Why Linux is More Practical Than OS X

Monday Jul 13th 2015 by Matt Hartley
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The Linux vs. Mac debate goes beyond what platform is theoretically “better.”

OS X is a solid operating system for those who enjoy Apple's vision of the ideal desktop. It offers access to pro-level applications that many industries rely on. Yet it isn't always the most practical operating system for the casual end user. In fact, in some cases, it's completely overkill.

In this article, I'll explore why I believe Linux is a more practical solution than OS X, if local techs would simply bother to support it. This article isn't about which platform is “better.” Instead, it's a matter of which platform is more practical.

Linux runs on almost anything

Linux can run on old PCs, new PCs, ARM powered micro-computers, even on consumer appliances. By contrast, OS X isn't designed to run on everything. It's designed to run on approved hardware only. Therefore it's reasonable to point out that if an operating system can run on older hardware without violating any licenses, this makes that operating system a practical consideration.

I run Linux because it affords me the freedom to run the same version of a Linux distribution on all of my computing appliances. Worst case, if a PC is too old, I run with the lighter desktop environment.

In contrast, some machines won't run as well with the latest build of OS X. Personally, I've found Macs newer than 2012 run well enough with OS X 10.10. This flies in the face of the official Yosemite Capable Macs lists, which varies depending on the type of Mac in question.

The idea of running Yosemite on a 2007 Macbook Pro, for example, is going to be a mixture of successes and failures. When Yosemite was first released, whether or not various items like wifi worked depended exclusively on the model of Mac you had.

Aspects of this could be said of Linux as well. The difference is, if you're having wifi issues when you didn't previously, it's usually a kernel update that is the problem. Linux users simply boot with a different kernel (from the grub screen) and file a bug report. OS X users experiencing the same sort of issue may need to either revert to an earlier release or wait until Apple offers a fix.

Rolling back a release

Rolling back a release with any operating system is never a fun experience. Both popular release based distributions of Linux and OS X offer this ability. With Ubuntu, for example, you burn an ISO to a flash drive and re-install the operating system. You'll need to backup your data using the included backup tool first, but this is pretty much it.

With OS X, you're looking at one of two options for even locating a copy of Mavericks. First option, maybe you have a copy in your purchase history within the App Store. If this isn't possible, simply find a person you trust with a copy of Mavericks available in their purchase history. If you find yourself staring at “Error 1004 please try again later,” then it looks like you're stuck with Yosemite until a copy of Mavericks materializes.

Install OS onto a new hard drive

Using a distribution such as Ubuntu, simply install the hard drive, grab a copy of the latest Ubuntu release ISO and boot to install. The only downside here is you must have another computer to download and then burn the ISO to a drive. Otherwise, you're forced to spend $6 USD and wait for a USB key pre-loaded disc to arrive.

Installing OS X on a Mac actually is not difficult either, as long as you have Internet access. Since there isn't a USB key to buy or install OS X on, you're left needing to make sure you're using a Mac capable of running Internet Recovery. Are you using a router running WEP or perhaps WPA-Enterprise? Well you're going to need to disable that or switch it to WPA-Personal only as everything else is incompatible. On the plus side, you'll end up with the OS X release last associated with your AppleID and installed on that Mac.

Installing software

Installing software on both Linux and OS X is remarkably easy. I'd even suggest that OS X has a better looking software store. So on the surface, I have no issue with the OS X software store at all.

As long as the software license allows for it, you're free to install free or purchased programs on multiple Macs. The same applies for the Linux desktop. The difference is with distributions such as Ubuntu (Debian), you're able to backup your software titles into a tidy little list. Then you can restore them automatically with a few key strokes. I'm unaware of any OS X software tools offering this feature.

File managers

My single biggest gripe with OS X (besides its file system) is the default file manager. Despite the various third party offerings available on the Web, each of them are essentially re-branded versions of Finder. And those few that didn't rely on Finder for its back-end felt like something from 1995.

On the Linux desktop, we have a lot of options, from GTK-centric file managers to those with a Qt base. Each of them feels significantly different and all of them are interchangeable within your selected desktop environment.

Desktop environments

I've told folks in the past that if I could simply have greater choice in desktop environments on OS X, I'd be far more likely to advocate OS X. Sadly, outside of tweaking finder and your wallpaper, customization is limited.

With the Linux desktop, the opposite is the case. If anything, some might even argue we have "too much" choice in our desktop environments. The level in which Linux users can customize their desktop experience is pretty frightening. And for newbies, this could seem overwhelming when selecting a distribution.

How others feel about both an abundance or lack of choice in how their desktop is laid out depends on their personal needs. But if choice in desktop experiences is something you value, then I suspect OS X isn't a great match.

Practicality in terms of value

For years now, I've heard that using OS X is easier than other operating systems. And while I agree they have some very strong software titles, the belief that it's easier is pure nonsense. It's finely tuned, well put together and works as advertised – yes. But when we remove the usual hurdles that prevent someone from using Linux, such as installation and troubleshooting, Linux is not more difficult to use than OS X.

Most people using OS X (non-geeks) retain help from either their local genius bar or perhaps over the phone with via Apple Support. Sadly, Linux users lack any sort of reliable local assistance since techs would prefer users running Windows. So while it's easier to find support for OS X locally, I've found that running Linux is more practical overall.

Linux on the desktop avoids planned obsolescence and allows the end user to customize their computing experience to meet their needs. Linux also avoids the use of special ID logins to re-install software. There is also something to be said about having physical media for installing your operating system.

Unless there are specific applications required, such as Adobe software products, the only reason one would need to buy a Mac is because tech support is easier to come by. Fact check folks – only geeks installs operating systems or sets up new hard drives.

If Linux distributions had the same level of consumer tech support available that Windows and OS X does, we'd see adoption number exploding. I ought to know – any machine I support runs Linux. And each of those individuals being supported by me love the fact that they don't have to upgrade their hardware every two years.

What say you? Are you a Mac user? If so, how do you justify the Mac experience over the Linux experience I described above? Understanding that in 2015 hardware and peripheral support is no longer an excuse, is it the software that keeps you on OS X? Hit the Comments and share your thoughts.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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