OS X vs Ubuntu: Ubuntu wins!
Regular readers of this blog will know that I recently bought a MacBook. The reason? They are really good portables, just the right size (my old HP Pavilion also was very good, but too big to comfortably use on planes and trains), you can run pretty much any major OS on them (caveat emptor), they have long battery life and the 2.4Ghz version, which I got, is the fastest portable of this form factor I found. And, when the new models came out recently, the old ones suddenly got cheap! The MacBook 4,1 cost only just over 1000€, which is the same price range as HP, Asus and all the others of the same type of form factor, except that they only have 2.1Ghz processors. So they choice was easy. And the MacBook is good, and full of clever little solutions, like the small speakers bouncing the sound off the screen, the famous magnetic power connector, and so on. Drawbacks are that it doesn’t have a mic input, the screen is blank, I’d prefer a matte one, and that there are no Home/End/PgUp/PgDn/Delete keys. Otherwise, it’s pretty much perfect. And of course, last but not least, OS X is getting very popular in the Plone community, and I saw a fair number at PyCon as well. So I’d thought I’d give it a try. I already knew I preferred Ubuntu to Windows, but how would OS X’s famous sleekness and usability compare?
It turns out OS X compared pretty well to Ubuntu, but not good enough, quite simply. If I’m going to summarize it, you could say that Linux is for programmers, and OS X is for users. I have already noted that OS X and Linux is getting pretty close when it comes to capabilities. And that’s not only because OS X is a type of Unix, Ubuntu is also quickly gaining more and more end-user features. But there are significant differences, and I’m going to try to tell you which ones made a difference for me.
What kicks ass in OS X:
- The suspend/wakeup is really fast. On battery power, you can turn down the lid, and the machine will suspend. And when you open the lid, it will wake up in just a couple of seconds. Ubuntu takes much longer.
- Much commercial graphical software with high usability and good looking output exists only for OS X, such as Keynote and OmniGraffle.
- The mobile phone integration just works. After connecting my Nokia to the MacBook via Bluetooth, and getting my Google Calendar to show up in iCal, I could just sync it to the mobile phone. And it would also take a backup of my phone book, and those numbers would show up in Skype, which is practical when I’m abroad and using the mobile is expensive.
- I liked how you could easily set applications to different workspaces, and how the workspace shifting was through sliding. It really made workspace shifting useful for me.
- I liked the dock. Tastes vary, but I liked it.
- In short, general usability was very good.
- Time machine is really cool.
- That little video editing program can post videos directly to YouTube! Nice!
What kicks ass in Ubuntu:
- The package management. This is generally good in Linux, and extra good in Ubuntu. OS X people like to brag about how easy it is to install software. You just drag it into the Applications folder. Well, yes, but you have to find, sometimes buy, and download it first. And then each software needs it’s own update checker. With Ubuntu you quickly learn to first look for the type of software you want in Synaptic, because often it’s there. And once installed, it will get automatically updated too.
This package management *totally* kicks ass. Neither OS X nor Windows have anything like it.
- It has consistent key bindings. This is because most Linux UIs (as well as Windows) are based on or heavily influenced by an awesome document called IBM SAA CUA. Yes, really. IBM: King of the TLAs. The Common User Access guidelines detail how user interfaces should work. Of course, Apple has one too, the Human Interface Guidelines. But Apples are made for Macs, and are designed to use the mouse. IBM needed user interface guidelines that worked on everything from their huge mainframes down to DOS, via GUI’s like Windows. So the CUA defines rules for user interfaces that are consistent over all these systems. That’s why you could run Windows 3 without ever touching a mouse, unless you were doing graphical work. Yes, you could, really.
As a result, Ubuntu, and most Linuxes, has consistent key binding for doing basic stuff like going to the start of the row, etc.
- It’s a programmers OS. It’s very friendly for developers, and not only because all kinds of open source developers tools are available as packages, and because it’s Linux.
But, sad to say, there are also things that really suck. In OS X, they were:
- The lack of consistent key bindings. As a programmer, I use the keyboard more than I use the mouse, and selecting everything from the cursor position to the beginning or the end of the line is one of the most common operations. And you need around three different combinations for that in OS X, and some programs don’t seem to support any key combination for this. The result is that every time you want to go to the start or end of the line, you have to stop and thing what program you are in. That drove me nuts.
That Apple after 25 years of Macintoshes aren’t able to put forward a standard for that is extremely weak.
- Time machine can’t make backups to network drives. The closest you get is having time capsules, which basically are stupidly expensive harddrives with wifi. I also heard several reports of people having their backups trashed because OS X went into suspend during a backup operation.
- The “You have to use Apple stuff” attitude really bugs me. I can mount drives from my multimedia machine in OS X. Why can’t I make a backup to them? So that Apple can sell their overprices Time Capsules. Why is there an extra delay if you try to boot from a disk that is not HFS+? Because it’s not Apple. That sort of attitude is pervasive. Apple is not a company that embraces openness. Preferably, you should use Apple hardware and Apple software only.
And with Ubuntu, these things really sucks:
Yeah, I can’t come up with anything that really, really bugs me in Ubuntu. OK, Linux drivers of hardware often lags behind, so if you buy the latest and greatest, especially in laptops, you are asking for trouble. But you are also asking to spend money for very little, so I don’t buy the latest and greatest. I’ll buy a Laptop that is reaching the end of it’s production life, like this Not The Latest MacBook. That way you know that firmware bugs have been ironed out, Linux supports the hardware, etc.
Ubuntu just totally rocks, and for a programmer, I hereby declare it the best operating system ever. For ordinary users, I think OS X wins, over both Windows and Ubuntu. And here is a small prediction: In five years, there will be a free, open source Linux distribution that kicks OS X ass for that too. Because open source will continue to grow and get more manpower. And Linux will simply have way more man power than Apple can afford to pay for. And when that manpower will, as it inevitably will, get focused on making the most kick-ass easy to use end users experience, Linux will blow OS X out of the water.
But I don’t think that will be Ubuntu. I think that will be some other distrubution that isn’t based on Gnome, but on some other more radically simplified and less Windowsy UI. Perhaps something based on Sugar? Maybe something new altogether? Only time will tell.