I love open-source and I really admire Linux for what it is and what it stands for. But I’m a Mac user. Can I last two days only with Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid Ibex?
I’ve used Linux distributions a couple of times, but just for Windows recovery purposes. I never really gave Ubuntu a try until two days ago. Obviously, I had to write a comparison about the differences between the features of Mac OS X and what Ubuntu has to offer. So forgive my lack of experience in the Linux field, and join me while I try to make a head to head comparison.
Here is a quick overview of my favorite Mac OS X features that would make many Windows users envious: Exposé, Quicksilver, spring-loaded folders, the Dock, iLife suite, QuickLook, Finder CoverFlow, TimeMachine, extended out-of-the-box support for multimedia devices and printers, iSync, Dashboard, Safari’s Web Clip, drag&drop support for text, Spaces, Growl notifications, system wide grammar check, Automator, smooth screen zoom, just to name a few.
Before I started on this path I had Windows XP installed in Bootcamp. I imaged the partition and stored it safely.
First of all, to make sure I can boot to Ubuntu, I installed rEFIt.
Ubuntu setup is a smooth ride until you have to choose where to install it: I formatted the Bootcamp partition to ext3 and set the mount point to / .
Look and feel
Gnome is no Aqua, but I got used to it. In fact, after two days, I didn’t missed Aqua at all, even though I could have installed a Mac theme with Mac4Lin. Changing the theme is a breeze.
I don’t know if it’s my reality distortion field, but those default fonts are really ugly. I quickly changed to some normal Mac fonts using this tutorial. After enabling Subpixel smoothing everything looks a lot better.
By default some nice visual effects are installed, powered by Compiz, a compositing window manager that uses 3D graphics acceleration via OpenGL. Installing CompizConfig Settings Manager to add some vital effects, that makes Ubuntu almost feel like a Mac, is a must. Most of the effects are just eye-candy, but some are really useful. The ALT-TAB is nicer. You don’t just shift through applications’ icons but through the corresponding window also. Like on the Mac, when you ALT+TAB you can quickly close an application by keeping ALT pressed and then press the F4 key.
There is another nice window switcher you can enable in Compiz and trigger with Command+Tab, a sort of a cover-flow window switcher.
I managed to get Vista-like Taskbar window previews with Compiz.
Screen zooming with Command+Mouse wheel up/down can also be enabled in Compiz and it works just like its Mac counterpart.
With the help of Compiz, Ubuntu now has Exposé. I just enabled the Scale plugin in CompizConfig, set my corners for mouse trigger (you have a wide choices of screen trigger positions) and I was all set. One irritating thing though: I could not set a mouse trigger for hiding all the windows, which means I can no longer drag a file from a window to the desktop when the screen is all covered up.
Nautilus file browser has it strengths and weaknesses when compared to Finder. First of all, it does not have Cover Flow, Quick Preview or spring-loaded folders. If you are used to Quick Preview and you press the Space key by mistake, the file will actually open. For me, no spring-loaded folders means a loss in productivity.
External drives have an eject button for unmounting and will appear on the desktop, just like on Mac OSX. You can read/write NTFS drives and read Mac OS partitions (but you don’t have access to the user’s folder).
Unlike Finder Nautilus has tabbed browsing (like PathFinder), displays a search field when you start typing a file’s name, displays in a text file’s thumbnail the actual content, and you can modify the thumbnail size live on the spot.
But Nautilus has two killer features: you can resize an individual file or folder thumbnail as large as you want and you can overlay “emblems” just like you would label your e-mails with super stars in Gmail.
Another feature that surprised me was the detailed information the properties window would show for a movie file, like duration, codec and resolution.
I haven’t reinstalled Mac OS X since I bought my MacBook, about two years ago. I have to admit it has become slower.
Ubuntu 8.10 seems blazing fast. I was actually amazed how fast it loads applications like Firefox or Open Office. A lot faster than a clean Windows install on Bootcamp.
Ubuntu has an iPhone Cydia/Installer-like application where you can find, install, automatically update or remove applications (something along the lines of MacLibre and AppFresh but much better). I thought that dragging an app in the Applications folder to install or dragging it to the trash to uninstall was cool, but what Ubuntu offers is way cooler. But you manually need to add some sources for some programs you may need.
