OS X Mavericks

why I moved from Linux to Mac OS X

In linux, tech by Kier12 Comments

Like many, I started with Windows – 95 through to XP. At age 11-12 I toyed with a number of Linux distributions: Mandriva/Mandrake, RHEL, Debian, Gentoo… until I finally settled with Ubuntu. After dual booting for a year or so I finally rid myself of Windows entirely. I stuck with Ubuntu for 4 years and then made the switch from Linux to Mac OS X via means of a OSx86 hackintosh – OS X installed on custom PC hardware. After two years of running OSx86 hackintosh I finally bought a cheap Macbook Pro, which I still use 2 years later as my main home/work PC connected to an external 30in monitor.

As a linux sysop, I’m often asked why and criticized for this decision. I’ll be using this as an opportunity to explain once and for all.

Despite the fact that Linux has never contained a single line of Unix code, Linux was written by Linus Torvalds with his metal concept of Unix as his only guide. Linus used Minix whilst writing Linux, so Linux does contain some compatibility code to work with Minix filesystems, but Minix itself shares no Unix heritage and is merely ‘Unix-like’, a ‘Unix clone’, ‘inspired by Unix’. By contrast, Mac OS X actually still contains code that can be traced back to AT&T Unix Systems 4, so it remains a genetic Unix. So, although Linux and Unix bear no code-based relation they share a ‘spiritual’ one – as does Mac OS X.

I loved Linux (and still use it on a daily basis over ssh) but it’s lack of support, lack of applications, and lack of ‘shine’ pushed me towards move from Linux to Mac OS X as my day-to-day operating system. OS X is second only to Windows as the most active general purpose operating system in use, with an 8.45% usage share as of September 2011. It is certainly the most successful Unix desktop operating system, estimated at over 5 times the usage of Linux (which has a 1.5% share). This means 5 times as many programs (a number of which are centralised in the App Store) meaning I no longer need to hunt for old outdated ugly applications to build from source. This larger share also means major developers (ie. Adobe) have far more pressure to develop OS X based applications – Linux has for years been forgotten about.

Is Apple hardware overpriced?

Macbook Pro Retina side profile

Short answer: yes. Something people seldom think about however is the fact that there is no licensing system for OS X, and major upgrades are available online for a very low price, only £13.99 since OS X Snow Leopard in 2009. A Windows 7 Ultimate licence on the other hand has an RRP of £199.

You have to remember that OS X is a very polished operating system that has taken a lot of work (read: money) to produce and maintain. Apple’s only way of netting considerable profit is via its proprietary hardware. Microsoft makes it money from software licensing, partnerships, and affiliate schemes with the profits from hardware to going the manufacturer, ie. Sony, Dell, Acer. Apple makes little profit from OS X and so has to gain it’s profit elsewhere: hardware.

So, yes, hardware wise you could probably get a faster spec system from another manufacturer at a better price. But such an argument is flawed as you’re really paying for the operating system too, funding the wages of the thousands of developers it takes to keep it Mac OS X shiny and secure.

But I can upgrade and overclock my PC…

Average consumers don’t overclock their PC, nor do they need to. I myself have custom built and overclocked my PC in the past, but in my opinion it isn’t really worth going to the effort of squeezing as much juice as you can from your system if you’re doing anything other than gaming. Assuming you’re already booting from an SSD, upgrade wise, it’s seldom even worth upgrading anything beyond RAM – and you can both on your Apple hardware at the time of writing, I’ve gone from 4GB to 16GB and it only cost £59.99. In my questionably professional opinion, one eventually realises that technology progresses so quickly one may just as well stick with what one has until it’s unusably obsolete and/or falls apart.

But what about gaming…

Another very common argument. PC wins for gaming, but fingers crossed SteamOS will change this. Steam is available for Mac, with support for most Valve games and many others, however PC undeniably rules the gaming market. But I see my gaming machine and my work/home machine as two distinctly different pieces of technology, so I’m not too bothered about this.


Since my switch from Linux to Mac OS X many years ago my experience overall has shifted – where I once was constantly tweaking my Linux desktop system to get things to work and keep them working, my Mac OS X system ‘just works’. This is what I want on the system I spend 100 hours a week on fixing other systems. I can’t waste time building the latest version of an application from source because a release isn’t yet available for my distro. I can’t waste time figuring out why something isn’t working on my hardware. I can’t waste time tweaking every single unpolished part of my OS – and I am an obsessive tweaker. It makes no sense to waste time fixing/tweaking my own system when I can be paid to do it for others.

Am I suggesting you too make the switch by running to your nearest Apple Store to purchase a Macbook? No. The operating system you use is your personal choice and different people have different IT needs. I still use all three operating systems side by side and virtualised, but for my personal needs as an everyday OS having quite literally tried them all, it’s perfect.

