Why Linux Isn't Winning Over Mac Users

Monday Jan 12th 2015 by Matt Hartley
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Resistance to Linux among Mac users is considerable, but some Linux applications get the job done.

Also see: Open Source Software List: 2015 Ultimate List

Despite my affinity for the Linux desktop, I'm still part of the Mac world, thanks to my wife and her preference for OS X.

As such, this means helping out with TimeMachine backups, software updates and handling anything that might happen to come up when she needs a hand. Much like one might find with the Linux desktop, left alone, the Mac does a pretty good job of just "working" and allowing its users to get their daily duties completed without much hassle.

In the past, I've heard rumors about folks coming from OS X to Linux and sometimes, even switching from Linux over to OS X. After all, users of both platforms tend to rely on the web browser as their primary software application.

However, I want to dive into the idea that a multitude of Mac users are switching to Linux. In this article, I'll explain why multitudes of Mac users aren't switching to Linux, and I’ll provide some specific exceptions on the occasions when they are.

Applications, not operating systems

Anytime the discussion comes up about people switching from one OS to another, it's important to realize the real key is the software being used. Not just what it can do, but would switching to a "similar" software title potentially slowdown an existing work flow?

In some instances, the answer to the slowdown question is a resounding yes. This potential for slow down isn't a reflection of the software itself, rather, the change in perceived work flow specifically.

Now let's bring up the example of someone switching from OS X on the Mac to Linux. First of all, you'll need to find out if your workflow translates smoothly to the new platform. If you're open to changing up your workflow – or most of your workflow happens in the browser – then this isn't really an issue.

However, there are some instances where replacing existing applications with new options isn't terribly practical – both in workflow and in overall functionality. This is an area where, sadly, Apple has excelled in. So while it's hardly "impossible" to get around these issues, they are definitely a large enough challenge that it will give the typical Mac enthusiast pause.

Applications pros and cons

Three work flow types that I've found are not going to be switched up quickly are video production, photography and print shop work. Historically, these have been an area where the Mac has outshined other operating systems. Having tried some of these myself on both Windows and OS X, I'll go on record in saying Linux has some substantial hurdles in this area to overcome.

To be ultimately fair, I want to take a pros and cons approach to comparing the advantages of OS X vs. Linux for the above workflow types. I want to also make it clear that in some instances, the "advantage" had in favor of OS X are due to proprietary software file lock-in headaches, that make switching things up mid-project extremely difficult.

Linux pros for photography, print shop work and video production:

  • Photography – Decent software options for photography ranging from Darktable and Rawstudio (non-destructive editing & work flow editor) to easy SD card mounting without any additional effort. I'd also point out that for professional image hosting, Piwigo is a great web based management application. For the casual photographer (family stuff), XnRetro is fantastic for creating Instagram-like effects for your photos without the need for Instagram itself. For monitor color management, consider ArgyllCMS with a Spyder4 color calibrator.
  • Video editing – I've found the best tools for the professional job include Lightworks, Maya (paid application) and Blender. These professional-level applications provide their users the ability to create higher production video. For enthusiasts, I recommend OpenShot, Kdenlive, and Pitivi. Definitely not for studios, these latter software titles are more than enough for a casual video podcaster or someone looking to make home movies.

The pros for each of the applications listed above is that they all work natively on the Linux desktop. They are highly usable, and provide a decent workflow once you've learned to use each application. Another significant advantage is that most of these applications are free, will run on almost any Linux distro and can provide you with fantastic results.

Linux cons for photography, print shop work and video production:

  • Photography – No Photoshop (WINE isn't a solution). You'd be shocked at what a big deal CMYK and keyboard shortcuts can be. Sure, one can always lay claim to Seperate+ (plugin) being a fix for the lack of CMYK support, but this is a fallacy. The fact is, it's just not the same. Then there are the names for the tools within Photoshop.
    Don't laugh, but coming in as a GIMP user, Photoshop gives me the same impression with the tools being just different enough to cause workflow stoppage. Now to be clear, most pros will tell you they spend less than 10% of their time in Photoshop and with greater time spent using Lightroom.

    But photographers are a touchy bunch. I ought to know, my wife's a private-school-trained and degree-holding photographer. While she ended up in décor and design in the long haul, this training all took place using Adobe software tools.

  • Print Shop – I see the only really big breakdown being much of what was discussed in the photography section, plus proprietary application formats of customers coming in wanting their work printed. Conversion from the proprietary file over to one that is Open Source is rarely smooth, and even less likely to transport well back with the customer. Projects that start and finish with Linux tools, however, could yield the same results as the proprietary solutions.
  • Video editing – Interestingly enough, I believe the biggest cons for Linux video editing affect small to mid-sized productions rather than larger, blockbuster studios. For example, a smaller production might be inclined to try Lightworks as their editor of choice. And while good, factually it lacks the features found with Final Cut; mostly effects related. Perhaps the biggest issue is for a Final Cut Pro user coming into the Lightworks workflow – it's a learning curve.
  • Speaking for smaller production special effects, Adobe strikes again with After Effects. As great as Blender is, it's NOT an After Effects alternative whatsoever. After Effects provides small and mid-sized productions the options to add cool special effects, without a big studio budget. And finally, there's on-the-fly-editing. Tools like Wirecast and its virtual cameras, virtual studio sets, live chroma keying, 3D effects and other instant video edits make it deeply missed on the Linux platform.
    For Linux users, this would mean doing all of this stuff post-production, which isn't a great selling point. This isn't to say this stuff is impossible, the good folks over at LinuxGameCast have managed to do a good job with many of these things. But this took its production staff working hard to fabricate solutions specific to their workflow.

Developers – exception to the rule?

I wanted to touch on one area that some folks have mentioned recently – developers switching from OS X to Linux. For web developers especially, I can absolutely see how the switch from the Mac to Linux would be a doable one. After all, development for the Web is quite doable from either platform.

But outside of Web developers, honestly, I don't see Mac users "en masse," seeking to disrupt their workflows for the mere idea of avoiding the upgrade to OS X Yosemite. Granted, having seen Yosemite up close – Mac users who are considered power users will absolutely find this change-up to be hideous. However, despite poor OS X UI changes, the core workflow for existing Mac users will remain largely unchanged and unchallenged.

No, I believe Linux adoption will continue to be sporadic and random. Ever-growing, but not something that is easily measured or accurately calculated.

Also see: Best Linux Desktop: Top 10 Candidates

The 9 Best Linux Distros

100 Open Source Replacements for Expensive Applications

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