Macs & MacOS: Greener Grass?

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Linux and Windows can be installed interchangeably on PCs, leading consumers to find what works best for them. The constant unknown about MacOS brings a certain appeal to it - like standing outside an exclusive club, wondering what’s inside.

written by 단서방 (Danseobang)  2021-05-15 - last edited 2021-12-13. © CC BY

"Articles comparing Linux, Mac and Windows are all over the internet - They assert high level details - but lack detail and grit. This article attempts to cover some of that"

Danseobang

Steve Jobs on Darwin is Linux-like.png
Steve Jobs describing the MacOS Kernel "Darwin" as "Linux-like", Macworld San Francisco 2000-The Mac OS X Introduction.

Mac advantages over Linux & Windows

  • Mac doesn’t use the (very old) and insecure X11, and instead has its own fork called XQuartz*
  • MacOS mostly works out of the box
  • Near perfect hardware integration
  • Apple ecosystem support (Xcode, iOS app integration)
  • Lightning fast swap space

* Most Linux desktops are moving towards Wayland

Mac Issues

This article is by no means exclusive.

Customization

  • No proper integration for alternative desktop environments
    • The best you can do is run them in a (buggy) full screen application
    • Aqua (default MacOS DE) has extremely limited scripting
  • No Hardware accelerated virtualization on ARM chips This has since been added in a software update
  • Limited third party hardware support (spotty support for headsets with extra buttons, custom mice)
  • No Keyboard-only navigation of the desktop
    • Handles can also be slow and prevent usage of other apps
  • No Clear focus on which apps are controlling input
  • Cannot change default File Manager

Quality

  • No baked in volume mixer
  • Cursor is jittery or can have miniature spazzes when computer lags
  • Inconsistent DPI in UI elements (notice the middle button)
  • Buffered input on laggy programs doesn’t enter when lag clears
  • Not all MacOS text input popup fields support arrow keys/modifier keys/delete key for navigating text
  • Fullscreen apps and integrated popup windows work horribly together
  • Resizing panels in official apps does not rebuild hidden text
  • "Force Quit Applications" (similar to a Task Manager on Windows) does not list all applications

Anecdotally, this author’s new Macbook Pro came with a broken caps lock key. Apple wanted $150 and 3 weeks to fix it.

Efficiency

"While KDE is "Simple by default, powerful when needed", MacOS is "Simple by default" and stops there."

  • There’s no way to consistently bring a running, Ctrl^W’ed app into focus based on its minimized state
    • Alt tab shows it, but won’t bring it to front
    • Clicking it in tray creates a new instance
  • No way to minimize a single instance of a program with the keyboard
  • Global hotkeys can't be customized in a way that is consistent across different apps
  • Global hotkeys have low priority, giving slow Macs different order of operations than new ones
  • Updates require reboot
  • No way to give apps special permissions without quitting and reopening
  • Virtual desktops can't be on top of each other (only side to side)

Developer Experience

  • MacOS only has basic GNU versions of common commands - find and grep have different default arguments, and cp is missing arguments like —parents altogether
    • Part of this has to do with Apple’s hatred of free software licenses
  • Apps deployed on MacOS require paying Apple a yearly license unless you want users to jump through hoops
  • Scrolling through git diff and other CLI apps can trigger an irritating, non cancelable backlog of MacOS’ boop sounds
  • The Mac store does not allow Free & Open Source GPL software

Apps

  • No decent screenshot tool that supports uploading to Imgur
    • There are defunct ones and paid versions of free Linux ones
  • Toxic software backwards compatibility
    • So bad Windows got the nerve to say theirs was good
    • Abandoned 32-bit library support and stopped Wine from running
  • Apps tend to be more expensive

If you're using MacOS, see our Essential Apps list

Consistency

  • No way to open the Emoji picker from Launchpad or Spotlight
  • App specific whether dragging files between apps on different monitors will work
  • No way to have consistent audio output when on high CPU usage

What does this mean for developers using Mac?

By using a Mac, your efficiency is capped by your wallet and what Apple allows. If you like forced microbreaks and workflow (or audio) stutters, MacOS just might be for you. MacOS blocks power users, and while some people claim otherwise, they don't seem to prove it.

0.00
(0 votes)


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Anonymous (80e52aceae)

14 months ago
Score 0

Mac (Mac Book Air / Pro) hardware really differs from generation to generation.

I've MacBook Pro 2012 which clearly is indisputable winner in terms of viability and robustness.

Due to my little son's stress/pen testing engagements, it sank several times in unfriendly substances like milk, yogurt, acidic juices etc. Tap water was so common alien agent used by my son as a part of his test suite that TBH I would not even take one into account).

