Linux vs Mac on a laptop

I was in this predicament not too long ago. And I see more and more people struggling with this decision, every time Apple does something.

People think Linux on a laptop doesn’t work. I find that funny. I have been using it since early 2016, without any issues. Here’s me giving talks at conferences, and you’ll notice my laptop isn’t a Mac.

The Hardware

So, here’s my setup. I got rid of my Macbook Pro (2013 model), and bought a Thinkpad T460. They have many other thinkpads, so you can choose a model and then customize the hardware all you want. I thought about going for Dell’s Linux laptop, but had bad experiences with hardware quality of Dell.

One could potentially run Linux on Mac itself. But, here’s the deal. Being an engineer, I type a lot. Back in 2009, I started having a bit of pain in my wrists, aka RSI. So, I switched over to using Kinesis Advantage. That keyboard is truly ergonomic and has saved my RSI from developing further.

On Mac’s keyboard, after 10–15 mins of typing, my wrists would start paining. And I couldn’t type anymore. The keyboard design causes fingers to “bottom-out” easily. Due to this, I stopped using my Mac laptop for any real work.

Thinkpad’s keyboard is mechanical [See 1 below]. Since I got it, I have been able to type emails, code, and just use it as an essential tool laptops typically are. That itself was a great benefit to me.

On top of that, I configured my Thinkpad to come with a dual battery pack. Which makes it last an entire day of non-stop work, including hangouts sessions, without having to charge. This has been very useful as you can imagine. Long flights, conferences, or just carrying laptop to office, I don’t need to have the charger with me.

Downside: I don’t use my trackpad anymore. My first laptop back in 2003 was a Thinkpad, and I’ve been a fan of the Trackpoint. I use it, and in general just avoid using mouse. My window manager enables less mouse usage (described below), so I can get away with not using the trackpad.

The Software

Mac’s entire ecosystem is designed to take money from the consumer and lock them in. You can easily find the equivalent Linux programs for almost everything, free and more user friendly. For e.g., I paid for 1Password on Mac. Instead I use pass on Linux. I paid for Omnifocus on Mac. Instead I use Neovim with Notes. All the video chatting happens via Hangouts, or Google Meet, or other browser supported softwares. Slack has a Linux app.

I use Arch Linux, a flavor of Linux with rolling releases. So, I get the latest software update automatically, without having to wait for the release cycle of Ubuntu. Arch has a small, but ardent community.

Now here’s the killer app that I vouch most of you don’t know about. It’s called i3 window manager. I came to know about it during this machine build for Eric S. Raymond. It’s so good, that it should be installed by default for any software developer out there. Everything else feels like a struggle in comparison. Window’s UI, Mac’s UI, Ubuntu’s UI, bring anything. I’m just to outright say that nothing is as productive as i3-wm. I’m not going to go into reasons here. But, you’ll find every program that you need in the right place, you’ll use your entire screen estate to its full capacity, and you’ll never have to drag and drop, minimize, maximize anything. And that multiple desktop thing that every OS has, but you don’t use because it’s cumbersome; that’d no longer be the case with i3-wm.

I know the above might sound too much. I’m practically saying all other window managers suck in comparison (your mileage may vary). So, you could say I’m a fan. In fact, my entire team is. All my team and I run Linux on Thinkpad, with i3-wm.

Overall, I shell out way lesser money since I switched over to Linux on my laptop, and my experience has actually improved.

Downsides: Some people find Linux lacks good photo and video editing tools in comparison with Mac. I don’t do that, so that’s never been a problem for me.

Conclusion

I can’t think of anything more to add about my experience using Linux on a Thinkpad. But, I’ll say this, I’ll never go back to a Mac. It’s not because I have something inherent against Apple. But, in Linux and Thinkpad, I’ve found a solid tool and medium.


Update

[1] As per Michał Krzysztof Feiler, ThinkPad’s keyboard is not mechanical. It is a scissor switch keyboard, a pretty good one though, with a much longer drop and much more cushioned stroke then what is found in modern Apple keyboards, so there is a neat feedback and no bottoming out.

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