I recently moved from Ubuntu Linux on a Dell Inspiron to Mac OS X on a MacBook. Interestingly, the day before I made my purchase, Tim O’Reilly observed that a few long-time Mac-using programers had recently moved from Mac OS X to Ubuntu Linux. Because I was about to make the swich the other way, I posted the following reponse on O’Reilly’s blog:
Tim, I think your radar sense is on to something again. However, I’d like to offer myself as a counter example in that I am moving from Ubuntu to OS X this weekend when I purchase a MacBook.Ubuntu has impressed me as the most polished and feature-rich Linux distro I’ve used so far (among SUSE, Fedora, Debian, and Mandriva). I love that it improves on the robust Debian distro, offering fast development releases and an emphasis on usability. Ubuntu has improved a great deal in just its first two years of existence, and I fully expect alpha geeks and savvy tech users to adopt Ubuntu in favor of Mac OS X in the future. However, there are still several limitations to Ubuntu and Linux in general that are prompting me to move to OS X.
First, I find that Linux still requires a large degree of administration to work properly. I use several applications that require a kernel recompile every time a new version of the Linux kernel is released. Although I like the freedom of compiling my own kernel, the necessity of compiling the kernel in order to use the applications I need can be very frustrating.
Second, Linux lags behind Mac OS X and Windows in multimedia. Great strides have been made in recent years, but managing multimedia content is still difficult. Video editing and DVD authoring are especially salient sore points. Aside from the newly released Picasa for Linux, even managing photo albums is not as simple as it should be. Further, although Linux is so far DRM-free, this also means that Linux is shutout from online media content vendors such as iTunes and other music download services, and Warner Bros, Vongo, and others’ new movie download services.
Third, although software integration has improved, the large majority of software for Linux continues to feel disjointed and fragmentary when taken as a whole. Most applications don’t interoperate well with others. Simple things like dragging an image from a web page to an office document don’t work. As a result, the Linux desktop is a patchwork of powerful individual applications that never quite coordinate well enough to provide a satisfying user experience.
Fourth, neither Gnome nor KDE are as usable or as graphically appealing as Mac OS X or even Windows. I recognize that UI aesthetics and usability are not important for everyone, but I along with others note that the Linux UI is in many ways inferior to that of Windows XP, much less Vista or Mac OS X. Yes, XGL is becoming widely available, but XGL strikes me as a 3D-rendering novelty without good underlying usability justification.
I could list more complaints and others could doubtlessly add their own Linux quibbles as well. In sum, although I expect Ubuntu in time to become the power user’s distro of choice, Mac OS X still remains an unparalleled combination of UNIX and polished user experience.