Slashdot | Is Apple Killing Linux on the Desktop?

Posted on January 6, 2008
Tags: linux, OSX, technology

Slashdot | Is Apple Killing Linux on the Desktop?
This is a summary of my experiences walking the path between Linux (Ubuntu/Gnome) and OSX. For background I’ve been using Linux on the desktop for about 7 years, and only in the past 2 months have purchased a MacBook.

For years I’ve been using linux on the desktop, first Debian/Gnome and more recently Ubuntu/Gnome. I must say I really appreciated how well configured the Ubuntu desktop was out-of-the-box, and through good things coming together, how well the dynamic monitor configuration worked. As a programmer, web monkey, researcher and academic writer I had no complaints about the Linux desktop per se. I didn’t really miss any applications, and VM ware could certainly facilitate whatever was required.

What did continually bug me was hardware issues, most notably on recently released hardware. This was well exemplified when I got my MacBook and preceded to repartition it and put Ubuntu on 1/2 the hard drive. Being Intel on the inside it essentially worked, but when I first went to suspend it to ram (which one does all the time on a laptop) it didn’t come back to life. I don’t recall the specifics, but I eventually had to revert to an older kernel to resolve this. But this didn’t unnecessarily overcome the issue entirely, it just reduced the frequency of issues. There were similar issues with the wireless card, which have been fixed in the SVN version of the wireless driver. In time I wanted suspend to disk as well, via Tux on ice. I tempted fate to upgrade to the latest stable Kernel, applied all the Mactel patches, etc. This just reignited all the old suspend to ram issues. Sigh.

So I decided to give OSX a try. As an aside, the first thing I did was install VM ware and X11 so I could continue to use my linux dev environment. This works well except for the messed up copy/paste buffer.

My for few hours could only be described as like swimming through honey. Slow, painful, and I thought I was going to drown. OSX uses a completely different navigation philosophy which took a while to adapt to. For instance, using Finder and search to locate applications, and the application centric window grouping. This second example is especially annoying as a developer, as I routinely have many windows of many applications open at one time. To navigate with the keyboard you have to first (Apple)-TAB to the application and then (Apple)-~ to get to the appropriate window. This makes development especially tedious on OSX, which is why I just run all the required applications from my VM (Firefox, Eclipse, gEdit, terminal, etc) and then just use (Apple)-~ to switch in a less convoluted way. It is still annoying that it cycles all the windows, but the keyboard is poor cousin to the mouse in OSX.

And for the record, expose does not improve this situation, it is more frustrating to have to visually locate the window, grab the mouse and click on it. Having said that, for non-coding tasks like checking email and then checking the news I can see expose would be useful. Especially if there is a lot of windows open.

What I do really appreciate about OSX, I can just close the lid of my laptop and it suspends. And then I open the lid, and 99% of the time it resumes. And that really sums up why I’ve stuck with it. I need to reliably be able to suspend/resume my laptop, and if I can run linux in a VM then that is fine. When the next kernel (2.6.24) is released I’ll give Ubuntu another try, and if it works then I’ll switch back to it.

For non-programmers, who just want a reliable desktop experience then I always point them to a Mac, probably because I would have a clue about how to fix them so that gets me off the hook. But also because, as a pre-packaged unit, they are quite reliably software wise. Oh the hardware side there is an average of 1 “logic board” replaced a month in my department where there are about 20 odd Macs. But they are all under warranty, so thats good.

In relation to the referenced article, I think OSX is retarding the growth of Linux on the desktop because it is providing a more reliable alternative to Linux. But, I think Linux is evolving at a far greater rate than OSX or Windows, and in the longer term it will be a player. Functionally its there, it just lacks a happy home in terms of hardware. Vendors are getting on board, and compatibility is improving. And maybe I’ve missed the product lines which are supported FULLY by linux, but it wasn’t through a lack of trying. I should also qualify “supported” by saying, it driver support need to be in the stock kernel, so they are available to any distro. Ubuntu supports the MacBook better than most distros because they apply all kinds of patches. This is all well and good, but it certainly doesn’t make the MacBook any more Linux compatible.

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