Unfortunately, I’d say about 15% of the apps you need are not there. If you find a .deb package you are saved. It will be opened by an installer, but if you find a .tar.gz , a .rpm, an iso or bin and you’re a linux newbie like me, then you will certainly have some problems. You have to Google it and get down and dirty with the terminal. And even if you figure that out, after a ./config there are 90% chances your are missing some libraries or something is incompatible. If those 15% of apps you need are vital, then manual installing is a deal-breaker.
I have Quicksilver on Mac, Enso for Windows but is there any equivalent for Linux? Unfortunately the shell is not the answer for me or for any Mac user. I must admit that 70% of the time I use Quicksilver as a launcher, so for launching and searching needs Google Desktop for Linux does it’s job well. Combine that with Firefox Ubiquity Extension and you can overlook the absence of Quicksilver.
What you can’t overlook is the absence of an Automator alternative. No shell, please!
It works out-of-the-box. You can arrange your monitors how you like in mirror or extended mode and set the resolution and refresh rate. No color profile though. I’m not a professional photographer but the absence of integrated color management may be a serious issue for some. I had only one external monitor attached to my MacBook, but it showed up 3 monitors in the settings applet.
By default, Ubuntu doesn’t come with a Dock, but with a taskbar, like Windows. I tried two dock solutions: Cairo-Dock and AWN Dock. One was a resource hog and the other had far to many glitches. I tried installing a couple of other dock solutions but they didn’t come in a .deb package and ./config reported lots of missing libraries so I sticked with the task bar.
There are three important widget applications for Ubuntu: screenlets, gDesklets and Google Desktop Widgets. I only tried the first two and I was extremely dissapointed: most of them are useless and they look like old DOS programs. To simulate the Mac Dashboard effect on pressing an F key you need to enable in Compiz the Widget Layer and select one by one all the windows that are widgets (cumbersome).
On top of that, there is no Safari Web Clip equivalent, a very useful feature.
Fortunately, Ubuntu offers you applets that you can put on the menu bar or the taskbar (referred to as panels). These turned out to be very useful and they compensate for the lack of a good Dashboard replacement.
My favorite applets are: Weather Report, Invest (stocks), Network activity, Drawer and the fabulous Force Quit applet. To kill an unresponsive application, click the Force Quit applet and then, with the cursor turned into a cross, just click the hanging window and it goes away. The Drawer applet lets you store files and folders for later operations (Similar to QuickSilver’s Shelf).
Printer & Scanner
Linux has come a long way since I last tried to print something a few years ago in Knoppix. Now, when connected to an USB port, Ubuntu automatically detected my printer type and the test page printed just fine. I didn’t perform some thorough tests because my blue cartridge is out of ink, as you can see in the picture. The scanner function worked great with Xscane.
It worked flawlessly out of the box and surprisingly it didn’t drop the connection to my home wireless router at all in my two days of heavy testing. On Mac I’m used to dropped connections at least once a day. The network manager is quite nice.
You get all the Mac features you are used to and one extra bonus: Hibernate. Sleep works perfect ( to wake it up I had to press the power button) but Hibernate worked only once in three tries. Battery life seemed the same.
Mail and calendar
This is a sensitive topic. You get two noteworthy alternatives: the default Evolution Mail or Mozilla Thunderbird. Both offer the same functionality as Apple’s Mail but none of them have the same look and feel. Evolution’s interface is more attractive but in Thunderbird you can easily install extensions to Sync Your Google Contacts and hide the application to tray (by default if you click the Close button the application exits.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that you cannot drag&drop a file over the taskbar, desktop icon or application window to create a new mail. You must use the Send To menu. Very frustrating for a Mac user not to be able to use the drag&drop like he is used to!
I used Google Picasa. When it doesn’t hang it actually rocks. You can import files from digital cameras, send them by mail or upload them to Picasa Web Albums among other things. It is permanently scanning for new image files and it doesn’t look like a resource hog at all.
Amarok music player is simply incredible. On the other hand, Rhythmbox allows you to listen to LastFM, web radio, download audio podcasts, download music from Jamendo music store or sync your iPod. For you video podcasts you can use Miro. These are way better than iTunes.
