hangs the machine, standby works, resume works, but somehow the screen doesn’t get restored at all. I tried using plain text mode, standby from X, standby from framebuffer console — nothing works. That’s going to take some serious documentation reading and experimentation. Suspend is a critical feature, I’ve noticed,and I’m starting to feel that having a bloody perfect suspend is worth paying double the price of a Dell for…

By the way: upgrading the old 9.0 system on the same laptop gave so many dependency errors, I gave up. I admit I had kept that system current with apt-get, instead of YOU, but still… I haven’t got all that great experiences with upgrading SUSE systems from one version to another anyway. Too much cruft remains behind, too much gets broken along the way.

So, what’s remaining still? Getting dvd-playing with libdecss working, of course, the NVidia drivers for X11, the Wacom Graphire tablet, the particular software selections, the profiles that switch between work, on the road, wireless and home lan, email config, checking whether cd-burning still works, discovering why the keyboard sometimes hangs on boot…

And fixing the freetype interpreter, so hinting is enabled. The current quality of fonts is abysmal… Especially with sub-pixel rendering enabled.

So, given that it has proven impossible to re-install the Windows XP that was delivered with this particular laptop, while a basic install of SUSE 9.1 took half an hour and gave me wireless network and a GUI, I am still rather disappointed. I have been using Linux since 1993, and by now I am thoroughly sick of having to hunt for information, mess with someone else’s particular idea of what a config file should look like and a system where not every little bit of hardware works like it
should out of the box. This little Pismo I’m typing this blog entry on has none of those issues.

I’ve been there, done the calculate-the-modelines X11 config dance, configured sendmail.cf by hand, installed Taylor UUCP and c-news, connected a laptop to login via xdm using a plip connection to the main machine, hacked termcap files, customized XEmacs so much it frightens my colleagues, and gotten dvd-playback working back in the days when decss was still controversial and hard to get. And it’s been fun, but I’ve done that already, and I haven’t got the slightest inclination to do it again, and again, and again.

But perhaps, perhaps, tomorrow, I’ll get that beast tamed…

Processing words

A recent, and very long-winded, thread on rec.arts.sf.composition about wysiwyg vs editors/formatters for fiction authors coincided with a blog posting by some high-ranking Microsoft manager who’s worked on Word for a long time. And that combination unchained the reminiscing beast in me…

You see, despite being only thirty-four years old, I’ve got about twenty-two years of experience with being aided by chips in composing text. It started with my Sinclair ZX-Spectrum. Not that I had anything to write about, but I avidly collected word processors, from TasWord to The Last Word, which was anything but, but very good anyway. Fortunately, I didn’t commit any immortelles to magnetic tape with either of those, or any of their competitors. Because at that time, my parents owned not only a real old-fashioned analog typewriter with hammers and everything, but also a Brother plotter/typewriter that carefully wrote out every letter you typed with a tiny little bit of a biro refill. In four colours, with graphs and everything. And you could correct any mistake, provided you noticed you’d made it within the last twenty characters. A friend of mine, Paul Eisner, thought I’d written — calligraphed, almost — the texts I published for Fantas, the periodical of the Genootschap voor Geofictie, myself, by hand. An understandable mistake, because the output of that typewriter was wobbly enough to masquerade as handwriting, especially for someone with handwriting as neat and legible as Paul Eisner.

Shortly afterwards I had saved enough money to replace the ZX-Spectrum (whose “j” key had broken — and any Speccy-user knows what a disaster that is) with a PC. And IBM-clone, a Spring Circle Super Turbo 8086 at — a whole 8 Mhz. And with it came a pirated DOS clone, and nothing else, but the neighbour across the street could provide me with The Quill, a word processor originally designed for Sinclair’s Quantum Leap 86008 micro by Psion. I’ve still got quite a lot of texts in that particular binary format. Cannot read those anymore, since the Quill came on 5 1/4″ floppies, and we don’t have a machine with one of those beasts anymore. Fortunately, I have print-outs of most of the stuff. By that time, I was 16 years old. The Quill was little more than a glorified typewriter, and had a hard time handling documents with more than thirty pages.

