Pretty much anything [Mac] has, Linux can do better. Hogwash. Can we kill the zealotry?

by Jeremy Jones

I just read an article at about the OS habits of Linux users. The author of the article asked Linux Torvalds about his habits and found he exclusively used Linux. Torvalds said, "I don't use either [Windows or Mac OS X]. OS X is kind of pointless (pretty much anything it has, Linux can do better) and Windows offers stuff that I don't much care about (mainly games -- and I've got games machines for those)." Before I comment on this any more than I have, let me just say that I have been a near-exclusive Linux desktop user since 2001. I love Linux and I still think there are some areas where Linux dominates. However, to Torvalds, I say, "hogwash". He can get around careful scrutiny by his choice of words "pretty much anything it has" and "Windows offeres stuff that I don't much care about".

But the spirit of what he's saying seems just dead wrong. And it's an attitude that's pervasive among many Linux enthusiasts. Whether Torvalds has the zealotry I'm about to discuss is irrelevant. It's just a launch pad for me to address this attitude. The attitude goes something like this. "Linux is an awesome OS. We've come so far in a short amount of time. We have everything anyone would need. And bling to boot. Linux is ready for the desktop. In fact, it's ready to take over the desktop." There is a lot of truth in what both Linus said and my characterization of the Linux zealot.

Truth 1: Anything that Windows and Mac can do, Linux could do. Notice my choice of words. I said that Linux could do anything that Mac and Windows can do. But the sad story is that Linux is not currently doing a lot of what Mac and Windows is doing. Please, please, please someone show me wrong on this! Please show me a DVD authoring application on Linux that is as easy as iDVD is on Mac. Or a video editing application as easy as iMovie. Please! Yes, I know that there is wine and you can often get Windows apps running on Linux. But 1) it's hit or miss and 2) most of the apps that I've gotten to run in wine look.....let's just say "bad" to sound polite.

Truth 2: Linux has made considerable strides in the past few years. The desktop looks spectacular (both kde and gnome). There are tons of top notch applications available for free download. Hardware recognition and support works better than it ever has. I don't think this one needs to be shot down, so I'll leave it as it is.

Truth 3: Linux has the bling. In my opinion, Linux is actually winning the bling war. Just check out Beryl/Compiz/Fusion. It rocks. For bling, it is (my opinion, again) unrivaled. And there are some pretty cool productivity enhancements, too. But let's not confuse bling and even cool productivity enhancements with a usable desktop (not that Linux has an unusable desktop). They aren't necessarily the same thing. Just because Linux has bling doesn't mean that its applications are well integrated with one another. Or that the applications work well on their own.

The point of this rambling is that all three of Mac, Linux, and Windows do some things well and other things not so well. Personally, I don't like getting on Windows. It feels square and wooden. But it does some things pretty well. And I just bought a Mac a few weeks ago and I'm really enjoying it. I'm not at all ready to say that neither Windows nor Mac is really competitive with Linux. Conversely, I'd say that each of them spank the other two in some areas and don't do so well in other areas. So, can we please let the zealotry die? Please?

Update: I'm closing the comments on this blog post because of recurring blog spam. If you want to carry the discussion on, please email me and I'll post a new entry.


2007-07-24 11:48:59
well i can understand your point of wiev ... but as a windows, ALMOST, free linux user, can point you to a tinny diference ...

when you buy or download, for free, a linux distro, all GPL applications will follow you, in teory because in practice is too much to store but internet is here to rescue all of us ... this is why linus is thinking about linux with all application as part of it ...

when you buy a mac or a windows you get only that, an almost naked os ... when you compare this with linux alternative, you will see it in another perspective ...

correct me if iDVD or iMovie is part of mac os by default, or you need to cash more to get it ... i don't know, not using it, but i suspect that is not part of Mac OS but a third party application. You need to pay for it.

And is no doubt that for windows or mac is better proprietary, or in other words third party or not integrated in the same package when you buy the os, applications. No linux zealout will contest that .. ask linus ...

