A case for GNU/Linux on my MacBook Pro

Discussion in 'macOS' started by wahgnube, Feb 15, 2006.

  1. wahgnube macrumors member

    wahgnube

    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2006
    #1
    (This is a really long post. Sorry, I just wanted to clearly let you know where I'm coming from on all of this. If you're impatient, I'm a GNU/Linux user who's just ordered a new MacBook Pro. I am curious as to how much I can do what I do on computers without yanking OS X out and replacing it with GNU/Linux. If you're impatient, please skip to the section marked by ***GET RIGHT TO IT***. Thanks!)

    When Apple first announced its shift to Intel processors last year, I recall a slew of articles from die-hard Apple fans who almost seemed to feel cheated. It seemed as though the one thing that differentiated them from the rest of the PC world was snatched away from them---while they were kicking and screaming.

    Now I'm probably in the minority, but I was personally very pleased by this decision. It has caused me---someone who has appreciated but never really considered Apple machines---to order a relatively expensive laptop from them. Clearly, this move won them at least one additional customer.

    But where am I coming from?

    I'm a geek who's been around x86 machines since I was 2 (two). And currently, after all these years, I am working on PhDs---in applied mechanics and scientific computing---where I get to play with large clusters (x86, of course). My primary work environment has been GNU/Linux for over a decade now, and exclusively for the past few years. And no, I haven't a life, or friends.

    Though I've had access to very capable generic machines, I've always enjoyed the visual appeal and unexplainable charm that Apple hardware presented (Yes, I'm looking at you, delectably-drool-worthy Orange iBook). But tantalising as they've been, the rational portion of my brain kept reminding me---different architecture: endianness, RISC/CISC, ... . I am in no way saying it is inferior or bad; it's just that I was not used to it and felt uneasy at the thought of making it my primary computing platform. This is the same mentality---but in the opposite direction---that drove those "I feel so cheated" articles I mentioned earlier.

    Now before you go, "Why do you care what's on the inside?", I'd like to remind you I'm a geek, and these things matter to me. I care primarily because I work on things like optimising numerical libraries at low levels for a living, but even if I didn't, I would feel strongly for some rabid-pseudo-religious reason or the other. Sometimes, you're just entrenched and comfortable with what you've known and come to love, that's all.

    Which brings me back to the point of this story. Now that the shift to Intel processors had begun, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to pick up my x86y goodness in a fabulous casing with cool glowey LEDs; and I did. I know this will aggravate the more hard-core Apple fans, but I say "x86 goodness in a fabulous casing" because I'm thinking of it as just that: a regular, albeit attractive, PC variant. All the components inside seem generic enough, and I was carefully considering another close equivalent to the MacBook Pro.

    I know. You're going to scream "But what about OS X and all the other software goodies!?!".

    Honestly, I don't know.

    *** GET RIGHT TO IT ***

    Being at a university, I've had the opportunity to use OS X from time to time, but never really long or seriously enough to make an opinion as to whether I love it or not. Until a few minutes ago, I was quite certain I was going replace OS X with a capable GNU/Linux distribution the moment I got my grimy little hands on my new machine. I would then have all that I wanted, a hardware and software platform I was used to and learnt to love, and the exterior shininess I'd pined for. But it just dawned on me that OS X being a UNIX(R) variant (even if quite seriously bastardised at that), and my lack of plans to do anything too fancy, that maybe it would foot the bill as my primary work environment.

    So, here's where I get to my question. I spent a few minutes jotting down my most-used applications (as an indicator of the sorts of tasks I do), and was wondering how much of this could be achieved natively in OS X? I am OK with the idea of installing an additional X server, for the applications that don't like drawing using Apple's own shiny graphics subsystem, but I am not OK with the recreating a GNU/Linux environment (ala Cygwin) inside OS X (to provide what it ought to in the first place).

    Though I'm a bit of a Free Software zealot, and would probably move on to GNU/Linux anyway as soon as it were possible, I would love to explore the idea of just using a slick UNIX(R) based OS to get all that I need done, plus offering me some of the much-talked-about award-winning über-intuitive hyper-usability-tested interface done just right(TM). Maybe I will give OS X a whirl exclusively for a couple of months before making up my mind. Anyway, without stalling anymore, here is a list of my most used applications and often performed tasks.

    All the time:
    Bash shell
    "Standard" command line utilities (e.g. gawk, grep, wget, diff, patch, ...)
    GNU Emacs (Just about all programming and writing)
    GNU Screen (Multi-tasking)
    Mozilla Thunderbird (E-mail, mailing lists, news, web logs, podcasts, ...)