My next wordprocessor was WP 4.1. Or 4.2, I’m not sure. Either way, I used WordPerfect (an illegal copy, not honestly bought, I’m afraid) for a long, long time. I’ve got more than my allotted average of megabytes per human per year still stored in that format. Unfortunately, I don’t have either version of WordPerfect, nor yet a later version, the Linux version of WordPerfect 8 being incompatible with current X11 libraries. But that’s a later story: all that matters is that I cannot read the documents anymore, and that I really liked WP 4.2. It was simple, ran well on the aforementioned 8086, gave me plenty of lines of text (23!) and didn’t get in my way. I still have the keybindings in my fingers.

WordPerfect 4.2 was followed by 5.1 (and perhaps 5.2 — I disremember). 5.1 was a nice wordprocessor. It had italics, and could center text. And I was able to — with the help of a hex-editor — translate the application into Denden. Large documents, complex documents, entire grammars — no problem. I’ve got megabytes of text in WordPerfect 5.2 for DOS format. Pity I cannot read it anymore… Forgot
to save it all as plain text, I guess.

I had to leave WordPerfect for Word for Windows, version 2, because I needed to include IPA characters in my papers for Sjors van Driem. And when I learned that it was possible to get more than that silly letterbox worth of lines between all the rulers and toolbars on screen, I was quite happy. Wordbasic was fun, and even if Word wasn’t quite able to handle large documents, I was happy and productive. Again, megabytes of text — only Word 2 for Windows needed rather more bytes per letter than did WordPerfect. But I had — have — dozens of
templates for Word 2. (Word 2 used to run pretty well under wine, but since a year or three it doesn’t anymore.)

And then came Word 6. And all my templates were useless. All my Wordbasic macroes were useless. Worse — Word 6 couldn’t read my Word 2 documents without errors, and, even worse, not only messed up the pagination of really long documents, but just messed them up, corrupted them. I lost megabytes of text through Word 6. Fortunately, not much actual text, in terms of wordcount, because Word 6 really made files balloon.

Around that time, 1993 I guess, I started playing with Linux. I was rather miffed that there wasn’t any decent wordprocessor for X, and the group of Linux users was so small at the time, that Matt Welsh took the time to tell me that if I missed that application, I should write one myself. That was quite beyond my capabilities, so I settled for Jed, and later vi. And I created megabytes of text. That I can still read.

Even nowdays, when I mostly use XEmacs… And herein lies a less: plain text (utf-8 format) with formatting codes in plain text, is your safeguard for the future. Even if there are nowadays nice wordprocessors for X11: Abiword, and KWord, and OpenOffice writer.

SCO — and the Dutch Broadcasting Company (NOS)

Right, this is too silly for words. This morning the alarm clock radio woke me up with the NOS newsreading woman saying that “Deskundigen vermoeden dat Linux aanhangers iets met het MyDoom virus te maken hebben. SCO heeft een conflict met Linux.” (Experts think that Linux adherents have something to do with the MyDoom virus. SCO has a conflict with Linux.) — and today they declare SCO to be a ‘software giant’…I’ve grabbed a screenshot before the story disappears:

Anyway, real experts seem to know that this virus was written in Russia for spam criminals; it opens a backdoor and makes you box (if you’re so silly to run a vulnerable OS) a spambox. The SCO attack seems to be a mere sideline, a diversion.

But SCO… A ‘software giant’. It’s too ridiculous for words.

A Linux user and OS X

It’s tacky I know, and I am very much running behind the herd –so far behind, in fact, that the herd has already jumped the cliff — to write on this topic in the winter of 2003. But I don’t care all that much. I still feel the need… I am going to compare using OS X with using Linux+KDE.

I’ve been using OS X for about half a year now, in its 10.2.7, 10.2.8 and 10.3 incarnations, but I am long-time Linux user — I started using Linux in 1994 or 1993. At that time I considered FVWM to be a more user-friendly  and esthetically pleasing alternative to Windows 3.11, and generally
exactly what the doctor ordered.

And I didn’t revise that opinion until I acquired a computer that was powerful enough to run the first version of KDE; that made me leave FVWM. And I am still using KDE, don’t get me wrong, I’m even working on KDE’s paint app, Krita.

But when I got the chance to buy a second-hand Pismo powerbook for a pittance, I thought to kill two birds with one stone; first acquire a powerpc (and thus big-endian) based machine to test Krita on and second, to have access to OS X to port Kura to and to test PyQt.

