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Moving on from Apple: building my first system

It’s been a while since I upgraded my system, my current main computer is a 5-year old 4th gen 2.5-3.7GHz i7 mid-2014 Retina MacBook Pro with 16GB of system memory and dual graphics; an Intel Iris Pro I don’t know the model to and an Nvidia GeForce GT 750M according to Geekbench.

It was the top stock model when I got it and I feel it’s lost a little speed over the time as my workload increased but at the same time it balanced itself out as I became more efficient doing things and got more acquainted with Terminal (that and I turned off all iCloud services). The most demanding job I give to it is Affinity Designer but even so only this one document with dozens of artboards and heavy on transparencies and effects (occasionally) makes it stutter.

For over a year now I’ve been thinking about getting a new Mac, waiting it out to see what Apple does. But, after the generation of my MacBook Pro I keep watching over and over that problems started plaguing the line and that price has been increasing with no real gain for my use case. I can sort of live with that except that I have also seen macOS’ quality has been going down faster than ever before. As a longtime Mac user I’ve witnessed how this fucking moron Cook has been riding on Jobs’ work without any good ideas of his own and to make them last they’ve increased prices, they made prominent lockdowns to several different areas that force users into their shit, they made the system so annoying to use, so bloated, with a never-ending stream of notifications about bullshit that make Windows Vista’s User Account Control look like a walk in the park.

T2

So, both hardware and software quality is down the drain. Say, I’m still willing to make it work and work out the kinks. Well, enter the T2 chip.

Apple’s quest for [self-serving] security has brought the T2 chip to humanity. The pain in the ass that is iCloud Activation Lock on phones and iPads to your now unbelievable expensive, decreased-in-quality, OS-restricted computer, except on steroids.

For a while Apple’s been putting custom chips on their crap, like the problematic SMC on every Mac, it was just a matter of time. When a computer is riddled with this fucker you better treat it like its your first born –or better– watching for its temperature self-control (which Apple computers are know to let rise as much as possible before turning on the fucking fans) because heat decreases chip life and even so that doesn’t guarantee it won’t fail at any random time because quality is non-existent anymore. The absence of this serialized chip that matches your system as it left the factory, bricks your system. No iCloud needed.

I’ve had Mac minis that randomly lose their serial number in the system and I only notice when the App Store fails to work, then I have to use an obscure non-Apple-provided tool to reprogram it, so, I bet things will be just fine. 👌🏼

Tim Cook somehow seems to believe he can keep Apple’s stubborn ways going. It worked for Jobs and we were OK with it but it was because we were actually getting something in return and innovation kept somewhat coming. Cook has only brought incremental changes to the existing line since Jobs passed. He’s also brought incremental prices.

The one new product I can think of is the watch, they were really trying the pass the fucking wheel –Magic Crown, sorry– as groundbreaking, by the second iteration there was barely even mention of it. The Apple Watch, though market leader, is hardly a must have. Specially with its iPhone dependance.

Here’s the thing; all of the products, no matter how powerful have they gotten, they would’ve gotten were they are no matter what because the market would push them to. So, it’s not really innovation that –say– the iPad got crazy powerful, it’s just evolution.

It’s no secret technology evolves sometimes progressively, sometimes exponentially; some call it the Tick-Tock Model, others Murphy’s Law, I call it like a Tuesday keynote. Who cares anymore.

A crack in the fence

I was willing to put up with so much bullshit from Apple until they made a wrong move by forcing MFA onto users. Their quest for self-serving security backfired, it cracked open the walled garden, a term I’ve always hated but very true in this case.

Back when I was all in under Apple’s spell, I sort of was the poster boy for Apple, using an iPhone, Watch, several tablets and Macs, the works. Then at some point they decided that in order to use some of their services like unlock the computer with the Watch, you had to turn on MFA in your account. I did, at the time I saw no major issue with it. Later I lost my watch and I didn’t get another so I turned MFA back off; you could opt-in and out at will back then.

By the way, Find my Watch was completely useless, naturally. Find my Device only locks your own devices from yourself. Thieves and other bad actors will strip your devices and get value from them even if they’re locked.

Well, I decided it was too annoying to be entering passcodes and all that bullshit specially since I am good at keeping my passwords complex, safe and memorable…for the most part. Even if I wasn’t, it is my strong belief that they should not just force users into MFA and should instead incentivize users into being more proactive because it only makes them ignorant and prone to lockouts and hacks.

Anyway, another time I was trying to set up a business account to use the Volume Purchase Program and it required me to use MFA. The setup didn’t work in the end because of issues with High Sierra’s Profile Manager, see the point of horrendous quality I made before, and I abandoned it completely.

The devices remained setup nevertheless. Little did I know, there were other bugs in iCloud, such as removing devices from your account didn’t actually remove them and you would still need to activate them on the spot with your credentials.

