Election Results: Mac over Ubuntu in a landslide

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Just before election day in the US I bought another Mac (a MacBook Pro, Core 2 Duo to be precise) after ditching my Ubuntu laptop. This goes against some of the recent migrations that smart people have been making. Mark Pilgrim moved from Mac to Ubuntu, as have a few others.

I’ve read why they switched, and in my experience I’m voting 100% in the other direction. Why? Well, first some background.

I’ve been using Linux frequently for 6+ years. I’ve used Caldera, RedHat, SuSE, Gentoo (extensively), and Ubuntu. Almost all of them were installed on more than one machine, some were desktops and some were servers. Linux has served as my primary all-day-programming desktop for over 18 months. I’ve been around the block with Linux. I’m no stranger to compiling, configuring, and kernel stuff. They don’t intimidate me me.

I’ve also owned a Mac for two years. In that time I’ve used it to do some development and some home stuff. I’ve used it a fair amount. I’ve used it enough to have problems with it (corrupt disk), and I’ve used it enough to know that there are some quirks I’m not fond of (I can’t hit Tab in the browser and give focus to a checkbox).

Recently, very early this year I installed Ubuntu on multiple machines — a couple laptops, a desktop, and a remote server. I’ve used these machines as my primary work and home environments for close to 6 months now. And I’m ready to move on (at least in my home environment).


Because things in Ubuntu almost work, and on a Mac things Just Work. Ubuntu’s close enough to working that the “almost” takes a few months to fully manifest itself, but in the end I’m sick of fiddling and I’d rather move on to just Getting Things Done.

Hands Down Mac Victories

Search. Spotlight nails it. Beagle’s cool, but it’s not there. It’s a wannabe, and it shows. The presentation isn’t as good. The integration into the “chrome” of the operating system isn’t as smooth. In short, the little barriers to invoking it as well as the slightly less useful results it gave made me abandon it after a couple weeks. On a Mac, I live by Spotlight. And it rarely fails me. On Ubuntu, it almost works.

Mail. Mail.app is great. Evolution almost works. I have to use exchange at work (I have Ubuntu installed there, too). Evolution has a module to integrate with Exchange, and it sorta thinks about working. It’s slow, and frequently it hangs. So much so that I got sick of typing

ps -ef | grep evolu | grep -v grep | awk '{ print $2 }' | xargs kill

that I put it in a batch file shell script. I ran it no less than twice a day, sometimes more. Calendaring almost worked, except when it didn’t. Frequently I’d send out an appointment only to figure out that my colleagues version of the appointment didn’t repeat over the right interval. I don’t blame anyone for having trouble integrating with a Microsoft product. But at the end of the day, it was still annoyingly brittle. On Mac, there’s Entourage — an M$ product to work with the M$ server. As it is, Mail.app rocks for processing my personal email really efficiently. Oh, and it can export your mail to mbox. Duh. On Ubuntu, mail almost works.

Wireless. Wireless Just Works on a Mac (providing your router isn’t ancient). On Ubuntu, it’s the opposite. If you buy a great machine, your wireless may take months to work. On my work machine, I couldn’t use the regular Broadcom driver setup, and so I had to resort to ndiswrapper. The funny thing is, that once I got it setup, it started the habit of dropping the connection randomly. Sometimes it’d go 20 minutes, or an hour and a half, or 30 seconds. It was unpredictable. Come to find out, there’s an IRQ conflict between ndiswrapper and nvidia. A conflict that only the BIOS manufacturer (Dell) can resolve. So if I want to use wireless when working from home, I have to turn off nvidia. If I want the eye candy of Beryl (more on that later) at work, then I have to switch my xorg.conf every time my laptop migrates.

