Over the walled garden, a Linux user tries MacOS
So one of the major tools I needed in my quest to go back to school and finish my degree was obviously a laptop. They are pretty much vital these days as a student and even more so when you are going for something like computer science. I can’t drag my beefy desktop to school every day and iPhone just isn’t going to cut it, nor was the prehistoric HP laptop I had been using for nearly a decade as a beat-up mobile device.
So what did I choose to be my workhorse for the next few years?
I hinted in an earlier rambling as to why I had chosen the particular ultrawide monitor that I did, for the USB-C connectivity. Also the obvious title of this post should be all too apperent. I clearly sold out to the man, dropped my money on an overpriced piece of aluminum art, molded to be a symbol of status for all the coffee shop goers to see and envy when I stop in for my cup of “flat white” at my local Starbucks.
I am sure that is what a number of my close anti-apple comrades would say. At least a few have already joked so much. As a user and an amateur advocate for Linux of sorts for so long, I realize being a Macintosh owner is often seen as a mark of shame. I know, I used to be one of the shamers, but let me explain myself. You see, I had already had my mind set on a clear cut solution when I went into this. I was going to either by myself a Dell XPS and put Fedora on it, or I was going full native with a System 76 machine. Real simple and a solution that I am sure I would have been perfectly happy with…and even slightly regret not doing at times.
The matter was settles in my mind up until the point I was ready to drop the money down on something, then suddenly childhood me surfaced in the back of my mind. When I was young and before I found my alternative to the “typical PC” I so envied the Powerbook G4. It was one of my first true crushes, just the way that thing looked with its clean and simple lines. So modern. All the supposed muscle it held under its hood with that exotic Power processor, dedicated graphics and a sleek new operating system to take advantage of it. Something that was so clearly not what I was used to with windows 98, with its provocative brushed metal interface, high-detail Icons and silky smooth animations. I never seen anything like it, a young boy like me stood no chance. I even went so far as to get one later in life just so I can have it as a trophy piece on one of my shelves.
Ok, so I was basically that guy who bought a corvette because he had a poster of one as a child? Slightly, but not entirely true. You see, as I let my old childhood fantasies seep into my train of thought I realized something, I have no clue about anything mac related. Aside from very light tinkering with my vintage Powerbook or opening Claris Works back in grade school, I had no clue how to even use MacOS. It is incredible that I made it this long in life without so much as familiarizing myself with the second most popular platform for desktop computing. And here I am as someone who proclaims to have a good deal of knowledge with computers and is even trying to get a degree in the field. There is a whole different process of doing things that is alien to me.
That was enough to intrigue me into buying a 13 inch Mackbook Pro. Nothing super fancy, just something that was enough to do school work. I opted for the mid-range on 13 inches, it was already in my price range and had a bit more power to last a few years. Admittedly I could of gotten more for my money with one of the other options, at this point now I was in it for the experience.
So what do I think of it so far?
For the basic rundown I will say right off the bat that Apple hasn’t skimped on their quality over the years, and for the price that you pay they shouldn’t. This thing feels more solid than any laptop I’ve owned, the uniform aluminum design is as gorgeous as its ancestor, there is no flimsy give in any part of it that I press on and the screen hinges are nice and tight. The screen is very respectable 2560×2600 resolution with a nice crisp image and excellent color reproduction you would expect from an IPS panel. It fits just fine for a 13 inch laptop, doesn’t go overboard trying to be 4k, Apple has also clearly gotten the high DPI scaling down better than others. And to complement the view the Macbook Pro has a nice set of stereo speakers that are surprisingly clear and loud.
The whole thing is so slim and light it is almost the perfect ultraportable for me, I don’t think I can go back to something huge and bulky ever again. I say almost because, like many of its critics, I do agree that this keyboard is absolutely atrocious. It clearly makes an attempt to be clicky and mechanical feeling but there is just no substance to it, it is like smashing your fingers down against a hard surface. It gets very tiring after a long while of typing, and it makes me frown when I look to that Powerbook with its incredible keyboard and wonder why chicklet because the standard.
It has other hit and miss quirks like the large trackpad, which I do love but at times the palm detection gets screwy. The touchbar is another interesting feature, but I tend to keep forgetting about it, still resulting to clicking things in the menus when using something like a word processor or switching tabs in a browser. More often I find myself accidently hitting stuff on it when I try to reach for the number row or delete, and it is for that reason I had to remove the Siri button from the bar entirely. Perhaps it will grow on me in time. Now for the whole “donglegate” complaints I see, it really has not been an issue for me. I use this thing on the go the majority of the time and have little need to plug into anything more than a power outlet. For the brief times I do, most things have a USB-C connector.
