why I moved from Linux to Mac OS X

Posted by in linux, technology

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5 times as many programs (a number of which are centralised in the App Store) meaning I no longer need to hunt for old outdated ugly applications to build from source.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.