Should You Switch from OS X to Linux?

Delkadelkaramous writes:

I switched from Windows to OS X several years back and fell in love with not only the beauty and elegance of the Apple hardware and software but, mainly, not having to restrict the temptation to annihilate my computer when it succumbed to viruses, malware, crap software, etc.

I recognize that Apple will make its customers pay a premium price for its (mostly) premium products and deliver a (mostly) repeatable/stable experience, and I am OK with that. But its business model is starting to leave a bad taste in my mouth.

I own multiple Apple products including iMacs, MacBook Pros, iPods, Airport Extremes, and Time Capsules. For the most part, they are definitely far more stable than products made for the Windows environment. But they don’t “just work.” Not always. And I have had my extended three-year AppleCare warranties pay for themselves every single time! This experience has made me question the longevity of owning an Apple computer.

I recently sold my iPad 2 as it will, eventually, be left behind by a future iOS version and will have to be either stuck in time or jailbroken.

Also, Apple is trending toward the thinner design profiles. Personally, I don’t think I will miss the optical drives and I love the idea of computers becoming more lightweight and portable. But when MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros with Retina displays have their RAM soldered right onto the logic board, I get a little worried. I think about the repair costs after my three-year warranty expires and I become unhappy.

Then I go to iTunes and purchase a song by Tenacious D (Jack Black, baby, yeah). I open Audacity to edit the song to make my own ringtone for my LG Octane (correct, I still don’t have a smartphone) and what happens? The file is locked! I understand that iPhone users who wish to make their own ringtones may do so via iTunes but must, again, pay Apple to use them! To me, this is just too greedy and it hurts to see a company like Apple flex its greed in this petty way.

Recently, I have been researching Linux distros and Linux-compatible hardware as an alternative and I am not sure how to make sense of it as a viable option for me. I am particularly attracted to Linux Mint (yes, over Ubuntu) as it appears to be very clean and straightforward, much like OS X.

I am considering going to Linux for my next computer.

I consider myself a mostly casual user (as opposed to being a power user). I have studied C++ and HTML, but I do not program (haven’t for years). So do I really want to get into the command prompt world? I am not afraid of learning; that is not my concern. Nor am I afraid of not being able to run TurboTax on Linux (heck, I will just use my dad’s iMac since he is the most basic type of user and Mac is a godsend for him — always will be).

But will I have a lasting and satisfying experience with it? I guess that is my core question.

I use my iMac to:

  • Browse the Internet (Safari is a very comfortable browser, but Firefox feels more secure).
  • Watch YouTube videos (duh).
  • Watch Netflix and Hulu.
  • Listen to music (although I am starting to dislike iTunes because of not being able to truly own my music). Nowadays if I want some music, I just buy the CD and import the songs onto iTunes without losing the complete ownership I enjoy.
  • Organize my family pictures (iPhoto is a cool app and I really love it). Is there a decent alternative in the Linux world?
  • Sometimes compose a document (using either MS Word for Mac or Pages; both are fine for me). Does LibreOffice let you save files as Word Docs?
  • Play games on Steam. (Although lately I have had Half Life 2 crash on me every time on my Mac — it really gets on my nerves!)
  • Do a little video editing with my home movies (using iMovie) to make .MOV or .MP4 files, which I may later sync with my iPods.

That’s about it… I don’t burn CDs. I don’t need a specific program or app that handcuffs me to Windows or OS X. And I am not emotionally obsessed with either system.

However, if I switch to Linux and lose a usable and sync-able app like iCal, I would be very disappointed and would regret the switch over. But if there are good alternatives in Linux, that would be awesome!

How many of my normal activities should I expect to disappear if I switch to Linux Mint or possibly another distro?

I think what appeals to me about Linux is that, in the long run, if I gain some expertise in the language and am able to customize my user experience, say, in a customized version of Arch Linux, I might have myself a tricked-out OS built around my preferences. This dream, of course, is not something I expect Linux to deliver on day one; instead, it is something I have to study and learn on my own.

As you have probably already deciphered, I have no interest in going back to Windows (yuck!); even though Windows 8 and the Live Tiles concept is very intriguing, I consider it more gimmicky than a major advancement in the OS.

Last, I would like to mention that, if I stay in the Apple universe, I will likely buy an iPhone in order to keep my Calendar, Contacts, etc. easily synchronized. But if I switch to Linux, will I still have a viable alternative in the form a mobile device (say… the Galaxy S4 [you know it's coming, some day]) that will give me a similarly synchronized experience?

Sorry about my confusing train of thought, but the ideas are even more jumbled in my head.

Anyway, thank you for your time and attention.

You’ve outlined your case insanely well. Thank you for that.

It seems to me, however, that you’ve already answered your own question — which is fine.

Linux MintHonestly? Given your background and interest, you might consider saving up and buying a Linux computer as a secondary machine — much like I purchased a Mac as a secondary PC to my primary Windows system a few years back. This gives you the ability to experience the second operating environment without depending entirely on it. It’s like dipping your feet in the water before diving in. Often, we end up suffering by jumping from one environment to another entirely without properly testing the capabilities of the new operating system. You might find that one Linux distro works better than another for you, and being able to pivot without having to reset your primary system while you make that determination can be a great thing.

Or, if you want to start playing with Linux immediately, why not fire up an instance of Ubuntu or Mint in a VM on OS X now — Parallels makes it easy, but you could also use VirtualBox. This allows you to test different distros side-by-side without having to invest in a new machine until you’ve decided exactly what you want to do.

