Bye bye mac

Posted in tools by elisehuard on January 12, 2010

macbook pro
For about 2 years I’ve worked on a Macbook Pro. It’s been a mostly pleasant experience – smooth graphical interface, more than adequate hardware – it took a while getting used to, but it worked out OK.

Still, I find myself turning back to Linux for development.


I’m not the most organized person in real life, but I can be fairly anal about my file organization. And I find it quite an effort to keep my Mac’s file structure clean and simple.
First, there is Apple’s own directory structure – apparently they found it necessary to differ from the BSD they’re based on, and use a list of non-standard capitalized (!) directories (Libraries, System etc – have a look at Applications for pete’s sake).

In my work I use a fair number of open source tools. The easiest way to get those on a mac is using macports. Macports installs things in /opt/local by default, so there’s a few things lying around in their own directory structure there.

The macports people do good work, but it’s difficult to keep up with releases, so often you need a newer version of a tool, or you need an extra library that hasn’t been packaged yet. So you compile. If you’re not careful, the compiled items are then installed in the usual linux directory structure (/usr, /usr/lib etc).

Result: something that works, but it can become a disorganized mess, which chafes a bit.
(and don’t get me started on Mac’s very own dynamic libraries and executables)


when I work, I’m mostly using terminals and the command line. Vi is my editor of choice (good vim rails plugins here). So all the nice graphical effects and applications requiring a mouse don’t have much added value.

Friends have introduced me to a great window manager on Linux, coincidentally called Awesome. This is a tiled window manager – which means that most windows don’t float, but are tiled, and make full use of the screen real estate. There are by default 10 desktops, allowing a good organization of windows. Navigation happens through key shortcuts. Shortcut keys, default applications, the whole interface can be customized using Lua. Now tell me that isn’t awesome.

Linux for the desktop

It used to be a pain in the neck to have Linux be completely functional, especially on laptops. I remember poring over hardware manuals looking for chipsets, and endless trawling through forums to get X to work properly. Nowadays installing an ubuntu or a debian is mostly inserting a disk and clicking through an install.
Because you see, it’s not because I can manually partition, hand-compile kernels and libraries, fiddle about with settings, that I want to spend time doing this for my desktop, per se. We’ve all got better things to do. Zack the Mac was a temporary solution to this issue.


Fourth (minor) reason to go back: well, Apple. They have the hardware, they have the software, they make me pay. It feels like being submissive to the fantastic marketing machine Steve Jobs set up.

I like the mac hardware, and Mac OS X is fine for casual use (like watching movies, email, blogging), and of course for iPhone development, so it’s not a definite parting. Might make my MBP a dual boot (I’m told boot camp makes this very easy). Let’s see how this goes !


9 Responses

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  1. Serge van Ginderachter said, on January 13, 2010 at 8:12 am

    Researchers say Apple users are subject to the Stockholm syndrome. You must be that exception 🙂

  2. Peter De Schrijver said, on January 13, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    These capitalized non-standard directories actually originate from nextstep. The strange format of libraries and executables also comes from nextstep I believe.
    I think you’re right though. There isn’t much reason to stick to a closed source platform like OS X anymore except if you would need to use applications which aren’t available for linux. For me OS X always had the same issues proprietary unices like solaris, hpux etc have as well : lack of package managment and lack of easy to find binaries for your favourite open source tools.

  3. Serge van Ginderachter said, on January 13, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    On one hand I’ve allways strongly disliked Apple (as a company) for their business practices. If Microsoft was to behave like Apples does, lots of people would get angry, but strangely Apple can get away with that.

    On the other hand I’ve been disapointed lately by the lack of consistency (not to say stability) on the Linux *Desktop*. Every release gets better, but introduces other problems. Some severe problems never get decently solved (buggy Evolution mail client, to many sound systems, print server using dark magicn …. )

    There still is a need of advanced fiddling hat keeps kicking in when usings a Linux Desktop.

    I’ll definitely stick to Linux, but I can’t say it’s the best useable system for everyone.

  4. Philip Paeps said, on January 13, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    Get a ThinkPad 🙂

    Serge: I think you just expect the wrong things from a Linux desktop. You expect it to be like a Microsoft desktop, warts and all. The fundamental thing about a Linux desktop is that it’s still Linux (note that Ubongo gets this very, very wrong — it’s a desktop, but it’s not really Linux). And Linux implies you have to think. If you don’t want to think (or get any work done), Microsoft and Apple make very flashy products for you to look at.

  5. Serge van Ginderachter said, on January 13, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    @Philip: We disagree on that. Nothing new. Please move along.

  6. zugaldia said, on January 14, 2010 at 12:57 am

    Elise, welcome back home.

  7. Elise said, on January 14, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    I actually agree with Serge that setting up a work environment shouldn’t take too much time. Fiddling with Alsa has no added value for me whatsoever.
    But Linux still wins out for the reasons above, for me.

    P2 you’re absolutely right, decent, coherent packaging is what makes a good distribution.

    Heh, thanks Antonio 🙂

  8. Philip Paeps said, on January 14, 2010 at 10:10 pm

    FYI: Setting up Debian, including functional ALSA on my shiny new x200s took under three hours. Most of that time was spent waiting while dm-crypt wrote garbage to my disk.

    I don’t think I had to actually think more than once, and that was to update the BIOS to replace the splash image with something more amusing (I have my quirky side ;-)) on a machine without win32 and without an optical drive and without having a usb stick handy to put freedos on. ThinkWiki is very useful.

    So you see – even the thinking is quite relative. Of couse, my requirements are rather different than Serge’s.

  9. wouter verhelst said, on January 18, 2010 at 7:56 am

    You talk about a MacBookPro and include a picture of a PowerBook. Hrm… ;-P

    Anyway, I never really used MacOS on my powerbook (if you’re gonna be a Debian Developer, you run Debian — at least that’s my opinion), but there’s been a MacOS partition on the disk many times. Its UI and disk layout craziness always irked me to such an extent that I still can’t believe some people think of it as ‘Linux-like’. It isn’t.

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