Honourable and worthy goals, I am sure you will agree with me. However, I must also admit to an ulterior motive. I was getting rather curious after Apple’s NeXTStep based OS that was getting such rave notices from friends and colleagues. GNUStep has long fascinated me (I am still wondering why Miguel de Icaza thought it necessary to start Gnome when the GNU project already was working on a complete desktop environment. I know the GNUStep people deny it, but that’s no use: their applications don’t work at all well unless running inside their own environment.), and I used GNUStep from time to time when I wanted something that was less easy to use than KDE, more constrained, something that forced me to stay in one application
instead of hopping back and forth between work and Usenet.

A dual boot machine

Funny that, I don’t have a single dual boot Intel or AMD machine left. There’s one very, very old Compaq laptop that is too small and old to run anything but MS-Dos and Windows 3.11 on, and one almost equally ancient computer that runs Windows 95, mostly for my tax application — all the other computers, including the children’s computer and my wife’s laptop boot straight into SuSE Linux.

But the Pismo dual-boots Debian GNU/Linux and OS X. Because on the same hardware, OS X is more comfortable than Debian GNU/Linux; but it’s wonderful hardware compared with my previous Gateway laptops. And the suspend is even more wonderful — close the lid, and the computer suspends. Both in Linux and OS X. Try that with your fancy new ACPI Intel boat anchor! But… The Powerbook is still dual-boot. One reason for that is
that I still need to test Kura on OS X, even if it works now, But there is
more. Linux is simply not as comfortable on a Powerbook as OS X. And the reason for that is the trackpad. I can live with only one real mousebutton and two emulated buttons, but I simply cannot work with the jittery, nervous cursor that Debian GNU/Linux gives me on the Powerbook. I don’t know the cause, but whenever I move the cursor someplace, the cursor will make a little dance around and about the place I intended to stop, and then almost, but not quite come to rest in the right spot. With an external mouse
attached, no problems.

The keyboard has its problems, too. I can redefine F12 to Delete — and that helps. But this bugger has got a Dutch-style keyboard, with a narrow, high Return key, instead of the comfy wide Return key of my previous laptops. It’s killing my little finger, I tell you. But that’s not better with OS X.

Other problems with running Debian (or any other Linux system, I imagine) on my powerbook are: Blackdown’s Java won’t work — it quits complaining of an illegal instruction (an older version does work, but neither has an hotspot compiler making both very slow) — and my Lucent Wavelan Turbo Silver pcmcia wifi card crashes the relevant kernel modules. I am afraid it won’t get repaired anytime soon. Don’t get me wrong: I’m quite prepared to
start bug-hunting myself, but I’m already working on Krita, and I’m
not going to spread myself like molten butter all over the tablecloth of development.

So, I’m still using OS X a few hours a day; on the train to my work, on the train back home — that time I use mostly to work on an agent system built in Java, so that’s Java hacking, which needs OS X. And in the evening, whenever I don’t feel like sitting behind the desktop, I take the Pismo to my comfy chair and browse a bit, use X11 to export KMail and KNode to the laptop and read mail and news, write a novel, hack on Fading Memories
— nothing very demanding. Still, the minutes add up, and I clocked up considerable experience with OS X in a variety of tasks. (And Classic, curiously enough. I tried to work on a book of sermons by a very holy Archimandrite who has recently died and whose work I greatly admire, and I thought to use Microsoft Office 98 for it. It crashed and kept crashing, though, so I went back to OpenOffice. Which ate the book in its latest revision. If it weren’t Father Adriaan’s Voorlopers I was editing, I’d have cursed. Oh, and Debian’s OpenOffice is far more beautiful and far more usable than the version for OS X.)

A fair and balanced comparison between Jaguar and KDE 3.1

Using OS X really brought home the enormous advances made on the Linux Desktop front in the last few years. Fonts are one area where XFree now handily beats any opposition. People will rave about OS X’s antialiasing — but the only reason it looks halfway decent is because of the enormous size of the system font. In reality, the glyphs are fuzzy, especially at lower point sizes. Freetype, in contrast, presents a clean, clear, sharp glyph at almost any size, while still smoothing edges and curves.


