Thanks Mr. Jobs, But it Seems I Can Use Linux Laptop Now

So, back in 1997 I installed my first copy of FreeBSD. I had to do some major research to get X Windows up and running, and the next computer I bought I very carefully selected a video card to make things easier. I was happy, I was able to use gcc, but getting online via 56k modem could be a bit of a chore.

So long little devil…

In early 1998 I started using RedHat Linux. I could play mp3s, and easily run things like RealPlayer and Mathematica. My copy of Netscape Navigator was just every bit as good as my Windows copy. However, I was too young to aperciate LaTeX, and needed a word processor to write papers. I tried to use every word processor I could find, but allas they all sucked. So, I had to dual boot linux and windows.

The Sun Also Rises

In 1999, I had a Sun Sparc 5 Workstation. I used it for a few years, with little difficulty. At the time I used mutt for email, netscape when I needed a browser. Cut and paste was still questionable, and viewing a Word or an Excel doc took more work than I cared to admit. But the world was starting to change.

The Sun Also Sets

I was getting HTML email, constantly. I got more and more attachments, and my boss was asking for better calendaring. I would go to websites, and get a plesant Javascript pop up saying, I needed IE.

By 2001, I was using Windows full time. I needed Outlook, Word, and Excel. I wasn’t wild about it, but I could get things done.

And, we have a new Contender

In spring of 2001 I bought my first Mac. It was a beuatiful Titanium Macbook G4 running OS 9. I could run my productivity apps, connect to my windows shares, and still ssh to any unix system that needed my attention.

For the next 11 years I used Macs for a personal computer, and I used windows PCs for work. In 2008 I got my first work Mac and I found my happy place. I described it as having a linux computer without the hassle of trying to run linux on a laptop.

In 2010 and 2011, I still used a Mac and told my co-workers who install Ubuntu they were wasting there time. They suffered with wireless problems, things like bluetooth never worked, and battery life suffered. I couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to use OS X.

Nothing is forever

Two days ago I got my Dell XPS 13 as part of a Dell beta progam called project Sputnik. I got a special version of Ubuntu, with some kernel patches, and some patched packages for sleep and hibernation. After an hour of struggling with making a bootable USB drive from my Mac for my Dell(turns out it was an issue with the USB drive), I had a working computer. By 8pm I had my development enviroment setup, I had chef up and running, and even my VPN was working. I was amazed.

So, far its been good; most apps I use are web apps. I spend 70% of my time in a terminal, and 30% of my time in a web browser. Honestly its the perfect computer for me right now. So, I’m waving goodbye to the ecosystem Mr. Jobs built, and moving to the world of linux full time.

***EDIT***

I relized this after posting the article, and watching the response that I sould have included I recieved a discount from Dell for the laptop(roughly 20%).

47 Comments

  • September 20, 2012 - 1:50 am | Permalink

    Beware the Dell pre installed Ubuntu has strange issue, Few short cuts not working(the super key for launching ubuntu) also random freezing and mouse not working. Iam not able to find the cause of the issue as of yet

  • Radu Cirstoiu
    September 20, 2012 - 2:05 am | Permalink

    What mr. Jobs and other lunatics willing to go “thermonuclear” don’t realize is that ANY piece of hardware/software eventually goes down the spiral to commoditization.

  • spork
    September 20, 2012 - 2:05 am | Permalink

    maybe you could elaborate a little more on _why_ you moved to linux? any specifics?

  • Emanuel Neuman
    September 20, 2012 - 2:11 am | Permalink

    I bought the Dell XPS 13 for $700 on ebay a couple of months ago, I put Ubuntu on it and I grabbed the Sputnik patches from the PPA. I love it, this is the best laptop I have ever owned for C++ C# or Python dev and everything else. I use Google Drive for all my doc needs and Turpial for Twitter.

    It’s dual boot just because it came with Windows but I don’t remember the last time I booted into Windows.

    As far as OSX goes, try buying a MacBook air of the feature set of the XPS 13 for $700, it will run you closer to $1500 with taxes..

  • Jarold Frasarian
    September 20, 2012 - 2:13 am | Permalink

    So you wanted to change to linux and so did. Any reason other than you want to use Linux? Pretty pointless article.

