I can remember when I bought my first laptop. It was back in 2005 when I was working as a games programmer. Back then, Apple laptops were still the bee’s knees and were quite a special thing to own. I loved my Powerbook and called it fightingtiger. This was immediately after the Tiger release of OS X came out and the computer name tied in thematically with Battlecat, the title of my old blog.
I’m pretty sure that I danced for joy while holding my matte aluminium baby. Way back in those days our sharehouse was trendsetting enough to have a wifi router and I traumatised my housemates by announcing to them (through the door and probably also by email) that I was using the internet while sitting on the toilet. Of course, today our smartphones go pretty much everywhere with us and I presume that even the most glamourous Instagrammer is making the best of their time on the loo by hashtagging pictures of sunsets with #nofilter.
Still, this was almost a decade ago. We had wifi, I had a portable computer and eventually, for a few months, we had a sharehouse blog. It was the future.
Of course, I have no memory of what happened to the computer that fightingtiger replaced. What was important was that I had a shiny piece of design that honestly worked very, very well and I thought I would never need to crawl under a dusty desk again.
Hah! Then last year my 4 year old Macbook (the second I owned) became less usable. Wifi would work intermittently, it received power but didn’t charge the battery and would often fail to boot beyond a creepy grey screen. Possibly we could try to get it repaired, but it didn’t feel like it would be cheap. For several months I ran Ubuntu hoping it would work on the failing hardware, but finally I needed to look for a new computer.
You’ve probably guessed that almost a decade after my first Apple laptop purchase I am sitting and typing at a desktop computer running Linux. When I set it up, my knees were (a little) dusty. I sneezed and bumped my head as I maneuvered cables that were just too short. And then, after checking that the computer worked I made a bootable USB key and wiped Windows 7 and installed Ubuntu 13.10 without a hitch.
My general intention when looking for a new computer had been to pony up my
money debt for the latest pretty, brushed alumium Mac Air, or potentially an iMac, because… Well, because pretty and magic and lovely packaging. Because, what!?
Did I actually need OS X? Well, I was already using GIMP, Inkscape, Firefox and Libre Office on an Ubuntu partition on my old Macbook… And the inherited iPad? Well, I could get by without OS X for that too. Never did switching to back to Windows cross my mind, as I already knew that Ubuntu would have me covered and I kind of began to itch just thinking about all those viruses and malware. So I started to look at Lenovo Thinkpads, but then reconsidered… did I currently need a new laptop? We’ve got a stable but plodding netbook and for general portable use I have my late (but early adopting) father’s first gen iPad. Nope, I didn’t need a laptop.
When it came down to it, our primary reasons for purchasing a desktop as opposed to laptop were requirement, price and maintenance. That is, I don’t need a high end portable computer for my current job, a Lenovo desktop cost about €500 less than an equivalent Thinkpad and in the long term it is far easier to replace components in a larger computer, which can always be used as a home server. As I mentioned, Windows 7 came pre-installed on the machine, but a similar computer free of the Microsoft Tax would have been just as expensive.
So now, crawling under the desk aside (and yes, I vacuumed, again) I am very happy with our new, somewhat old-fashioned computer. Maybe it’s just the thrill of any new computer, but moving back to a desktop made me want to type, not just consume other people’s content. A desktop computer seems to bring focus to the work you’re doing, as you have to go to the computer place and SIT down. And because I’m sitting, and typing at a full size keyboard, my back feels better too. There’s more though…
Using an open source operating system is a bit like eating free range eggs, where sometimes you see a feather or a smear of poop that reminds you, that yes, a real live chicken pushed this egg out of its cloaca. Luckily, with open source software there’s no poop, but you are more likely to see log file messages announcing what stage of booting up you’re in, or you have to go into the Terminal and type some text commands to get the correct drivers. All those words, those commands that you too can enter, remind you that people (like you) entered text, wrote source code and made stuff happen.
Opening up the side panel of a desktop shows you the innards, the copper of circuit boards, the tiny components that were assembled by people on the other side of the world. In general, a laptop does not invite that kind of observation or the possibility of taking some RAM in your hand and making a change to the computer yourself.
Using a desktop, installing an open source operating system gives you a far better idea of what a computer is made of, who it was made by, rather than thinking of it as a pretty brushed aluminum shell that does magic.
I think we made the right choice.