Leaving OS X

Volume 16, Issue 13; 19 Dec 2013

My next laptop will not be a Mac.

A few of my recent tweets have made it clear that my next laptop will not be a Mac. A couple of my followers have asked me to document the transition. I can do that.

My personal time machine tells me I made the switch from Linux to Mac on 15 August 2007, just over six years ago.

In those six years, I've bought two 17” MacBook Pro's loaded to the gills. I don't really have any complaints about them. They've run fine. Oh, some things about OS X never stopped annoying me, but you get used to things.

Generally speaking, I plan to get a new laptop about every three years. The goal is to get a new one before the current one fails catastrophically. That gives me a chance to arrange the purchase when it's least financialy distressing and least stressful.

I've been agonizing for some months now about my next one. First I waited until the MacBook Pro line got refreshed. Then I dragged my heels. Then I started to think seriously about getting something else. Then that's what I decided to do. Perhaps I've made a terrible mistake. Time will tell.

Why not Mac?

Why not another Mac? There's no single, compelling reason. It's just the accumulation of little things:

  • There's no 17” MacBook Pro in the new line. Bigger is better. I'm sure the 15” retina display is a thing of unsurpassed beauty, but it's still smaller. Turns out, alas, that 17” PC laptops are behemoths that even I'm unwilling to carry. So I'm getting a 15” anyway. But if the new MacBook Pro line had included a 17” one, that probably would have been enough to tip the scales.

  • The new Apple laptops are glued together. No user serviceable parts inside. Use, replace, discard. I've never had a laptop that didn't require a new drive or benefit from additional memory.

    My current MacBook Pro has two hard drives, an SSD installed where the original spinning rust was and a second drive installed in place of the CD-ROM bay. It also has twice as much memory as when I bought it.

  • The iOSification of OS X. Six years ago, I'd have described OS X as “Unix with a better UI.” That's still mostly true, but the trend lines are towards something much more sealed and “appy” and phone-like. Blech.

  • The AppStore. Fsck you. It really bugs me to have to get software through Apples chokepoint. I get that I don't have to today, and maybe I'll never have to, but it's clear that Apple would like it to be that way. That way, they get their cut.

  • Wanderlust, curiosity, I'm not sure what to call it. I've been on the Mac for a long time, I think it'll be good to do something different.

  • Oh, and non-Apple laptops have external batteries. You know, so you can have several. Yeah, that's going to be nice.

What then?

If not Mac, then what? Some high-end PC laptop on which I'll run Linux. Probably Linux Mint. I cut my teeth in the Debian camp and I'm still happier with that flavor than the RedHat flavor. I've run Ubuntu on the past, but, that Unity thing, uhm, no, thank you.

After poking around and considering various possibilities (and probably failing to consider many more, there's only so much time available for this exercise), I narrowed it down to one of the high end Dell Precision laptops or one of the Lenovo W line. Both have new models coming out “soon.” I considered waiting, then decided that (1) there's always something coming out soon and (2) there's something to be said for being a few months behind when you're looking for open source hardware drivers.

I decided on the ThinkPad W530 with all the knobs turned to eleven.

But what about…

Yeah, what about Lightroom and Photoshop? I wish I knew for sure. The truth is that Darktable looks pretty good. And I used to get by with GIMP years ago; I can only assume it's improved too.

But, really, what I expect I'll have to do is run some flavor of Windows in a VM. I hope it isn't too awful.

There's other software I'm going to miss, I'm sure, but those are the big ones.

Fear and trepidation

I sincerely hope we're beyond the days where there's practical value in building a custom kernel from scratch. That said, getting all the hardware bits to function flawlessly (sleep/suspend, driving external monitors, etc.) will probably not be like the Mac where it all “just works”.

Configuring X11 will be fun, right?

The revised ship date for my new laptop says I'll find out this year, just barely.


I'll be interested to hear how things to. Right now, I use a 4-yr-old MacBook Pro, which I like a lot. But a completely sealed laptop is a no-go (though if it were truly waterproof, it might be tempting:-). I always seem to end up adding memory, disk, or both.

The only app that I absolutely need that won't work on Linux is Acrobat Pro, which I need for pre-press capabilities. Maybe by the time I upgrade (I go on a slower schedule than you do:-), there will be a viable open source alternative (might be one now, but if so, I haven't found it yet).

—Posted by Dick Hamilton on 20 Dec 2013 @ 12:54 UTC #

Sometimes around the time you bought your first Mac, we stopped to configure X11 at all. If it doesn’t work automagically, file a bug (of course, that’s limited to free drivers, if you install some nVidia monstrosity, you are on your own).

—Posted by Matěj Cepl on 20 Dec 2013 @ 09:52 UTC #

I do it inside out and run Linux in a VM on a Windows laptop. That way, the drivers, etc., work and I can still work the way I want to. Think of it as Cygwin++.

—Posted by Tony Graham on 24 Dec 2013 @ 09:35 UTC #

FWIW plain debian is simple to install these days. The last one I installed was on a Samsung netbook that my dad bought back in 2012. I installed it from a net boot from my home LAN DHCP server, and just let it have its defaults. Default it came up with partitioning the disk to leave the existing Win7 in place and use it in a multi boot, and with a Gnome2 desktop.

I tried the KDE plasma desktop, it looked great, but was incomplete, and waaay to slow for a netbook without much hardware acceleration in the screen card.

Of course, the current debian installs with a Gnome 3 desktop by default, which may not be usable...? At least it wasn't the last time I tried it, or rather: when apt-get upgraded Gnome 2 to Gnome 3, on an old P4 desktop machine I have running debian testing. The desktop just became... weird... that computer have been running LXDE since then.

Ubuntu uses Unity, which for me is reason enough to stay away. Others' tastes may differ...

Mint debian edition looks like a good alternative: debian binary compatible 6 monthly stabilizations of debian testing, plus extras. Mint debian edition deb repo, is where I get Firefox from (ie. "Firefix" rather than "Iceweasel"). However, I have never tried installing a computer with this myself.

—Posted by Steinar Bang on 25 Dec 2013 @ 02:37 UTC #