And i suspect that for a least some of this third party application, to not be available to linux as an option has much to do with deep microsoft cash pockets .... for corel draw, for example i have strong suspicion about that ....

with respect for all opinion from a linux user ....

Linux is free ... the expertise to harness it is not .... ;-+
You don't make money selling open source software!
You make money USING it ... ;-p
linux registered user #352479

2007-07-24 13:01:10
I can't entirely agree with totedati. First, the Apple media tools (iMovie, iDVD) are not THAT expensive -- $50 or so. We ALL would like to get everything for free, but often the free stuff just doesn't do the job. Between taking a free skateboard to work or buying a car, I'll go with the car. Some conveniences are certainly worth paying for. Some of the premium features of the commercial solutions just don't exist at all on the free software alternatives, and once in a while the entire application isn't there. In the case of missing features, MS Office is a valid example.

It really is great that OpenOffice and a bunch of other stuff installs in most Linux distros by default, but that's just a chunk of hard drive space that does me no good if these apps aren't providing the necessary features that my commercial apps do. If OpenOffice truly did everything that MS Office does, no one would need to buy MS Office and eventually no one would. I surely wouldn't. Fact is, though, it doesn't. Most of my spreadsheets can't be done in OpenOffice, nor can they even be opened properly in OpenOffice because the necessary features aren't there. Try getting my wife to use Gimp rather than Photoshop Elements. I think she would agree that paying the extra $70 is money well spent. You can often save some money and get something cheaper or free, but then it isn't always worth saving the money. Where the free app is a good fit for the user's needs, awesome.

Linus might not care to play games on his PC, but I do. Last time I checked, there wasn't a console version of World of Warcraft or Command & Conquer 3 or Supreme Commander or Company of Heroes or many other games. Nor is there a Linux or console version of these. Linus can feel as if he's accomplished something by saving the $120 on Windows and buying a $400-600 console instead. Or maybe he is more of a fan of console-style games than PC style. If so, excellent. That's $300 extra dollars well spent. Point again is, sometimes spending extra money isn't a bad thing.

One size doesn't fit all. The various platforms all have advantages over the others in one way or another, or suit one person's needs well but not another's. There just isn't a universal "best". These zealotry wars have been going on since at least the Apple II vs. Commodore 64 vs. TI-99 4/A vs. Atari 800, the CP/M vs. DOS days, on into the PC vs. Amiga vs. early Mac days, then into Windows 3.1 vs. OS/2, and now Windows XP/Vista vs. newer Mac vs. Linux. I doubt there will ever NOT be zealotry and excessive brand loyalty and one-size-fits-all mentalities, but the less the better.

Matthew Sporleder
2007-07-24 13:02:25
totedati, iLife comes with any new mac. Upgrading it will cost you money.

jeremy jones,
You should compare these comments to Linus's opinion on subversion where he stated that "it was the most pointless project ever started" before you get surprised by the sorts of comments you quoted.

Dick Davies
2007-07-24 13:53:04
Linus is always coming out with this sort of crap - does anyone expect anything better from him any more.

2007-07-24 14:03:11
>So, can we please let the zealotry die? Please?

Yes, but we could it call facts instead of fiction. This would actually kill zealotry :)
And the winner is, the free operating system. Cut BSD out of MacOS und you'll have a "nice" environment, but completely unusable. So without this free operating system, no MacOS at all :)

That's a fact, not fiction.

Oliver Herold
2007-07-24 14:03:26
>So, can we please let the zealotry die? Please?

Yes, but we could it call facts instead of fiction. This would actually kill zealotry :)
And the winner is, the free operating system. Cut BSD out of MacOS und you'll have a "nice" environment, but completely unusable. So without this free operating system, no MacOS at all :)

That's a fact, not fiction.

2007-07-24 16:45:22

Yes, but BSD isn't Linux.

