Linux on Mac- But Why?
Yeah, why? Your typical Mac comes with all the Unix goodies and goodness you could ever need. But there are a bunch of Linux PPC distributions that you can, if you feel the urge, install on your Apple hardware.
If you’ve been alive the last couple of years, you can’t have failed to notice the surge in use of Apple hardware and Mac OS X. Since it is based so solidly on Unix with an attractive GUI on top. OS X has appealed to a broad range of programmers and technical writers; especially the kind who have no affection for the Windows way of doing things.
Many of them are sticking with Mac OS X simply because it works. However some wanted to explore alternatives and install their own choice of OS, and that was well within the bounds because most Mac machines have good specs, for a price favorably comparable to typical PC hardware.
Myth and Reality
Here is the most commonly quoted assumption: Mac OS X is essentially desktop Linux. In some respects this is true, but the differences between Mac OS X and true Linux distributions are important ones.
-OS X costs money. Linux is free. Mac OS X can only be customized within the constraints placed upon it by Apple. Linux can be customized to an extraordinary degree, with time, dedication, and knowledge. Mac OS X requires Apple hardware . Linux is the same whether its running on a PowerBook, a PC, or even an Xbox.
-Mac OS X has made great strides in bringing a Unix-based environment to a consumer user-base, and has influenced Linux developers in the process, but it should not be treated in the same way. It remains a commercial, proprietary system.
-But no matter how familiar you are with Linux, if you run Mac OS X you are not in a position to delve into its heart and meddle with its innermost workings. Want to mess around with your Linux kernel? Go right ahead, and good luck to you. But Mac OS X remains closed to everyone outside Apple.
Another assumption: Mac OS X is easy to use; Linux is hard to use, especially for newbies. Because so many Linux distros and window environments have made such an effort to make former Windows users feel comfortable, some of them look so much like Windows as to be almost indistinguishable. Windows users see them and they do feel comfortable. Everything is where they expect it to be, everything behaves the way they are used to it behaving. They feel relaxed about using something that feels familiar while still offering unsurpassed customization and depth.
I finally got to it and installed Ubuntu 6.10 on a spare MacBook Pro from work. The installation was a breeze. The essentials of any new operating system are self-explanatory to anyone with a passing knowledge of computers. Somewhere there will be some kind of file manager; somewhere, a CD player; somewhere, a text editor and a shell or terminal. There will almost certainly be an application management system, like a dock or bar with icons on it.
I found Linux a delightful change, but sometimes frustrating. Every now and again, something would Just Not Work, and I found it almost impossible to diagnose the problem. Examples include music CDs that I couldn’t play, applications that wouldn’t start, and mysterious slowdowns (30 seconds to launch a terminal window?).
The frustration came when I suspected the solution to a problem might involve a minor tweak of a text file somewhere, but that it might take hours of Googling or browsing discussion groups, to find which tweak to make to which file. The delightful things included the very extensive Control Center, enabling me to manage pretty much every aspect of the system setup and appearance. Also, the perfect integration of hardware tools, such as the PowerBook’s function-key volume and brightness controls, some things that took a little getting used to but overall everything was easy to cope with.
Which brings us back to the original starting point for this article. What motivation would a happy Mac user have for switching to a Linux distribution like Ubuntu? Why face that learning curve?
How Much Control do you want?
Linux is Linux is Linux on all architectures. Learn it once, use it everywhere. This enables end-users of both the geek and non-geek nature to sit down at a machine and not care what the CPU is. Just get to work. This also enables relatively simple code development which can be migrated across any system. This means developing on a Mac for a PowerPC embedded device without having to recompile … or running Linux on your PDA just because it is there. I believe end-users will find a sense of empowerment in this, even if they are not programmers, because they at least have a sense of what is under the hood
If you want some element of Linux – access to certain tools and development environment capabilities, for example -what you require is already built into Mac OS X.
But if you wish to go further, to take maximum control of your computer, and do so on some of the best quality hardware around, Linux makes a lot of sense on a Mac and Windows. It offers the kind of low-cost, easy-to-use, properly scalable system that Apple’s and Microsoft’s commercial offering just can’t match. It offers a new lease to older hardware that struggles to cope with the endless round of updates and upgrades.
Lets not forget the variety of Linux distros available. So if you have an old system sitting around try out linux, even if it is a Windows based PC.
So in the end Linux on Mac works because you have unparalleled depth and control of an open source distro while still having a user friendly OS X for general use or production use.