An Apple for a Penguin - leaving macOS
I’m a gold star Mac child. I grew up on a Mac Plus and owned many, many Macs in all shapes and sizes. People called me nicknames with *Mac or *Apple in them. I even have an Apple logo tattoo. Yes, that’s how big of an Apple fanboy I am, or was. Lately, the love has faded but the big crack came about a year ago. It all started with a keyboard.
Apple keyboards are delicate. A single drop in the wrong place can ruin them. Between me and my partner, we buy at least one new keyboard every year. Inevitably, last year it happened again. I was cleaning my keyboard with a wet wipe but still, somehow a bit of fluid penetrated and killed the keyboard.
The real shock came at the Apple store. Knowing Apple, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Of course, USB keyboards were no longer available, how could I have been so naive? I could, of course, buy a cheaper keyboard from third-party brand. But a big part of using Apple products is for the hardware, certainly not for macOS. So why not move to another platform altogether?
Then and there, my thirty-year-old relationship with Apple cracked. They didn’t leave me with an option, I had to shell out €149 for a new wireless keyboard with numeric keypad. But I decided I wouldn’t, and I didn’t.
What’s more, in the weeks leading up, I was looking for a new MacBook Pro and I was already unimpressed with the available products. Here as well, I wasn’t prepared to pay €3000+ for a laptop with dated components and gadgets I didn’t really need. Like Touch ID and the Touch Bar for example. Or the huge trackpad, which is excellent, but I would only use it when on the go.
There was a time I didn’t mind paying the Apple Tax. That time had passed.
After a few weeks of consideration, I decided to look for other options. Windows would be a bridge too far, at least for now, so I started evaluating Linux distributions. Having done a lot of web development work, Ubuntu wasn’t new to me. So that’s where I went first. I bought a really cheap MacBook Air knockoff and installed Ubuntu on it. Not to use as my primary machine, just to see what I could expect. Being prepared to mess around with drivers and configurations, I was surprised to learn none of that was necessary. Everything just worked.
For the next few months, I started using cross-platform apps which were available on both Ubuntu and macOS. Some apps improved my workflow. But of course, there are areas where the Linux environment falls short. Particularly when it comes to photography and illustration. The Gimp is ok, but it’s no PhotoShop or Affinity Photo. The same goes for Inkscape, but for vector graphics, luckily there is Gravit Designer.
To summarise, here is a non-comprehensive list of apps I settled with to make the move:
- Mailspring for mail
- Firefox as my main browser
- the default GNOME Calendar and Contacts apps (which I love)
- Simplenote replaced Bear.app
- Bitwarden as password and secure note manager
- Shotwell for photo management
- Polarr for quick fixes and the Gimp for elaborate photo editing
- Aftershot for Adobe Lightroom
- Gravit Designer for vector graphics
- Atom and SublimeText for coding
- DBeaver replaced Sequel Pro
- LibreOffice for Numbers and Pages
- Spice-up as a Keynote.app replacement for presentations
- DraftSight for CAD
- Blender and Houdini for 3D
- Lightworks for video editing
- Bitwig Studio for Ableton Live
- Reaper for Pro Tools
- Writefull for Dictionary.app
- SpiderOak One for Crashplan and Dropbox (yes, it does the job of both)
Some apps required some getting used to, but in general, I didn’t really experience major workflow drawbacks.
In March 2018 I found myself ready. My eye fell on a refurbished Dell XPS 15 9560 for €1522 ¹ with all the right specifications ², so I just bought it. In comparison, a 15" MacBook Pro with a similar configuration ³ would have set me back €3039.
My Linux distro of choice is Pop!_OS from System76. It looks good, has a great workflow and comes with proprietary Nvidia drivers, which are required to make use of the additional graphics card. This was the only additional driver I needed and it came packed with the OS. Even my Wacom tablet just works out of the box, nothing to download and install like I was used to on macOS. Within 30 minutes, I could call myself a Linux user.
After a month on Pop!_OS I am still very happy with my decision. It’s liberating to no longer be stuck in the Apple bubble. I still have my MacBook but I barely touched it in the past few weeks. There is no regret, at all, that I finally moved away.
I am not saying this is something for everyone, but to my surprise, it’s easier than expected. Of course, there is no “Genius” Bar you can run to if things go south. And for sure, there are compromises to be made. But on the other hand, macOS isn’t all rainbows and unicorns, either. With the rise of electron apps and the likes, more software companies are offering their apps on Linux as well. So if you are in the same boat and still in doubt, there is no reason not to give it a try.
For me, it all started with an overpriced Apple keyboard. Right now, I am writing this on a wireless keyboard ⁴ which cost me about €75, including a mouse. And sloppy as I can be, it already survived a few splashes of water.
Wondering if I am still happy with the switch? Read the follow-up article My first three months on Linux to learn about the things I miss about macOS and how I overcame some hurdles. I also tried Windows, but came screaming back to Linux.
¹ Official price for a brand new machine on the official Dell website at the time of writing is €1699, including 21% VAT.
² 15" Dell XPS 15 9560, Intel Core i7–7700HQ Quad Core processor at 2.8GHz (Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz), 16GB 2400MHz DDR4 RAM, 512GB SSD, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 with 4GB GDDR5.
³ 15" Apple MacBook Pro, Intel Core i7–7700HQ Quad Core processor at 2.8GHz (Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz), 16GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 RAM, 512GB SSD, AMD Radeon Pro 555 with 2GB of GDDR5.
⁴ Dell KM717 Keyboard and Mouse.