Jeremy M. Jones
2007-07-24 18:01:08

As someone else pointed out, iLife came with my Mac, so it came with a bunch of good quality applications. If you want to say that it wasn't free, but included in the price of the Mac, I'll concede. My point still stands: there is *no* application for Linux that I am aware of which is comparable to iMovie and iDVD. That was the entire point.

Jeremy M. Jones
2007-07-24 18:05:20

Points well made. Thanks for the post!

Jeremy M. Jones
2007-07-24 18:06:57
@Matthew and Dick,

Not to slam Linus, because that wasn't the point of the post, but I guess I shouldn't after his remarks on Gnome, either.

Jeremy M. Jones
2007-07-24 18:14:04

The discussion wasn't around free vs. proprietary as much as the zealotry. My points were more pragmatic than philosophical. Linux is an awesome OS. And so is Mac OSX. And I guess some would say the same thing about Windows in its own way. My point was that Linux, free or not, falls short in a lot of ways where OSX shines.

2007-07-24 18:50:11
Hogwash, indeed: it is Apple's marketing department that has been trolling around the idea that Macintosh is "the better UNIX" and "Linux done right", and they are spending many millions on getting that message across.

And please stop trotting out this notion that "applications work well" or "work well with one another" on OS X; KDE and Gnome are far more consistent and integrated than the messy collection of Carbon, Cocoa, Mozilla, Qt, Microsoft, and Java people end up running on Macintosh. Don't even get me started on messes like Applescript.

As far as I'm concerned, Linus is much closer to the truth than Apple: a Linux desktop is a reasonable replacement for a Mac desktop, but a Mac is not a reasonable replacement for a Linux desktop.

(I'm writing this from a Mac; they are pretty and quiet machines. I consider them a reasonable "thin client".)

Jeremy M. Jones
2007-07-24 19:13:47

Thanks for the comment. Application integration is the lesser of the points I was making. But I sincerely believe that they do it well. The iLife applications are aware of one another, as they should be. But then again, the same company made them all, so why not? Gnome and KDE may indeed have superior application integration frameworks in place, but unless applications become other-application aware, it doesn't matter. I have seen some beginnings of this (beagle support for searching evolution, etc.), but not to the pervasive degree that I see it in the iLife applications. But I won't press that issue. Not too much, anyway.

The bigger point I had was, "Where are the Linux apps?" It doesn't take the Apple marketing machine and millions of dollars to point out that certain classes of applications on Linux are either totally absent or woefully inadequate when compared to their Mac (or Windows!) counterparts. I really want someone to prove me wrong on this. I want someone to point me to something that's as easy to edit video on as iMovie. Or create a DVD as iDVD. OK - so Amarok *spanks* iTunes - hard. Or edit photos as Microsoft Digital Image Suite (now discontinued, but it's what my wife uses). Applications was my chief point rather than architecture.

2007-07-25 01:49:07
Hello. Thanks for your article.

About "Truth 1", I use ManDVD as DVD authoring software and it is really great and easy to use. For editing home videos, Cinelerra is awesome, but you need some time to handle the interface.
Video editing software had long been missing under the free platform, and prevented me from completely switching to Linux, but now, everything I need is at last available.

I now use exclusively linux on my desktop computer (no more windows since 2004).

I don't know Mac so I can't compare with linux, but I do know Windows and I can tell you Linux is matching my needs much better.

Jeremy M. Jones
2007-07-25 02:07:47

That's the point. If you "need some time to handle the interface", then I would argue that it is not as good of an interface as iMovie. I would *love* to see applications like I have on Mac also available on Linux. I just don't think it's there yet. (And my whole point has been that we don't need to pretend that just because *something* is available on Linux, that nothing else is possibly better.) If Cinelerra works for you, awesome. I'll have to check it out some time. (I don't see it in the standard Ubuntu repos, so I'll have to look around for it.) Thanks for the post!