OS X Rendering a website

 


Freetype and Konqueror rendering a website

OS X also isn’t as consistent as Apple would like you to believe. One problem is the brushed metal look that is applied willy-nilly to new Apple applications; not only does it look horribly retro, simply too Enlightenment”, it also clashes with the Aqua applications (and the Classic applications that you still can run.) That’s, without mentioning the subtly different Carbon API L&F, three different look & feels on one desktop, which doesn’t compare badly to the three that dominate my Linux desktop: Qt, GTK and Lucid (for XEmacs).

And then, OS X still shows its NeXT roots, for instance in the column-view in the finder and the file dialogs, or the dock itself. It also shows its OS 9 roots in the menubar on top of the screen; but that is a feature that has proven compulsive to me. While there is a KDE kicker applet that sucks up the menubar of KDE apps and shows it in a kicker (which you can place on top of the screen, of course), it is quite buggy, and besides, it doesn’t apply
to apps written in GTK or other toolkits. Otherwise I’d use it.

Pity, then, that Apple has messed up and decided to have the menubar handled by individual applications. This means that if an application hangs, and they do, you cannot access the little blue apple system menu anymore, because it’s handled by the hanging app. And that means that you have to activate another application to start the Force Quit thingy to kill the hanging app.

Another inconsistency comes from the OS 9 heritage: OS X is unix, and uses the forwards slash for its directory separator. OS 9 used a colon, and iTunes shows the colon when it wants to show you a file path; other apps show the slash. I don’t care one way or another, except in as far as I’d like some consistency, and perhaps a basic fidelity to the reality of the underlying system. Wrapping, when not accompanied with a hefty dose of abstraction always leads to complexity that can lead to bugs and errors.

The windowmanager is quite limited, even though the drop shadows are really useful — it did surprise me too, but they do add to a feeling of control and orientation — but not being able to resize the window except by the little lower right-hand corner is a pain. And it isn’t the window manager that decides how to redraw the window during a resize, but again the app. And that makes that some apps, like Camino, suck when you try to resize them.

OS X does look kind of not un-cool — and I admit to having been a heavy user of Mosfet’s Liquid widget style in KDE. But there’s a reason I’m still using Qt’s Platinum (inspired by OS 9, indeed) under KDE. It’s clean, clear, unobtrusive, doesn’t take too many pixels and can take any colour I like. I dislike having only the choice between bright blue and dumb smokey-gray. OS X just isn’t configurable at all, compared to KDE. Configurability is good, after all, I live inside that computer for twelve to sixteen hours a day, and it had better fit me like a glove. I am not prepared to forego the option to adapt software to the way I work in order to make it less confusing for someone else.

Missing, badly missing, is KDE’s minicli — the little commandline window that you open with ALT-F2, and where you can type anything, from a URL to a shell command, and have it executed for you. When using KDE, I never open a web- or filebrowser application; I press ALT-F2 and type an URL or a location. In KDE I am mostly unaware of the existence of the browser; KDE just gives me the view I need to do my work, or the page I want to read. By contrast, in OS X I have to start a browser, navigate to the location field and
enter the URL, or search for the correct bookmark in my list of hundreds of bookmarks. Those things take time.

But missing from KDE is the iLife suite of applications. I don’t use iMovie nor iDvd (and the dvd player insists that I shouldn’t skip the view-safe-don’t-watch-pirated-dvd’s advertorials that remind me so much of fuck-responsibly-use-a-condom campaigns), but iPhoto and iTunes are the slickest, easiest applications I’ve ever seen for managing my collection of holiday snaps and my collection of digitized LP records (now approaching 30 GB). With those applications I actually take the time to add metadata, assign composer, artist and track names to the music, instead of relying on the file-system for categorization. iTunes and iPhoto are compelling enough to keep using OS X, killer applications, in fact.

