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Apple drops Java and more: so what?

Posted by fabriziogiudici on October 24, 2010 at 4:19 PM PDT

The big news of the past week is that Apple deprecated Java, so we won't be probably seeing any Apple-made JDK in Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, coming next summer. But there have been other news, that is a Store for Mac OS X applications coming, similar to the one for iPhone and iPad. While Steve Jobs explicitly said that it's not "the" store, but "just another" store, that is it will be possible to manually install applications to Mac OS X as usual, the new thing carries the same absurd limitations typical of the iPhone store, so that any typical application from a competitor, such as Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom will be forbidden; and Java applications are forbidden as well.

Personally I think Steve Job is as reliable as a crooked politician - do you remember him proclaiming "Apple is committed in making Mac OS X the best operating system to run Java"? - so I don't particularly trust his intentions with the new store. The direction that Apple is pursuing is clear: move from computers to luxury appliances (yes, in USA the penetration of Mac computers has grown to 20%, but they're making only 33% of profits out of them, the remainder being iStuff) and grab as much as control as they can. I think it's not paranoid to suspect that they'll try to bring their current Mac customers to a walled garden model, where Apple controls what you can install, and maybe we will have "the Store" in Mac OS 10.8. After all, a famous italian politician once said "when you think bad of somebody you commit a sin, but you're usually right".

In fact I was not surprised at all of the Java deprecation: all the path of Apple in the past years, including referring to Java as "ball and chain", was clearly driving to that direction.  I see that many Java developers are surprised and angry since they have invested a lot in Apple gear - guys, I really sympathise with you, but you should have seen it coming. You need a serious de-intoxication program to get out of the Apple reality distortion field.

Given that, what we should do now? Sure, don't panic and wait up to the end of the year before making a decision, because the community or Oracle might step in and provide a JDK for Mac OS X. But chances are 50-50, and at the moment we're left in the cold; so at least a backup plan must be figured out.

Well, in theory I myself should to nothing. Mac OS X was not my primary operating system since two years since when I prepared a triple-boot system and picked my reference applications so that I was as much as system independent as I could. In these two years I could choose whether to work either in Linux or Mac OS X (with the former being the most frequently used), only being bound to Mac OS X for some specific applications such as Adobe Lightroom or Keynote.

But now I can move a step forward. First, I'd like to update the analysis of the state-of-the-art operating systems that we're offered. To give some context to the discussion, I'm first enumerating my needs:

  1. Develop Java-based applications
  2. Deploy Java-based applications
  3. Run every-day applications (web navigation, email, preparing documents)
  4. Prepare presentations (including screencasts)
  5. Manage my digital life (photos, songs, etc...)
  6. I want a snapshot-capable filesystem such as ZFS.

For task #1, Linux is perfect and in my opinion the best choice. In the meantime, Microsoft has abandoned Windows Vista and moved on to Windows 7, which is a decent operating system, so t is probably another choice. It has the disadvantage of not being a *nix system and missing the plethora of command line tools of a typical *nix system; but the latter point can be addressed by installing the proper software (such as cygwing). Probably the two biggest annoyances of Windows are the file paths with the infamous volume letter and the fact that you need to run an anti-virus. Politically speaking, Microsoft is a tiger with broken nails and it's no more a wanna-be-big-brother as in the first years of this millennium: no concerns from this side.

For task #2, it depends. If we want still to support Mac OS X for our applications, we need to have a Mac OS X instance for tests. If neither Oracle nor the community will be able to provide a JDK for Mac OS X, this requirement will fade away, as in future it won't be any longer possible to run Java. If this happens, we'll be able to happily get rid of Mac OS X.

For task #3, Firefox, Chromium, Thunderbird, OpenOffice run smoothly on Linux an Windows, and we don't need Mac OS X.

