OS X: The Best of Amiga, Linux, and the Mac OS

The first computer I can remember using was our family’s Amiga 500. We got it around 1990, when I was 10. It continued to be used by everyone for five years, until both my father and I decided independently of each other that we’d like our own PC.

Duly they were purchased – his a 75 MHz Pentium, and mine a 60 MHz Pentium – partly paid for by the magic excuse of “I need it for school.” This was actually true to a degree.

My school had been somewhat slow at upgrading its computers, leaving most students with access to 80186-based RM Nimbus machines running a custom mouse/keyboard driven menu system on top of DOS.

At this point I was only barely aware of Macs. For the most part, UK schools used either PCs or the BBC Micro and it’s successor, the Acorn Archimedes.

The PC eventually reached the end of it’s useful life for me (my Dad still uses his today, though it’s been largely replaced by a laptop), and it was used to replace the A500, which my Mum still used for word processing. I got a new PC; it’s spec was much better, but I had no end of problems with Windows in the first few months of using it.

Amiga A1200

Commodore Amiga A1200

I quickly became disillusioned with Microsoft products, but at this point I still hadn’t used a Mac. It was 1998. As the year wore on, a friend sold me an Amiga 1200 for a then very cheap £30. I was eager to recapture some of the magic of using a computer that didn’t constantly frustrate.

In a night of playing with that machine, I learned more about how computers should be to use (fun, simple, but not stupid) than my previous eight years of experience had taught me. I was somewhat hooked, and I upgraded the machine to include a hard drive, monitor, and eventually an accelerator, using it along with the PC for working and playing with.

1999 came around, and it was time for me to pack up and go to university. I didn’t want to take a PC. It wasn’t worth the stress, and I didn’t need it, but the A1200 wasn’t entirely suitable, either. Being a compact design, it quickly became the centre of a nest of cables to connect various devices to it, and in 1999 a 25 MHz 68040 didn’t cut it.

But all was not lost. I got an A2000, for which a G3 upgrade was proposed, so off I went with the huge off-beige box and a monitor. Unfortunately, the G3 upgrade never materialized, leaving me with a 7 MHz machine with a 20 MB non-bootable drive and 2 MB of RAM. I did my best to upgrade, but all the good parts were unaffordable; I had no choice but to buy a PC and return to frustration.

Summer 2000 came, and with it my first steps into the Mac world. I had been trying to get a scanner for years. I’m a keen photographer and wanted to get some of my pictures onto a computer. Flatbed scannerss were still fairly expensive new, and my attempts at purchasing secondhand invariably resulted in something for which drivers were unobtainable. Fortunately I didn’t spend more than a few pounds on any of them.

I had eventually been given an Amiga greyscale hand scanner; it wasn’t very good, though. Then I found an ancient and huge Apple Color OneScanner for £10 with no cables or drivers. I reasoned that I’d be able to use it on Linux (which I was beginning to dabble with), or use an Amiga or PC to emulate a Mac and run the original software from there. Someone on a Mac newsgroup was kind enough to send me the Ofoto software that the scanner needed to work.

PowerBook 5300C

PowerBook 5300

Back to University for my second year I went, scanner safely strapped in the back seat of my mum’s car. Quite early in that year I met a Linux geek, who provided me with the encouragement to ditch Windows entirely for a superior OS. I was happy, but I still couldn’t scan. My Linux friend had a PowerBook 5300 that was suffering from one of it’s many flaws, a loose power connector. Knowing I was good with hardware, he lent it to me to fix, I did, and I fell in love.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep the PowerBook, as he wanted it for a friend who’s Mac LC had expired. Though he certainly didn’t want it himself, he despised Macs – and still does, allegedly due to having to deal with them while working for a print firm before starting university. I was Mac-less, but now I wanted one.

Some time during the middle of 2001, I bought a Performa 475 – not as fast as the PowerBook, but adequate. I upgraded it to 20 MB of RAM, replaced the LC040 with a full 68040 that I had spare, and added ethernet.

Now I could scan.

The Performa wasn’t really useful for anything else. I wanted a portable that would actually “port.” My 486 ThinkPad didn’t have a working battery, and with 8 MB of RAM, X-Windows was out of the question.

As luck would have it, the PowerBook was still in my friend’s possession. The software his friend needed to run wouldn’t work on a PowerPC Mac. With some negotiation, I swapped the ThinkPad and a substantial amount of cash for the PowerBook and a PowerCD drive with SCSI cables. Everyone was happy – my friend had a machine he could use as a modem server (for some reason he had two PCMCIA modems and nothing for a desktop) and a lot of profit, considering he got the PB for free, and I had a working laptop that was pleasant to use.

I quickly upgraded, fitting a 2 GB hard drive, upgrading to 32 MB RAM, and installing Mac OS 8.5. Because the latter runs a bit too slowly on the machine, I’m looking for a copy of 8.0. The machine served me well, allowing me to work on the train, in the living room while watching TV (and during power outages), and at university for group work.

However, I was still doing most of my work on a PC with Linux.

The PC was starting to behave erratically. I feared for it’s ability to make it to the end of the academic year, much less to serve me till the end of the course two years from now.

I had already decided that my next machine was going to be something completely unable to run Windows, possibly a low-end Sun workstation (the UltraSparc is very fast when you take Solaris out of the equation) or maybe one of the Amiga replacement PPC motherboards, though my experience with the A2000 accelerator made this an “only if I can buy it when I need it” proposition.

My main aim at this point was to run Linux. Linux irritated me slightly, though. As an OS it’s technically very good, but as a user experience it leaves something to be desired, and it’s community doesn’t generally embrace people until they’ve got past the stage of needing community help.

Then I heard of OS X.

That was it; my mind was set on a G4-based machine, but severely limited finances left me looking at the possibility of upgrading a pre-G3 machine, not very future proof. An inheritance changed that, and I now had the luxury of buying a more recent machine – or even a new one.

I looked at the possibilities. The iMac looked cool, but the LCD wasn’t up to my insanely high resolution requirements, and it couldn’t do dual head, making it less than ideal for someone that likes to have three or four apps open at any one time.

The G4 tower line had just been updated, but the dual 1 GHz and 933 machines were outside my price range, and the lack of an L3 cache in the 800 MHz model concerned me.

Original Power Mac G4I looked at the various companies selling refurbished Macs and found one offering a very good price on a dual 500. After some consultation with people on MacNN’s forums discussing the merits of the dual 500 vs. the single 800, to which the overwhelming response was to go with the dual, I took their advice, and by the middle of April this year I had a dual G4.

I was expecting it to be a nice machine, but I wasn’t ready for how nice it was – the drop down side with everything neatly laid out and easily accessible, the look of the case (much better than in photos), the pulsating power light when I put it to sleep. I was amazed.

It came with OS 9, and I had to wait a few days before my copy of OS X arrived from Apple, during which I was less than impressed by the performance, especially when attempting to multitask. But when OS X arrived, I was blown away. It was fast and responsive, despite claims to the contrary. It multitasked. It was Unix, yet not, and it was incredibly nice to look at.

It was something that, unlike Linux, I could suggest other people get without having a guilty conscience. With OS X, Apple created something that has everything I liked about AmigaOS, Linux, and the Mac OS, and then added more. It’s the only computer I need.

Right now I’m assembling all my accumulated PC bits into complete systems to give to family members, schools, or charities that need them, and selling off one or two of the more valuable parts.

I’m looking forward to not having a PC.

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