Why I made the switch from Mac to Linux

Thanks to a lot of open source developers, it's a lot easier to use Linux as your daily driver than ever before.
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WOCinTech Chat. Modified by Opensource.com. CC BY-SA 4.0

I have been a huge Mac fan and power user since I started in IT in 2004. But a few months ago—for several reasons—I made the commitment to shift to Linux as my daily driver. This isn't my first attempt at fully adopting Linux, but I'm finding it easier than ever. Here is what inspired me to switch.

My first attempt at Linux on the desktop

I remember looking up at the projector, and it looking back at me. Neither of us understood why it wouldn't display. VGA cords were fully seated with no bent pins to be found. I tapped every key combination I could think of to signal my laptop that it's time to get over the stage fright.

I ran Linux in college as an experiment. My manager in the IT department was an advocate for the many flavors out there, and as I grew more confident in desktop support and writing scripts, I wanted to learn more about it. IT was far more interesting to me than my computer science degree program, which felt so abstract and theoretical—"who cares about binary search trees?" I thought—while our sysadmin team's work felt so tangible.

This story ends with me logging into a Windows workstation to get through my presentation for class, and marks the end of my first attempt at Linux as my day-to-day OS. I admired its flexibility, but compatibility was lacking. I would occasionally write a script that SSHed into a box to run another script, but I stopped using Linux on a day-to-day basis.

A fresh look at Linux compatibility

When I decided to give Linux another go a few months ago, I expected more of the same compatibility nightmare, but I couldn't be more wrong.

Right after the installation process completed, I plugged in a USB-C hub to see what I'd gotten myself into. Everything worked immediately. The HDMI-connected extra-wide monitor popped up as a mirrored display to my laptop screen, and I easily adjusted it to be a second monitor. The USB-connected webcam, which is essential to my work-from-home life, showed up as a video with no trouble at all. Even my Mac charger, which was already plugged into the hub since I've been using a Mac, started to charge my very-not-Mac hardware.

My positive experience was probably related to some updates to USB-C, which received some needed attention in 2018 to compete with other OS experiences. As Phoronix explained:

"The USB Type-C interface offers an 'Alternate Mode' extension for non-USB signaling and the biggest user of this alternate mode in the specification is allowing DisplayPort support. Besides DP, another alternate mode is the Thunderbolt 3 support. The DisplayPort Alt Mode supports 4K and even 8Kx4K video output, including multi-channel audio.

"While USB-C alternate modes and DisplayPort have been around for a while now and is common in the Windows space, the mainline Linux kernel hasn't supported this functionality. Fortunately, thanks to Intel, that is now changing."

Thinking beyond ports, a quick scroll through the Linux on Laptops hardware options shows a much more complete set of choices than I experienced in the early 2000s.

This has been a night-and-day difference from my first attempt at Linux adoption, and it's one I welcome with open arms.

Breaking out of Apple's walled garden

Using Linux has added new friction to my daily workflow, and I love that it has.

My Mac workflow was seamless: hop on an iPad in the morning, write down some thoughts on what my day will look like, and start to read some articles in Safari; slide over my iPhone to continue reading; then log into my MacBook where years of fine-tuning have worked out how all these pieces connect. Keyboard shortcuts are built into my brain; user experiences are as they've mostly always been. It's wildly comfortable.

That comfort comes with a cost. I largely forgot how my environment functions, and I couldn't answer questions I wanted to answer. Did I customize some PLIST files to get that custom shortcut, or did I remember to check it into my dotfiles? How did I get so dependent on Safari and Chrome when Firefox has a much better mission? Or why, specifically, won't I use an Android-based phone instead of my i-things?

On that note, I've often thought about shifting to an Android-based phone, but I would lose the connection I have across all these devices and the little conveniences designed into the ecosystem. For instance, I wouldn't be able to type in searches from my iPhone for the Apple TV or share a password with AirDrop with my other Apple-based friends. Those features are great benefits of homogeneous device environments, and it is remarkable engineering. That said, these conveniences come at a cost of feeling trapped by the ecosystem.

I love being curious about how devices work. I want to be able to explain environmental configurations that make it fun or easy to use my systems, but I also want to see what adding some friction does for my perspective. To paraphrase Marcel Proust, "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes." My use of technology has been so convenient that I stopped being curious about how it all works. Linux gives me an opportunity to see with new eyes again.

