Ditching a MacBook for OpenBSD on a Thinkpad

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/10/14/ditching-a-macbook-for-openbsd-on-a-thinkpad.html

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“If you never liked Apple to begin with and hate things that are useful or easy to use without delving into arcana, then have I got a computer for you!”

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I haven’t used OpenBSD, but am loving Linux Mint. It’s even pretty! Works great on old Thinkpads too. I’ve been buying Thinkpad T530’s from eBay for years, never for more than $150 or so, even when maxed out. Cheap enough so I can leave one everywhere I code. I find the touchpads on most PC laptops to be dealbreakers, but this one is great once you get used to the smaller size.

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Love to use an OS without Bluetooth support in this, the year 2020, on my laptop.

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OpenBSD is the only operating system I can think of that has a song for each release. https://www.openbsd.org/lyrics.html

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He says in the article he thinks he can use the Thinkpad + OpenBSD setup for the next 25 years. That’s a very pessimistic look at the future of computing.

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This is trolling, right? You’re trolling me? I’m not taking the bait!

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I can’t think of the last time I used bluetooth, so it wouldn’t bother me.

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Lots of people believe Linux on the desktop is a satisfactory alternative to Mac OS or Windows NT 4.0. Not nearly as many people as believe in QAnon, but still, lots.

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I ran OpenBSD for a while on my laptop maybe 15 years ago, and a number of Linux distributions at other times. I had a dual boot with Windows for the occasional emergency.

Open BSD was fine. Having said that, at the time I wasn’t using more than vim, a shell prompt (bash or zsh installed from ports, I think), ssh and a web browser. I used pine or elm for mail.

Honestly, if I had a job right now I would consider buying a Mac, though. The downside is the premium (assuming they’ve fixed the goddamn keyboard issues) and some annoying compatibility issues; the upside is that I don’t have to use Windows and it’s far better suited to the desktop than Linux or OpenBSD.

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I still have a Windows box as my primary computer. There are still things I use and need on that platform and running under an emulator is not always possible. But I have a bunch of Linux machines and usually a bunch of Putty windows open to them. I am old skool and the command line interface is fine. I could run an X server on Windows, but a lot of the Linux boxen are servers and don’t even have a desktop environment. I don’t need an IDE. If I need portability, I do have a Linux laptop but I don’t use it much: it is way too underpowered to be a development machine.

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OpenBSD is not Linux. Prepare for lots of incoming flames from both OpenBSD and Linux fanboys.

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Howdy! Long-time lurker, first-time poster. Wanted to share that indeed, having jumped to the 2020 MacBook Pro, the keyboard is much-improved and does not suffer that awful keybounce witnessed on the butterfly switch 'boards from 2016-2019. It feels very close to their external “Magic Keyboard” and I think I prefer it to the pre-butterfly switch keyboards (ca. 2013-2015) actually.

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It all depends on how privacy is important for the user. If we strictly talk about user interfaces, pretty much none of the various Linux window/desktop managers can hold a candle to even Win XP. It’s not about features or pretty design rather than interface polish and fluidity, and being thought with users in mind, not hackers.
I switched ages ago (about 20 yrs) the main desktop from Windows to Linux, and I already was running Linux since like 1997, so I’m familiar with the quirks that come from using a UNIX-like system for something it wasn’t designed for, like running Office applications on desktop interfaces, or even mounting removable USB drives, but once one gets accustomed to them, using a FOSS operating system pays immensely in privacy and security.
Most users ignore that their favorite closed source operating system and software, if instructed to, can spy on them grabbing personal data then sending them wherever they wish.
The huge community behind Open Source software instead makes harder to conceal a backdoor somewhere without one day someone noticing. Not impossible, but harder.

Case in point, the Interbase/Firebird famous backdoor, discovered in 2001 months after the source code was released by Borland. That backdoor went unnoticed for seven years, and by allowing anyone to log to a DB and do whatever they wish, it wasn’t exactly an innocuous one. And apparently that one wasn’t even left there intentionally.

Today however, surveillance is both a big business for companies and useful tool for governments, so don’t expect closed source software not to contain shady code just because it comes from very reputable names.
The NSA tried this multiple times with Linux, and so far it appears they always have been unsuccessful.

Therefore, is Linux inferior to Windows GUI-wise? Yes, definitely, and probably will never get on par (although Microsoft helped us a lot by trashing the good work they had done on Win7 by introducing Win 8 and 10’s absolutely atrocious user interfaces).
So, is it enough to convince me to go back to Windows/MacOS/anything closed for critical stuff (communications, banking, personal data, etc)? Nope. Absolutely not.

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One very interesting thing with OpenBSD is precisely it’s relationship with arcana.

Because it auto-magics very, very, little(noobs these days don’t have to do their own calculations during disk partitioning, damn kids); it hides relatively little of what it’s up to, and given that it’s an operating system that’s pretty arcane.

On the other hand, because it auto-magics very, very, little; one largely avoids the Grim, Dark, Unknowable zones where an attempt at friendly automagic breaks down into behavior that can only be described as fey madness but with uglier log files(if you can find them).

OpenBSD only really holds your hand in the sense that there is a manual in “RTFM”; but it had the delightful feeling of not having things going on behind your back. It skips even convenience features in order to leave things such that if they move, you moved them.

That’s fairly serious arcana vs. automagic that works; but simplicity and sublime purity of essence compared with the automagic outcomes that have a habit of just getting wiped because it’s not worth it.

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In 2000, my day job was to keep thousands of Solaris machines running. I ended up putting FreeBSD on one computer just so that I’d have one place where everything just worked, so I would have patience left over to go debug the stupid Solaris machines which could never build anything right.

BSD has always been the Unix that works.

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My machine of choice is an ancient Thinkpad running Linux. It’s way too underpowered to be a crunch machine, but then who crunches on a laptop? It’s a great dev machine, because you really notice when your code is slow or fast. Once I have something running we’ll enough, I offload the job to a serious computer in a bunker somewhere.

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Me, sometimes? It’s a rather intense laptop. 12 core Xenon, etc. Not my serious number crunching though and I’ve got a lighter laptop as well.

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There’s only one BSD derivative I’d even consider for use on a desktop or laptop on which I actually want to get anything done, and its name starts with ‘m’ and ends with ‘acOS’.

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So, you swapped one version of BSD (MacOS) with another version of BSD (OpenBSD). Meh.

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