Visual Effects. Ok. So I love that twirling cube on the Mac. The login box shakes its head at you when you put the wrong password in. The system preferences menu highlights areas that may have what you’re looking for as you search. Beyond being “cute”, these kinds of user interface indications provide street signs and affordances that anchor the user in a useful mental model of how the system is treating their actions. It reduces both the Gulf of Evaluation and the Gulf of Execution by radiating system state in a creative, intuitive, meaningful way. There seem to be several different combinations of programs and libraries that you can install on Ubuntu to try to bring some of this UI goodness to your Linux desktop. Beryl has been my most recent favorite. But the maze of configuration settings and the massive number of things that can go wrong if you don’t get something setup quite right are annoying. I had XGL and Compiz setup great on my laptop. Then I did an update one day and everything broke. I had no chrome (close, max, min buttons; resize arrows, etc.) on any of my windows. I dropped back to my normal window manager. I waited. 2 days. 5 days. 3 weeks. Nothing. Meanwhile, my work laptop continued to like Compiz. But then I added an external monitor and then nothing worked. Then Beryl came out. It worked. It fixed both problems, but added others. Configuration still was an intermediate level task. On Ubuntu, the visual effects are mainly eye candy, unstable, and hard to configure. On a Mac, the visual effects are subtle, elegant UI design that Just Works.

Audio Effects. Chat doesn’t blare at you, and the Power On sound is impressive. The sound design shows the same kind of polish as the Tokyo subway. On Ubuntu, some of the sounds are great but some are lame. The inconsistency an lack of harmony among the components is reminiscent of the PC fragmentation. On Ubuntu, it’s almost sorta there, but not quite. A Mac feels more integrated and unified, in my opinion, and the design standard is clearly on a higher Zen plane.

Bluetooth. Bluetooth on the Mac just works. I’ve had an iMac with a bluetooth keyboard and mouse for over 2 years now. I’ve used that same iMac to connect to my cell phone and my bluetooth headset. I’ve pulled pictures off my cellphone, dropped MP3 ringtones onto it, and browsed it’s directories. Ubuntu’s support of bluetooth is nothing short of disastrous. There are half baked projects scattered across both Gnome and KDE. Some work, some don’t. None could connect to my cell phone. Only one could browse part of it. Ubuntu simply gets a failing grade in this area, for sucking the life out of me while I fell down this rabbit hole into the Pit of Despair. On Mac bluetooth Just Works.

Bonus Points for the Mac

Sadly, I don’t have time to elaborate on why this things are so cool. You should just buy a Mac, and then you’d know.

  • QuickSilver. You can’t understand how cool this is by simply reading.
  • Magnetic battery connection. It’s like moving to a mouse with a scroll wheel — you have to experience it.
  • Scriptability.
  • I can boot off another device. Like, say, another Mac in Firewire-mode.
  • Movie editing. No, real movie editing.
  • iPod+iTunes. (amaroK is lame, iTunes is QuickSilver enabled)
  • Open formats. Most things speak the open formats I care about.
  • Two finger right click + horizontal scroll. Yup, experience required to feel the cool factor.

Stuck on Windows

Visio. There’s nothing on Ubuntu that lets me read files written by Visio. Oh, and VMWare on Linux almost works. Except their website process for downloading the free server edition requires me to re-register every time I need to download. And it requires strange root access. At it can’t boot the physical partition where my real Windows data is. And I’d have to ask support to register my virtual instance with the domain controller so they could conceivably remotely install Visio on my virtual instance. Nope, gotta keep the dual boot. In fact, this has actually pushed me more toward staying in Windows on the work machine.


My reasons for choosing to dump Ubuntu for a Mac are almost entirely about the experience. After years of Linux work, I’m tired of fiddling. I’m tired of things that almost work. I’m ready for a change. I’m sick of the war to get things to work. I’m ready to simply Get Things Done.

Cast your vote.

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18 Responses »

  1. Warning: Illegal string offset 'keywords_time' in /home/sstimshadel/timshadel/wp-content/plugins/internal_link_building.php on line 103

    VMWare? Have you tried Parallels? I’m using it, it works well. Also, Crossover claims to be able to run Visio with no virtual machine (http://www.codeweavers.com/products/cxmac), but I hadn’t tried it yet.

