On the XO Laptop

An apology about Apple’s Imac from screwup Dave Shields

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I made mention of the Apple Imac and its operating system in a recent post, On the Apple Imac: It’s a Unix system. I know this!, that ended as follows:

However, I did notice some odd behavior. For example, when the mouse wandered off the terminal window onto another part of the screen I saw some square edges become rounded. I think the mouse had landed on a browser window. Though I expect the folks at Apple see this as a nice value-add I cannot imagine its purpose. Perhaps I am a square guy after all.

I decided not to push on too far as it seemed better for them to get their real education on Unix, Linux and Python on the XO itself. The XO is a true Unix/Linux machine, not a Unix wannabe wrapped in a bunch of Java code and sundry other gimmicks.

I’ll put off visiting them until their XO’s arrive. For the life of me I cannot see why a serious Unix programmer would use an Imac. Why use a commercial version of Unix that is not open-source running on proprietary hardware when you can get full open-source Linux and apps written in Python courtesy of the XO?

Earlier today I received two comments about this post. The first was from Kevin Stevens:

“The XO is a true Unix/Linux machine, not a Unix wannabe wrapped in a bunch of Java code and sundry other gimmicks.”

OS X 10.5 is certified commercial Unix by the largest Unix vendor in the world. It supports Python, Ruby, gcc, and a variety of other programming components, with both Quartz and X support.

If you prefer the XO, that’s fine, but you only damage your own credibility by attacking a different system of proven quality.


The second was from Chris Abbey:

Oi. Dave what’s with the Apple bashing? This is hardly the first time. Mac OS/X 10.5 is a certified UNIX platform. http://www.apple.com/macosx/technology/unix.html Mac OS/X is largely Open Source (far more so than AIX, Solaris, or windows). http://developer.apple.com/opensource/index.html

The description you gave sounds like your friends have installed some non-apple hacks to the system and modified it beyond normal. Two reasons I say this, first of all, Mac OS/X does not have “focus follows mouse” that many of us enjoy from other unix platforms. Secondly, stock OS/X’s gui rendering for which window has focus doesn’t change the geometry, only the colors and shadow.

On reviewing their posts I realize they are right and I was wrong. I made over-the-top statements without a proper technical understanding, and in doing so committed the grievous error of not giving Apple credit where credit is due. If Mac OS/X meets all these standards then is it a good Unix-based platform, and what software is put above it is Apple’s call to make.

I will strike out the cited part of the post and include a link to this one by way of explanation.

I have thus added yet another chapter to the ongoing saga of Dave the screwer upper.

At least three steps are needed to deal with a screwup, though being a self-confessed screwup I may have missed a few:

  1. Recognize the error;
  2. Take the appropriate remedial action;
  3. Review the situation and see what lessons can be learned.

I have done the first two, with the remedial action being a public admission that my post was ill-written and ill-advised, and that I apologize for any offense it may have caused.

That leaves the lessons to be learned.

Though it in no way excuses my comments, I think they came about in part because only a short time before writing the post I had learned of a legal dispute between Apple and an independent blogger, Mr. Nicholas M. Ciarelli. I had not even know of the suit before reading about the settlement, which is described in today’s NY Times in the article Apple Rumor Site to Shut Down in Settlement. The only part relevant to this post as that Mr. Ciarelli, now a senior at Harvard, became involved in not just one, but in a series of legal actions as a result of writing a blog about Apple.

This reminded me of what I called the “nightmare scenario” of the early days running the Jikes project back in early 1999. I was then the project maintainer. We had committed to running the project from a URL ending in “ibm.com,” meaning we were committed to using available IBM IT infrastructure and doing our work from inside the IBM firewall. Though we were able to deal with email by setting up a small mail server in an old box that sat near my desk, we were not able to offer full CVS support. However, even if it had been possible for others to access the CVS tree directly, I would not have allowed them to do so.

I started my days running the Jikes project in the full knowledge that I had no background doing this sort of thing. I also had earlier dealt with a corporate screwup in that some IBM attorneys, for understandable reasons, sent a letter to Rob Malda of Slashdot in early October of 1998 telling him to stop using the IBM logo. I first learned of this when I saw a post Rob wrote about it. Though I could understand why the letter was sent (to protect the IBM logo), I also felt sympathy with Rob. He was then nearing the end of his undergraduate studies, and the last thing he needed to have on his desk was a letter from IBM legal folks suggesting he had done something wrong. I suspected that the attorneys involved didn’t appreciate that Slashdot was not the work of a single individual, as was the case with Mr. Ciarelli, but happened to be the most influential web site on the planet in those days when it came to news and discussion about Linux and open-source. Fortunately, with some prompt assistance from others, I was able to clear up the situation in a few days, as described in the post Me Tube.

My hypothetical nightmare was that some time after the Jikes project got off the ground, I would find myself in a room with an open-source developer and one or more IBM attorneys and executives, so we could discuss the mess the developer was in, and how we could best get him out of it. Though the scenario was highly unlikely, I also knew I was a novice in this area, and thus acted on the assumption it might happen.

Not wanting that to happen, I unilaterally decided that I, and only I, would make all changes to the CVS source tree, so I would be the only person who could be held accountable if something went wrong. I wanted all the blame to be placed on my shoulders so that none might land on someone else’s.

That’s the way things stood until late in 1998, when IBM started developerWorks, and was finally able to provide full hosting capabilities.

Looking back, my error was taking advantage of my being an IBM employee by exerting control because I felt it was justified, since I was acting to protect the “best interests” of the developers. Vadim Zaliva sent in a very good patch to Jikes within hours after it was first posted, so a better solution would have been for me to suggest that Vadim form a team to review all contributions, with the majority of members not being IBM employees. That would have accomplished the same end without requiring IBM exert undue control.

Having several more years of experience dealing with open-source, I now believe that the founder of a project, especially when the founder is a corporation, should exert no control on the project once the code is released under an open-source license other than that earned by the skills and efforts of any employees the corporation provides to work on the project. Let the coders, and the code, speak for themselves, for it then belongs to them, not the founder.


Written by daveshields

December 21, 2007 at 5:34 pm

Posted in xo-laptop

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