  • Your Mother
    September 20, 2012 - 2:14 am | Permalink

    You are aware that using ‘Mr. Jobs’ as your straw man is rather tasteless? Apple is a huge corporation, that man happens to be painfully dead at a fairly young age. You could choose any other person, say a Tim Cook, or just leave it as Apple. You may not be aware but it’s thousands of people working on many products, not just one eeeevil magician.

    I think your Aspergers is showing.

  • September 20, 2012 - 2:20 am | Permalink

    Using Ubuntu on laptop isn’t a problem any more, if you are using the right hardware. If you use Intel based ThinkPads you don’t have any problems.

    The interesting thing with Sputnik is, that Ubuntu is preinstalled on fine hardware and presented to customers. If Dell would sell this to the public with proper marketing, it would be a huge gain for Ubuntu. Old Dell’s with Ubuntu was more like: “Do you really want Ubuntu, you should probably use Windows …”

  • nope
    September 20, 2012 - 2:23 am | Permalink

    “I spend 70% of my time in a terminal, and 30% of my time in a web browser.”

    Awesome, you don’t actually use any OS specific stuff at all.

    So what exactly is the difference here? You leeched a free computer off Dell, now you’re shilling for them.

    Stallmann would kick you in the nuts.

  • Ixo
    September 20, 2012 - 2:25 am | Permalink

    Because no one ever brings up bill Gates when speaking of pcs, amirite?

  • kfir
    September 20, 2012 - 2:27 am | Permalink

    Big dramatic headline with no meat, add to the fact that you have been using this machine for a couple of days I don’t see the point of this blog post?!

    As @Jarold Frasarian said – “So you wanted to change to linux and did so… pointless article.”

    @Emanuel Neuman if you care about $800 in saving for a development machine that you will use for 2+ years means a lot to you then you are doing something wrong as a professional developer.

    A small clarification, imho Linux is good os but saving a little bit of cash is the wrong reason to use it.

  • salami
    September 20, 2012 - 2:32 am | Permalink

    I think it all comes down to price people are willing to pay. MacBooks are beautiful laptops, way better than any other laptop on the market. But some people can only afford a cheap Dell. And then they make up bullshit stories to justify their purchase and even drag Steve Jobs into this for some unknown reason.

  • September 20, 2012 - 2:50 am | Permalink

    The fact remains that if you get a random laptop today, based on the specs and price and availability, and install Ubuntu on it… it’s terribly likely that something just won’t work.

    Don’t get me wrong; I love Ubuntu on my virtual servers. I think it’s the best Linux distribution and beats others hands down. You can “apt-get install” almost anything and it’ll just work.

    Also, I don’t like the direction OS X is headed (with Mission Control and butchering Spaces), but right now, it’s the best bet for people like me who don’t want to risk spending all that extra time to get something that just works as a laptop.

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  • julien
    September 20, 2012 - 4:20 am | Permalink

    thanks, was curious about the xps 13, would you recommend it for web development, think (JavaScript, WebGL), how good is the graphic card?

  • annousmous
    September 20, 2012 - 5:58 am | Permalink

    @Ville Laurikari it’s terribly likely that something just won’t work. – Back up the claims. I haven’t had any issues with ubuntu for last few years.

  • September 20, 2012 - 6:48 am | Permalink

    Seriously… by reading the Apple fanboy comments I started to ask myself — why a simple experience sharing blog post offended so many people? ;-)

    As for the author — stay on this system for over 6 months and then share what you think about it.

  • Chris
    September 20, 2012 - 7:01 am | Permalink

    And now install Photoshop, something similar to Aperture, something which can stream the music to an AirPlay speaker and we’ll talk again :)

  • September 20, 2012 - 7:21 am | Permalink

    Welcome back. We missed you.

  • Kenneth
    September 20, 2012 - 7:22 am | Permalink

    Watch out, giving praise to macs and switching to Linux will offend any apple fanboy out there. Problem I find is that most of apple’s product are proprietary – you’re pretty much stuck with apple. So once you’ve committed to apple, hearing some else switch is like a kick to the nuts, or ego. I know the feeling. I’m stuck. I can’t configure my apple router unless I have an apple machine. Or use my airplay without an apple machine. Or even use the standard micro usb. I’m stuck. How’d you get out?

  • Mateus Caruccio
    September 20, 2012 - 7:24 am | Permalink

    Welcome aboard.