This Air used to be rinsed in vodka afterwards, which is almost as stupid idea as not rinsing/cleaning it at all as an outcome in "normal" situation would be just the same; but still a bit smarter though: every time it was a source of barely noticeable hope for me that the machine again would overcome ultimately devastating impact, consolidating its previous triumph)

And every time the hope was justified!

So despite thick layer of sediments / oxidative damage it now works near perfectly. Except for the keyboard which was totally ruined except for a few keys still working (thankfully, Power button is among them), so it's controlled solely via vnc.

Ah, there is no bottom lid because it was ditched hell knows when and why

Being Mobile Core i7 (2012) it's still descent machine for most basic tasks, even software compilation, etc.

And I love this fucking veteran.

Never ever have I seen such an unstoppable laptop (and computer in general) which would survive multiple absolutely deadly impacts.


The pity however is about the quality has unexpectedly fallen below any acceptable bar with recent MacBook Pros (touch bar).

This is just garbage, indeed
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Anonymous (ce03dcd8e7)

13 months ago
Score 1
need more news! its been almost two months since anything new has been posted.
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Anonymous (22d08cc943)

12 months ago
Score 0
Feels good to not be an Apple fan.
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Anonymous (f0e4c06d3e)

12 months ago
Score 0
I think that there is hardware accelerated virtualization in ARM as long as you use the (woefully underdocumented, proprietary) Hypervisor.framework
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Anonymous (eb39a0ff32)

12 months ago
Score 0
I believe the hardware acceleration was added after the article was written
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Anonymous (fb60b6543c)

11 months ago
Score 0

FIRST, SORRY FOR MY POOR ENGLISH! :-)

I've been using Linux since 2009 as my (almost) unique OS and I feel happy with it. Now I'm running Debian (at least from Wheezy) and in my opinion is nearly perfect. I tried MacOS in several occasions but I didn't find any particular appeal: OK, it's a good machine+good OS but not a miracle like many mac-fanatics say. Perhaps I'm so used to Linux that i cannot imagine my tech world without having even a single chance to change my distro or DE and have opensource applications. from this perspective, MacOS looks like a cage to me. And what about many friends of mine whose PC I was able to revive thanks to Linux? I'm talking about PC with XP, or Vista, with old and obsolete hardware. They couldn't believe their eyes! Then even if linux cannot run many professional applications (Office, Autocad, Photoshop etc...), most of the people use their PCs to send email, browse the internet, use Facebook, listen to music, watch movies, make video calls and so on. So, do they really need a Mac? Many people like these buy a Mac just because it's "cool", but they don't know what is all about. Linux fits most of their needs. And if they are not forced to use specific software for work that requires Windows or Mac, Linux offers a lot of good alternative software for office, 3d, photo editing etc...

So, excluding Windows, I'm not saying MacOS is crap: I'm just saying that Linux is the best solution for 90% of people.
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Anonymous (9b2057e93b)

6 months ago
Score 0

I use both Linux (Arch) and MacOS for different things, and while I admit Apple products are not without their faults, this whole article and thread is a bit much to be honest. The advantages are glossed over, and a lot of the complaints are nit-picky, or about things most people would never encounter, care about, or even notice at all.

CUSTOMIZATION

- Almost no one is going to use alternative desktop environments or even go looking for them. Like most Windows users, Most Mac users just don't care enough about customization like that to even try.

- The app showing which window is in focus thing has always been a bit of an issue, I admit.

- The rest of this list is irrelevant to 99% of their users.

QUALITY

- Most of this is petty, misleading, or outright untrue.

- In 10 years, I've never once seen a jittery cursor or input lag. I have however, seen this behavior plenty on Linux across multiple distributions, and hardware configurations. This is mostly an issue on laptops and can sometimes be fixed by digging into config files and messing with kernel modules, but it can be a real pain even for a veteran user and sometimes is literally not possible to fix. I realize this is usually because of hardware manufacturers, but it doesn't make it less of a reality for someone who just wants to use their touchpad gestures on their new laptop. Again, I have literally never seen this issue on a Mac, and I have configured hundreds of them for end users at my job. Pretty much every model to come out in the past 15 years.

- Don't even get me started on DPI behavior. Of the three "major" desktop platforms (Windows, MacOS, Linux) MacOS is far and away the best at handling high DPI, and this has been the case for a decade. Linux is absolutely the worst of the three. It has definitely gotten significantly better the last few years, but it's still nowhere near as predictable. consistent, or reliable as a Mac when it comes to this. On Linux, the behavior (and success level) varies tremendously between desktop environments / window managers. Even then, the result can be wildly inconsistent between applications depending on what UI library they use, and to fix this (if you even can, again, depending on the library) you have to set the same setting multiple times in multiple different places to get any sort of consistency.

