All About Mac OS X
November 1, 2007
By Scott Lewis
This month is all about the Mac. And I don't even own one. I spent a lot of time trying to run Apple's Mac OS X software, almost like having a Mac at one point. What did I come away with from the experience? Read on and you'll know what I know.
In my lust for running Mac OS X, I managed to get Mac OS X 10.4.4
running on my Toshiba Laptop. I believe the current version of Tiger is
10.4.10. The all new Leopard is 10.5.
Even though I managed to get OS X 10.4.4 running on my Toshiba P105-9312, all was not roses. The operating system ran great. It was hardware and driver support that spoiled the experience. I tried a bunch of times to get OS X to recognize my built-in wireless or Ethernet to no avail. I even picked up a cheap Belkin USB Wireless adapter, but that failed to work either. In Fact, no USB devices worked, even ones that do not require software. When running OS X my USB Wireless mouse's dongle would not stay lit. I searched around in OS X and it saw 4 USB things, but no matter what I did it would not see anything plugged into them. (Later when I installed Parallels it did not detect that there was any USB on my machine when running OS X. We'll have more on Parallels later.)
So, with no network support there was little reason to keep running it. However, I did want to do some more testing. I downloaded a few things just to see if I could burn them to a CD and then install them from the CD. That worked well. During this testing I managed to fumble my way around OS X a bit, so if I ever start using it for real I will have some familiarity. I installed Firefox, a shareware version of Sudoku and Parallels Desktop 3.0.
I was able to download a 15 day free trial of Parallels Desktop 3.0.
I burned the install to a CD and booted into OS X 10.4.4. I wanted to
compare this to VMware Fusion, but Fusion required OS X 10.4.9, and
upgrading my install would be impossible.
I was pleasantly surprised at Parallels. For starters, it installed its "tools" automatically when I built my Win XP virtual machine. Performance was excellent. In fact, it was the smoothest and fasting running virtual machine I have ever worked with. What makes this extraordinary is that I am running a system that has no right to exist. A hacked Toshiba laptop running a hacked Apple operating system in turn running a Windows operating system through virtualization. Life doesn't get much better than this.
I played around with Parallel's full screen mode and it works well. I had some trouble getting out of full screen mode because some of the keys do not respond correctly. How could they, I am not really running a Mac. Coherence is kind of cool, but has a quirk. Coherence lets you run a windows application as if it were on your Mac desktop. Basically it has the Windows desktop disappear. The quirk is that the task bar remains on the Mac desktop. And it sits above the Mac Dock, kind of hanging there. There may be a way to make this look better, but it works well enough and I wasn't in the mood to play around with a lot of configuration options.
Overall I find this a completely acceptable way to run Windows programs on a Mac. Because of this I feel I can easily use a Mac as my primary machine.
I would still be concerned with gaming performance. But I think that is covered by Boot Camp. Boot Camp is Apple's solution to allow you to dual boot your Mac computer to Windows XP or Vista. Parallels will even use your Boot Camp version of Windows as a virtual machine. So, if you need performance you reboot to Windows. If you don't need that level of performance you just run your Windows apps through Parallels. The only issue will be Windows driver support for graphic cards on your Mac. Current MacBook Pro models are using nVidia DX10 compatible video cards. Will they give acceptable performance when playing a DX10 game? DX10 is only available on Vista, so you would have to run Vista and not XP in your Boot Camp dual boot. I think the ideal situation would be to use Boot Camp for Vista and DX10 games, and create a Win XP virtual machine for Parallels to run Windows non-game applications.
I also installed Ubuntu 7.04 in a Parallels virtual machine. Ubuntu does not work very well. However, I cannot be sure the problems I had would apply in a real Mac. When I ran the install of Ubuntu (and Windows XP as well) I had two mouse pointers. The Mac pointer and the guest OS pointer. They were not aligned, and it made clicking on anything a real chore. The status bars and screens were also very unresponsive during the installs of the two operating systems.
