Mac Bastion

The Other Switchers: Linux Users Coming to OS X

- 2005.12.19

Apple's 'Switch' campaign was addressed to Window users. And indeed, according to stats, many Windows users - aided by the iPod halo effect, Apple's reduced hardware prices, and the Mac mini - switched to Mac OS X.

But something unpredictable happened. Even before Windows users started switching to Macs, Linux users were coming to OS X in masses.

That wasn't in the plan, was it? The switch campaign was focused on Windows users.

The numerous conversions from Linux to OS X are not publicised in the way the corresponding Windows conversions are - maybe because Linux was never the evil enemy. Maybe because Apple's main target is Windows users.

What does OS X provide to attract Linux users? A full-blown Unix operating system without the distributions wars, without the desktop manager wars, with an interface universally acknowledged as the sexiest ever (and not a rip-off of the Windows GUI).

Mac OS X shows that it's possible to have the best of both worlds.

Linux: Where's the Innovation?

While Linux is an important operating system for a variety of reasons, the simple truth is that it's a step or more behind in some areas, even when compared to Windows:

  • Plug and play support
  • A universal interface
  • Documentation

No one blames the open source community for focusing on the underlying code and not on the documentation or innovative concepts. Or for not being able to write drivers for every piece of hardware that exists, especially given the unwillingness of many companies to disclose specifications.

The fact remains that something is lacking with Linux, and GUI applications that are a rip-off of Windows ones are not the most exciting things in the world.

Commercial apps are not evil when they are well-crafted and reasonably priced. This is especially true with innovative ideas and implementations that have no counterpart in the open source world, such as DEVONthink.

As long as you're focused on implementing features already found in other operating systems instead of devising new ones, cool things like Automator will never originate on Linux.

After all , even the most hardened hacker likes the fact that in order to have Bluetooth connectivity, for example, he just has to press a button. That in the next revision of the operating system he can expect things like Spotlight and not "better support for the X graphic card and the Y hardware protocol".

And what a relief to actually have strict standards!

PowerBooks Everywhere

Actually, if you attend hackers' conventions, you'll see more and more are coming with their PowerBooks and OS X.

Sometimes, especially after the 20-something age mark, work has to be done. Food, housing, and clothing are not open source; they cost money. It's one of the facts of life, and when you use a computer as a tool, you need everything to just work - not spend time on configuring problems.

Yes, fiddling with the computer is a hobby for a lot of people, but what Mac OS X is great at is providing you with the ability to work simply as a user by day and play as a geek by night. This is greatly appreciated by people who earn their living working on their computers, geeks or not.

Some people in the Linux community adopt a defensive and foolish approach - fan-boys who insist that "real men do it on a keyboard" and users who think that because they use Linux, they're "hax0rs".

Particularly amusing was an article that appeared on a well known and respected site where the author was reporting his experience with OS X. He wrote, "for GUI things Mac is ok but for command line, like when I want to scp, linux is better". Just how scp on Mac OS X is different (let alone better) from the Linux one is a mystery to me.

Luckily, most serious Linux users are well aware of the limitations of their system's model.

Linux Is Amazing

Linux is one of the most astonishing accomplishments of the 90s, an amazing showcase of collective programming. It's already vital for the technological progress of developing countries, and everyone wants it to gain more momentum and succeed (and maybe conquer the world of OSes).

But Linux needs to be more polished around the edges. Before the coming and maturing of Mac OS X, Linux had many excuses. "Yes, it's less polished, but it doesn't have viruses (or is it virii?)."

Then OS X showed that the world that Unix doesn't have to be frightening.

OS X has set the bar higher for Linux, and the latter struggles to catch up. Still, a stronger Linux share can only be beneficial for all of us, so let's hope that Linux keeps improving. LEM

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