Will I ever move back to Linux? Maybe. I’d love to not be locked down with Apple but I’m reliant on it’s popularity as the most-used Unix based platform. If SteamOS does take off, hopefully Linux will finally muster the popularity and consumer spotlight it has been waiting for, and an viable open-source alternative Linux operating system will emerge.

Until then, Mac OS X it is.


  1. AbuAyyoub

    Beautifully said.
    I could have written this myself. I ditched Windows about 10 years ago and moved to Linux. About 5 years ago I bought a used Macbook, and never looked back. Mac OS X is by far the most stable ( general use) operating system. In the almost 6 years I’ve used Mac I can count the number of times my computer has given me a forced reboot or any kind of real errors. It just works. That’s what I love about it. As for Apple’s mobile products.. well that’s a completely different issue all together. Android 4 Lyfe! 😉

  2. Simon F

    Everyone is different. Everyone has different needs and wants. But strangely, some people forget this and think others’ choices means their own choices are inferior. I’ve met people who’ve chosen Windows or Linux, and can’t possibly understand why others might find them inferior. Because I run Mac, I’m either a “homosexual”, I’ve bought one because its a “fashion item” or maybe because I’m not a “serious computer user”. They chose Windows, so if others choose something else, they’re the ones being wrong. But we just have different preferences! They think their operating system of choice makes them a better person.

    It’s just a computer operating system, folks.

  3. Knasher

    Personally I moved from OS X to Linux. I’ll admit my MacBook isn’t the newest laptop any more, but I fully expect to use my laptop until it falls apart, and in credit to Apple, their hardware design is quite solid and well put together. But I’ve never been all that wowed by their software, I’m able/required to use almost completely open source software for work (and what little is proprietary is meant for use on a cluster and therefore is Linux based anyway), so I don’t have the same vendor lock in you have due to the lack of Adobe applications on Linux.

    But I stayed on OS X for many years anyway. Mostly because I run Linux on other machines so I figured it would be useful to get to know OS X, just so I have experience in all three major operating systems. But while Apple doesn’t really EOL its operating systems, it does mostly stop supporting them once the newer one comes out. Not a big issue as the OS is so available for such a reasonable price, that upgrading isn’t a problem. Until it is, because just as Apple doesn’t spend a lot of time supporting its old operating systems, it also seemingly doesn’t spend a lot of time making sure it’s newer operating systems work well on its older hardware. As I and other people in my office found out when OS X Lion started freezing and eventually crashing. When it got to the stage that I could barely get through a day without having to forcibly reboot, I decided to install Linux (and find a way around some bugs in Apples UEFI implementation that were preventing me from switching, else I wouldn’t have waiting for so long).

    And now my uptime is measured in the weeks between kernel updates…

  4. Kurtz25


    I grew up using MS-DOS/Windows 3.1, then moved to the Mac with my first computer (that I owned—not the family computer) in high school, and stayed on the platform through most of the 90s, until it just became very clear that Win98 was where it was at. It was just remarkably better, and cheaper. I then used Windows through XP.

    When Vista came out, I was not very happy with it. I felt like MS was accentuating the bad parts of Windows and burying the good parts. Apple had just moved to Intel, resulting in a big hardware price drop, and the ability to dual-boot. I needed a new laptop, and the new white MacBook was sitting right next to the Toshiba I was interested in at the store. I gave it a shot.

    It had been almost 10 years since I had used a Mac, and I’d never used OSX at all, but within a couple minutes, I had found everything I wanted to see, and I loved the multitouch trackpad. On the Vista machine, I was having trouble finding things and it kept telling me that it had connected to a wi-fi network, like it wanted a cookie.

    I knew I could put MS Office on it with the site license at work, and I figured that if I didn’t like OSX, I could always just set it to boot to Windows instead. After using it for a couple weeks, I found that I was growing an intense dislike for Windows in comparison. I was able to whip around OSX very quickly, and assign whatever keyboard shortcuts I liked (I still use a mix of Windows and Mac keyboard commands), and hopping into the Terminal to edit picky little settings quickly was wonderful. I was able to easily get exactly the experience I wanted, and it was also solid as a rock.

    I found that I was doing ALL my work on that little MacBook, moving it between home and work, and more and more, just ignoring my big Windows tower.

    In 2008, I bought a Mac Pro and got rid of my hand-built tower for good. I’ve been dismayed by a lot of Apple’s choices of late, but I still can’t be without OSX. Windows 8 is a travesty (although Windows 7 was/is excellent). Linux is getting better all the time, but it’s an awful lot of work to go through just to have a machine that doesn’t run Microsoft or Adobe products. And running Unix is wonderful for web development or server administration work, plus I can usually run anything that runs on other *nix systems. Many of the software packages I use for research work on Linux, OSX, and have hacked-together, crummy support for Windows.