    Often:
    Mozilla Firefox (Browsing the Internet)
    Gaim (Instant messaging)
    Rhythmbox (Listening to music)
    MPlayer (Playing files in every media format under the sun)
    SSH (Secure remote access)

    GCC/Intel Compilers (Building C/C++/Fortran code)
    CVS/Subversion/Arch (Revision control)

    LaTeX (Typesetting documents)
    xpdf/xdvi (Viewing typeset documents)

    The GIMP + ufRAW (Photo/Image processing)
    Inkscape (Simple drawing)

    Matlab/Octave (Prototyping code)
    Mathematica/Maxima (Tedious algebra)

    Less often:
    GDB/DDD (Debugging code)
    Ripping audio CDs to FLAC/Ogg Vorbis
    Burning data and audio CDs
    Mozilla Sunbird (Maintain my schedule)

    Rarely:
    Azureus (Download ISOs and such)
    Audacity (Record and edit audio)

    I would also like to (but currently can't) try out voice conversations via services like Google Talk, but it's not a requisite.

    So, friendly Mac users, can all of these apps be run natively in OS X? If not, what would it take? Could you suggest alternative applications? What about programming libraries? Do the GNU auto-build-tools work seamlessly on OS X too? (As in can I just fetch, for instance, the GIMP and its dependencies, and build it without much mucking around?)

    Anything else I ought to know?

    And thank you thank you for your patience if you get to this point.
     
  2. risc macrumors 68030

    risc

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  3. wahgnube thread starter macrumors member

    wahgnube

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    Feb 15, 2006
    #3
    Cool, thank you!

    I looked into Fink, but I wasn't certain if it's something like Cygwin (a complete layer on top of the OS) or if it's meshed with the Dawin base of OS X.

    Could you (or anyone) enlighten me on that?
     
  4. risc macrumors 68030

    risc

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    #4
    Fink and DarwinPorts are free software package management systems like you would find on any good UNIX like OS. Fink for example uses apt just like Debian and a heap of other Linuxes for binary packages. It also has the fink command to deal with source based ports. DarwinPorts on the other hand is pretty much source based, although they do have rpm available for binary stuff not that I've seen any.

    If you are used to Linux you will feel right at home with either, how far along they are with their Intel stuff yet I can't say but you have the links and can read. :D
     
  5. wahgnube thread starter macrumors member

    wahgnube

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    Feb 15, 2006
    #5
    Cool, then all my doubts are assuaged.

    I'm probably going to stick with OS X for a long time! Thanks!
     
  6. risc macrumors 68030

    risc

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    #6
    Yeah I came to OS X in 2003 after using Linux as my OS of choice from 1994/5 on, OS X is great and the option to use DarwinPorts just sealed the deal for me, I'll never go back to another UNIX like OS for desktop use.
     
  7. wahgnube thread starter macrumors member

    wahgnube

    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2006
    #7
    It must be slick if you've not gone back.

    I just realised I had another significant worry. Have Fink/DarwinPorts packages transitioned (or are they) over to x86 as well?

    Or is it a scenario where some software is and some isn't?
     
  8. khammack macrumors regular

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    Location:
    Portland, OR
    #8
    If you need any additional reassurance, I have most of that stuff installed on my G4 powerbook already.

    You could try reading the fink website:

    http://fink.sourceforge.net/

    Long story short, fink is not ready for x86. But it will be. Same for darwinports, though it looks like the darwinports project has a leg up:

    http://wiki.opendarwin.org/index.php/DarwinPorts:FAQ

    So you'll probably want to go with darwinports initially (which, incidentally, is merely an implementation of the excellent NetBSD ports system for Darwin).

    Incidentally, MacOSX is built on "Darwin" which is FreeBSD + a Mach Kernel (more or less). Darwin is open source software:

    http://developer.apple.com/opensource/index.html/

    When you are using MacOSX, you are using open source unix (albeit with proprietary extensions).

    I used FreeBSD for several years as my desktop; it's every bit as good as linux (better at that time IMO). Also, I used linux and bsd pretty much exclusively from 1995 to 2005 both professionally and at home. Linuxes I have used for significant periods of time: Slackware, RedHat, Gentoo, Debian, SuSE, Mepis, Ubuntu.

    Since I bought my powerbook a year ago, I've not had the urge to replace OSX with linux.

    There are small annoyances, some things that I find easier to do on linux (particularly debian) than on Mac. But the overall experience is overwhelmingly better on OSX.

    -kev
     
  9. risc macrumors 68030

    risc

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    #9
    I can't comment on Fink since I don't use it but DarwinPorts is source based so if you install via source (not the installer) you should have a (semi) working system. Some stuff of course may require a bit of tweaking to get running correctly, but if you've come from Linux you are probably used to that already. Like everything though the longer you wait the better it will get! :D

    http://darwinports.opendarwin.org/getdp/
     
  10. Mr. Mister macrumors 6502

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    Feb 15, 2006
    #10
    A lot of these apps have Mac binaries or Mac equivalents (for example, Adium pretty much is GAIM, down to some shared sourcecode and overall feel).