For task #4, nothing changes if you're fine with OpenOffice presentations. In the past year I've started using KeyNote and while the plethora of graphics effects are by far redundant, it actually allows you to deliver a better presentation, with a proper use of animations and fade in/out effects. KeyNote needs Mac OS X. BTW, I'm appalled that there's no other decent tool around for other operating system, but perhaps I've to search better. Software for recording and editing screencasts can be found for Linux and Windows, even though nothing is so simple to use for post-processing as iMovie.

For task #5, Linux is not an option. Unfortunately, the Linux community is still wasting time in providing redundant distros and ideological discussions, but nobody has been able to provide a comprehensive solution for managing large sets of photos such as Adobe Lightroom or Apple Aperture (my blueMarine - in the more optimistic view - needs still some time, even though it's ok for my basic needs of cataloguing; but for graphic editing and printing, I need Adobe). There are commercial products such as Bibble Labs that support Ubuntu and have a reputation for the quality, but AFAIK thew miss the flexibililty of Lightroom. I suspect this is one of the reasons Linux is still failing on the desktop for regular users (PC World recently declared Linux desktop dead as - in spite of the big chances offered by Vista's fiasco - it failed to raise its share up to 1%; while I'm not convinced that the game is over, at present time it's a failure). Windows 7 could be an option, since Adobe supports it.

For task #6, Mac OS X is still the best option (with the FLOSS support for ZFS), Linux could be (ZFS is slow as supported only by means of Fuse; BTRFS is available in the kernel since a while, but it's not stable enough, and Canonical postponed the choice of using it as the primary filesystem to 11.04); Windows is not an option. I'm not counting OpenSolaris, which would be the optimal choice for ZFS, since it has been dropped by Oracle; Illumos is too young.

My next step is to further reduce the dependency on Mac OS X, by improving the integration between my multiple boot and virtualization (VMWare, which is the third product I'm trying after Parallels and VirtualBox, seems to easily allow the use of native partitions in a virtual machine). Adobe Lightroom could be run in Windows 7 accessing the photos in a shared folder from the host machine; for iTunes I just have the problem of converting a few collections I bought from iTunes (a thing that I'll never do again) and are DRM-protected; for KeyNote, I'll search for an alternative. For the virtualization thing, I'm now trying to use Windows 7 or Linux as the host system, instead of Mac OS X. A legal problem is that Mac OS X license forbids its use in a virtual machine - but Mac OS X Server doesn't, and it could be the solution.

Summing up, in a few months I should be able to reduce my use of Mac OS X to the bare minimum, possibly only to test the deployment of desktop Java applications. In the sad case in which there won't be any Java VM for Mac OS X in future, I'll obviously drop support for Mac OS X, which in turn means that I'll be able to drop Mac OS X entirely, and this would also mean that I'll enjoy more freedom in buying my next laptop, no more necessarily being an Apple product.

Of course, I'll miss the usability of Mac OS X. Ubuntu, in spite of its huge improvements, is still missing many little-but-fundamental things. But you can trade-off something for more freedom (and the happiness of not supporting Apple to become the wannabe-big-brother of the next decade).


