Ryan Petris

Why I Use Linux

Roughly 15 years ago I abandoned Windows for a Mac, and since then have been flip-flopping between MacOS and Linux as my primary operating system. For the last 15 years, as long as I was running some Unix-like operating system, I was happy. However, even when I was using MacOS as my primary operating system, it was only on one computer and everything else, such as other computers, virtual machines, etc., was running Linux and I was constantly learning how to use it.

The last switch to MacOS was in mid-2014; GNOME 3.0 wasn't a thing yet and GNOME 2 and KDE 4 were arguably the most advanced desktop environments available at the time. There were some that tried to improve on it, such as Cinnamon, however they hadn't caught on that much outside of their originating distributions. However, compared to MacOS at the time, the Linux desktop environments arguably weren't even in the same league.

A lot has changed over the last four years, however. GNOME 3 is, in my opinion, better than any other desktop environment out there, including MacOS and Windows; while it's supposedly difficult to tweak and customize, the stock experience works great for me, somewhat similar to stock Android. On top of better desktop environments, my stance on the proprietary-ness of certain software has changed, my political leanings have moved slightly, and on top of that Apple has been going in a direction that I'm not quite happy with.

Apple has changed a lot since Steve Jobs passed away, and not in a good way. As far as I could tell, they used to take criticism of their platform to heart and would make changes necessary to make their hardware and software better. In my opinion, it seems that has been thrown out the window in the interest of getting that last percentage of profit.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of reasons why I no longer like Apple:

  • Their thinness movement has caused them to compromise in certain areas unnecessarily, including but not limited to battery size, overall system specifications (likely driven by batter size), and port availability. This is true across the board, including their laptops, desktops (which are several years out of date), phones (missing headphone jack), and tablets.
  • The removal of MagSafe power ports on new USB-C models, a port that has probably saved many Macs from tumbling to the ground and/or saving the user from having to repair it when someone inadvertently trips over the power cable.
  • The removal of the headphone jack on new iPhones so the phone can be ever-so-slightly thinner.
  • Their hostility towards third-party repair shops and their reluctance to even fix some of their own hardware, even brand new and under-warranty hardware.
  • The slow movement towards only being able to run Apple-approved signed software on MacOS; while you can still enable the "Anywhere" option via the command line or manually approve apps, it's my guess that this is going to be removed in a future version.
  • Regularly dropping support for hardware about seven years old or older (sometimes earlier) even if they're more than capable of running the current version of MacOS. This in contrast to Microsoft which doens't actively block you from installing Windows on old hardware, even if it might not run optimally.
  • New MacBooks have extremely short-travel and noisy keyboards which break easily, and took three class-action lawsuits for Apple to finally admit their was a problem and issue an extended warranty.
  • Force-touch trackpads. While I admit this solves the issue of trying to click at the top of the trackpad, the feel you get from force touch doesn't match the tactile feedback of a real trackpad.
  • The Touch Bar; not only do I not want a touchscreen interface on my keyboard (I'd much rather have the f-keys), the Touch Bar itself requires iOS-like activation and MacOS will refuse to boot without the appropriate firmware. While Apple still sells a model with a normal function key row, it cannot be configured to the same specifications as the Touch Bar version.

On top of that, companies that include cryptography in their software are constantly under attack by several governments wanting to place backdoors in their software or to hand over security keys to decrypt their customer's data. With no way to audit closed-source software, there's no way to verify that there aren't backdoors, and when that software is your operating system, even running open-source software on top of it isn't safe. To this end, I now run Linux on all my computers, and any that may have sensitive data are fully encrypted. While I haven't verified all of the source myself (who has?), I find the open source community as a whole to be more trustworthy than Microsoft or Apple.

Because of these issues, I installed Linux on my 2014 MacBook Pro a little over a year ago and haven't looked back. I had a lot of issues running Linux on that laptop, however, with several problems including high power usage (even after tweaking for power saving on and off over several months), Broadcom Wi-Fi not always working properly, NVIDIA drivers, etc.. It bothered me so much that I now have a much more Linux-friendly laptop, and that MacBook Pro will be the last Apple product I ever own given their current direction.

I therefore now exclusively run Linux on all of my personal computers and servers. At the moment, I'm even able to use Linux at my workplace for development of .NET Core software (thanks to Microsoft's open-sourcing of the .NET Core framework and JetBrains' .NET IDE, Rider).

Lastly, even though I've given Microsoft a bit a praise, I don't like their practice of data collection on Windows 10, nor their online activation. On top of that, I have some of the same concerns as MacOS given that it's closed-source. Even though they've been more friendly with open source recently, I still don't trust them.

Update: This article was re-written on June 24th, 2018 for general cleanup as well as adding additional information and links.