  • September 20, 2012 - 7:33 am | Permalink

    I spent this past Saturday wiping windows off of a 4 year old Asus Eee netbook and installing ArchLinux with XFCE. I have used Gnome with Ubuntu a few years ago, and I have used KDE with Kubuntu on a VM a little bit. I’ve even installed a super light ArchLinux on a VM with OpenBox and little else.

    My work machine right now is a 2011 Macbook Pro with Lion. It was my first experience with Mac OS and more importantly with the Mac touchpad. I can relate to many of the thoughts expressed in this article regarding what Macs bring to the table for development. However, after installing XFCE and Arch on my little netbook, I think for a personal computing device, I’ll keep my $2000 and just use linux.

    It was startlingly easy to get all of the hardware working (automount USB, webcam, video, audio, sleep & hibernate, multitouch, etc.). XFCE has most everything that I need and then some, and retains the easy customization that I loved in GNOME 2 (which was thrown out with the bathwater when Ubuntu switched to Unity). All that to say, that I mostly agree with the author. Looking at my launcher in Lion, I don’t see a single App that I use regularly that I can’t get in linux, with the exception of Finder, which I do find superior to any linux or windows file browser that I’ve ever used. Not exactly a deal breaker.

  • September 20, 2012 - 7:37 am | Permalink

    If you spend 70% of your time in the terminal and 30% in the web browser, get a Chromebook. Then your set up time will be 5 minutes.

  • Robert
    September 20, 2012 - 7:57 am | Permalink

    Yes, because Dell hasn’t been down this road before *and* backed out of it. At least with Apple, that ecosystem is persistent. Good luck.

  • papilion
    September 20, 2012 - 8:11 am | Permalink

    @nope: The latptop was no free. I recieved a discount from Dell, but its no larger than the discount I’ve got on every Mac I’ve purchased.

  • papilion
    September 20, 2012 - 8:21 am | Permalink

    @Ville I’m not sure how true that is today. On the Hacker News thread, I had read comments about other peoples success with Lenovo X220s, but my experience was similar to yours with lots of driver problems(I watched 3 people in my office install the HW manufactures driver while running Ubuntu on their MacBook Pros, to stop wireless card from dropping out).

  • papilion
    September 20, 2012 - 8:24 am | Permalink

    @Emanuel Neuman: Thas roughly the cost of the XPS13 new and fully loaded.

  • papilion
    September 20, 2012 - 8:29 am | Permalink

    @Kenneth: I stopped buying music in itunes ~2005 for roughly that reason. The convience of a vendor with a integraded product line, is hard to escape.

  • tb
    September 20, 2012 - 8:31 am | Permalink

    Good post! I used to be fanboi as well. Rabid one too. Until my G5 tower went tits up with fried motherboard right out of warranty window and the holly geniuses wanted $800 to fix. By then Steven blinds had dropped off. Life went on without spending a penny more on garbage designed to do one thing well – extract money form naive wallets. I’m all for spending on quality – I’m not so much for spending on fads. Hence a vanilla HP stuff with Ubuntu does EVERYTHING I need and then some.

  • Kiall
    September 20, 2012 - 9:18 am | Permalink

    @Chris

    “And now install Photoshop, something similar to Aperture”

    Not everyone does photo editing you know..

    “And now install [SNIP] something which can stream the music to an AirPlay speaker and we’ll talk again”

    Why on earth would you choose to buy a locked down speaker like that? There are plenty of other equivalent products that don’t attempt to dictate what kind of PC/Laptop/MP3 player you *MUST* buy.

  • Self-hating Mac guy
    September 20, 2012 - 9:20 am | Permalink

    After using a Mac for a little over 3 years I can attest that there is not a damn thing I can do on a mac that I couldn’t do equally fast (Vim, Chrome, terminal) or faster (GIMP, look less pretentious) on a PC running Ubuntu. Anyone who says they “need” a mac for their job is a liar or ignorant. The thing i love seeing are these little pink covers on Macs from college freshmen who clearly “need” their macs so they can get on facebook and use…Microsoft Word. “Umm, like totes what’s Terminal? Is that a program I have to download? Can I get it from the App stoooore?” < /rant >

  • chad
    September 20, 2012 - 10:58 am | Permalink

    ThinkPad + Vanilla Ubuntu = Solid.

  • September 20, 2012 - 11:25 am | Permalink

    I have been using ubuntu since 9.04 linux as only operating system.

    Things Linux lack.

