Coming Up for Air

From OS X to Linux


When I joined Sun Microsystems "way back" in 2008, I was asked if I wanted a Mac for my work system. Having heard many extol the numerous virtues of the OS, I jumped at the chance. Since then, I’ve even migrated my wife and family to the OS. Trouble arose last fall, though, with the delivery of a new MacBook Pro (whose purchase was somewhat a miracle, brought about by the tireless efforts from my upper management). Simply put, I got a lemon. After five trips to the Apple Store, which resulted in overnight diagnostic runs; shipment to an offsite, more advanced repair facility; the replacement of the hard drive; and the replacement of the motherboard, I finally broke down and asked for a new machine, knowing it wouldn’t be a Mac. Just over a week ago, a new Lenovo Thinkpad arrived, and, after putting Linux on it, I have to say I’m generally very happy with the system.more

In general, Apple puts together a very nice system in the MacBook Pro. The machine is a physical beauty, and the OS is veyr polished and user-friendly. As a developer, though, there were somethings that bothered me. The lack of any real visibility (that I could find) into the packaging system, the use of plists over conventional Unix configuration files, the odd command-line parameter parsing in the shell, the nearly universal requirement to use the mouse, the odd keyboard layout, etc. had been grating on me. Now I’l grant that many of these are silly or easily resolved, but they were different enough from years of habit-building that I never could get completely used to them, nor could I find workarounds that I really cared for.

From a user experience, my complaints realy boil down to personal preferences. Many will likely read this list and think I’m quite a crank for my age, and that’s fine. We all have different preferences (I recently read a blurb about a Haskell developer — I forget his name — who prefers Windows!. Now that’s crazy, right? ;). At the end of the day, I had some minor quibbles with the OS, but I sucked it up and pressed on, and was generally pretty productive. Much more than I was on the Windows laptop at my last gig.

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Enter Linux. Or, I should say, re-enter Linux. I’ve been using Linux for many, many years now, so many of the annoyances I found when using OS X were the result of forming habits in that other Unix-like OS. On this new machine, I installed Linux Mint, which seems to the flavor of the day in some circles, and was mostly pleased. I had some odd issues with menus in NetBeans that seem to be GNOME-related, so I tried LXDE, which I found to be a bit…​ugly, and finally KDE, with which I had some stability issues. Over the course of part of an afternoon, then, I installed Ubuntu 12.04, since I had read that they fixed all the woes that at first plagued Unity. Surprisingly, I’m pretty happy with Unity. It has its issues, but the system is fast and stable, and lets me work the way I prefer, which is all I really wanted.

Given my experience with this latest system, I doubt I’ll return to OS X in the near future. For me, Linux on the desktop is just about right. The price certainly is.


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