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Moving from Linux to Mac OS X

By   |  June 3, 2010

Former Tectonic editor Jason Norwood-Young moves to big media and gets seduced by the glitter and glamour of Apple. This is his story of switching from Linux to Apple.

I could try to justify it. I could tell you – and myself – that OS X has a Unix base; that it and Linux are cousins; that at least it’s not Windows. But the fact is OS X is as open as a Detroit car factory, and yet I still love it.

Sure, I don’t get to spend hours building my own drivers, or configuring my xconf for my dual-headed display using different graphics cards. To be honest, I’ve grown out of that. Now I just want to switch my computer on and work. Even better, I just want to open the lid and work, and when I close the lid again I want it to go to sleep. I want the beautiful display, the simple interface, the bouncy icons and the eight-hour battery life. I want what so many flavours of Linux promised and never delivered – worktime productivity with sexiness and speed rolled into one overpriced silver package with backlit keys.

Beyond the justifications, I simply love OS X. But moving from Linux hasn’t been easy. For a year I kept my trusty Ubuntu (8.10, for reasons to complex to begin to explain) installed on VMWare, just a click away on the cleverly designed multi-finger touchpad. Now, after my last drive crash thanks to Apple’s inferior (and again overpriced) hard drives, I’ve gone OS X native. No more Linux for me. But I’ve had to find equivalents for all the tools I used to use, while carefully avoiding Microsoft products. Rule One of OS X: never install a Microsoft product on a Mac. So here’s a list of all the everyday software I used to get for free but now have to pay for, and do so quite happily, because I love my Mac.

Office Suite

OpenOffice has a direct Mac equivalent, NeoOffice. Unfortunately, NeoOffice is just as useless as OpenOffice. Now I know that OpenOffice is great as a free product, but let’s face it: it’s ugly and a resource hog on Linux, and NeoOffice is no different. After quite some time of swearing at NeoOffice’s eternal start screen, I moved to Apple iWork (R799).

Not only is iWork easy on the eye, it’s damn good. The word processor, Pages, is simple and clean, and lets me get on with my writing without anything getting in the way – particularly when you go to full screen, where you get a completely uninterrupted working space.

The spreadsheet equivalent, Numbers, has some genius features, such as using your row and column titles rather than letters and numbers for referencing foreign rows. It’s so simple but so brilliant once you’re used to it. It’s also so pretty you can almost imagine you’re doing something cool rather than calculating a budget.

The presentation software, called Keynote, is surprisingly good – you can make presentations that will leave the other Windows and Linux users in your dust at the next strategy conference.

Its Microsoft compatibility is not perfect, but you’ll be able to open most MS documents (even the dreaded .docx, which even Microsoft Office users can’t seem to open most of the time), and it’ll even warn you about formatting differences. It does struggle with older versions of MS formats, and I have hit some quirks with MS docs. Still, I wouldn’t use anything else as my office suite.


I’ve always had massive inboxes. Currently my inbox is around 22,000 items, not including the gigantic subfolders that I use to organise my mail. I get mail from multiple servers, primarily IMAP and Exchange. I always had issues with Outlook, and I didn’t dare try Microsoft Entourage (Outlook for Macs in case you’re not in the know) because, as I said, you never install Microsoft products on a Mac.

I never had any real issues with Evolution or Thunderbird, although both sometimes balked at the sheer volume of email I deal with. My Mac equivalent is Mac Mail, which comes installed standard with OS X.

Apart from the difficulty of setting up rules, and missing some of the great features of Evolution, it does the job. Occasionally it does weird stuff, like putting a message I’m trying to send into Drafts instead of actually sending it, usually without warning me; or forgetting my 22,000 emails and downloading them all again, but on the whole it works well. And it’s pretty. It even starts and runs fast, despite the mass of emails. I don’t know how they index it, but searching through my mails is lightning fast.

It’s got great calendar integration, and fair address book integration. Overall, Exchange support is dicey, but only Microsoft truly understands how the heck Exchange works anyway.

It’s not without its problems, but I’m yet to meet a mail application that doesn’t have serious problems. It’s better than most.


I used to be a hardened Quanta fan. I really believed that it was the best development UI in the world. I still believe this. Quanta has the finest code highlighting, indentation, hot-keys, integrated language helper, and everything else you could want from a development environment. Most of all, it had native sftp support, until it all went wrong when the new KDE libraries broke the back-end support for conveniently editing over the network.