    Unless I'm misunderstanding your post - you want to know Mac OS X equivalents for Linux programs, right? Or the other way around? :confused:
     
  11. wahgnube thread starter macrumors member

    wahgnube

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    #11
    It's reassuring, in the sense that since most of the software was probably written by authors on x86 boxes, it'll be less work to get these things running on an Intel based Mac than a G4/G5 based one. And if these projects were doing a good job there, there is no need to assume it will be any worse now.

    It was only while I was going through Fink's site when it dawned on me that the Intel transition might have adversely (as it has, at least temporarily) affected what they're trying to do. Since people have nothing but praise for *BSD's ports system, I am sure DarwinPorts will serve well.

    I am quite excited to try it all out.

    Do these minor annoyances you mention have anything to do with a lack of configurability? Or are you missing apt-get? :)
     
  12. wahgnube thread starter macrumors member

    wahgnube

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    Feb 15, 2006
    #12
    Haha, yes, I am more than used to that. I am willing to sacrifice some ease of use to be able to maintain the freedom (at least choice) of running the applications I've gotten to love.

    So from what you and the others say, it sounds like DarwinPorts is the way to go. And, like I said, I am itching to check it out!
     
  13. wahgnube thread starter macrumors member

    wahgnube

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    Feb 15, 2006
    #13
    No, you aren't misunderstanding. I'm sorry I wasn't more clear. I was asking:
    a) if these apps ran natively on OS X
    b) if they didn't, asked for equivalents (like you mentioned Adium for Gaim)

    I am just trying to keep it as close to a free software box as possible; both for idealistic and practical reasons. Meaning, if I couldn't do all that I wanted to (in "my way") with OS X, I'd not have a problem yanking it out and running something else that does (I'm not emotionally tied to it yet). But then I realised I could probably do all that I wanted on OS X, and hence the question.
     
  14. Josh macrumors 68000

    Josh

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    State College, PA
    #14
    You'll be able to run all of your familiar apps on OS X.

    There are also many free built-for-OS X apps that replace some of the *nix apps you listed.

    Gaim for example can be replaced by Adium, which I prefer over gaim (and it uses the gaimlib if I remember correctly).

    Mathematica is available for OS X. Emacs/bash/shell stuff is no problem.

    OS X won't hold you back in the slightest :)

    Heck, you could even install Gnome, KDE, or whatever if you wanted.
     
  15. wahgnube thread starter macrumors member

    wahgnube

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    Feb 15, 2006
    #15
    Cool! I didn't realise I could revert to GNOME if OS X's fanciness was too much for me. :) I will definitely try out all these nifty equivalents (is it iChat?) before making up my mind. A part of me wants it all free (as in freedom) and another part of me suddenly wants things to "just work" well.

    We'll see how that plays out.
     
  16. Josh macrumors 68000

    Josh

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    #16
    I'm not exactly how the gnome/kde thing works - I never tried it myself, but I've read about it and seen screenshots. I don't know if gnome/kde runs *inside* os x, or if you can disable the default OS-X window manage (I think you can, but I'm not positie).

    Check out http://www.adiumx.com

    It's exactly like gaim in the sense that you can use aol/icq/yahoo/jabber, but I find it to be much more stable and nicer than gaim.
     
  17. balamw Moderator

    balamw

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    New England
    #17
    You can even be a real unix man and skip the GUI completely and boot into a command line. ;)

    http://hacks.oreilly.com/pub/h/348

    Welcome to OS X you'll fit in nicely.

    B
     
  18. wahgnube thread starter macrumors member

    wahgnube

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    Feb 15, 2006
    #18
    Will do. I'll look into all of these; I'm not sure how much of glossy-icon-bounciness I can handle! :)
     
  19. wahgnube thread starter macrumors member

    wahgnube

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    Feb 15, 2006
    #19
    Cool! Now with that and GNU Screen I'll have all the multi-tasking abilities I'd ever need. Who needs widgets? :)

    Thanks. I'm getting more and more impatient for my laptop to get here.
     
  20. Mr. Mister macrumors 6502

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    #20
    Adium is highly recommended. It's like Firefox for AIM, in terms of its stability, security, and customizability.
     
  21. Josh macrumors 68000

    Josh

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    #21
    lol the good thing is, there are a TON of different styles you can download (or make) that can make adium's icons, contact lists, messages, etc look like anything.

    check out this thread for some examples:
    [thread] Post Your Adium Setup
     
  22. wahgnube thread starter macrumors member

    wahgnube

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    #22
  23. khammack macrumors regular

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    Portland, OR
    #23
    Surprisingly, wrong on both counts--and for reasons that probably aren't obvious.