When the Windows virtual machine rebooted the mouse pointer was just fine. However, Ubuntu kept the two pointers and the near impossible clicking. This even happened in full screen mode. In fact, although I got Ubuntu to work I was not impressed with the way it ran. It was one of the slowest virtual machines I have run. Since I was almost done testing Parallels I didn't try to solve the performance or mouse issues with Ubuntu.
Before I got 10.4.4 running on my Toshiba laptop I managed to get Mac
OS X 10.4.8 running in a VMware Workstation virtual machine. It took
some doing, but I was able to get the networking functional. I installed
Firefox across the Internet. It was cool.
OS X in a virtual machine is quite slow. Not necessarily slower than other virtual machines, but too slow to use heavily. I tried logging onto my work computer through GoToMyPC. It worked, but it was painfully slow. Now this is not the way to do this, but I would like to test this on a real Mac before buying one. GoToMyPC does not have a full screen mode when running from a Mac (this also applies to Ubuntu). GoToMyPC seems to be geared toward Windows clients accessing Windows workstations.
After doing the short version of testing 10.4.8 is when I got 10.4.4 working. Since 10.4.4 ran at normal speed (and quite snappy in performance) I concentrated on it and put aside 10.4.8. Well, that caused a problem. In my zest to get networking working on 10.4.4 I installed the software on my Toshiba for my built-in Ethernet card under Windows. I don't use this normally, but was desperate. I needed to know what Ethernet adapter I had, and I could not find that out without installing the drivers. Well, I got the information I wanted, but it did not help me get 10.4.4 working with my Ethernet adapter.
The next time I ran the 10.4.8 virtual machine it would not connect to the Internet. I tried a bunch of things, but in the end I think that VMware is binding to the Ethernet adapter and not my wireless adapter. I tried disabling the Ethernet adapter, but that did not change it. I wanted to delete the adapter, but I did not have that option. The delete option as grayed out.
At this point I started giving up on OS X testing. I could run either version without network access, and both versions would only run at 1024 x 768. I proved that it worked. I tested a few important things. I liked it a lot.
After spending quite a few hours in OS X I have some general
observations that are not related to all this hokey testing.
Let's start with the bad. Mac users want to believe that OS X is the greatest thing since sliced bread. In Apple's lust to "prove" they didn't copy Microsoft on anything they have done things that are less user friendly. Here are some things that I don't like, and some of them are just wrong:
Now that we bashed some nit picky minor points, lets see what I did like:
Here's one right down the middle... the Dock. The Dock is close to Windows Taskbar for comparison. You have shortcuts to applications on it, and it shows minimized applications on it. It is different from Windows, but I can't decide which is a better solution. Windows has all running application on its task bar, The Dock has slightly different behavior depending on some criteria. This really is a matter of getting used to each.
I think the Dock tries to be smarter, but in doing so has conflicting user interface elements.
Having run a bastardized version of Mac OS X and run Windows application within it using Parallels I am going to go out on a limb and say that OS X is the best operating system. It is based on FreeBSD, a derivative of Unix. Linux is also a Unix like operating system. However, OS X is far more polished that any Linux I have run. I am looking forward to KDE 4.0 due out in December. I would like to try the first version of Kubuntu with KDE 4.0. Fortunately, that will all be available before my next laptop purchase in the summer 09.
Until then OS X is the best operating system.
That was too much Mac stuff. Next month I want to get back to Windows. I thought of a possibility to install newer nVidia drivers under Vista. Toshiba won't put newer drivers on its web site since Vista shipped. But the drivers Toshiba has don't work well. This is definitely a Toshiba issue as nVidia has a stated policy that they do not provide "mobile" drivers to the public, but to the manufacturers to include any of their own specifics. Before I play around with Vista again, I want to backup my laptop. I want to try an "image" backup application to see if it will backup my Windows XP installation including the activation.