Ubuntu vs OSX: Where Ubuntu wins

Funny thing happened today.

As an expat Australian living in the UK I thought it would be great to listen to a little Australian Rules Football - AFL, if you will. So I jump over to the AFL website, www.afl.com.au on my windows machine, but it runs out of battery. So I jump on my other half's Mac mini because it is conveniently plugged in to a good set of speakers. Turns out that the AFL broadcast the radio audio for each game in WMV format. Great. In Firefox on the Mac mini I get an error message about missing plugins saying somethig about installing the program Flip4Mac. But if you download Flip4Mac, you only get a demo version, which to me means that at some point I am going to have to and over my credit card details to listen to the AFL (which I would get in XP for free). So I try Safari.

Again, I get an error message, this time I get the added option of installing Windows Media Player (WMP) 9. Now, I know WMP is up to version 11, but if I can get it for free and if I can listen to my footy then I don't care so much. So I begin to download WMP 9. It turns out that WMP 9 comes in StuffIt (sitx) format. So to expand this file format I need to install StuffIt Expander (not a big drama and it is free). StuffIt installed, I expand the file and install WMP 9 and fire up the AFL audio again ...only to get other error message, this time in WMP 9, 'One or more arguments aren't valid'. Great.

About half way through my Mini mac dramas, I wonder whether my Ubuntu (Feisty) installation on my laptop would fair any better. So in between my Apple downloads and installs, I start accessing the AFL website and all important audio broadcast on my Ubuntu setup. I fire up Firefox and I enter the web address. After a few clicks I select the audio streaming option. A box opens up but nothing much happens. No error messages, but no audio. So I right click on the newly opened up box and select the option to play the stream in Totem Movie Player. I get prompted to install some codecs. When that finishes, I get asked to install some more. This could not have taken more than 5 minutes. I am listening to the AFL at the right now.

I have always considered myself a prospective PC to Apple switcher. I like the way that the Apple interface and hardware looks. But the 'just works' slogan that Apple promote just isn't true. I have had issues with my wi-fi router as well that I have never had with either Windows or Ubuntu machines. There are work-arounds, to be sure, but then don't say it 'just works'. And a free operating system should never beat a paid for operating system when it comes to this 'just works' philosophy. Never. I am not quite so sure whether I want to make the leap to Apple.

As an aside, while I do not think I am quite ready to make a full time move to Ubuntu but I can say that it is catching up to XP fast (yes, I am aware that Windows is now up to the Vista release but for many Vista does not represent the leap forward required to vindicate the update). I don't like the way Ubuntu handles network drives (even Puppy Linux does a better job, in my view) and I can't play my Windows Media songs that I have purchased over the web. There is no real replacement for my copy of Photoshop Elements 4.0 in the linux world (the GIMP might be powerful, but I struggle to use it) and Ubuntu still looks very average - aesthetically - compared to XP, let alone OSX.

But the way that Ubuntu is advancing ... you never know, I might be an Ubuntu switcher sooner than later.


Satchmo said...

I would say your main problem here is Gnome. If you want a transparent handling of network drives (much better than Windows or OSX), as well as a more powerful and aesthetically appealing interface, just try Kubuntu (or, better, SimplyMEPIS).

Satchmo said...

I would say that your main problem here is Gnome. If you want a transparent handling of network drives (much better than Windows or OSX), as well as a more powerful and aesthetically appealing interface, just try Kubuntu (or, better, SimplyMEPIS).

Anonymous said...

Actually, Flip4Mac is free (for playback). You just have to be more careful when you read instructions.

Anonymous said...

free software rawks!


bloggerpaul said...

In regard to Flip4Mac being free - I was surfing the web today and via the My First Mac (http://www.myfirstmac.com/index.php/) site the link to Flip4Mac, which comes via Microsoft's site, makes it much more obvious that there is a free version of Flip4Mac. Using the links that come straight from OSX, I did not readily see an option for a free version. Of course, Flip4Mac might have an interest in not making the free version the first option you see ...

Nevertheless, my point still stands; Even a free version of Flip4Mac would not make the process easier in OSX than it is under Ubuntu Feisty. In this area, I believe the 'it just works' mentality is materially better applied in Ubuntu.

Anonymous said...

to think, only 6 months ago, that wouldn't have been possible on Ubuntu, but huge strides forward mean your codecs were downloaded.. I wonder that the next 6 months wll bring? Ubuntu is catching up, i've done a recent spate of testing alternative 64bit systems, and Ubuntu blows Vista out of the water..

Chris Wilson said...

I think you're angry at the wrong people. Why don't you contact your precious AFL and demand they broadcast in an open format? If we were to reverse this post -- say they were broadcasting in a propritary macintosh format that your windows box could accept but Ubuntu couldn't, would this still be a 'just works' arguement? Or would it be a tirade against the propritary formats that prevent you from using your operating system of choice.

Secondly, Flip4Mac is free. The "Pro" or pay for versions are targeted to those who might be using a Mac for video editing and want to output to the WMV format. I believe you also need to the Pro codecs to watch WMV in HD quality. Otherwise, it intentionally down-samples the audio to 24-bit and the video to less than HD quality.

Third, never in my life have a seen an OS X box without Stuffit Expander already installed. Check the 'Utilities' folder under applications. Apple has been shipping Stuffit with their OS since the first release of OS X.

Third, why didn't you download VLC Player (for OS X) and see if it could handle the stream, and just punch in the URL for the video stream? Odds are that would've worked as well, and wouldn't have been a hassle.