In retrospect, the break was just the kick in the pants I needed to do things the proper way, instead of the ninja programming style.

Now my team uses SVN, just like proper, grown-up developers, although we use it in our own, weird way. Using SVN meant that I needed to find both a development environment, and some versioning software. (OS X does support SVN straight from the command line, but then you’re defeating the purpose of OS X – the need to always look cool and pretty.)

I tried Eclipse for a while, but came to the realisation that either I or the Eclipse developers are idiots. (Both those possibilities could be true – they’re not mutually exclusive.) Despite the hours of fiddling, I just could never get the damn thing to work as I wanted.

It was also dog-slow and chewed up more resources than a fat American. Since I didn’t have a terabyte of RAM (and can’t afford it – have you seen Apple’s RAM prices?) I eventually dumped it and had brief affairs with some truly rubbish environments. Finally I caved and used what everyone else uses – TextMate.

At first, TextMate looks pretty much like a text editor. That’s until you figure out the secret of how it really works – with its sneaky tab completion. I can’t really explain it – it’s like the Matrix. But trust me, it’s very, very clever.

For the SVN stuff, I’ve finally settled on Versions. It’s a very capable versioning application, and once again it’s so pretty you have to physically restrain yourself from licking the screen. That’s fairly rare for software made for programmers.



For years, I diligently used the Gimp. It’s a good, free open source graphics program, but it sure isn’t Photoshop. But you know what goes really well with OS X? Adobe Photoshop. And not just Photoshop – a whole bundle of delectable software that makes Adobe the market leader for a very good reason.

I have no idea why Steve Jobs is taking Adobe on – the two fit like hand-in-glove. Jobs should send a letter of thanks to Adobe every day, since for all the good reasons to get a Mac, Adobe CS is the best reason of all.

I got the whole Adobe Creative Suite Master Collection (north of R25,000 for CS4, CS5 retails for around R28,000) and I love it.

But there is one thing that Linux has that Adobe, or any other Mac software, just couldn’t do: make pretty diagrams like Inkscape. Sure, there are other, similar products out there, like Microsoft’s Visio (secretly I think this is Microsoft’s best application in its formidable stack), but Inkscape is just the best.

Thanks God they made a Mac version. With Inkscape, my life is complete.

Other stuff

There are a lot of other useful things I use every day, such as the Stickies, as well as a clever terminal replacement that offers tabbing called iTerm. I use Adium for instant messaging and don’t bother with the default Mac IM client. I use XAMPP for my LAMP stack. I use Chrome and Firefox for browsing. (I don’t really bother with Safari, although there’s nothing particularly wrong with it.) I still have VMWare, but now only for bringing up Windows for cross-browser testing – I close it again as soon as humanly possible. (The VMWare for OS X is called VMWare Fusion, and it’s really very good.) I use Preview for looking at photos and PDFs, and iPhoto for organising pics. And of course I use iTunes for listening to music. VLC (just like in Linux) is the best media player, and Mac the Ripper plus Handbrake for converting my legally owned DVDs to put on to my media player at home.

Do I miss Linux? Actually, I work on it every day, on my many, many servers, the way Linux is meant to be worked on: through SSH and a terminal. I still think Linux has potential on the desktop too, and if you’re not willing to fork out some serious cash it’s the next best option to an Apple.

Apple is expensive. And it’s the best. After years on Linux, I finally concede that shiny and silver and carved from a single block of aluminium beats open source.

Do you have a “switching” story? Why not write about it for Tectonic? (


One Response to “Moving from Linux to Mac OS X”

  1. rAX
    July 29th, 2010 @ 1:01 pm


    I was looking for something like that, I’m also trying OS X out, I use Ubuntu 10.04 as my everyday OS, it is really what I want in an OS(it has some problems though) but an OS with no commercial apps is not complete, I need Adobe and other professional software, when I tried OS X for the first time, two days ago, I was really disappointed, as far as I’ve seen it is no where near Linux in terms of customization, it does have a little amount of options that you can access without purchasing additional software, I think Compiz manager has more entries than the entire OS, plus the fonts are so big and the menus are awful white, and lastly Photoshop CS3 looks like a beautiful version of GIMP (meant in a ad way).

    I still haven’t decided yet, but the term of Apple’s “most advanced OS in the world” doesn’t cross my mind any more.

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