If you’ve been following me on twitter, you’ve already been tipped off that I recently got an older MacBook Pro. Since it came with Mac OS installed, I decided I would give it a fair, 30-day trial before I move it to Linux. I’m about 3 weeks in, and I’m logging my thoughts publicly so you can hopefully see benefit.

What I’m NOT comparing

In a word: speed. This was a significant hardware upgrade from my last computer, so I’m not going to say anything how everything is so much faster, smoother blah blah because it would’ve been anyway and that’s not useful to you or anyone. Also, virtualization: I know that I can get X or Y if I just use VirtualBox. I’m going to ignore that here for simplicity.


Before I make stupid lists, I should note that I was working on an Ubuntu Karmic Koala, so I had all of the pre-packaged nice-ities that come with that.

Now, in no order whatsoever:

  • Dock - mac has a built-in dock, Linux has AWN. IMO, Linux wins because you have more options for customization.
  • Terminal - Both systems have a built-in terminal. I’m a bash user and that came with both. One part where Linux shines is that a lot more tools build themselves to be launched by the Terminal by default. For example, try typing “which firefox” in the Mac terminal. Nope. On Mac, you can use “open -a [application]” to do this. I’ll reluctantly say tie here then ;)
  • Browsers - Oh sweet! I can get Safari on a Mac without any hacks. Don’t care. Long as you have Google Chrome you basically have Safari with a faster Javascript engine as far as I’m concerned. No winner
  • Code editing - All the dev. tools I had in Linux, I still have on Mac. Same vim. Same NetBeans (well, as far as you care). Same IntelliJ. BUT… I now have access to TextMate and Coda. So far I suck with both but a bunch of cool people say they rock so I’m going to give Mac the win here. Oh, and XCode tools which I’d need if I ever wanted to write an iPhone app. That, too.
  • Window organization/effects - I’m a big fan of multiple desktops. Both OSes have this, but I’d argue that Compiz on Linux has way more customization options. Both have cool the exposé. On Mac, though, you can’t move windows between desktops with a keyboard shortcut (Are you kidding me? There has GOT to be a Mac tool that allows this). Linux wins here.
  • Multiple monitor support - I’m breaking out the cliché phrase “It just works” here and I bow humbly to Mac OS here. No more messing with xorg.conf files or dealing with the crappy NVidia tools.
  • Notifications - Should die anyway because they kill productivity, but if you care more stuff on Mac (that I’ve seen) integrates with Growl than those that integrate with libnotify on Linux. Whatever.
  • App launching - Gnome-Do is pretty much a really good rip-off of Mac’s Quicksilver. Love both. To me they’re pretty much equivalent except that I’m seeing more plugins/customization options for Gnome-Do.
  • Backups and scheduling - Both systems have cron, so that’s not an issue. Both integrate well with Dropbox (<3 that service). One thing Mac has over Linux here is built-in Time Machine. It integrates really well with my Time Capsule at home, and most of you (except Chris Coyier, sorry dude that sucks) have shared good experiences with it. It does annoy me that I can’t configure when backups run, but I’m not going to whine until it bites me harder.
  • Dashboard - Not much of a comparison, really. One thing Linux has that I can’t seem to find a good replacement for is conky. Only sorta-not-really replacement is the Mac dashboard, which does look sweet granted.
  • App updates - The Synaptic package manager pretty much kicks the crap out of all other app management systems. That said, I’ve found the Mac AppFresh to be marginally useful for keeping stuff up-to-date. Linux still wins here, though.
  • Presentations - I didn’t buy Keynote, so I can’t compare it with Linux offerings. Only reason I put it here is that I do care about it and if anyone has any insights that’d rock.
  • UPDATE: VPN - I forgot how cool the built-in VPN is on Macs. It is much more painful in Linux (in my experience) Score +1 for Mac there.

I’m sure I forgot or don’t know about some tools. Leave a comment and I’ll answer.

Keyboard shortcuts

I’ll start by saying that switching to a mac keyboard still f***s me up often. I’ve installed DoubleCommand to help alleviate some of my problems, but this whole “Home not being start of line” stuff really messes with me. If someone could point me to a good guide on with keyboard shortcuts for editing (like selecting a single word) I’ll buy you a beer or something equivalent.

Other than my initial whining, most everything can be hooked to a keyboard action and I hardly have to touch my sweet multi-touch touchpad. I’d say Mac OS generally equivalent to Linux other than the whole can’t move windows to workspaces (seriously, WTF). A beer if you can help me figure out how to do that, too. On second thought, Linux wins because it does have a lot more places you can configure shortcuts (good), but they’re often duplicated and could be conflicting and confuing. Ok, on third thought nobody wins.

Other random carp

This multi-touch thingy is pretty sweet. I know Linux has some multi-touch libs but I haven’t tried them out. More on that later, but I’m betting Mac wins.

I know I omitted a lot of stuff. Probably because I don’t care about it, but maybe I do and I just didn’t think of it. This is my setup and won’t work for you. That said, advice welcome. :)

At this point, there are no winners, just differences. That’ll change once I feel like I’ve given Mac OS a fair shot. FWIW, this is good news for Linux. Even if I switch to Mac, right now I can’t find that much more sweetness here (unless I have to write iPhone apps). Good work Linux community, you’re getting there. Keep it up.

Oh, one more thing… I don’t normally do this, but this video was the best review of Mac OS “Snow Leopard” and probably the funniest thing I’ve seen in 2009. Enjoy!

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