Well, a couple of years back my carrier had a systems error that resulted on me losing immediately my phone number without chance of getting it back. This was the one used for MFA on the business account. I had taken precautions and I saved the PDF of the printed recovery key but though it accepted it I was still required to call support to continue the process. When I called and gave all of my info I was told I needed to receive the text to continue. I explained that what happened was sudden and beyond my control but they were completely useless. Even with the recovery key that’s supposed to recover access to the account.

I got nothing.

In the end I fooled the system using a combination of backups and dumb luck to regain access to a session a clear the device lock. My password was not wrong by the way. And the fact that I, a person who doesn’t know a line of code was able to circumvent their security means there’s so much bullshit and quality issues and nefarious things going on at Apple if they keep trying to push this nonsense onto their users. Drive up bricked device replacement sales, perhaps.

This resulted on me stopping the use on some services, it started with iMessage and FaceTime, as someone who lived happily in the ecosystem, I must say, you start noticing the price of the products real quick if it doesn’t really perform unique cohesive things that got you into it in the first place.

As time went on Apple started adding services in the list of must-have-MFA-to-be-used shrinking the amount of services I could use and hence the cohesion between my Apple devices starting to feel like individual things not all that capable because the lockdowns become obvious again. When you’re in you don’t notice and you don’t mind, but when the system is this flawed you’re just kicking yourself into paying this much for this bullshit.

But when I really got pissed was this one time power went out and I needed to find a hotel, I had my Android phone which was one of my side phones, and I got this hotel-finding app that I hadn’t used since forever and I needed to receive an email in my iCloud account to log in. With my devices off I couldn’t get the email and, iCloud Mail can’t be accessed through a mobile browser.

I tried setting it up on a client and for the first time discovered Apple implemented per-application passwords for iCloud Mail. Email was the last remaining service I got from Apple and now I had to jump through hoops to use it in an emergency.

Fuck you.

When I got to a motel, I started working into deploying my own email.

Getting rid of iCloud completely was hard, specially since I’m so deep into macOS but once I sorted out the file syncing part it started getting easier.

As it turns out, without iCloud, my battery lasts so much longer because Apple’s sync agents use heavy encryption, or maybe it’s compression, or both, add to that that the syncing agents have been very buggy since Sierra and could be render themselves useless until a system update fixes them.

Later my personal iCloud account also got MFA for similar reasons than my business account, but Apple now doesn’t let you opt-out of MFA driving me further away. I was able to go around it by using Family Sharing and letting go of my 20-year-old Apple ID. I use it indirectly with a new account, the Apple ID, the new one, now carries my domain name and I buy nothing at the App Stores because I know I will be leaving Apple soon. All of their bullshit has forced me to do so. I am no longer investing in Apple’s products or services.

To recap,

  • The quality control of the devices
  • The disposable nature of them (like soldered chips and the T2 module)
  • The horrendous turn of macOS in a buggy, lockdown (literally from Catalina onwards), store-pushing operative system.
  • MFA
  • Price-per-[decreasing]-feature
  • Apple becoming a services company, meaning they will get in your face every chance they get. They already started in Mojave and iOS12 with the Books app (among other areas)

These reasons have pushed me to move on. I was waiting for Apple to turn around but that’s not happening. So I’m getting my hardware fix elsewhere.

My options

The one thing I know for certain is that I do not want a Windows desktop. Even though the Windows license(2) is expensive as fuck, Windows is dirt cheap.

(2) I mean Windows Server’s license. I would not use Windows 10 at all. If Windows (server product) is horrible, Windows desktop is a million times worse.

I’m well-versed into Windows. I manage several Windows Server systems and I’m aware of what Windows can do behind the scenes. All the more the reason I do not want to use Windows. I refuse to be one of those that tell another person I can’t right now because my system’s updating. My domain disables Windows Update though, but still, you get the point.

So what else is there? Mainly some BSD and Linux. Realistically, only Linux. Plus, I’m familiar with UNIX systems already.

I’m a little worried about Affinity Designer because it’s only available for macOS and Windows and I finally got a little good on it. I guess I’ll just have to start over with toddler-made-looking designs. I’ve been saving SVG versions of most things so this might give me an insight on how other software works them when imported, hopefully.

I can always have a Windows virtual machine but I’m not exactly sure if I want to use designing software on a VM. I have Illustrator on Windows Server RDS RemoteApps, but that doesn’t work on Linux, it’s full desktop or nothing.

Maybe I just need to dive in like I did when quitting iCloud. I’ve tried switching to Fedora so many times but since I only have Apple devices, they don’t have full support. Mainly, they wake up randomly when they are asleep and deplete the battery. I have tried every major distro there is, none has a fix for this.

In Linux I have five four three choices, the Solus upstream, the Gentoo upstream, the Arch upstream, the Debian upstream and the Fedora upstream. Arch is known to break at some point given its evergreen situation. Mm-no, that out.

