Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Freedom and Macbook air(AKA, "opposites attract")

I would loathe the Macbook pros and see that they were whitey, clumsy, heavy and awkward looking compared to the other notebooks in the industry. Of all the notebooks I liked the HP TX1301au for three reasons

1. It had an AMD Turion x2 processor( A processor developed with notebooks in mind )
2. It had a touch screen
3. It could be converted into what is called a "tablet" today by folding the display over the keyboard.

I saw this lappy being used by many users. HP had a very good concept but did not follow up on this( Just exactly what happened to one of the first professional looking GNU/Linux based touch phone, the motoming or a1200. It was a beautiful phone with a flavor of linux called the montavista linux, It was my first smartphone ). But I was happy with my lappy since It played good with GNU/Linux. Debian GNU/Linux ran on this beauty flawlessly. It was light compared to other laptops. It was smaller at 12" compared to other laptops. I went on and succesfully booted Debian GNU/HURD also on this lappy, but after the initial boot screen It was difficult. In summary, my lappy was free of all propreitory software, except for the nvidia driver(I know, I know, RMS is angry)

 It was the "apple" of my eye until Apple released their Macbook air. OMG what piece of hardware. I was drooling all over it. That was the best piece of notebook hardware I had set my eyes on. It was "gorgeous", "drop dead", "Awesome"........ All of a sudden "Light", "Small" and "Air" had a new meaning for me. I just compared the weight of my lappy with the air, it was shocking. I compared the looks, It was like comparing it with Mona lisa and the cave paintings. Evolution took a long time, as we all agree. But the "Air" was a "Revolution". A revolution which all others are trying to digest and cope up. I have still to see notebooks come anywhere near to the air(There have been a few and as Linus torvalds put it, others will catch up. But they will "catch up")

If we observe the Macbook air from its first iteration, nothing much has changed. The basic chasis is still the same. Changes occur when there are competitors and are forcing you to a corner. As of now the air leads the lot and others are catching up.

1. Yes, I know, RAM is soldered ---no upgrade
2. Backpanel is locked by propreitory shaped screws  --not to be opened by ordinary users.
3. No DVD drive --watching movies, opening presentations/documents at office on cd/dvd not possible(I dont know how many still do....).
4. Only two usb ports --Nowadays, I dont know what is the right number of USB ports required.
5. Runs on proprietory software  --A simple bios upgrade can disturb any custom OS on the device.
6. Hard drive capacity limited  --Though on a mid 2011 macbook air, we can still change the hard drives capacity, since it is not soldered.
7. Battery -- can be changed but at an apple store.

Oh, so many negatives. Let us get to the positives.

1. Incredibly thin/light/compact/portable
2. Unibody aluminium chasis  --No creaking
3. Awesome multi-touch touchpad(A very large one)(Clickpad, to be more precise) --The feeling of crossover between a tablet and a notebook with an additional "click" action throught the touchpad
4. Full sized keyboard --Completely relaxed position of the hands while typing, not to be disturbed by the touchpad. The touchpad can be made to respond to only the physical "click", that is, pressing the touchpad down(like clicking a mouse)
5. Lid opened with one hand only --The hinge tightness is just right to open with one hand and perfect enought to hold the display upright.
6. Keyboard backlight -- Intensity of the keyboard light can be changed via shortcut keys on the keyboard. Makes using it in dark environments a breeze(something from the smarphones, especially my sony ericsson mini pro). It is the right place to give sony, credit for the chiclet keyboard.
7. Magsafe charger --I liked the design of the charger, where it gets pulled(magnetic) to its charging point as it is brought near to the charging port(A deft touch, that).
8. Display --The 13.3" screen is just right at 1440 X 900 resolution. It is not the best out there, but ample enough.
9. Except the fan, No moving parts --It is "silent" most of the time. I noticed the fan rev up when flash enabled sites are visited. And the exhaust of the fan is let out at the hinge(I loved this piece of engineering). So your lap is kept as cool as possible.
10. The icing on the cake is an i7 processor clocking at 1.8Ghz with ondie graphics core and 4GB DDR3 RAM.

As a whole, I am just awed by the device hardware. All this comes to a standstill when you will see that it runs Mac osX, which is as propreitory an OS can get over a community developed code. It does make me happy(My happiness is nothing compared to that of the Freebsd community which prides itself whenever its code is being used for propreitory or "freedom" purposes) that it is using contributions from the free software community by using freebsd code and the mach kernel code for the core OS and using other nifty tools like the webkit code from the KDE project. At the same time, the user is completely locked by the propreitory layer of UI and graphics libraries. It is difficult to imagine that the worlds most profit making company is making profits by leveraging community code and returning near to nothing to the source.

So, how do we "Free" this awesome hardware from the clutches of propreitory software?

Run windows on it, ha? Installing windows on a macbook air is a breeze. The drivers are available from apple. Install the OS and install all the drivers. Thats it. Windows runs beautifuly on this device. Hey, wait, now we have locked both the windows and dooors. The ultimate lockin.

No, we are not even considering it. What are the options we are left with? GNU/Linux, GNU/BSD, GNU/MINIX, ANDROID..... I chose GNU/Linux for the obvious.

1. It runs beautifully well on x86 hardware.
2. It is my favorite OS for the past 11 years.
3. I know my way around.
4. Awesome community.
5. Thriving developer base.
6. Strong Ethics
7. Ever increasing user base.

Now, GNU/Linux comes in many flavors. My favorite flavor has been Debian GNU/Linux, the universal operating system. In its goal of becoming a universal operating system Debian cannot cater in particular to a very small group of elite users having the capability of buying mac hardware(I do not mean that they wouldnt do it, But it would not be worth, taking the entire world into consideration). I tried the latest testing build and failed terribly. But, do not go by my experience. There are people who have succesfully installed Debian GNU/Linux on a macbook air. Just search them on the public network.

Come on, then, Let us "free" up this awesome piece of hardware...........................................

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Nobody can deter me away from "free as in freedom" concept seeded by Sri RMS. See to it that u dont make fun of my belief. If u think otherwise, no need to comment.