Working As Intended

Switching from OS X to Ubuntu?

August 19th 2010

If you aren’t interested in a long, drawn-out navel-gazing session regarding my choice in laptops, hit abort now. You have been warned.

The Dilemma

My current computer for daily work is a 2006 MacBook Pro. It’s stock, except for the RAM which I upgraded to 3 GB. I love this machine, but it’s showing its age and probably should be replaced soon. I’m looking at a 15" MBP with an i7 processor, 8 GB RAM, 500 GB HDD, and the anti-glare screen. This would be a gigantic step up from what I’m currently running. The problem is that it’s nearly $3000 to get this to my door.

Looking at a semi-comparable laptop from system76, I can save around $1000 by going this route. One immediate downside is that all of the screen options are of the super glossy variety, which in my limited searching appears to be the norm for PC laptops these days. Why is it so hard to imagine that people would want an anti-glare screen? Another downside is that there’s not a system76 Genius Bar five miles away from me. I haven’t had a lot of interaction with the local Apple Store, but when I have had trouble they’ve been helpful.

Since I’m likely going to use this next laptop for 3+ years, the cost difference works out to around $30 per month over the life of the machine – yes, minus the present value of money for you finance types. Still, $1000 is $1000 and I’d rather not spend it if I don’t have to. What this decision will ultimately come down to is software.

Operating Systems

With the MBP I’d be running OS X (duh) and occasionally Win XP via VMware. The system76 laptop would primarily run Ubuntu 10.04 and Win XP via either dual-booting or VMware.

The Easy Part: Software that exists for both systems

Given that most of my work involves programming Ruby and/or Java code, most of the tools that I use are readily available on OS X and Ubuntu.

  • vim
  • MySQL + PostgreSQL
  • DbVisualizer
  • Charles Proxy: A damn good HTTP tracing tool. I don’t use it often, but when it’s needed it’s golden.
  • Firefox (Firebug is an important factor here.)
  • Ruby and Java are both supported just fine on either system, and I’m not aware of any gems or libraries that I use on one that won’t work on the other. Given that I generally develop on OS X for deployment on Linux, this is a good thing. This also includes various other languages that I play with. Unless I plan to start developing iPhone apps, which I don’t, languages and frameworks won’t be a big factor.

The Moderately Difficult Part: Software that probably has a usable alternative on Linux

  • Mailplane: Obviously, I can access all of my various Gmail accounts via Firefox. It’s more of a pain that way, however. Having a count of unread messages for all of my accounts is also convenient.
  • Propane: This is a Campfire client. We use Campfire constantly at Zencoder. This is another case where I could use the web app, but the client app is really nice.
  • OmniOutliner + OmniFocus: I use them, but I don’t rely on them and could easily live without them.
  • Skitch: It sounds dumb that a screen shot tool would make this list, but Skitch is so damn good it’s scary. I still do not understand why they are not charging for their app or their service. Simple idea, brilliantly executed.
  • Terminal: I’m used to the short cuts and behavior of the OS X Terminal app. There are plenty of options for Linux (obviously), but it will take a while to get used to the new command keys.

The Extra Painful Part: Can I live without these apps?

  • 1Password: This is a big deal, because I use 1Password so frequently. It’s a fantastic piece of software. As an added bonus, since I keep my key file in Dropbox my passwords are automatically synchronized between my laptop and Mac Mini.
  • OmniGraffle: I have yet to see its equal in terms of simplicity and output quality when driven by a non-artist / non-designer like me. This helps me make diagrams that look good, and it’s dead simple to use. I also have the iPad version, but that’s not really as good (yet).
  • Netflix Instant View: I rarely watch movies on my laptop, but it does happen. There is no reasonable way to accomplish this on Linux. I could use the iPad, but the current iPad Netflix app is awful.
  • iTunes: I guess I’d have to sync the iPad to the Mini. I probably use this app way more than I realize, given that I’m constantly listening to podcasts and music.

The [OS]X-Factor

Over the last 15 years I’ve jumped around between Mac and Linux. To me, OS X was the grail that the Linux world was looking for – a killer desktop UI on top of Unix. Maybe it’s silly to switch back to Linux after so many years on OS X. The price tag is at least making me seriously consider it though.

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