Running elementary.os on a MacBook, what works well, and what does not.
Update: I think running Linux on a MacBook somehow messed with the battery. After a year or so, it drained so quickly that at some point I couldn’t even get the laptop to run without being plugged in. My suspicion is that the MacOS kernel must be doing something to keep the battery healthy which the Linux kernel didn’t.
After being disappointed with the direction in which macOS is heading, especially the continuous push into iCloud features that I refuse to use 1, I decided to say good-bye to macOS and try elementary.os. After testing it on a separate desktop computer for a couple of months I finally installed it on my MacBook2. In this post I am documenting my experience for those who might be interested in switching as well.
For the installation I was simply following the nice elementary-on-a-mac tutorial. The installations of the rEFInd boot manager worked fine, so I can still boot into OSX if I want. After a couple of months the only times I found myself booting into OSX was when I wanted to edit photos in Lightroom. Everything else I do in Linux now.
The wifi adapter did not work right out of the box, but after a bit of searching I managed to install the correct driver. You might need a USB ethernet dongle. Also it seems the macbook webcam is not supported out of the box, but since I am not using it anyway I didn’t bother to try to find a fix. Other than that, everything is working fine for me. elementary.os works great with the retina display. For the non-X terminal there is a way to set the font size. Unfortunately, some apps that run on older GTK are still not supporting retina, such as Gimp and Inkscape, so working with those is almost impossible. elementary.os boots up in 5-7 seconds. however, due to a known bug sometimes the login freezes for 20 seconds after you logged in. it’s annoying, but not a showstopper for me. hope this is going to be fixed soon. (update: it’s fixed)
Email, Calendar etc
I tried to use the new Calender and Mail apps but ran into all sorts of problems. I had trouble setting up my caldav calendars, and something else didn’t work with Mail. so I just unstalled the apps and started using Evolution, which is more like an all-in-one Outlook kind of software. And it works pretty good.
The built-in browser epiphany wasn’t for me, so I am using Chromium and Firefox.
To get Netflix working I had to install Google Chrome as well, but that’s pretty much is the only website I’m using it for. Netflix is supported in Firefox once you enable the DRM content setting. Sometimes I find some sites that use some Flash applets but those are getting rare.
I am a long-time user of LibreOffice and already learned to deal with it’s quirks. Unsurprisingly, LibreOffice works fine on Linux. But for those who can’t live without Microsoft Office, there seem to be ways to install it.
Music and movies
VLC works just fine on Linux. And in case you’re still using old fashioned mp3 music collections: I ended up using a program called Rhythmbox as iTunes replacement. It works fine with my music stored on a Samba network share, can show album covers, and has plugins for podcasts and external music providers (which I mostly don’t use.)
For some applications like Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop and Illustrator there are just no sufficient Linux replacements. There is a way to set up OSX in a VirtualBox, but it takes some time and then the integrations are not working as smooth as with windows VMs. So I ended up keeping OSX as backup system. I’ve been reluctant so far to I’ll install a windows vm, but that would certainly be another solution.
SublimeText is running smooth on Linux. Python (via pyenv), Node, and RStudio are also working just as expected. RStudio has no problem more with retina screens than it has on OSX.
I was using SequelPro on OSX which is not available on Linux. But DBeaver is a full replacement, and to some extent even better3. and it’s under active development: after being unable to connect to a mysql db via ssh tunnel I reported a bug on github and the bugfix was released just a few days later!
On OSX I was using a mix of manual installation and homebrew. For as long as I was using homebrew it was always broken (according to brew doctor). And on every major system update something changed in XCode that would break homebrew and the only way to fix it was to install 3GB of XCode update. Now I am using apt and I like it way better than homebrew. That’s it for now, but I intend to update this blog from time to time.
Perugino Fortuna (Apr 21, 2017)
sehr cool! ein Bewunderer, der nie wieder ein KernelUpdate machen wird…