- The Force Quit window is not a task manager. It's not meant to be. It's only meant for average users to force quit the applications they opened themselves. The task manager is called Activity Monitor, and it absolutely shows every running process, and has all the advanced options you'd be looking for. Again, misleading, and/or user error.

EFFICIENCY

- Again, mostly nit-picking minor things.

- The minimization behavior is a bit weird, but the described interaction is in large part user error more than anything. CMD + W closes a window not minimize the app. CMD + H is a more appropriate comparison as it hides the window instead of closing it, and the resultant hidden window does respond to CMD + TAB as well as clicking on the icon in the dock as the author was expecting.

- Never had an issue with global hotkeys, but maybe it can happen in certain circumstances. If it is an issue, it's with edge cases not the majority of the time

- Updates requiring reboots is a bit more complex. System updates are handled separately from app updates which is a bit different than most Linux distros. Kernel updates on Linux do require a reboot in order to take effect and can sometimes break things in the running system until you do reboot so this is also misleading, but I admit the behavior is more intrusive and frustratingly slow on a Mac. App updates do not require reboots, and for the most part are automatic if through the App Store (this can be disabled if desired and done manually).

- Vertical virtual desktops... yeah, true, not really going to be a major issue for most people though. 99% of users don't even use the horizontal ones the Mac does have.

APPS

- No screenshot app that uploads to imgur??? Really? This is worthy of a bullet point comparing platforms? If you need one so bad then write one. Linux does no support this "out of the box" either. Someone wrote one.

- The "toxic" backwards compatibility is a real stretch. The actually went so far as to build an ARM chip with integrated hardware to handle intensive x86 instructions. Then they went and developed an Intel to ARM binary translator that allows apps compiled for another whole architecture to not only continue to work, but perform so close to native speeds that you can't even tell the difference 99% of the time if you're comparing it to the same app running on another x86 Mac. In fact,in a lot of cases, the app actually runs faster than it did on the Intel Mac natively. It's only really even noticeable when compared to an actual native ARM app because they are so crazy fast to open and responsive. It's works seamlessly and so well that the average person has no idea how much of a feat the whole thing is. Microsoft's half-assed equivalent on Windows for ARM is an embarrassment by comparison, and doesn't support x64 apps at all (technically it did, sort of, in preview, then they abandoned it completely). Apple also gave literally YEARS of notice to developers before disabling 32-bit support in MacOS, and they also went out of their way to notify potentially affected end-users a full year in advance by giving them a popup to warn them that end of support was coming and to check for app updates when they opened a 32-bit only app for the first time. For the record, most x64 Linux distros disable 32-bit packages by default as well. I realize you have the option of enabling them, but it's also considered a best practice not to unless you absolutely need them. This is a non-issue for real-world use. I'm really not sure what more you expect as far as backwards compatibility goes. Also, developers are (generally) far quicker about updating their apps for compatibility then, for example, on Windows.

- Yes the apps are more expensive, most apps on Linux are free and open-source. A lot of open-source applications are also available for free on MacOS.

- The app store does allow free apps, but GPL is not permitted because Apple claims it would be violating GPL3 by doing so. I am not familiar enough with the details as far as what part of the GPL they are referring to in order say whether or not that is the truth though.

- "If you're using MacOS, see our Essential Apps list" this is cute after reading the rest of the article.

COMMENTS

- I won't go into these too much, but the person claiming that Linux is the best platform for 90% of people is really misguided. Linux is incredible for a LOT of things, and once configured it would work fine as a desktop OS for pretty much everyone. However, updating it, maintaining it, or adding new hardware is not always straightforward or simple. It's just a bad idea to suggest someone run it if they can't install and configure it themselves. Most operating systems are designed to obscure as much technical stuff as possible. Linux is not one of them, and that's not a bad thing at all. I learned more from installing, configuring, breaking, googling, and fixing Linux over the years than I ever could have from any book or course. I just wouldn't want to give it to someone I knew and have to support them when they have an issue. I've done it before, been made to regret it, and now I just don't think it's a good idea. 90% of people use their cell phones as computers anyway, and as depressing as I find that, it's just reality.
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Anonymous (003c468ede)

19 days ago
Score 0

IMHO the MacBooks only beat Linux when it comes to trackpad gestures. Am using mtrack with X11 and the lack of a similar option on Wayland is an issue for me.

Am running Slackware on a 2013 11in MacBook Air and it is great. I get less mileage from the battery even with laotop mode tools but that is to be expected.
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