    Gentoo was my favorite linux distro, perhaps tied with debian. As a linux user "configurability" was something I was keenly interested in. Since I moved to OSX, the only thing I have bothered to configure is my desktop background. Why? Turns out, on linux the time I spent "configuring" was to get the UI bumps ironed out, so that tasks that I commonly performed would be simpler.

    On OSX, there is just no need. Seriously, it's just one of those "DUH" moments when you realize that yes, it is entirely possible to simply get it right.

    As for why I don't miss apt-get, let me count the ways:

    1) I still have it. Fink is apt-get. They are the same software, though fink is enhanced and improved. So there is nothing to miss.

    2) After seeing how software is installed natively on OSX, I'm convinced that linux has gone completely down the wrong path with regard to software installation. Package managers are primitive and unneccessarily complex compared to the astonishingly elegant OSX solution. Once you install a few OSX apps, you'll never look at rpm, installshield, apt, or emerge the same way again. Apple has the technological upper hand, and not just by a little bit.

    No, my biggest gripe is actually with my more frequently used application on any platform: Emacs. I'm afflicted with emacs, and there is no known cure. I'm very picky about emacs, I expect it to work identically in the following scenarios:

    1) Graphically.
    2) From the terminal
    3) From the terminal via ssh to any other unix (linux/bsd/solaris/darwin/whatever).
    4) I switch between my powerbook and my Dell+Ubuntu frequently. The keys should be in the same spot.

    It's almost perfect, but the Meta key is my problem. Long story short, I use 'Option' for meta instead of 'Cmd' (aka the Apple key). That seems to work consistently between the full gui and the terminal, but it is physically a less desireable location. Plus, when I ssh to a linux system I have to "stty erase ^vdelete" and if I forget I have a nasty surprise waiting for me at my first typo; it's almost like accidentally using vi.

    Also, it's a toss-up as to which version of emacs to use. Aquamacs seems to be the best overall, but it's been bastardized far too much. It pops up new windows every time you ask for a new buffer (can be disabled) and unsuccessfully tries to apply "themes" to every pane. The themes are the real annoyance because whomever created Aquamacs decided to use proportional fonts for everything; if you select a monospace font it sticks...for a while...except when it doesn't...and only until you restart emacs. I really hate that. It has other annoyances, but most can be disabled or returned to their classic emacs behavior.

    Given my account of annoyances, you might conclude that my greivances are trivial; they would not be worth mentioning if it were any other app but the One True Editor. If so, you'd be right. The fact is that Emacs is workable or I'd have already replaced my OSX installation with Linux.

    Also, there are at least 2 other interesting options for GUI versions of GNU Emacs for OSX. One is 'Carbon Emacs' by A. Choi, on which Aquamacs is substantially based. I'd use it but the fonts aren't quite right, which is distracting. The other is a native port to Cocoa which would be PERFECT if it weren't based on emacs 20 instead of emacs 21. And it's kind of crashy.

    -kev
     
  24. khammack macrumors regular

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    Portland, OR
    #24
    Oh yeah, I just remembered another annoyance. This one's with MacOSX itself.

    Too many freaking bouncy things.

    Seriously, I hate that crap. Icons jiggle when apps are launching and this apparently can't be disabled. When an app wants your attention, it's icon bounces at the bottom of the screen. Forever. :confused: Honestly, how on earth does this not at least warrant a "disable" option?

    Still, if you've had the displeasure of using windows xp it's nothing like that. Watching other people use winxp is almost enough to give me a seizure; the constant distractions from apps that demand your attention drives me batty. In contrast, OSX is tepidly annoying from time to time.

    Also, when the system updater runs it steals focus and won't allow any apps to sit on top once it decides you should reboot. That means close everything this instant and let it go, which is not altogether expected the first time you go through the process (as a unix guy, at least).

    Oh yeah, you have to reboot after system updates. Hello? Isn't this unix? Bah.

    Once again, in the big picture these are minor--and it all should be weighed against the numerous things about OSX that are surprising in a positive sense.

    -kev
     
  25. DerChef macrumors 6502

    DerChef

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    Northern Ireland
    #25
    This whole topic has left me a bit cold.:rolleyes: Why in the name of blazes would anybody want to buy a relatively expensive first generation iNTEL in order to flip it over to Linux and maybe play with OS X occasionally?

    I personally have never found one open source app that has ran well via the X11 environment havent tried the others. I am sure there will be massive porting issues at the start on the Intel Macs.

    If you want to be a Geek why are you not saving your pennies and buying a AMD Sun Workstation with Open Solaris or put whatever Linux distro you like on it.
     

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