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Back to OS X

I tried switching back from (Mac) OS X to Linux, but unfortunately, I am now returning back.

I have been using Linux for the most part of the past thirteen years. The last seven, I have been switching back and forth between Apple’s OS X and various Linux distributions. The machines I use are an ancient Macbook Pro 15″ (2006) and my fairly recent Macbook Air 13″ (mid-2011). Now, for the first time, I am considering staying with OS X for good, despite really not wanting to.

I don’t like Apple. I don’t like how they lock their users to their ecosystem and I don’t like the monster that became iTunes. Also, having experienced a series of hardware failures over the years — a problematic iPhone 3G that was replaced by another faulty model, two different laptop chargers, a logic board on my month-old MacBook Air, a replacement of my iPod Mini and a replacement of my partner’s iPad Mini — I really don’t like Apple’s strategy of releasing products that have not been thoroughly tested.

On the other hand, I love their designs and I love the way their machines feel. The materials they use and the techniques they employ to put them together give them a premium feel. Although I have switched from iPhones to Android phones years back, I have not been able to replace their laptops. After all, until a couple of years ago, there was no laptop in the market that could replicate the smoothness and accuracy of Apple’s trackpad. Therefore I stayed with Macs despite the aforementioned hardware failures. My personal experience in terms of hardware was a positive one: I always purchase the extended warranty and since I am a backup-freak I need minimum effort to restore the system to its prior condition, thus being able to enjoy the benefits of the premium experience without worrying too much about the possible failures.

Having established that I am using Apple laptops and that I am quite satisfied with them (thanks to the extended warranty), let me proceed to discussing the core of my ambivalence and irritation: the Operating System. I am not happy with (Mac) OS X that Apple’s laptops come pre-loaded with and I am not satisfied with the Linux alternatives that I have tried.

On OS X I like the quality of their applications and the way sleep-and-wake just works — you  close the laptop lid and the computer goes to sleep without consuming significant resources and once you open it back, you have the whole system up and running in a matter of seconds. Everything else I hate. I don’t like that I can’t tailor my desktop to my needs without constantly trying to ‘cheat’ Apple using dirty hacks and third-party apps. I don’t like the Apps mentality and the way Apple makes money from its ‘stores’. The main reason I dislike OS X is because my experience with it is one where I am forced to adopt my workflow to suit the way Apple thinks is the right way to use the OS.

On Linux I love the freedom. I can do most of the things I want and I know that  whatever I do today, will probably work in ten years time. In fact, I have been using scripts that I have written various years back that still do the same job they were supposed to do when they were written. That being said, I have never been able to appreciate the ‘Linux desktop experience’ much. When I am in my Linux-using-periods most of my time is spent in front of a terminal. Not because it is difficult to use — both my young brother and my mum use Ubuntu — but because it is the fastest way to do things for me. Contrary to most people who don’t like Linux because it lacks the smooth experience that OS X provides, I do not care much about it, since I am able to fine-tune my laptop to a satisfactory degree. OK – I might lose Apple’s sleep-and-wake magic, but I do have a decent resume functionality and anyhow, they system works for me and I don’t mind the extra work it takes to get it there (I secretly enjoy it).

What I don’t like about Linux comes down to its Applications.

Lately, I found myself using elementaryOS, which is a new Ubuntu-based distribution that focuses on design and usability. Elementary is beautiful and well-crafted and in my opinion gives a vastly superior experience to both Gnome 3 and Unity desktop environments. Here I am then, having a lovely environment to work, but lacking the applications to actually work. For example, I cannot find a decent email application. Thunderbird uses too many resources and Mozilla made it clear that Thunderbird is no longer one of its priorities. Elementary OS on the other hand, has its own email client, called Geary, which despite it being aesthetically pleasing, is far from stable. I also cannot find a decent PDF reader that highlights text and extracts it in a plain txt document, like Skim.app does on OS X. Working in Emacs and Chrome is no longer enough for me. I need some standalone applications that can do what I want, when I want it, without crashing and without using 100% of my CPU. I should not have to forcibly kill the Mail application. I should not be still waiting for a decent PDF reader in 2013. And yes, I have tried all (most?) of them. It is not like I am asking for crazy things, like an uber-fluid RSS reader that syncs with feedly, or a decent twitter client that actually works. I am asking for basic things.

But since Linux (on the Desktop) is mainly the work of people who donate their time, I should not ask for anything. In fact, I am not entitled to ask. I am grateful to all those people who have sacrificed their personal time for projects that I have enjoyed greatly over the years.

For now, I will regretfully return back to OS X since my academic work largely depends on Skim.app, which I have not been able to replace on Linux. This sucks. GNU/Linux is more than an OS for me. It is part of an ideology that I try (and in this case failing) to live my life by. I hope to be able to return soon. I will keep my elementary OS installation for keeping up to date with the development of the project, but until I can find decent applications to cover my day-to-day needs, I am afraid I cannot keep using Linux for my work.

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  1. Have you given them a small amount of money to help developing Elementary? I am planning to, albeit my money is from a country in development, not a rich one (which makes it much harder to give them simple $ 15, for instance).

    I had serious problems with a second-hand Macbook Air wifi connection, which the Apple Support couldn’t help me with because the damn thing worked perfectly while in their store — and only there. At all other places, though, including airports, cafes and my own house, the wifi connection sucks utterly.

    The generic driver from opensource community saved me, or, better saying, saved my macbook air from being smashed. I think I will cross the road the other way around, quitting OSX for good and spending my time, patience and money, whenever I can, to help developers in opensource community. Fair enough, don’t you think?