  2. Warning: Illegal string offset 'keywords_time' in /home/sstimshadel/timshadel/wp-content/plugins/internal_link_building.php on line 103

    Hey Tim,

    I’m the maintainer of Beagle and I read the Spotlight vs. Beagle segment of your post. Obviously I’m interested in improving the user experience, and search is one of those things that is very subjective in its usefulness based on the user’s personal data. I’d like to follow up with you (preferably through email) on ways to improve it. In particular:

    • The presentation isn’t as good.
    • The integration into the “chrome” of the operating system isn’t as smooth.
    • In short, the little barriers to invoking it
    • The slightly less useful results it gave made me

    I’d like to get a little more detail about these, if you wouldn’t mind.

  3. Warning: Illegal string offset 'keywords_time' in /home/sstimshadel/timshadel/wp-content/plugins/internal_link_building.php on line 103

    Depending what you need Visio for, OmniGraffle Pro from Omnigroup is awesome. Once you figure it out, you’ll be hooked. It opens visio files if it’s saved in visio xml format. In my experience, there are some quirks but it’s one of my favourite software on mac.

    For a Microsoft Project replacement, check out Merlin 2 by projectwizards (currently RC2). It’s a real pleasure to use too.

  4. Warning: Illegal string offset 'keywords_time' in /home/sstimshadel/timshadel/wp-content/plugins/internal_link_building.php on line 103

    Thanks for sharing this.

    I have commented on that on my blog: http://me.irulan.net/2006/java-podcaster-switches-from-linux-to-mac-os-x/

  5. Warning: Illegal string offset 'keywords_time' in /home/sstimshadel/timshadel/wp-content/plugins/internal_link_building.php on line 103

    This was a very well-written post that describes well my whole reason and experience in moving to Mac OS X. Windows lacks any real power of a *nix operating system, and anything *nix-ish lacks any kind of smooth user interface. At this point, Mac OS X seems to be the best of both worlds.

    With regards to the Visio note, I have found Omnigraffle to be an excellent replacement for Visio, and in many ways (like all things on the Mac), it’s far more intuitive to work with. I find basic network diagrams and flow charts to take about a quarter of the time to produce in Omnigraffle that they did in Visio, simply because of little features like automatic guidelines for positioning objects.

    If collaborative compatibility with others running Visio is a requirement, this may not be a solution, although it does have support for Visio XML files, I haven’t done a lot of work in this area, as I generally produce diagrams for finished (or at least final draft) documents, rather than having to collaborate with others on the diagrams themselves.

  6. Warning: Illegal string offset 'keywords_time' in /home/sstimshadel/timshadel/wp-content/plugins/internal_link_building.php on line 103

    Would not OmniGraffle on the Mac be some sort of a workaround for the Visio issue ?

  7. Warning: Illegal string offset 'keywords_time' in /home/sstimshadel/timshadel/wp-content/plugins/internal_link_building.php on line 103

    Visio: Have you tried OmniGraffle, never used visio myself but OmniGraffle has visio importing and as a diagramming tool I’ve found it excellent. But if you use visio in a professional context I don’t know how far it will get you.

    “(I can’t hit Tab in the browser and give focus to a checkbox).” You can, safari>preferences>advanced>press tab highlight every item on a webpage

  8. Warning: Illegal string offset 'keywords_time' in /home/sstimshadel/timshadel/wp-content/plugins/internal_link_building.php on line 103

    Hi ya Tim,

    If you want to hit Tab in the browser and give focus to a checkbox, all you have to do is go to “System Prefs/Keyboard and Mouse/Keyboard Shortcuts” and under “Full Keyboard Access” click on “All Controls”. This will also allow you to tab-through buttons in any dialog box.

    In the case of Visio, have you tried “Omni Graffle”? It natively supports Visio XML files. And if you need MS Project compatibility, you can use “Omni Plan” which supports native Project files. All form the greap OmniGroup.

    Just in case, basic Mac essentials should include apps like Flip4Mac (for wma/wmv in quicktime), DIVX, A52 (for playing ac3 and 5.1 audio in avi and divx files), Growl, MenuMeters, Sizzling Keys, VLC, USB Overdrive (cause we cant live without a 5 button mouse) and Connect360 (cause i like my xbox 360 even though it has broken down twice in the first month).

