Friday, April 14, 2006

Flying a kite?

People who have known me a long time will know I came to be a Windows user with some reluctance. Ignoring my early computing days which included forays into the bygone worlds of punch card and tape, the Commodore PET, the BBC Model B and the Atari 520 STFM, my academic career spanned such varied systems as MTS (I think everyone should be made to use batch systems, with printouts of runs collected 6 floors below where you submit them - makes you try very hard to ensure your programs are bug free before you run them!), Whitechapel computers, PDP-11's, the Blit (fantastic machine and it looked hand-made inside!) and ultimately various Sun 3 series and Sparc machines running SunOS or Solaris variants. In there somewhere was a brief association with the Macintosh, but the lack of multithreading was a pain. As Stuart is often at pointing out (or not letting me forget!), I spent some time using OS/2; I still think it was far superior to Windows at the time.

So it's true to say that I managed to stay clear of Microsoft for a few years. That is until the arrival of Linux (Redhat ironically was most popular amongst us) and reliable PCs where is quickly became apparent that it was cheaper to "build your own" than keep paying lots of money to Sun. Obviously when you got the computers (we bought Viglen), they came with a version of Windows pre-installed and as Word became the standard for writing papers within the Department, (we used to use Interleaf or Tex/Latex), we all started to use dual operating systems, and my slide to the Dark Side had begun!

For a few years I managed to spend the majority of my time on Unix systems, but as the time went on it got less and less. Eventually, about 4 years or so ago, I was completely on Windows 2000 and Windows XP. I managed to rebel a bit by using cygwin and emacs, but it wasn't the same as the "good old days". Looking back I suppose the transition had a lot to do with changes in my career, but some of it was also probably down to "look-and-feel": although I liked X windows, I found the convenience of Windows so much better. It's true to say that Linux systems these days are much better (and who knows, with the recent announcement I may try again), but I've felt reluctant to go back. This time I think it's entirely down to the things I'd lose, such as Office and Visio. I've tried alternatives such as OpenOffice, but they're just not quite there yet. But I missed Unix. So a couple of years ago I started to use Mac OS X at home and I've never looked back! It's great. I love the interface. I love the fact that it is Unix under the covers, and it runs all of the utilities I need.

However, my work machine still runs Windows XP and I'm getting tired of the interface. Compared to OS X it feels dated and clunky. And the number of times I keep going to the bottom of the screen to locate the dock is beginning to annoy me. So it was some surprise that I came across Flyakite OSX: it's an OS X look-and-feel for your PC! I just finished installing it and it's wonderful. I have to admit to not trying it on my work machine just yet, but it runs fine (maybe a little slower than Windows XP) on an old P3). So, if you're tired of the same old look-and-feel and can't wait for Vista (or perhaps don't want to take that risk), give it a go!


Jason Lenhart said...

Hi Mark,

When I read this post - I had a flood of memories come back to me regarding my use of Interleaf on a daily basis - back when I worked for a number of government contractors - I really enjoyed it.

For your dock - you could use:

Moby Dock

to simulate OS X. I am a long time mac user - really made it my full time machine when OS X arrived. I have successfully converted a few others to the 'Cult of Mac' over the past year.

Great post!

Mark Little said...

I wrote my entire PhD thesis on interleaf and loved it - compared with Latex it was so easy! Unfortunately that was so long ago that apart from the hard copy, I can't access it any more: no interleaf converter and it's all on old style Sun 3/60 tapes :-(

But I love my Mac and wouldn't go back. Not sure I'd use flyakite on the work machine yet though, as speed is important to me and the P3 does seem a little slower than before I installed the Mac OSX look-and-feel.