Inspired by you

All of the above is reason enough to explore Linux, but I have also been inspired by you. While all operating systems are welcome in the open source community, Opensource.com writers' and readers' joy for Linux is infectious. It inspired me to dive back in, and I'm enjoying the journey.

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Matt was an EMC storage expert, VMware vExpert, and former fan of other proprietary technologies. He now focuses on open source and DevRel adoption.


Great article Matt! Congratulations on your switch!

Which distro do you use? I installed deepin and got a lot of line flickering. Ubuntu works just as you would expect an operating system to work but it looks very dated and doesn't feel smooth for some reason? Windows works perfectly, it's hard to switch. I've three ssds in my system, one for windows, one for linux and the third to try out mac. But i always open windows, because it always works perfectly. Some distro you can recommend that works really good?

I didn't want to get into why I chose a specific distro, but given that your question is about compatibility, I should mention I'm having a great experience on a Thinkpad T480 running Fedora 30. I haven't run into a single hardware compatibility challenge using the two together. Be sure to dive into the compatibility list mentioned in the article for the best user experience!

In reply to by Aaryan Sharma (not verified)

The Thinkpad T-series has always been great with Linux. When I decided to recommit (10 yrs ago), I loaded Ubuntu 9.04 onto a brand new T400 and never looked back! That was my professional daily driver too.

In reply to by mbbroberg

I have a T480s laptop also, and the fan used to come up a lot on this laptop running Windows 10, so a few weeks ago I wiped it off and installed KDE Neon on it, and the fan rarely comes up now. So I would say that the Thinkpad T series work better with Linux than Windows.

KDE Neon is a very nice looking OS, very easy to get used to if you are coming from a Mac.

In reply to by alanfd_oss

I used Feren OS on 4 or 5 different devices (dell Inspiron, huawei matebook d 14, desktop homemade pc with ryzen 1700x and vega 64, asus gaming laptop etc) between end 2016 and nowadays without issues (the only remarkable is that it doesn't give me the keyboard backlight by default on my Huawei matebook d14 eith AMD Ryzen, but i didn't searched the drivers nor the cause of it). Appart from this non-blocking feature I didn't find compatibility issues.

In reply to by Aaryan Sharma (not verified)

Nice article. I've experienced some of what you experienced too. I had been using Linux as my daily driver ten years ago. Then I returned to graduate school and was somewhat intimidated by the MacOS and Windows using classmates. At that point I bought a MacBook Pro and made the switch to MacOS. I continued to use open source software to accomplish most of my work. I stayed with OpenOffice and never really like Safari. I loved Firefox and Chrome better but I always felt like a 'sellout' for leaving the Linux desktop I loved. I found out over time that my concerns about being the square peg were unfounded. I could have stayed with Linux and eventually that's what happened. Along the way Linux has gotten way better supporting hardware that connects to peripherals like projectors and white boards.

I have tried many different Linux distros over the past 20 years, but currently, my desktop runs Ubuntu and my laptop runs Fedora. Everything works!

Hi Matt,
I was just curious of what distro are you using? I tried so many I lost count so far, mostly because I enjoy seeing how different flavours taste like :)
Lately I settled on Zorin, I'm not affiliated with any developers, I'm just a regular guy that was into IT since I was very young and the IT field for a few years then I transitioned into different line of work but I never lost the bug of the IT world. For anyone that would like to make the transition to linux dont be afraid, you wont regret it especially if you do not have special software that runs only on windows and you only you it for emails, surfing the web, videos, photos and documents, the usual it's worth to give linux a try.

I skipped on mentioning my distro because I'm with you–the message is more about being curious again and stepping out of the well-known stack I've been in for a while. Since most Linux distros have GNOME for a GUI, it's all about customizing to your preference. I'll be writing more on how I got to a good set up next time. Thanks for sharing your experience M!

In reply to by M Solomon (not verified)

I want leave MacOS but create MacOS and iOS programs. Can people direct recompile MacOS program work for Linux (have Objective C source code and project files)?

Some applications are available on Linux, but it does not appear to be a direct recompile to get there. Most of my core applications work, like Firefox, Chrome, and video conferencing software. Beyond that, I've been on the search for open source alternatives to the proprietary tools I depend(ed) on, or I use a web browser to access them.