You can try Kino and KDEN live but you will be dissapointed. KDENlive looks quite good but the interface is not that intuitive and crashes a lot.
The default video player, Totem, has no DivX/Xvid codecs installed, but when you attempt to play a file it offers to search for a codec and it automatically downloads it. You can do that or you can quickly replace it with VLC, the player I use on my Mac.
A big drawback for Linux is the absence of native Photoshop. You can use Photoshop CS2 with Wine, but it runs slow and is a little unstable. Gimp is a good-enough alternative for my needs.
Good news here. There is an equivalent called Mumbles. Worked fine with Amarok and Pidgin, but not with Firefox.
Virtual desktops were present in Linux long before Apple introduced them in Leopard. With Compiz you get multiple ways to change between virtual desktops/workspaces (the cool cube effect:-).
No TimeMachine goodness in Ubuntu. By default it comes with Simple Backup Restore,a pretty basic backup client. Other alternatives are TimeVault and FlyBack. They may do their job well but they are no match for the stellar 3D interface of TimeMachine.
Sound and Microphone
I could barely hear the sound in my Macbook’s speakers and by default the mic is not working. I had to fiddle with the sound settings to get it to work.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Some little problems here: Eject button does not work and CAPS, NUM don’t light up even though they work as intended when pressed. The F keys act like FN is pressed for adjusting the brightness and volume. To actually use the F keys you have to press the FN key.
To enable right-click and scrolling with two fingers I had to follow this tutorial, but now it works fine.
For iSight to work I had to follow this tutorial. Now iSight works with Skype and Ekiga( a voip client).My USB Logitech QuickCam Chat worked out-of-the-box with Egika but I had no luck with Skype. So far I have a mixed feeling in the web-camera department.
Pidgin is a great chat client supporting all the protocols you need, similar to Adium. Unfortunately it has no Video/Voice capabilites like Skype, but at least the file transfer works.
99% of my friends use Yahoo Messenger. On Mac, the Yahoo Messenger client supports video,but no audio. The Linux client is a joke. There is an application called Enhanced Gyachy that supposedly supports video and voice but I did not managed to install it.
It worked out-of-the-box. I managed to pair my Nokia phone immediately and I was able to browse the phone or send files through the Send To menu. To receive files I had to install Bluetooth File Sharing application.
Ubuntu 8.10 is supposed to work with 3G dongles and phones for internet connections, but I bet setting it up is not a walk in a park.
Ubuntu doesn’t have such a thing by default. I tried a couple of applications but they didn’t work for me. Solutions might exists, but they aren’t for newbies. I really need bluetooth calendar, tasks and contacts syncing(I had to manually modify some configuration files in order for iSync to pick up my Nokia 3110 classic. I just wish it was that simple in Ubuntu.)
You know Command+Shift+3 and Command+Shift+F4 right? Well, in Ubuntu, when pressing PrintScreen you are presented with a window that asks you where to save the screenshot and if you enable ScreenShot in CompizConfig you can take a screenshot of the desired area by simply pressing the Command key and drawing a rectangle with the mouse.
Yes, Windows Live Writer is the best. No point in discussing that further, at least for me. But at least on Mac I can use MarsEdit or Qumana for quick blog posts or little modifications of past posts on WordPress. With Ubuntu I didn’t find anything. I had to stick to ScribeFire Firefox extension.
Linux has come a long way, but it’s not totally ready for the mom and pop folks, in my opinion.
In the two days of testing, with two occasions it refused to load the graphic drivers and I could not enjoy Compiz. I found a tutorial which taught me how to modify XORG.conf to load XGL. (I suspect that messing with the resolution of the second screen might have overwritten the XORG.conf file.)
I think I jinxed my Ubuntu after installing KDENlive and some updates: it didn’t want to boot anymore. Now I have to reinstall it because I have no idea what to do. Sadly, this reminds me of Windows. Stuff like this doesn’t happen that often(ever?) on a Mac.
Even so, I’d say Ubuntu 8.10 is a fantastic operating system. I guess it may take a while to tweak an Ubuntu installation to perfection, especially for more demanding users. I will recommend Ubuntu to everyone who doesn’t afford a Mac, are not into heavy media content creation or hard-core gaming.