I often set aside my personal biases for work, and I did so to write a piece on Xen para-virtualisation software. Xen only runs on Linux, and so I had to install Linux for the first time in about a year. Now, Xen is way past nifty. But commercial vendors' efforts to turn Linux into a functional interactive environment by grafting on GNOME and YAST and such are just sad. They tried to squeeze ten pounds of compost into a suede coin purse.

Here comes the hate mail: Linux is just a kernel, and kernels don't have UIs. A powerful server operating system doesn't need a whizzo presentation layer, in fact, it only gets in the way. Linux can kick OS X's butt in benchmarks. I ought to RTFMs. And wasn't I just bitching about open source?

For all of Linux's fine qualities, which somehow slipped past me, just setting it up with the latest, greatest installers and auto-configurators made me want to rub my eyes with cheese graters. I've concluded that commercial Linux distributions are overpriced, poorly documented and generally built to be used only by people who have either already mastered them or who don't mind running servers they're afraid to touch.

It's not a matter of aesthetics. If OS X Server had only a command-line interface, it would still have thorough and up-to-date documentation, zero-touch automated updates (no subscription required) that never break dependencies, a cohesive, scriptable and documented administrative command interface for drivers and services, simple tools for creating and serving netboot and network install images, dev tools with volumes of Apple-authored documentation and hundreds of code samples, all free...

I tried. I swear to you, I tried my damndest to take commercial Linux's Wonderland pill by letting my Mac clients sleep in another room. I really thought that I'd been too harsh, too resistant to change, too wrapped up in the Mac, and that if I kept my shoulder to the Linux thing I'd at least understand why it's so celebrated.

After two weeks, only one touted Linux virtue proved true for me: It isn't Windows.

The only way I could make peace with Linux as it exists today would be to make a career out of an operating system. I did that once with Windows, but now that I've shaken it off I can deal with, and even appreciate Windows when work requires it. It took me far less than two weeks to make myself perfectly at home with PC SVr4 Unixes, QNX and THEOS, embedded Linux and uC/OS. I love BSD. But commercial Linux distributions have gotten too fat, and efforts to prop them up with installers and desktop configuration UIs have only accentuated the platform's uncontrolled, multi-dimensional bloat.

It's no big surprise to see a "Mac guy" ragging on Linux, right? Truth is, I don't give a flip about system software except to insist that it be made for humans to operate, not just to be a cement pad upon which a haphazard tangle of server apps and network services, along with their required appendages, and "I read this last night on the Internet" interconnections, can be welded together.

I have too much actual work to do to find any pleasure in the challenge of building a race car out of popsicle sticks. That's Linux.