Fourth, no computer system out there "just works". They all have their quirks. Be it trying to get Bezel running perfectly on ATI hardware or a Mac working with an outdated wireless router that needs a firmware upgrade. (That's probably your problem. I had to upgrade mine to get my mac book pro working properly.) Since you're able to use more than one operating system (and know linux better) you should be able to distinguish between reality and marketing hype.

bloggerpaul said...

Hi Chris. And thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I hope you don't mind that I address a couple.

1) Too right: the AFL have been rather painful in using WMV (for video only, which puzzles me). I know a significant amount of blame lay there.

2) Please see my previous comment. The short version is, though, I agree with you.

3) I just checked ... StuffIt is not located under applications/utilities. And even if it was, experience tells me if the icon used to represent a file looks like a blank page, there is no program associated with it. Which brings me back to the 'Just works' thing again ...

3 ... again) I already had VLC on the Mini mac, actually. I copied and pasted the URL just as you described. It did not work. I can't explain that. Again, but the way, that does not fit the 'Just works' mentality.

4) You know that computers don't 'Just work'. I know that too. But that is not what Apple allude to when they sell their computers. Nor do the owners of Apples(in general). I think it is conveniently forgotten.

Now relax. Make yourself some hot coco and unwind.

Chris Wilson said...


Now we're just mincing words and splicing hairs, aren't we? 'Just works' is in the eye of the beholder.

For example, Ubuntu's hardware support, as good as it is, is still pretty poor when it comes to laptop (in my experience of testing out the 7.0.4 LiveCD) -- so you could argue that a Mac Laptop "Just works" a better out of the box (since there's no install)

No spyware? "Just works" over windows in that sense.

You get the point. You've got a pretty specious argument. Ubuntu needed something installed -- so it didn't work out of the box either. And had you known about Flip4Mac (or known better, as it were) it would've taken "just 5 minutes" as well.

The real problem is the sport's website. In my experience with American sport-related websites (such as ESPN.com) they are often the worst offenders in terms of browser/platform assumptions and ignoring standards. Why can't they offer a 'open' standard? Why can't they offer something like FVL as an alternative? There in lies the crux of the problem -- why are some websites deliberately choosing options that shut out certain portions of the web?

Anonymous said...

I've got a shiny new iMac. I like OS X, but now I don't even have it installed on my system. I'm running Ubuntu Feisty instead. Whilst not perfect, the availability of free software for Ubuntu is vast, so I'm not currently missing OS X.

Anonymous said...

if you want to see embeded .Mov or m4v (mac formats) in Ubuntu just install the Mplayer plugin for mozilla/firefox .

It's a one click search and install in "add/remove software"

Anyway if you want ubuntu but with all codecs and cool extras then get SimpleMepis or better yet Linux Mint . Both are ubuntu based.

ahmedfarazch said...

I think that the author is trying to say that Apple makes the promise of 'just works' but can't deliver. On the other hand, Ubuntu makes no such promise but offers much more in terms of free software and support for it!

Karl said...

How can anyone say that OSX has better hardware compatabilty over any OS when it wont run on 90% of computers on the earth! (and it is 90% I counted them). In fact how many people could install OSX on the machine they are sat at right now?

Justin said...

I know this article is several months old, but I know where you're coming from and wanted to comment.

And a free operating system should never beat a paid for operating system when it comes to this 'just works' philosophy.

Amazing, isn't it?

The Ubuntu team knows that "it's Windows' fault" isn't going to fly if a user can't get media playback in any arbitrary working really easily. So I'm not surprised that it won in the Race to Footy.

The way I see it, OSX has a very different job than Ubuntu. OSX is trying to be the most polished operating system in existence for a relatively short list of approved hardware, all combinations of which can be lab tested before release. They do a fine job, and if I could justify the expense I'd have a Mac in the house (I'll probably go your route and get my first fix with the Mini -- the girlfriend wants a Macbook Air, but not at that price). OSX is pretty and functional and stable, and from what I hear and read, it only gets into trouble when having to deal with the Windows world.

In the other corner, Ubuntu is mostly a "best of" compilation of the Open Source movement, with a team that works to improve usability and integration, and hardware issues essentially as they come up. Realistically, every Ubuntu system I've maintained (six, I think) has had some sort of hardware compatibility or software integration problem. The struggle for the final 5% of functionality can be epic. But the other 95% is pretty amazing at this point. It's stable, a lot of work has gone into making common tasks (web, networking, and media) easy, and you can make GNOME pretty -- or you can swap it for the greater flexibility of KDE with probably five clicks and 20 minutes of downloading. And if you don't like that, you can switch back and forth with 2 clicks on the login screen.

Ubuntu isn't as pretty. Hardware compatibility is an ongoing battle. But given the problem space for each team, I'm surprised it's as close as it is. As you said: it really shouldn't be.

And in the balance, I still haven't been able to get rid of XP, either. Anytime somebody wants to finish developing the Web into the standard application platform, I'm ready to stop thinking about operating systems.

Anonymous said...

Just use Microsoft Windows on a PC. Guess what... it just works! And so does capitalism baby yeah!

titaniumtux said...

Funny, Linux is quite a capitalist phenominon itself. It allows businesses to carry out all necessary tasks (and then some) without having to worry about piracy, licensing, etc. Big companies sponsor/develop open source projects where they gain through market share and tech support.

Unlike windeuce and OS X, Linux is no monopoly, and therefore has the most competitive, capitalist spirit in the OS war.

Brendon said...

Interesting. I downloaded flip4mac and got WMP audio working on my MacBook in about 4 minutes without spending a dime. Could it be possible that the issue was merely user-inefficiency?