Linux is good and getting better every day. Operating systems built on the Linux kernel are everywhere. My television runs on Linux, for crying out loud! Distros like Ubuntu and Linux Mint are making it a very viable option for consumers, especially if they (like yourself) have issues with the direction Apple and Microsoft are taking their products.

Linux works very well with Android. Actually, Android is a Linux distro in itself. The iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch aren’t as compatible, but you don’t have to have a PC to sync these devices anymore. Just keep your music in iCloud and you can have it on your iOS devices. Likewise, your Google Music collection should be able to migrate over, and there are certainly plenty of workarounds to make that possible. iTunes dropped DRM some time ago, and updating your existing collection to DRM-free is possible through iTunes Match.

Video editing is a tough sell on Linux. There are plenty of great open source video editing programs out there, but these programs tend to be very personal in preference, so I couldn’t absolutely recommend one over the other without knowing what you’re searching for. Chromium and Firefox are excellent browsers on Linux, and it shouldn’t be hard to sync your existing data from Firefox on OS X over for a seamless experience.

Getting used to a new interface is seldom easy, but the benefits of the experience last long after the initial learning period. Employers are looking for people who know more than just one interface. If you want a career in IT, having a working knowledge of Linux and the command line certainly couldn’t hurt. You never know when you’ll be in a situation where that knowledge puts you at an advantage.

You’re definitely going to have a less frustrating life if you remain in Apple’s ecosystem (since all of its products were generally designed to work well together), but if you’re willing to put up with discomfort, by all means, stretch your options!

Article Written by

Chris has consistently expressed his convictions and visions outright, supplying practical information to targeted audiences: media agencies, business owners, technology consumers, software and hardware professionals, et al. He remains a passionate personality in the tech community-at-large. He's a geek.

  • Ben Bidmead

    I started off using Linux as a hobby, and i like it and understand it very well. Although, i still wouldn’t feel comfortable now to switch completely anyway. I still prefer OS X, maybe its because of the Propiertary app range and the more seriously it is taken. I just feel like OS X is the Linux that got popular and made money… (Funnily enough OS X is actually based on Unix-Like and is similar to FreeBSD) I like the Linux like terminal and i love the app compatibility, I also don’t feel strapped down to it like some feel. Just dont buy movies on iTunes! They are DRM-Filthy.

    • bwat47

      I actually switched from linux to OSX recently. I have a windows background, its what I had always used for years, previously the only apple product I had was an iPod. When I moved from just using a desktop pc to also having a laptop, I quickly became very disappointed on windows on a laptop. The touchpad support in windows in particular is always absolutely atrocious. I loathe using the touchpad in every windows laptop I’ve ever used.

      This is what first led me to try ubuntu/linux (During my years of using linux I’ve tried about every distro, DE, and WM under the sun). When I first booted an ubuntu live usb I was amazed at how much better the touchpad worked out of the box, compared to any windows laptop I’ve ever used. Things like the fn keys often worked much better as well (for example on one of my laptops, an asus, the play/pause hotkey was HARDCODED to open windows media center… In linux works out of the box as a play/pause button and other things like that).

      However after years of using linux, and tons of distro and DE hopping one thing finally pushed me over the edge: Bugs and lack of quality control. Every single linux distro and DE, I always ran into ridiculous bugs all over, every new version of gnome, kde, unity etc… always had new and annoying regressions. I actually very rarely had driver issues with linux (had mostly intel hardware), it was DE and software bugs that always got me.

      So I recently got very fed up and decided to take the dive on the macbook air. So far I think it was worth it. Touchpad is amazing, both hardware and osx’s software supports, the gestures are very natural and very useful. So far OSX seems far less buggy than linux, everything I’ve tried just works as expected, no longer running into weird little bugs around every corner. I do wish they had some lower priced hardware, but the quality does at least seem quite good so I don’t really feel like I’ve “overpaid” much. Yeah, you can get a windows laptop with decent specs for ~500-800 dollars, but it certainly won’t have 12 hour battery life, an amazing touchpad and keyboard etc… For that kind of quality you’d want a high end ultrabook, and the prices for those are quite similar to apple’s offerings. I have yet to try an ultrabook, I’m sure there is some good windows ultrabooks, but my experiences with touchpads in windows just left too bad of a taste in my mouth to get another windows laptop.

    • James Orangeseed

      I’d just like to point out some inaccuracies here.
      The Terminal is exactly the same BASH environment that runs on most U/*nix OSes, so you can’t call it “Linux-like” because it didn’t even originate on Linux!
      Secondly, OS X isn’t Unix-like! It’s based on Unix! It goes back to the initial code that was, in fact, shared between Unix and BSD! And what do you mean it’s more seriously taken? Do you really think people consider Linux a toy or something? Some of the world’s most powerful supercomputers run Linux, and so are many, many servers, so I’d think Linux is taken quite seriously.
      But you were right in saying that people shouldn’t buy movies from iTunes. =P

      • Ben Bidmead

        Im sorry, My previous uneducated self. Over the last 4 months i have learnt a lot, and have realised that OS X is Unix. And i know that the Bash enviorment is the same, however, if i wanted to list drives on OS X, id need to do diskutil list, instead of lsblk, if i wanted to check my network settings, i’d use ifconfig, however on linux i’d user ip link. I think the general public and consumers see it as a bad platform, and the elitist windows users, who look down on it and feel clever. Not to say that 80% of web infrastructure think like that though.