In general, OS X impresses because it, as countless other people have said before, just works. It may not always do everything I would like it to do, and it may not always allow me to do things the way I would like to do them, and it still crashes sometimes, but whatever I try to do, just works. And that’s simply not true yet of KDE. My daughters’ computer runs SuSE 8.2, and while Rebecca can play flash games from konqueror, Naomi cannot, and Menna now and then. KDE doesn’t include a decent picture manager — Pixie comes close, but isn’t included in KDE itself, being a product of the temparemental Mosfet. And when I make a typo in the minicli and press enter, SuSE 8.2 insists on telling me twice I goofed; as soons as I press ESC to get rid of the first messagebox, the second pops up. And when I’ve got an accidental Word document in a directory, KOffice tries to produce a preview thumbnail for konqueror. That’s nice, and something I’d like OS X to emulate, but when it fails, konqueror won’t show that directory giving me instead lots of error message boxes.

But, well, Jasper Pedersen has released an Iphoto clone, there’s Rhythmbox or Juk that clone iTunes, the KOffice bug is worked out, and my daughters should tell me when there’s something wrong and let me fix it, because I can and will.)

On the other hand, it’s just as easy to mess up OS X as it is to mess up KDE; when I installed a font I’d made years ago in Corel Draw, OS X would barf whenever I called up the font selection box in any Aqua application. Not to mention that time when I noticed a directory called /private that contained files that looked like the personal stuff of the previous owner. I decided to remove that entiry directory, not wanting to pry into Norbert’s private
life. That was a mistake, and I hosed OS X for the first time. It wouldn’t be the last…

Changes between Jaguar and Panther that I do not like

So, there I was, quite happy to have a choice between KDE and OS X, quite happy with either indeed. And then came Panther. Panther, Apple’s latest version of OS X sports a large number of changes — I use the word advisedly, since I don’t think these changes are universally improvements.

Expose is great, or rather, it would be if I had the habit of leaving open many windows on my desktop. But I like to see a bit of my wallpaper (currently a nice photograph I took of the island of Kea), and I hate seeing text that I am not currently working with in the background. So everything that’s not part of the current task gets minimized, and Expose doesn’t show minimized windows. Bummer, as the technical term is, I believe. (And the cmd-tab is still not as clever as KDE’s. And it sucks that the Finder, which I almost never need, insists on worming itself in my cmd-tab sequence. And it sucks that minimized windows are not in the cmd-tab sequence. And I don’t like the way cmd-tab cycles apps, instead of documents. I work with documents, not apps. Hint: cmd-tilde cycles documents/windows in an app.) I like the lack of pinstripes; that’s an improvement for sure, because those stripes were ugly as sin on my separate LCD monitor. But the new tab control — a row of buttons over a
sunk frame — is silly. It no longer shows what the tabs are for. The broken Apple logo on the startup screen is equally ludicrous. The gratuitous redesign of some icons is good for nothing. The ‘improved’ way selected icons are shown has an amateurish look, especially when combined with the silly little seven colors of flags you can give files. Fonts are still not
rendered as crisply as Freetype shows is possible. And I have a hard time figuring out why X11 has moved from /Applications to /Applications/Utils. No doubt the reason was good, but I don’t get it. All these things are just churn, nothing more. And I really despise the tacky metal look; as if we’re back with the Enlightenment window manager.

The really completely unmitigated disaster in Panther is the new Finder. The Jaguar Finder was already a very inferior product to even GNUStep’s (and presumably NeXTStep’s, too) WorkBench, let alone Konqueror. But that version was at least moderately consistent. The new Finder can be shown in either a metal look, and then it looks as if it’s got a browser-like interface, or in an Aqua look, and then it looks as if it tries to imitate the OS 9 Finder.

John Syracusa has argued on Ars Technica in favour of something he calls
the ‘spatial finder’. I am sure I wouldn’t like that either; I don’t want to be given the chance to make the same mess of my computer as I make of my desk. If the computer can clean up after me, keep my stuff in alphabetical (or any other) order then that makes me happy. Very happy. If I open a Finder window on a directory and it shows me only half of the files and a vasty expanse of white because last time I visited that directory I had scrolled down a bit, I nearly get a heart attack because I fear that I have accidentally deleted the files that are no longer visible. No, the browser metaphor that Konqueror presents works very well for me, thank you very much.

Conclusion

I hope my next laptop will be an Apple — I hope, because a 15 inch alubook costs twice as much as a similarly decked out Dell, and my wife needs a new laptop too, so how could I justify shelling out E2700… But the suspend that just works, being able to organize my snapshots with iPhoto, my music with iTunes, while still having all of KDE at my fingertips, that’s very seductive.