    1. Email Client – Thunderbird sucks, evolution sucks, they can’t handle large volume of emails with more than 3+ accounts. Search isn’t great, yes you can use mutt & pine.

    2. Gnome3 + KDE + Unity each has their own edge case, but beginners will have hard times.

    3. Bootup time is slow on ubuntu with multiple OS like ubuntu, Fedora, Arch.

    4. Wireless Drivers dont work as expected, It happens almost everyday I get dropped from wireless connection atleast while my co-workers who use Mac/Windows have no issues.

    Bottom line Ubuntu has come a long way.

  • Tim
    September 20, 2012 - 11:32 am | Permalink

    To the guy who said using a terminal is not doing OS specific stuff. I beg to disagree. Linux’s terminals all still *just work* in a way that even the best OSX terminal don’t. And that doesn’t even get into trying to do work in the terminal. Everything seems to involve an extra hoop or two in OSX over Linux. Sure it may work… eventually.
    I did OSX for a couple months. I liked the GUI ok, but it didn’t really give me anything over Linux, and Linux works perfectly for development.

  • September 20, 2012 - 3:07 pm | Permalink

    @Chris I don’t need photoshop on linux. Gimp works well, it’s free and open source. Corel Aftershot pro similar to Aperture, mpd for streaming music.

  • LWW
    September 20, 2012 - 3:14 pm | Permalink

    MacBooks are beautifully aesthetic pieces of hardware. However, when you’re writing and supporting software that’s used over a billion times a month by 45 million people every day running your IDE and developing on the same platform your software runs on makes huge amount of sense.

    As I type this on my MBA I’m impressed that literally every “laptop” function works with the Dell XPS13. Sleep, resume, wireless networking and most surprising, at least to me, bluetooth works!

    Would I use an XPS 13 as a graphic design platform? Of course not, just like I wouldn’t use it’s equivalent Apple product, a MacBook Air, as my primary tool for doing graphic design or Audio/Video editing/streaming. I have a “desktop” with 144GB of ram, two 6-core Intel X5680 3.33Ghz CPU’s and a 4.8TB array of Intel SSDs for that.

    The XPS13 and the MBA are highly portable utility tools and the XPS13 is the first really interesting option for a completely functional Linux mobile desktop.

    Will I stop using my MBA? It’s about time to replace my 2 year old MBA3.2 so it’s not outside the realm of probability…

    I became a Mac user when OSX was released and there was finally a *nix with a decent desktop GUI. Living with OSX and trying to port my unix tools to the platform in those early days was no cakewalk either…

    Given I spend 90% of my time using my MBA for Google Docs/Drive, GMail/Calendar, G+ Hangouts for Video Conferencing, Gimp for light graphic editing and PHPStorm which also has a Linux version there’s really no technical advantage to staying on the OSX bandwagon other than the aesthetics of the chassis and Apple does a truly wonderful job there…

  • nsfyn55
    September 20, 2012 - 4:04 pm | Permalink

    To the fan boys…

    I think the real issue is freedom. Apple like any profit driven organization is incentivized to operate in its own best interest(Duh). When the interest of the company aligns with the interest of the user its great when its not its Microsoft.

    Apple is trying to build a fenced in “ecosystem” It is clear this these environments are not in the best interest of the user. Look at their recent map release. What was wrong with google’s maps? Nothing except they didn’t align with Apple’s financial interests. What do apple’s users get? A crappier map experience. Why don’t they just quit Apple? Because Apple makes that hard to do that once you’ve bought in to iTunes, iPlugs, and iToasters. Micro-usb? sure they’ll give you some smoke and mirrors story about their proprietary plug being better for this reason and that. We all know the real reasons.

    Linux is a platform designed for the sole purpose of making things better. There is no perverse incentive to out-smart your users then herd them this way and that like some evil puppeteer.

    Kudos to you for making to switch. I’m sure you’ll find the experience pleasant although I didn’t realize running linux on laptops was a chore at all(I’ve been running Arch on an old Dell for months without issue)

  • teeja
    September 20, 2012 - 7:42 pm | Permalink

    Three years ago the iMac I paid $1400 for and used for 2 years died (15 year Mac owner). The screen was half-full of vertical colored lines (sorry, did you sign up for Apple Care?) and the hard drive – which had repeatedly lost track of its partitions every few months – went click click.

