Forced Linux

For my work — oh yeah right, I didn’t officially announce that I started yet, but I’m a Ph.D. student now, more on that later — I got a new MacBook. After a few days of struggle however, it appeared that the software that we use (Stratego/XT), still has some issues on Mac OS X. For a week or so I “solved” this problem by installing Linux in a virtual machine (Parallels) and SSH-ing into that to compile my stuff. Not an ideal solution.

A week later, the networking stopped working in the virtual machine. Long story short, I installed Linux on my MacBook (dual boot) and am now working in Linux all day.

That sucks, right? Having a cool MacBook and working in something like Linux all day, while you could be using shiny OS X.

Well, it turns out, it’s not so bad. In fact, the MacBook makes a pretty good Linux laptop. I am running Ubuntu (first feisty, but now upgraded to the gutsy beta) and mostly everything I need works. Networking works, the graphics card works (including cool effects if I wanted them), wireless network works, the built-in iSight works (in some applications), the Apple Remote that I can use to stop, pause forward my music or videos work. Printing works. Suspend worked for a bit, but does not in Gutsy (still have to look into that). So hardware wise it’s pretty ok. Syncing my phone is a bit more problematic.

Software wise it’s not too shabby either. On OS X I was using mostly open source software and web applications anyway (Gmail for e-mail, Google reader for RSS reading, Emacs for editing code and so on). I was surprised to find out how quickly you get used to annoying little things in OS X. For example, in the Finder, when I start typing I really want it to go to the folder that match the name I’m typing. So if I type “Pictures” I want that folder to be selected. This, in OS X and Windows too, does not work. It listens to the first character you press, but then stops. In Gnome (not only in “nautilus”, its finder/explorer) this does work, and it does work too in save and open dialogs. It’s very convenient. Another annoying thing in OS X that I forgot about was that when you save a file, very often you can only pick a few selected directories to store that file in — your “favorites” let’s say. You cannot select any other directory, but have to move the file afterwards. Don’t ask me why, but that’s how it is. At least, I have never found out how to change this behavior. On GNOME, this just works as expected, you can select any folder you like.

And last, but not least: virtual desktops. OS X has never officially supported this, but has programs that can do it. Still, it’s considered un-Mac-like (at least until OS X 10.5, when it’s a built-in feature), so you don’t use these things, you use Expose. On Linux, virtual desktops have been around since forever and I use them all the time (I have 6).

All in all, I’m not disliking this Linux thing at all. It’s not perfect. But it’s very acceptable. It’s Linux in a nice, white, beautiful box.