Industry Insights


Is It Time to Leave Mac OS for Linux? 

Snappy Ubuntu

If you spend any time following major tech influencers, whether you agree with them or not, it's hard to deny that even hardcore Apple fans are unhappy with the direction of Apple.  It's somewhat understandable; while the new iMacs have the same stunning screens, good design, and the quality aesthetic and materials they're been known for, the rest of the underlying hardware can leave a little to be desired.  Some of the hardcore enthusiasts have started building their own PCs, and installing Mac OS on those with the help of third-party drivers based on the open-source branch of Mac OS called Darwin; these machines are known colloquially as "Hackintoshes."  Apples recent switch to dropping Intel processors and replacing them with their own line of processors has some enthusiasts wondering where that leaves them. Will they be forced to accept whatever Apple is selling, or will they have to use Windows?

In the Linux community, it's been a joking cliché that whatever year it is, is the year of the Linux desktop, for at least 20 years.  However, with the success of Chromebooks in the education sector bringing actual Linux systems in front of school kids, it just might finally be the perfect time to consider, once again, whether Linux could be a viable desktop alternative. Here's an overview of two of the most popular Linux distributions.


Ubuntu wasn't the first serious attempt at a Linux desktop, but it was certainly the most popular.  The original premise of the distribution was to take Debian Linux and the GNOME Desktop Environment and make it easier to install and use by more mainstream computer users, as well as adding some polish to the GNOME desktop.  

Today, while Ubuntu is based on Debian, it is no longer 100 percent compatible with Debian. Having said that, if you know of a piece of software that has been ported to Linux, most likely what software will have and an Ubuntu compatible package available.  

For several years Ubuntu had developed their own desktop called Unity after disagreeing with the direction of GNOME. However, the Ubuntu desktop recently switched back to using mainstream GNOME with some of their own branding. In addition, Ubuntu is developing a packaging system called Snap which makes it simple to package cross-distribution packages of software.


Like Ubuntu, Fedora's primary desktop is based on GNOME.  For several years, Fedora developers have been among the primary GNOME developers, so this isn't surprising.  As with Ubuntu, Fedora is developing a cross-platform packaging platform for software, this one called Flatpak.  This software has been adopted by the GNOME Project as its default package platform.

For desktop use, Fedora is at number two, and in server space, their commercial RedHat Linux is number one.  One caveat is that their anti-hacking container system SELinux can sometimes make poorly written software fail quietly, and Fedora's desktop integration isn't as slick as Android's. If you're not paranoid about hacking, it's possible to edit the configuration file /etc/selinux/config and set the SELINUX line to read, "SELINUX="permissive." 

This leaves SELinux enabled, but merely logs potential violations rather than blocking them. If you're not worried about Team Fortress 2's MP3 playback being a potential hacking vector, you should be fine.

Which one to use is up to the user; for beginners, Ubuntu should be more friendly, and their development model targets a release for every six months and a stable release once every two years.  If you absolutely need a 100 percent stable desktop, the stable release is the best choice, though the regular releases tend to be very stable.

If you want a distribution created by GNOME developers and with more of a continuously-released model, and especially if you've used Fedora or Red Hat Linux in server space and want a familiar system, Fedora is a great choice as well.  There are other distributions, of course, but these are the most popular. 

In terms of desktops, you have more than one choice on both distributions. If you're the sort of Mac user who's mainly on the Mac to have a tightly integrated and easy-to-use experience, GNOME is the most Mac-like experience.  If you want something more like Windows 10, or if you don't mind tweaking the settings a little, Plasma is a great choice. If you're looking for a light desktop system for an old desktop or laptop, XFCE is an excellent choice.  

If all you need are a web browser and office suite, Chrome, Firefox, and Opera are all available, as well as light Chromium-based browsers like Midori and Falkon.  If you need photo editing software but aren't a professional photographer, you might like using Darktable as a Lightroom replacement, and The GIMP, while it's nowhere close to the feature set of Photoshop, is a powerful editor in its own right.  It can even be customized to look and work more like Photoshop.

The best thing about Linux's open-source offerings is that, while they usually aren't as polished or complete as commercial offerings, they're much less likely to disappear when a company changes directions, and almost all popular software is available through a slick software installer software interface, something Linux happened well before Mac OS or Windows had app stores.

So, if you're an Apple user and you're starting to feel like a refugee and if you're not particularly tied to the why not give Linux a try?  Do yourself a huge favour and do as much research as possible; are you going to be able to move your iTunes library? Do you have a photo library?  Allegedly both can still be copied from an old drive to a Linux machine just by dragging and dropping, but do you know anyone who has? Have you backed up everything before the move?  

If you can find a friend who's made the same move, maybe find out from them if it's right for you, and if it's worth the effort. It could be that this could truly be the year of the Linux desktop.  If you're still in need of commercial software like Microsoft Office or Adobe Creative Suite, though, it might be time to give Windows 10 a try. And if neither appeals to you, there's always a chance the next iteration of Macs will be more to your liking.