    I switched to a used Gateway laptop with Vista on it. Apart from the constant updating and disk-thrashing, no problems. A couple of weeks ago I tried out a Live CD copy of Linux Mint KDE and liked it; installed it and everything just worked with NO hardware config hassles. System & all apps use 4GB and sluggish feel is gone. Linux has come of age.

  • sach
    September 20, 2012 - 8:11 pm | Permalink

    I once switched to linux full time for development. It was fun for the first few weeks and then it hits you “Why did I waste $1000 on a pc when I could have got a mac for a little more.” Don`t get me wrong I really like linux, and have it installed on every other pc I own, but it is really only good for development. So say you need to create a good looking document (Adobe Creative Suite) well then you are without hope, unless you want to dual boot and then keep switching between the two. I guess you could install Windows on a virtual machine but that is not very fun, and I am not talking about the installation process. I am not a mac fanboy by any means, I don`t even own a mac currently. But mac has some good stuff going for it:
    1. Descent terminal
    2. Able to run every OS
    3. Corporate apps (office, CS6)
    4. It looks pretty :) (totally subjective)
    5. It`s not windows (Yes I don`t like windows)

  • sach
    September 20, 2012 - 8:15 pm | Permalink

    Also, for people who don`t get discounts on the XPS 13 it is pretty much the same price as a mac. So I don`t really see a good reason for getting one. Plus, Dell is not very good with customer service, unless you want to talk to some guy in Taiwan or India who will only be able to take care of your issue in a few days. And I know the genius bar is just as bad, but at least issues are taken care of locally.

  • papilion
    September 20, 2012 - 9:06 pm | Permalink

    @sach: I wouldn’t make a price argument, nor would I really compare hardware specs. Its very hard to put an apples to apples comparison.

    I will say for the record, I wanted to be in the beta becuase I believe there is value in the os being designed for the hardware. The small number of apple SKUs and customization that goes into OS X is what makes the experience good.

    As for cost, there is only one point I’ll make here. I switched from working on a macbook air that was company provided to a laptop I purchased. So, my XPS is infinately more expensive than my previous computer. I wasn’t in need of a new computer; I did this becuase I wanted to.

  • papilion
    September 20, 2012 - 9:11 pm | Permalink

    @kracekumar:

    1. I don’t use a email client @work and @home I use gmail. It is a fair point, but honestly mail.app was never able to handle my mailbox.
    2. I wouldn’t ever claim to be a novice, nor would I say “Mom, I’ve setup Ubuntu for you”. This is a laptop for me to work on.
    3. Bootup is near instant, and I’m really surprised by it not noticebly different from my Mac.
    4. I’ve not had problems with the wireless so far, but I’m kocking on wood.

  • papilion
    September 20, 2012 - 9:15 pm | Permalink

    @chris: I’ve never used airplay. I have a Sonos system, and I love it. Its even better now that I can use my Amazon Cloud Drive directly from the device, since I don’t even need a computer for it to connect to.

    As for photoediting… I really don’t do much of it at work anymore. At home, I don’t really use Photoshop, and rarely do I go beyond cropping an image.

  • papilion
    September 20, 2012 - 9:17 pm | Permalink

    @Robert: Point well made, and something I fear. I hope they follow through with it. The early signs look promising.

  • Malte
    September 21, 2012 - 1:13 am | Permalink

    I too would love to get back to Linux only. But I wouldn’t know what to do about missing Lightroom and Photoshop. No, no, no, Gimp is not in the same class, unfortunately.

  • Adrian Ratnapala
    September 21, 2012 - 2:25 am | Permalink

    Two days ago I got my Dell XPS 13 as part of a Dell beta progam called project Sputnik.

    The impression I got when this thing was first announced was that the Dell XPS 13 was underpowered and cheesy – even in it’s original windows incarnation. I’ve never used the thing, so I can’t judge.

    (PS: I suppose Linux is more effecient than Windows, but this is more than cancelled out by Linux users being more impatient than Windows users).

  • September 24, 2012 - 9:14 am | Permalink

    I read your post and I have to say that I don’t think that what you have is a working environment for development. The fact that you think is impressive that VPN is running makes me think that what else is missing from that environment?

    I go with an environment where VPN and all the other tools I use are taken for granted. And if there is a problem with VPN, then it must be a problem with the VPN tool, and not the OS.

    Thanks for sharing!

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