Over the past couple weeks I have been setting up Arch Linux on my desktop at home. Why? I’m not exactly sure. Maybe I hate myself. Maybe 2018 is the year of linux on the desktop. Or maybe I’ve forgotten why I decided to take up residence in Apple’s walled garden, and I just need to see for myself what is on the outside.
See, I’ve been an Apple fan since my grade school friend had me over to play Animal Crossing and showed me his dad’s new iMac G4. I spent all my savings on a Macbook in 2008, got my first iPhone in 2010, and was known as the “iPad guy” my freshman year of college because I owned one of the first-generation models. And now I’ve spent several years making iOS apps.
I love Apple’s balance of form and function. I love the combination of technology and the humanities. I love shelling out extra money to get hardware and software that I trust, that lasts a long time, with amazing customer service, and an ecosystem of third-party products with the same values. Because technology is not an end in it itself, it is a bicycle for the mind.
So why in the world would I want an operating system where I have to choose my network manager? Where I have to read a tutorial any time I want to change simple preferences? Where the front page of the wiki explains that this operating system is not user-friendly, and requires a do-it-yourself attitude? The reason is certainly complex, but here are a few factors that I can articulate:
I am not the same user I was
When I became an Apple user my primary occupation was school. Now my primary occupation is software development. I spend much more time using a desktop computer and a lot less using my phone and iPad. My opinions on how software should work are much stronger. I have moved past the “early-adopter” or “power-user” archetypes and into one where I often have the desire and ability to dig deeper into the next levels of my system - even into the source code.
Apple is not the same company
I remember the day I was late for church in 2010 due to a Daylight Savings Time bug in iOS 4. My phone’s alarm didn’t go off that morning because somebody at Apple broke my alarm clock. It was a big deal to me. I was surprised by it, and felt betrayed. It was a rare major failure in a system I trusted.
Unfortunately, that was the beginning of trend. Apple has had several more DST bugs. Then came discoveryd, and toggling WiFi on and back off became a daily ritual for many Mac users for the better part of a year. They redesigned almost every piece of UI in iOS 7, which was very pretty but significantly lowered the bar for user interfaces across the system. The downward spiral continues to this day, with multiple glaring authentication bugs in macOS coming to light in the past few months. The “It just works” mantra has always been a bit of a joke, but I’m not laughing anymore.
Now I have to reboot my Mac at least once a day. My USB-C ports malfunction multiple times a week. Last week I watched a fellow developer, who has been writing software in the Apple ecosystem for over 20 years, get visibly upset with Xcode multiple times in a meeting as we rebooted it, cleaned the build folder, deleted derived data, and reset the simulator. Again. And again. I used to silently judge the Linux guys when they plugged their laptop into the projector and their display manager couldn’t handle it. Now I’m the one in the meeting searching for dongles, restarting crashed applications, and asking why in 2018 is it so hard to do simple tasks.
Free software is awesome
I don’t fully understand the philosophy and the economics of free software. But the fact that it exists is awesome and I want to support it. There are many ways I can do that, but most of them start with me using more of it.
Privacy is under attack
We’ve swiftly ushered in an age of unprecedented surveillance. As a society we have bought the latest services and conveniences with our privacy. We don’t regret it yet, but I’m worried that we will. I want to preserve our choice in the matter. There are a lot of ways that technology and math can help us do that, and using an open-source operating system with no telemetry and no temptation to sell out its users is a small way I can participate. (This is also a major reason that I am looking for a new social network)
Arch Linux gives me much more control over my desktop experience. Can I make a better system (for me) than the Apple’s engineers (or marketing people)? It is a question I am ready to answer. It is a learning experience and a new challenge for me.
Maybe it will it will just remind me why I locked myself in Apple’s walled garden. Or maybe the grass will really be greener on the other side.