  9. Warning: Illegal string offset 'keywords_time' in /home/sstimshadel/timshadel/wp-content/plugins/internal_link_building.php on line 103

    Instead of having the checkbox get the focus via keyboard globally, you can old down option in Safari when tabbing, or go to Safari preferences and reverse it so as holding down option will skip the checkboxes and not holding down will always go over them. Interesting thoughts on why you are sticking with the Mac. I am ambidextrous, but prefer the Mac…

  10. Warning: Illegal string offset 'keywords_time' in /home/sstimshadel/timshadel/wp-content/plugins/internal_link_building.php on line 103

    Omniplan is not (yet) a full fledged Project Management Program. It is pretty nice as a personal project planner but it’s no where near Ms. Project. I really like Omnigroup software but OmniPlan came out short of expecations. But I’m sure they’ll work it out in the future. Merlin v2 sets a very high bar in this category though.

    For most cases, OmniGraffle does cover majority part of Visio with elegance. However, if you needed it to do Database design, Visio still reigns supreme in comparison.

  11. Warning: Illegal string offset 'keywords_time' in /home/sstimshadel/timshadel/wp-content/plugins/internal_link_building.php on line 103

    I guess it’s a bit late, but you could optimize that process killer a little bit:

    ps -ef | awk ' /[e]volution/ { print $2 }' | xargs kill

    Might as well get awk to do all the searching, and putting [] round the e stops the command line itself from matching. Saves a whole two forks! :-)

  12. Warning: Illegal string offset 'keywords_time' in /home/sstimshadel/timshadel/wp-content/plugins/internal_link_building.php on line 103

    kill pidof evolution

    or don’t use evolution, use kontact (the groupware component is said to work with exchange).

  13. Warning: Illegal string offset 'keywords_time' in /home/sstimshadel/timshadel/wp-content/plugins/internal_link_building.php on line 103

    You might be interested in my fairly long blog entry on ‘Switching Sideways’. My ‘switch history’ is Windows to Linux to Windows to OS X, where the major pull for me was ‘I want a Unix-cum-consumer-box that has an identity in the way both Linux and PCs don’t’. I’m the first to admit that it’s not ideal for everyone–but it worked well enough for me despite the fact that I would have described myself as comfortable and experienced with PCs over the past decade or more. So I’d agree with you, but I still think it’s Not For Everybody.

    In particular, I think a fast switch by somebody who’s by-and-large comfortable and un-frustrated with Windows can be a recipe for disaster–especially if their main reason to switch is that they’ve been sold a bunch of unrealistic expectations about ease-of-use by salesmen who think that there’s no learning curve with a Mac.

    But the ‘pretty comfortable computer with fold-away Unix layer’ is a serious draw for anybody who’s ever had any ‘distro soup’ problems with Linux. I speak from experience.

  14. Warning: Illegal string offset 'keywords_time' in /home/sstimshadel/timshadel/wp-content/plugins/internal_link_building.php on line 103

    There is a learning curve to everything in life. Mac OS X is simply the best operating system for pretty much anybody except hardcore gamers. It’s not the holoy grail nor anywhere near perfect but it’s the lesser of a couple of far worse evils. It actually makes using my computer real fun instead of spending hours in troubleshooting. As soon as the “pimping” phase is over and you want work to be done with your machine, a Mac is the only option as of now.

    However, I’d love to see some competition but I am constantly amazed by how little other companies get it. I mean, it just cannot be that Apple is the sole provider of human-friendly technology in the computer and entertainment world, right? But it sure seems that way.

  15. Warning: Illegal string offset 'keywords_time' in /home/sstimshadel/timshadel/wp-content/plugins/internal_link_building.php on line 103

    Stuck on Windows


    • I’m stuck as well. :( :( I’m using Ubuntu.

    Try to download VM Player… (licensing licensing licensing) :D