I share your concerns about

I share your concerns about Apple making the Mac AppStore the only choice in OS X 10.8 -- if there even will be another Mac OS X release after Lion; my assumption is that they will eventually merge OS X and iOS.
Anyway, the big problem is that there is no acceptable substitute for Apple Aperture. Personally, I find Adobe Lightroom not nearly as good as Apple Aperture, at least it is not compatible enough with the way think and work. Aperture has always been the best choice for me. Lightzone is a nice image editor, but it is NOT a library like Aperture and Lightroom, so it simply is not an alternative. And Shotwell, F-Spot and Co. are iPhoto-wannabes, but nothing you would seriously consider for a large RAW archive.
Ubuntu 10.10 or Windows 7 as Snow Leopard replacements... I use Windows 7 everyday on my work notebook, and while I think it is probably the best incarnation of Windows since good old NT 4, it is not as comfortable to use as Snow Leopard. The killer feature for me is Quick Look -- I don't know how often a press the space bar when I'm using my Mac, but I miss it instantenously as soon as I use Linux or Windows.
What also keeps me from using Ubuntu for everyday use is the lack of quality applications in general. Audacity is not really a substitute for something like Soundtrack Pro, and Ardour isn't really in the league of Logic Studio, and there certainly is nothing that could even remotely compete with Final Cut Studio -- or even iMovie.
Open Office as a substitute for Microsoft Office? Well, that only works when you do not have to exchange formatted documents with customers who use Microsoft Office. The MS Office suite is the de facto industry standard, and not even a freely available had a chance of changing that.
I don't care for stuff like Powerpoint or Keynote. But the lack of Visio is a real problem. On OS X, I have OmniGraffle. What would I use on Linux? Right. Nothing.
Then there is the "religous" aspect of the Linux community that is as much a turn-off as the Apple zealots are.
Sure, I still believe that Apple sells the most beautiful and best engineered hardware. I haven't found anything that can compete with the 27" Quad Core iMac at that price -- that thing looks great, it is quiet and a real performance monster. And it runs all available operating systems very well, not just OS X. So except for ideological considerations, there is no reason not to buy Apple hardware. But I also feel trapped in OS X land and would be happy to have an alternative that would not cost me another fortune. Switching from Windows to the Mac back in 2005 was expensive like hell, but back then it was worth it - the generally higher quality of software for OS X and the lack of malware and advertisement banners everywhere are still strong arguments.
But really, how can you pragmatically switch to Linux without giving up a LOT of your productivity and efficiency? Linux is an awesome server OS, it also provides a good foundation for mobile platforms like Android, but on the desktop? I'm afraid it's still a no go.

Various answers... Two

Various answers...

  • Two computers, one for business and the other for personal use? I've been thinking a lot about that, but I couldn't stand carrying two physical devices... Virtualization seems the best solution.
  • Keynote? It's possible to share presentations by exporting to PDF or QuickTime; BTW SlideShare accepts native KeyNote presentations, in fact I was able to publish all my latest production.
  • Linux freedom? Sure, Linux is great for freedom, but freedom without wiseness is useless. Consider the Formula One example: how many times it happened that the team with the best cars and best pilots ended up by losing the competition because total freedom was given to both pilots, without a concrete strategy? BTW, it's going to happen this year too. A trade off between the wide choice of alternate software and the consolidation of a couple of products should be done. BTW, I've written that I disagree with "dead" for Linux desktop, but the single-digit share figure of the Linux desktop is unfortunately confirmed by many sources...

Considering Keynote. You

Considering Keynote. You certainly consider all your presentations to be a one-time throwaway never-to-be-shared with anybody and never to be reused later, right? Consider, At least, for Pete's sake, if you post your presentation on slideshare, do so with PDF, please.

Considering alternatives to blueMarine: there is jbrout, f-spot (if you must), shotwell on LInux all which are not that sleek as blueMarine (but they tend to be better with maintaining a catalog and metadata), but at least they run (contrary to

Regarding #5: For Music the

Regarding #5: For Music the Rythmbox just looks similar to iTunes and I guess (don't manage my music with particular software) it should be working.
For the quick foto editing I use gthumb. Of course this is not offering everything, Lightroom has.
But I heard (from a photographer), that LightZone comes quite close to Adobe Lightroom:

Maybe you want to give that a try.

Regarding your linked article of Linux desktop being dead: I consider this as bullsh*.
1. Playing all the media is just one additional click during installation in 10.10 - or you can either use Linux Mint
2. Regarding the "cluttered" efforts in desktop environment: What some people are considering being unfocused others do consider as freedom of choice. I know people prefering Gnome and other prefering KDE - and I either know a significant amount of people using Fluxbox or something completely different.

You can use Goodle Picasa to

You can use Google Picasa to manage photos.

Now here is a crazy thought:

Now here is a crazy thought: Get two computers. A Linux box for Java development, and a Mac to manage your digital life.

One powerful Mac computer

One powerful Mac computer (e.g. 8GB of memory) is enough and run Linux in a VM, I think.