[Glyph-discuss] anecdotal video

Glyph Lefkowitz glyph-discuss@twistedmatrix.com
Sat, 25 Jan 2003 19:29:08 -0600 (CST)

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This started off as some personal advice and then morphed into a more general
complaint, so I'm both posting this to my "web" log and sending it on as an
email.  I would ask anyone replying to this on the list to please _not_ Cc: jwz

After many hours of listening to cyli (my girlfriend) complain about various
video and DVD players on Linux, I couldn't agree more with your complaints as
to the state of the usability of the players :-).  However, though I'm not
entirely sure as to the specifics, a Macintosh is probably not the answer to
your problems.

cyli has a collection of differently-formatted video files, largely from china.
Some of these are DIVX, some of which are VCD format, others are various
flavors of AVI.  No video player she has tried has reliably played back all of
these, and some formats (notably VCD) do not even play on OSX, requiring
emulation in the "Classic" environment, which she opted not to install, as
Apple is loudly deprecating it.

So while I appreciate your complaints about the user-interface, and I wish that
more people would just use existing conventions, it seems to me that if you
want to actually _play_ a wide variety of video streams, the only significant
improvement over the Linux situation is going to be Windows.

I've got a few other choice words on the subject, as long as we're talking
about the Mac.

It's probably worth having a Mac, if you can afford it, for the aesthetics, the
display quality, and the novelty.  Certainly the hardware is more hassle-free
than any Intel-derivative garbage, both in terms of failure rates and upgrades.
I have one, bought when the grass was considerably greener than it is now, but
I've found it depressingly unusable.  It runs Linux most of the time because
Mac OS simply won't do a lot of what I want.  Any application that I'm
seriously interested in running -- Emacs, Mozilla, ssh, and The GIMP, to name a
few -- sticks out like a sore thumb and doesn't integrate with anything native.
To make matters worse, the few apps I use that _do_ take advantage of Aqua,
"Fire" and "OmniGraffle", both crash fairly often and in inexplicable ways.  On
the other hand, when OmniGraffle works is an incredible joy to use.

At least since Jaguar I've stopped getting kernel panics on a regular basis.

Finally, Apple is trying hard to make sure that writing portable software with
their toolchain is as difficult and onerous as possible.  Every cute little
feature of the IDE is useful only for creating MacOS X applications, and then
only for creating GUI applications.  Even compiling POSIX software with their
bastardized GCC is a huge chore because Apple is not interested in standards
compliance.  Fink mitigates this admirably but it is a band-aid on a problem
that should not exist.

For reasons like this, I've been deeply offended by the "Switch" ads that Apple
has been running lately.  To say that the Mac is more beautiful, more elegant,
more integrated and more fun than Windows is all probably true.  However, to
say that it is more robust on some fundamental level, as the Ellen Feiss ad
implies, is blatantly fraudulent.  It isn't.  It's the same grotty UNIX core,
files and C++ and and dlopen and malloc (oh my), that powers basically
everything these days, including Windows XP.  It's more robust than Windows 98
was, on the grounds that one app crashing won't bring down another, but there's
absolutely nothing in the system that makes it less likely that an app
(especially Microsoft Word) will crash.

According to my own completely unscientific experience, Debian fails less often
than OS X, and when it does fail, I have the option of digging through source
code until I find the problem and fixing it.  I rarely exercise this option,
but it is nice to have.  More importantly for someone like myself, the emphasis
in the system's overall design has been not on "interface", but on "automation"
-- there are not cute little buttons for everything I want to do, but the
system will actually assist me in doing things that I consider really boring,
like finding software, applying security patches, and synchronizing files
between my multiple computers.  It considers *all* applications as part of the
"system", not extraneous plugins that have to provide their own infrastructure.
Why would I want automated upgrades only for iMovie and AppleMail when the
primary things I do with the system are Emacs and OmniGraffle?

It is tempting to think of MacOS as some sort of savior from the mire of
terrible operating systems and user environments that we find ourselves
confronted with today, but even if it is the best, it is the best of a very bad
lot.  Frustration at computers in today's digital world is inevitable.

 |    <`'>    |  Glyph Lefkowitz: Travelling Sorcerer  |
 |   < _/ >   |  Lead Developer,  the Twisted project  |
 |  < ___/ >  |      http://www.twistedmatrix.com      |

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