So, I caved. I crumbled like a biscuit in a blender. I am now the smug owner of a MacBook Air, and it really is wonderful. I went 10 days without rebooting before needing a firmware upgrade, and both sleep and wireless work flawlessly.
Here are the bells and whistles that make my brain and fingers happy.
Spaces (OS X Leopard’s virtual desktops doodad) isn’t as good as KDE’s, but it turns out to be fine once you turn off the auto-swoosh by typing these two commands into a Terminal:
defaults write com.apple.dock workspaces-auto-swoosh -bool NO
Before, switching to an application (such as Firefox) that didn’t have a window open already on your current desktop would cause you to be whisked randomly to the first desktop which did have a Firefox/Terminal window open. Now, you can switch to Firefox, hit Cmd-N and a window pops up, ready to go with minimal context disruption.
MondoMouse makes it easy to move and resize windows. By default, moving a window involves awkward trips up to the title bar. The tiny resizing handle is even more awkward, and more awkwardly situated, and is often overpowered by an overeager Dock. Now, I just have to hold down Cmd and move the mouse to move the active window. Holding down Cmd and Alt resizes. Again, this doesn’t work quite as nicely as KDE – for instance, the windows don’t snap satisfyingly into place when they get close to other windows or the edge of the screen. MondoMouse is available for a trial period, after which it costs $15.
Various other niceties deserve a mention. I currently prefer the Carbon Emacs over Aquamacs, though there’s not much to separate the two. Quicksilver, Expose and hot corners are great. For Dashboard widgets, I’d recommend iStat Pro, Word of the Day and maybe Album Art. Adding cdto to Finder is handy. Skim is the way forward for reading PDFs in full screen. Alarm Clock for timers. Cyberduck for accessing other computers over SSH (along with MacFuse and SSHFS).
Some things are just broken on the mac, and will probably never be fixed. Steve Yegge has described his heroic failure to civilize the mac’s shiny silvery savagery with proper focus-follows-mouse behavior. In general, OS X’s switching behavior is wrong in a few respects. The application (rather than the window) is the wrong level at which to switch, and so Cmd-Tab is always jarringly confusing to use. There are still kinks with the way that windows activate and bring themselves to the fore, especially when multiple desktops are involved, and I seem to lose a modal dialog to this problem about once every few days. MacPorts and Fink are workable but still disappointing – having two package systems devalues both, downloading binaries is preferable to compiling every time, and the packages are generally patchier than Debian’s apt-get. Finally, X11 is very clearly a second-class citizen, but works tolerably well. Oh, and unbelievably, the regular expressions engine in Python 2.5 appears to be maddeningly sprained!
There were a few pleasant surprises. Two-finger two-dimensional scrolling is unutterably wonderful. The MacBook Air’s colossal touchpad is very pleasant to use, even for nipple-lovers. OS X applications are pretty consistent about keyboard shortcuts. You can re-learn most muscle memories without too much effort so long as you don’t have to switch back and forth between the old and the new too much in the first few weeks. Emacs is still Emacs.