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Linux Notebooks will never be as good as Apple MacBooks

By Rick on 29 May 2020
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I started my career as a systems administrator on Windows NT 4.0 . I started programming CGI web applications on IIS. After a while, I started working as a Unix Systems administrator maintaining FreeBSD, AIX, RedHat Linux, and Slackware Linux machines for a small ISP. In 1998, I made my way to Silicon Valley and worked as a software engineer for E*Trade. Today, I am the Managing Director of SennaLabs, an boutique IT consulting company located in Bangkok, Thailand and San Francisco, CA where we service clients in US, EU, AU, and Thailand.

From 1999 to 2010, I owned Intel PCs which I installed a combination of Windows with dual boot Linux or FreeBSD. It wasn’t until 2011 that I bought a MacBook. Before that, I always viewed Mac products as too fancy. I actually liked to compile custom kernels for my laptops.  But that all changed after a month of using my MacBook. I was amazed at how well everything worked. I had the best of both worlds. FreeBSD with stunning UI and ability to run applications such as Adobe Photoshop. No more 'make world'. No more FreeBSD ports to compile Gimp so it would run faster. Everything worked great. I could focus on work instead of being my own personal SysAdmin. I never looked back.

My last MacBook Pro was the mid-2014 model with maxed out hardware specs. As mentioned in another article, I loved that machine and it served me well until 2019. I used it for everything. I edited the video on it using Final Cut Pro. I used it for DevOps. I used it to develop software. After 5 years of constant use for an average of 8 hours per day, 3 replaced monitors, 1 replaced battery, and 1 replaced mainboard, the wear, and tear was starting to show.

I started shopping for a new MacBook Pro, but I really didn’t like what I saw. I needed an ESC key since I use vim. Everyone I knew who uses MacBooks hates the Touch Bar. I decided to go back to my roots. I bought a maxed out Thinkpad P1. The plan was to install Ubuntu on it. It was 2019. Surely, the Linux notebook experience has closed the gap. What could possibly go wrong?

After 6 months of use, I just bought a new MacBook Pro 16 2019 with maxed out specs:

  • 2.3 GHz 8 Core 9th-Gen Intel Core i9 Processor, Turbo Boost up to 4.8GHz (GOD I LOVE BOOST! I might need to get a blowoff-valve for this thing).
  • 64 GB RAM
  • AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 8GB of GDDR6 memory (I need fast refresh rates for my vim sessions)
  • 8TB SSD Storage
  • 16-inch REtina display with True Color
  • Four Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • Touch Bar and Touch ID (I actually like the Touch ID but still hate the Touch Bar)

After I got it, I connected it to my WIFI and was going to connect my external SSD to install my backup from my 2014 Macbook but realized that the new 2016 Macbook did not have any USB 2 ports. That's when I saw there was an option to migrate from another MacBook via network?! WOW! I selected that option and went to sleep. When I woke up, I quickly checked my new Macbook. It was exactly the same as my 2014 Macbook! Everything was there! Even my vim, ssh, and Thoughtbot dotfile settings! The older 32-bit apps didn't work anymore, but I was ok with that. It's the user experience and journey like this that elevates Apple products and ecosystems far above and beyond what Linux could possibly hope to reach.

Open Source software such as Linux can never achieve this level of design because they don’t have as much control as much as Apple does. It's similar to UI/UX Design vs Service Design. Service Design is not bounded to just digital systems. Service Design is more comprehensive and addresses the entire customer journey. It includes analog experiences in the real world as well. Linux can only really control what's going on in the OS. It is bounded by that constraint. Apple is not. Apple controls more of the user experience. They control the hardware and the eco-system. It's more tightly integrated and seamless.

Pop_OS! was the OS I installed on my Thinkpad P1 and while it has definitely come a long way since the days I was compiling Gentoo from scratch, there was still a huge gap. You can't do things like:

  • Find my MacBook 
  • Sync on iCloud 
  • Integrated functionality on between hardware and software 
  • System Upgrades and Migrations 

A private company could potentially come along and tightly integrate hardware with a customized distribution of Linux and potentially come close in the desktop/laptop markets but it would be hard to compete with Apple. Maybe Dell or another major manufacturer could have a chance if they really controlled the entire experience. 
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