Back in Mac

Well, not quite yet, but next week.

After using Linux for a month, and being relatively okay with it in general, I have, in the end, decided to go back to Mac — not for any reason related to what I do at home, but simply because using wireless internet in our office on Linux is a gigantic pain in the ass. (Note that using wireless internet on Mac is only *slightly* less of a pain in the ass, but it’s at least usable.)

The various solutions for wireless in the office I work in are:

  • WPA login with certificate stored on secure token — This one might, in theory, be possible to get working under Linux, but it’s not trivial, and not something that I have any knowledge for. Basically, using a Windows based UI, I was able to export a personal cert, which then gets stored on a third party token (where I can’t get the cert back out); I can then use this to authenticate to the wireless. This solution is the best in terms of latency, limited login pain, etc., and breaks less often than the other solutions we have. (Only about once every 2-3 weeks instead of once every 2-3 days.) Practically speaking, this option is Mac or Windows only — and even there, the Mac support is only in a very beta trial. (I may be the only one in the company with it.)
  • Juniper SSL/VPN: There’s a juniper-networks provided SSL/VPN that requires a login through the browser, and is then able to start up a Java client. However, to use it on Linux requires some magic that my particular install doesn’t seem to have, and I haven’t heard particularly good things about its Linux support in general. This option only introduces 120ms of latency to local machines, so it is the best option of the VPN based options.
  • Cisco VPN Client/vpnc: This is the solution that exists in a reasonable form on Linux. This is essentially no worse on Linux than it is on Mac, but it has serious problems if you’re actually moving around an office with limited wireless connectivity in some parts of it: if I move from one conference room to another and hop between Wireless APs, the Cisco VPN/vpnc connection will usually drop, and is not reconnect in any way. (Even worse, unless I’m actively looking at the screen and notice the OSD message, I usually don’t even notice.) This is somewhat exacerbated in Linux by overall somewhat poorer Wireless reception with the particular hardware that I have (“Intel Corporation Ultimate N WiFi Link 5300” in a Dell Precision M2400). It’s possible (even plausible) that other Linux hardware could either get better reception for any number of reasons, or be better at managing transitions between wireless APs (which this model seems to try very hard not to do), but rather than experiment with a dozen different laptops, I’m falling back to what I know.
  • IPSec VPN connection built into OS X: It would be nice if this actually worked as well as the vpnc connection, but this is actually even worse, in my experience, than the vpnc connection: It requires re-passwording every hour (which no other solution that exists seems to, so I assume it’s the client doing something different), doesn’t handle reconnects any better, etc.

Of these solutions #1 and #2 do not appear to work at all on Linux, and the #4 fallback isn’t available on Linux. Given how often these services fall over – as I said, some form of VPN probably falls over on an almost-daily basis – in order to have ‘working’ wireless, I really need to have the largest set of options available to me. Other than this, the only issues I’ve run into on Linux at all are some very minor hardware issues around power management, trackpad drivers, and the size of the laptop I currently have — all of which would likely be fixed by the upgrade to an X220 that I was considering before I decided to go back to Mac.

It will be a bit of a shame to switch back to Mac after being on Linux and actually being able to work locally for a while, but overall, I think I won’t mind it as much as I expected: it seems a lot more of my work is done on remote hosts as of late anyway, since a lot of the data I work with has grown in size by 2-3 orders of magnitude over the past year. Still, I really wish that I could have stuck it out — being one of ‘those people’ using a mac in our office just feels wrong.

2 Responses to “Back in Mac”

  1. John Cowan Says:

    Wireless and sound are the two issues that Linux tends to fall down on, mostly because standardization beyond the lowest possible level is dreadfully lacking.

  2. Tobin Says:

    Bummer, but I can empathize. On my linux box at home I have Windows 7 in a VM just so I can connect to the office with their crappy proprietary VPN client.