    OSX has always felt to me like Linux with someone at the helm. I don’t mind spending a little (and it really is just a little) more for hardware to never, ever, ever have to call the maker of my OS and beg for them to let me reinstall it. Or have to pay $300 US for it!

  5. Mike

    Basically my way to OSX was very similar so I fully agree with your arguments.
    Regarding Hardware pricing: I am currently using an iMac 27″ 2011 and bought it as soon äs it was available. At least at this point of time a PC with similar hardware was about the same price – depending on the dealer you could maybe save about 200$.
    On the other hand I got a beautiful aluminium case and a high-resolution display (at least more than fullHD) for a fair price (IMHO).

  6. Tmikaeld

    Since 99% of all the software i use is open source and VMware actually supports Photoshop 3D acceleration now, there is really no reason for me to stay on OS X…

    … but, the reason i’m not running ubuntu, xubuntu, kubuntu or any other variant is that the window management is terrible. Sure i can plaster on compiz, or any similar, but they are not _stable_ – i mean, there are 5 docks for Linux but only one is “kind of” maintained, it works, but it’s performance is terrible.

    So it comes back to two things that’s always been missing from linux – -> reliability and simplicity!

    And that’s what OS X has in spades over all the other operating systems.

  7. Gavin

    I ran Windows for years, with Linux (usually Fedora) in a VM. I found that I spent more time in the VM than in Windows, so about 5 years ago I inverted that relationship.

    Now I run Arch Linux as my host OS, with a Windows VM when I need it. Never been happier. The customizability is what really gets me. When I don’t like what a program is doing, I check out the source, patch, compile and reinstall!

    I realized recently that I like Microsoft as a company, but loathe Windows. And I like OS X just fine, but loathe Apple. So if I ever were to switch away from Linux (and I doubt that I ever will), it would probably be to OS X.

  8. ScottJ

    Amen here.

    I really have no dog in the fight. Within cat-swinging distance of my desk are several physical Windows machines, a Macbook Pro Retina, a Sun Workstation, a Linux desktop machine and a headless Linux server. About two dozen virtual machines serve me specialized instances of Windows and Linux and provide task-tailored software stacks.

    And I found long ago that when I need to get shit done on a desktop machine, I just naturally turn to the Mac. At first it was unconscious. But then I noticed how I was reflexively turning to the Mac and started reflecting on why.

    Linux is great for server usage. Runs like a hose, and server admins are forgiven the time they spend geeking out to get things working. But for desktop usage, for me, Linux is hobbled by crappy applications, lack of support, its high geek quotient …and sheer ugliness, with terrible font management, windowing, and often menu design. These might not be issues for other people, but for me they speak to a poor user experience and lost productivity.

    Windows is the default choice for so many users and businesses, but it’s reached the point of being the default choice because it’s the default choice. The more I use other platforms, the more I’m annoyed by its quirks and comparative instability and insecurity. You can’t safely use it without tarting it up with antiviral scanners, which just slows the system down. And I find Microsoft’s recent design direction to be incredibly annoying– Office apps with fully 1/3 of the screen consumed by buttons and ribbons, for example. That needs to die by fire right now!

    OS X is, by comparison, a sublime experience. Lovely and swift and secure and stable. It’s well-supported by apps, including some unique ones that whip alternatives in the Windows and Linux world– Keynote, for example, absolutely shames PowerPoint in so many ways. The consistency from app to app is usually very good, keeping learning curves shallow and facilitating my day-to-day work. And the terminal is there to feed my inner geek.

    Some, including the author of the blog post to which I’m replying, say they find Mac hardware to be costly. I look at the whole package, including what’s required of me to support a Mac system (basically nothing) compared to Linux (hours of geekery to get things right, especially after a user whoops of some sort) and, Lord knows, Windows. It’s gorgeous, thoughtfully designed (QuickView! Spaces! Time Machine!), secure, and well-provisioned. I don’t need to burden the system or my pocketbook with anti-malware or backup utilities. And there’s a ton of open source stuff available. And if I have a question, Apple’s support is unmatched. I can get someone knowledgeable and well-spoken on the phone quickly, or hike to the Genius Bar for a face-to-face discussion. No hanging on hold for 45 minutes only to be read a script by some unintelligible troll. To me, this makes the Mac a comparative bargain. On Windows and Linux, what should be the price tag for a “just works” option, hm?

    Everyone’s different. For me, today, OS X is the productivity platform. For you, maybe something else would be preferred. That’s fine, this isn’t a pennant race. Just keep an open mind– there are great options out there today, the Mac being one of them.

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