In reply to by Châu (not verified)

Goood Post !

Great article Matthew. I recently switched to Linux at home and though it’s be challenging (in a good way though), I’ve been able to do everything I needed to do off my 20+ years of windows experience on Ubuntu. Being a MSSQL developer at heart, MS’s decision to port SQL and Azure Studio made this possible. Plus Powershell and VSCode!

Yes to all of those things! It's an exciting time to be on Linux. Thanks for reading :)

In reply to by Raj Mandalia (not verified)

Great article Matt.

Indeed, cross-device connection and usage is crucial in our daily routines. It is simply convenient to quickly check an email on your phone, jot down a few ideas and reply later from your desktop/laptop.

Same with tablets or any other device that has found its way into our daily routines. Stuff needs to work without hiccups! That is user experience, that drives productivity and that is what we need to focus on.

I switched from MacBook pro 13" with touchbar to a huawei matebook d 14 with AMD ryzen. Then i changed the default M.2 to a nvme 500Gb one, and installed a Feren OS on half of the SSD, remaining windows on the other. So i get more performance than i had on my MacBook pro but at 700€ cost instead of 2000€ that MacBook costs me. I can't play even old games on MacBook pro using Windows but i can move GTA V at low graphics without issues on my huawei. Then will see working properties: the cheapest it's faster on Photoshop, premiere pro and media encoder, also fast on indexing files on IDEs or git clients.
Really surprised and don't mind on rolling back to Apple devices.
The same happened to me when i switched from an iphone 6s to a google pixel 2 XL... Didn't think Apple was so inefficient till i tried out alternatives at same or less cost damn.

Talking about linux. I like Feren OS because it ports same keyboard shortcuts than windows, it's stable with nice design, i use it at home as i do on my working set-up (I'm web developer). It has features that makes your life easier like right click to open as root on folders etc.
It gives you the choice of using dark or regular mode, set the layout you're more used to (OSx like, windows 7 like, windows 10like and so...) And it was surprisingly fast to set up a refind to replace default ugly grub. Now I've a nice theme that shows windows 10 and Feren OS icons on boot menu to choose.

At work all the department uses linux but everyone choose their own distro. Some people with ubuntu, others with Debian, others mint etc. I start with ubuntu but after watching some videos and reviews that made me see that feren is better made to user experience i switched, recommended hundred percent!

If you like the desktop / phone integration, try out KDE Connect / GSConnect.

Great article.
I don't have anything so new as to have USB C (except maybe my phone) so I am glad to hear Linux is compatible with it now.

What I've liked is that as I get old, used hardware I can usually rely on Linux to make it useful again.

For hardware, I generally go between Ubuntu-based and Fedora. When one doesn't work, the other may and it seems they almost take turns. I haven't had a problem in a long time (since the Broadcom wireless requiring a separate download days) until now with an AMD video card. That is also, in part, due to learning how to work with those drivers since I haven't had a problem like this in about 15 years!

Great point, Drew. I was drawn to Linux at first because I had an older laptop that I wanted to give new life. It worked well other than the compatibility challenges mentioned in the article. I'm glad to see Linux continuing to become a top competitor in the desktop OS space just like it achieved in the enterprise OS one years ago.

In reply to by dragonbite

Thanks for the very fine article, Matt.

Reading your thoughts and the comments above makes me think about the general topic of "switching from a familiar environment to an unfamiliar one". Very common to read articles written by people who love their familiar environment, be it Windows, OS/X, KDE, GNOME, etc, try out something new, and report back that "it was OK but I really had to come back to Old Faithful to get stuff done".

This happened to me, in the opposite sense to most people's story, when I briefly tried out Windows XP as my daily driver back in about 2005 or so. Because I was giving up my Old Faithful (a Sun Workstation), I found myself looking for ways to get a familiar working environment, installing Cygwin and so forth. Eventually I gave up on that, finding that I was spending a lot of time just finding alternatives and getting them going, and installed Ubuntu, which was GNOME2 based at that point, and had more than everything I needed right out of the box. I've stayed more-or-less there ever since, with a few side trips to other distros.

I remember reading that Joe Zawinul used to rewire his synthesizer keyboard to go from high to low, left to right. Supposedly it gave him a fresh burst of creativity. Kinda like distro-hopping or installing a different desktop environment.

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