Apple's Walled Garden Is Becoming More & More Tempting

In pursuit of "just works"

For a long time, I’ve advocated for Linux, Android, and “hackable” (meaning “open and customizable”, not “vulnerable”) things in general. The number of hours I’ve spent tinkering with my Emacs configuration or tweaking my Linux setup is probably comparable to the number of hours that I’ve spent getting stuff done with it. But my relationship with tech/software has gradually changed over the last few years, and I find myself less and less willing to spend time optimizing for one less keypress, or troubleshooting highly customized configurations. Tweaking tools to work exactly how I wanted them to was its own hobby for me, but now that using those tools is my job, I’d prefer that they “just work”.

The best example I have of this is the switch I made from Arch Linux to Windows around six months ago. I still run Arch Linux in WSL2 as a development environment, but now I let Windows take care of the annoying stuff like power management and connectivity. This setup is close to perfect for me, but it has its own quirks and annoyances. I can’t access hardware devices from WSL. The shared clipboard between Linux and Windows sometimes stops working, and I have no idea what fixes it. My Emacs server usually dies when I put my computer to sleep, and often requires a systemctl kill before I can use it again upon waking up. And I have to rely on an external package not even in the AUR to run systemd at all! None of these things are dealbreakers, but they mean that my tools don’t “just work”.

And what embodies the “just works” philosophy more than Apple products?

While I’ve owned almost exclusively Android phones, I tend to recommend iPhones to my friends and family who aren’t interested in tech. The reason is pretty simple: I know they won’t come to me later on with their problems, because their iPhone “just works”. Sure, they can’t install a custom bootloader or sideload apps, but they they didn’t want to do either of those things on an Android phone either! And upon reflecting on my recent phone usage, I don’t really want to do those things anymore either. I’ve never been an Android “power user” by any means. I rooted my phones so that I could change the ugly stock UI and block ads, and that’s basically it. I use my phone the same way everyone else does: to send messages, scroll through Reddit, and watch YouTube, so I’m thinking that my next phone will be an iPhone.

In the last eight months, I can count the number of times I’ve used my laptop on one hand, which is mostly thanks to me finally kicking the habit of working from my bed. If I had the option to, I would definitely work away from home now and then, but even then, I’ve been wondering whether or not I actually need to own a laptop. I’m a big fan of the “thin client” idea, and since my preferred computer peripherals are all wireless, I feel like I could be quite satisfied using an iPad as a mobile workstation by remoting into my home computer. Since I do more ops than development these days, I already spend a lot of time on remote servers anyways. And it would also scratch the itch I’ve been having for a more convenient “consumption device”, since while I don’t work from my bed anymore, I still like to read and watch stuff in it.

With Apple’s ARM chips apparently wiping the floor with everything else out there, the new Mac Mini seems like a no-brainer as a desktop replacement. MacOS is just flexible enough to be productive (I’d be thrilled to get back to a tiling window manager such as yabai), while still taking care of the low-level bits. But since I do play video games now and then, I don’t think it can fully replace my existing Windows machine, which is too bad because having multiple desktop computers feels kind of wasteful. I’ve thought a bit about building a Hackintosh that dual boots MacOS and Windows, but a Hackintosh definitely does not fall into the category of things that “just work”, so I’ll probably end up with separate machines for work and play.

I think it’s likely that I’ll eventually find myself an Apple convert, but I won’t be spending $5000 tomorrow to replace all of my devices at once. A new phone and laptop/tablet can both wait until I’m allowed to leave the house again. And while the new Mac Mini is enticing, it’s also a brand new platform with all the expected software issues, of which Docker is the most glaring example (for me, at least). I’m going to try to stick it out until the next iteration of Apple silicon, at which point most of these issues will hopefully be ironed out, and everything “just works”. And more importantly, they ought to come in space gray by then, too.