What to use at my new job: mac or linux?

Tags: python, django

First things first: “new job”? Yes, I’m switching jobs. I’ll give more details once my new job actually has a website. They’re quite a new company :-)

Question: “new job” means “new laptop”. And I’m wondering if you could give me some input on whether to ask for a mac or a linux laptop. What is currently the best choice? (Yes, windows is totally out).

For the last 15 years I’ve only used macbooks, apart from the first year at my current job. After that first year I managed to switch back to apple. Before those 15 years I used linux desktops (slackware, suse, debian, mandrake) for 10 years. And before that windows 3.1.

Some of my thoughts:

  • The three year old macbook pro 15” I have now is such a wonderful machine. Well made.

    • Great screen. If someone looks over your shoulder, they actually see what is on your screen. On many laptops, you have to sit right in front of it, because the screen starts to darken if you look at it from an angle. Not so on my macbook.

      Oh, and the sharpness of the characters…. I’m someone who really enjoys such beauty.

    • The best trackpad there is. My colleagues have lenovo laptops (formerly IBM). Quite good, but those trackpads are nothing compared to those on my macbook. The trackpad is probably the most important quality difference between a macbook and some other laptop, I think.

      I use the trackpad a lot: when I’m sitting at home in the evening in my comfy chair or when I’m at conferences. Or when I’m not at my desk. And if I’m at my desk, I use…. a separate trackpad (the older version of this one). They are that good.

    • Good keyboard. I quite enjoy typing on it.

      Note that I did take the one with the “horizontal” enter key. The one with the “vertical” enter key (as on Dutch or “English international” keyboards) costs me an hour of productivity per day.

    • Battery life! I can type summaries at a conference all day long and still have enough charge left. Note that I only have this with my current laptop. Previous macbooks typically did need a brief recharge during the day. But my current one: pure luxury. No stress. No need to pick a spot next to a wall outlet anymore.

    • The sound is quite good. I mean the sound from the on-board speakers.

  • A problem: programming cheap arduinos. I’m using arduinos for my model railway. The cheap ones use a Chinese USB chip that doesn’t have very good OSX drivers. So I’m unable to program them unless I access the USB port from within a linux virtual machine running in virtualbox/vmware…. Sigh.

    A proper linux laptop would help a lot when programming arduinos. Or those nice python-running nodemcu chips with wifi: great for experimenting with the “Internet of things”.

  • At python/django/plone conferences, 5 years ago you’d look behind you and see a solid wall of illuminated apples. 90% of the attendees had a macbook.

    My last python conference, this figure seemed to have dropped to 50%. Still very impressive, but nothing compared to earlier numbers. What happened? Is my impression correct?

  • Docker performance. That’s pretty bad on a non-linux machine. At least in our current setup (where we mount the entire working directory inside the docker), you get a pretty bad filesystem performance. Perhaps our setup isn’t the best, but it is very useful for development.

    The performance difference between OSX and linux is quite shocking. At least the way we’ve set it up. Reloading django takes half a second on linux; on OSX it can take half a minute…

    This could be a killer problem for me regarding OSX.

  • What I appreciate: the integration between my iphone and my laptop. Photos taken on my phone automatically end up on my laptop.

    And for music I pay 25 Euro per year for “itunes music match” that lets me play all my songs on my iphone without needing to store them there. (Yes, my music preferences mean I don’t have much use for regular streaming services… :-) )

  • An advantage of linux (read: ubuntu) on my laptop would be that I get to know some details better. I’m pretty sure I’m the best in my current company to debug any server issue, but there are some details that I noticed that passed me by. The difference between init.d scripts, service xyz start and that one one… I don’t even know what’s the official current one.

    On the other hand…. I’m pretty sure I know enough of linux right now to get me by in the next 10 years.

  • I like open source. Thus, using something like OSX seems a bit like betrayal. Even though there’s quite some open source in there. I “should” be using linux.

  • Some open source packages just work better on linux.

  • A big advantage for OSX: imovie. The year, 8 years ago, that I used linux, I didn’t make a single movie. Previously, I made a couple of nice screencasts. But I couldn’t get comfortable in the linux movie tools around at that time. Perhaps this has changed?

  • Perhaps the “loss” of the automatic iphone/mac sync would force me to finally write something custom for my photo storage. I’m now using the mac “Photos” app to look at my photos on my macbook. But I’m not putting them online. And I’m pretty sure a “Photos” app database is no long-term storage. (But I sure like the automatic sync).

  • Oh bloody hell: those macbooks suddenly got much more expensive in the last two years. It is a bit excessive right now.

Summary: I really like the mac hardware. And I’ve made myself comfortable and very productive on my macbook.

  • Should I continue my very productive existence on macbooks? Comfortable and productive.

  • Should I disrupt myself and move to linux/ubuntu? Some advantages to be gained here, for sure, but it could take me three months to be productive again.

Any comments? Welcome via the ‘disqus’ comments below or via email at reinout@vanrees.org!

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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.

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