Now I’m left with Debian and Fedora. Debian is too um, makeshift-y, too janky, hastily put together for my taste. It is the biggest, it’s robust and stable but not because it’s been thought through, I think. I think it’s only because it’s got an unbelievably amount of people working on it, issues are caught fast in yet another makeshift situation.

I think the biggest offender is Ubuntu, but don’t take my word for it, I’m just an observer with almost no knowledge of it. This is speculation at its wildest.

Then there’s the Red Hat family. I’ve used Red Hat Enterprise Linux, CentOS and Fedora. I like them all. While Red Hat feels the most polished, most upscale –if you will– it’s tends to be at times the one left behind; I noticed for instance, for a while there was no Snapcraft for RHEL while there was for both CentOS (then downstream or sidestream, I don’t know… from RHEL) and there was Snapcraft for Fedora (upstream of RHEL).

RHEL has its own portable package thing, but y’know, still…

Fedora is just amazing but it tends to have some directory quirks sometimes, this a serious problem because my account is a directory account. In all fairness, the directory problem is GNOME’s not Fedora’s per se because it happens as well in other distros like the [also amazing] Zorin OS distro.

And then there is CentOS 8, which is now upstream from RHEL too (hence some sort of Fedora’s sidestream but more towards the middle between the two). It’s finally using dnf which makes it so damn tempting never mind the fact that CentOS is know for its stability and it being upstream means it’s going to be not so far behind from Fedora. I really don’t know which to pick. I want to install and be done with it.

What I do know is that I need to get started like yesterday because even if I’m familiar with all of these OSes, it’ll still be a learning process and I want my aging Macs to be still working to have a backup when I inevitably run into trouble.

So, I started by going to the big names; System76, HP, Dell, Lenovo, etc. The ones that sell Linux desktop systems (other than System76) come with Ubuntu, not even RHEL, and have like a single system that’s a special order an takes forever to come, with a price premium. Then there’s System76. These all carry a premium I think because otherwise there’s not that hot. Furthermore, System76 doesn’t have presence in the country I am therefore I would definitely get a nice surprise when importing it and because they have no presence in the country, in the case of laptops, the keyboard isn’t localized.

I type in English the most but I also type in Spanish, French, Italian and I’m learning Portuguese. The Spanish International keyboard has all the necessary keys already printed, the French AZERTY has them too. English is a hard pass.

That leaves me with something building my own. It seems more or less straightforward. I put and take parts from my servers frequently but I have never installed a processor or a motherboard. I have installed power supplies but that doesn’t really count because in servers they’re hot-pluggable, actually, everything is. No need to route cables and no potential to forget about unplugged ones.

I’m both a little scared and excited.

Building the system

I did a little research. Man! There’s a lot to learn. But as my first build I decided to go with AMD because there’s less room for error.

No only this will be my first build, it’ll also be my first AMD system ever.

I’m ordering one part at a time. I mean, with Amazon Prime it’s not like it’ll take a lot of time. I was for a few hours using one of those benchmark sites a tried a few AMD Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 processors against each other and against the one on my main computer which its exact model is an Intel Core i7-4870HQ, such a mouthful. I know I want it to be at least as fast as my current computer that more than meets my needs.

And OMG, the cheapest model I considered, an already old AMD Ryzen 5 2600 is unbelievably faster than the Intel I’m primarily using and it’s around 2200.00 of the local currency, let’s say it’s fake¢oin, a stupidly-named new cryptocurrency. Aren’t they all. I’m not saying the actual currency for future’s sake, but for reference, a quick mental estimate of a full system minus display could be as little as 10000-12000. The MacBook Pro I mentioned earlier was around 56000 plus another 5500 for AppleCare. Over 60 grand. You can get a car for that. You can [almost] get a no frills city car, brand new. You can definitely get a decent bike for that, like a Yamaha or a Honda or something.

I’m going to buy it later today. I think I’ll go with the Ryzen 2600 because I’ve never installed a processor before I’m think I will break it.

I learned that the AMD AM4 socket is very future-proof and if I can make it work I have a feeling I’ll immediately upgrade.

I don’t think you can return processors because you smear paste onto them, and that’s just bad manners, but at 2200-to-3000, I’m fine with it. I spend more than that on Diet Coke/month alone.

UPDATE: While I was writing this I saved the draft and I already ordered the Ryzen 2600. It was the cheapest and I figured if it works I’ll end up upgrading everything and essentially with a second system so I’ll keep aiming for things with a price I don’t mind disposing of.

I spent so much time giving feedback to Apple, I don’t think they ever listen to customers because they continued down their stupid, self-destructive path, but if they were reading I guess I would say: thank you Tim Cook, for freeing me from that fucking mess you made out of Apple by making all the wrong choices.

Ah! I feel lighter already.