That is enough about the hardware, though. There are a thousand more qualified reviewers for that, let’s get to the whole reason I got this thing. For the experience of using MacOS and getting to know it better.
The first thing I did was open up a terminal and start punching in unix commands, as if mystified that this strange alien environment could handle something I am familiar with. It can, it is unix-based. They didn’t lie about that, but it isn’t entirely what I am familiar with. Obviously. But a part of me was a little comforted to know at the heart of it I won’t be completely lost.
After that I played around with the settings, surprised to see that there is actually a good deal of options there to make this laptop feel more like me. And I plugged my soul into the AppleID ecosystem that I was already a part of with my iPhone, making sure everything was all good and interconnected. It is actually nice to be able to take photos on my phone and push them to my laptop, answer calls and respond to text messeges when my phone is in another room, and unlock the device with my watch. Little slice of life improvements like that, pretty neat.
That is where MacOS shines, they polished this thing to near perfection. There are so many little quirks and gestures that no one ever thought they needed, but once you have them you and learn to use them you don’t want to go back. The trackpad is a magnificent example of this. It isn’t just a dumb pad you rub and poke, or make a scrolling gesture. No, they managed to make navigating your entire machine with this thing an absolute dream. Zooming and scrolling around a page as natrually as moving a sheet of paper around, moving from workspaces with a flick of three fingers or opening launchpad with a pinch. An upward stroke shows all your windows, a spread pushes everything aside and shows your desktop. It is so fluid and natural that going back to a normal trackpad feels clumsy and inefficient.
That is just a glimpse of what I have found just using it for two months, I am sure there are other tricks I have yet to discover. I just found the notification center the other day, a Budgie Raven menu-like sidebar that shares much of the same function. But there are some odd quirks that get me as well.
How is performance? Pretty good, doing school work, browsing and videos I have not noticed a single slowdown. I was worried about only having 8gigs of ram, but so far it has not posed an issued at all. In a few years? We will see how that works out. For now it is sufficient enough. And for stability I have not had any issues with anything crashing, it has been rock solid. I’ve also not rebooted the machine at all, with the exception of an update. It goes along for weeks coming in and out of sleep constantly with no hiccups. And the battery usually lasts me through a day of school no problem
Where does it fall apart? At the app store. I absolutely despise that thing, every time I open it my eyes are greeted with provocative ads for things I don’t even care about. I just want to get in and get out as quickly as possible but I have to weed through suggestions. Most of the time they aren’t even what I am looking for but they are leeched onto popular search terms. Everything has a price and I understand developers like to make money, and I should be used to it as an iPhone users but — Uggh. On the desktop I think I am just spoiled by much better options for Linux distros. Clean and simple, right to the point for what you need. For now I have had to resort to the “Windows” way of doing things and just pluck what I want off the internet.
That is the big teeth-grinder for me, besides that there are a few annoyances like the unified menubar is taking some time getting used to. And why do applications not close when I click the close button? This puzzles me having to go through extra steps to close something I closed. Oh, and the fact that I am locked into MacOS or Windows at the moment. There is just no viable way to install Linux on these newer MacBooks, something I hope is fixed by the time this thing falls into planned obsolescence and stops getting support.
So, is this the end of my Linux days? Am I going to go full Apple and never look back? Highly likely not. You see, I understand now what makes a Mac so well rounded and so well desired by people who just want a computer to computer on. Apple makes a fantastic all in one solution that takes high quality hardware and pairs with with a software solution that is tailored specifically for it. That is how they can get away with what they do, they don’t have to cater to a broad consumer base, they can focus on making the experience as best as they can on what they got. That is why they like their compact solutions and all-in-ones.
For a laptop I am willing to tolerate this, it works fine for me because an all-in-one solution that works is what I want. It serves the task I need it for. When it comes to the desktop I need something that is far more flexible. I like to get down into the grit of what makes a PC a PC. I like experience of building the hardware, customizing it specifically to my wishes. I like having the versatility to upgrade to bigger and better or the latest and greatest things without canning the whole system. I like having an operating system that I know inside and out, that I can work with to fine tune it exactly like I want it. Use what ever desktop suits my workflow. And yes, even break it if I so please.
I am a tinkerer, and because of that I will always be a PC user and a Linux enthusiast. Will I buy another MacBook? I’ll see in a few years when I get to that point, but for now this will satisfy my curiosity to continue to expand my knowledge in every front.
Over the walled garden, a Linux user tries MacOS
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