Mac or Ubuntu: thoughts

Today the subject of Macs cropped up at work. Again. When I started working at my current job, I asked for a mac as I was used to one for some 5 years at that time. And as I was very productive on it. But I got a Lenovo Thinkpad, as that was the standard issue. A mac was not an option. “Thinkpad” sounds nice and Linux-compatible, but I have the low-end consumer version without the real Thinkpad firmware and some generic cheapo firmware instead that’s not terribly compatible (at the moment, muting the sound stopped working, for instance).

And tonight I saw a blog post that praises using a virtual Ubuntu on a mac. A former colleague used just such a setup and was happy with it:

  • A virtual Ubuntu (virtualbox, vmware, etc) for development.

  • Mac’s OSX for the rest.

Now that I thought about it a bit more, I’ll list my personal pros/cons of such a setup (or rather, pro/cons of giving me a mac).


  • You’d still have the aptitude install xyz goodies and you’d still have a development environment that’s the same as the nice and stable Ubuntu on our web servers.

  • With a cheap ishowu license, I could make good screencasts. A bit of editing in imovie later, I’d have a good, simple introductory video for a website or a piece of software that I build. Great advertisement for the work I do for the company. Great PR. I simply haven’t gotten a good setup working yet on Ubuntu, even after trying for two evenings. So that’s quite some lost PR that I’d otherwise have made for free.

  • Iphoto beats digikam (the kde photo management app that I use) for practical use. I hardly add tags to my photos as it is a chore. It is a far cry from the elegant smart folder workflow I had in iphoto! (And, yes, I use quite a lot of my photos in a business setting).

  • Imovie. Yep, screencasts would be way easier. And I’ll be honest in saying that it’d help me get my personal holiday video finished, too.

  • Beamer, monitor, headphones. They just work. I mean, I have to go into a settings menu to switch between my build-in speakers and headphone output. After the last Ubuntu update, my mute button stopped working. My monitor at work flickers as there’s something apparently wrong. Sometimes the computer freezes when closing the lid. I almost cooked the computer a few weeks ago when closing the lid (and putting it in my bag) somehow failed to put it into sleep mode. That poor thing was scourging hot. I was really scared that it would not start up anymore. The laptop survived, btw.

  • The laptop is more solid. I managed to break the left part of my laptop keyboard after 8 months of use: the a, s, z keys would only react when pressing them real hard.

  • The battery life on the three macs that I’ve had was consistently better than my current Thinkpad. A python meeting: I really need to plug in the power cord as the battery doesn’t last 2.something hours.

  • I like Emacs org mode right now, but omnifocus kicked an enormous amount of ass. That’s the best and most polished GTD app I ever saw. I was sad to let it go after I no longer had a mac.


  • Aptitude is way better than macports/fink. Installing extra linux-like stuff on OSX is harder than the super-smooth optimized Ubuntu machinery. That’s a real joy.

  • Hey, gimp works pretty fine on Ubuntu! I don’t have the money for a photoshop license, so I had to make do with gimp on the mac. The interface is just not build for that. So running Ubuntu is good for my image editing joy.

  • Ubuntu is philosophically nicer. Apple isn’t the nicest kid on the block regarding lock-in, DRM, app store policies, etc. It would actually feel a bit dirty to switch back.

  • Working in the same environment as on server is nice. You spot potential problems earlier due to the similarity.

  • In the end, you’d have to maintain two environments. I want Emacs in Ubuntu and I want Emacs in OSX, so the settings have to work for both. And I have to install it in both. Only having one environment has its advantages.

Conclusion. Such a long piece of text warrants a conclusion. I’m pretty sure I’m more productive on a mac+Ubuntu setup. For raw Emacs+django+apache work, nothing beats Ubuntu: but you can have that cake on your mac and eat it too. For almost everything else, a mac just makes me more productive and happy. I’d love to make screencasts of a couple of the recent great websites we finished. That’d be great publicity. But I basically cannot productively do that on my Thinkpad.

The best tools… They should pay themselves back pretty quickly.

Darn, I really feel a bit dirty for wanting a mac due to the aforementioned philosophical reasons… :-) logo

About me

My name is Reinout van Rees and I work a lot with Python (programming language) and Django (website framework). I live in The Netherlands and I'm happily married to Annie van Rees-Kooiman.

Weblog feeds

Most of my website content is in my weblog. You can keep up to date by subscribing to the automatic feeds (for instance with Google reader):