2007-07-25 11:43:43
Mike could have a point regarding the suitability of Linux as a one-size-fits-all replacement for all other OSes ... that is, if we used our OSes just for the sake of using an OS and didn't really care about the availability of applications, features of available applications, and usability of those applications. Unfortunately, some forget that an OS's most important function is to launch applications. It isn't a useful tool for me if the apps I need aren't there, or the ones that are there are lacking features, or even if those are all non-issues but the full-featured app's usability is impaired. I'm a long-time Linux AND Windows user. I happen to need both, and appreciate what each does well. I can't speak much to MacOS. My experience with it is fairly limited.

I think the point has been made several times now. Linux is a great OS, it does excel in MANY areas, and many apps are available that also shine in many ways. BUT.... it does not excel in ALL areas for ALL people, not ALL apps are there that need to be, and those that are available in many cases AREN'T an adequate substitute for those that are available for other platforms. If you can't understand why MS Office, Adobe Photoshop, the iLife apps, and others like these can't be replaced for many users with apps for Linux, you probably have lighter needs than those who do understand this. In your case, you need not pay for these. Just don't mislead yourself into thinking that my needs should be met as completely as yours by the free alternatives.

...and in what way is Linux better integrated across-the-board on the desktop? This must be a matter of subjectiveness, because I have never been pleased with Linux on matters of consistency and componental integration. My ongoing sound issues are a constant reminder of this. Frankly, this doesn't happen to me in Windows. I don't have software that refuses to function with sound because it doesn't like the particular audio subsystem I'm using at the moment, or if it does work, all other system sounds are muted for a while. The mixer on Windows actually works as I'd expect.

I just can't see a good justification for claiming that Linux is that one-size-fits-all solution for all people for all problems, and that the other platforms have no advantages.

Chris Tyler
2007-07-28 07:26:16
Perhaps Linus's comments make more sense if you think of this from a kernel/OS dev's POV: "OS X is kind of pointless (pretty much anything it has, Linux can do better)" is arguably true at the kernel level -- the Mac has a great core OS, but it doesn't have the breadth of Linux (scalability from embedded systems to mainframes, NUMA, big SMP, virtualization support, and so forth).
Jeremy M. Jones
2007-07-28 12:34:31
@Chris Tyler,

I'll totally agree from the kernel perspective. In that sense, I'll agree with Linus's response. But an attitude that I keep seeing pop up from users which I was really addressing was the fanboy attitude that nothing can touch desktop Linux. But point well made and taken.

2007-07-30 12:46:00
Used Linux, Macs/Apples, and the *BSDs, Unix computers, since they were invented, and since my first Heathkit H89, in 1979, I was on the Easylink "Internet", owned by Western Union, starting in 1982.

Right now, as a Mac technician, and a PC installer/upgrader, I rate Microsoft at the bottom for everything, due to the plethora of virus, trojans, faults.

Almost as lowly rated, for the DRM, and failure to publish the code, is Mac.

That's two down for proprietary DRM.

Then, what is left is GNU/Linux with hundreds of free choices. I select free choice!

2007-07-31 14:28:25

no wait... APPLE ROCKS!!!

uh.... LINUX RULES!!!

Computers are tools much like a hammer or screw driver. You pick the tool that will get the job done. You wouldn't use a hammer to saw a 2X4 in half. So, people who are hammer fan boys saying that "HAMMERS RULE!" would look just as silly as someone who says "OS X RULES!"...

Linux, Windows and OS X all have their jobs. Don't forget about Solaris, BSD, OS/2 and TRON (Ever heard of TRON?)

See my point?

2007-07-31 14:40:16
"So, can we please let the zealotry die? Please?"

Based on the comments above, the answer is apparently no.

2007-07-31 14:44:42
"...ever hear of Tron?"

Yes. Yes I have, and Tron RULES! ;-)

John Stevens
2007-08-02 15:36:35
Sorry, but the interface for ALL Linux tools is SUPERIOR to EVERYTHING that runs on Windows or MacOS, including those horrible iDVD and other iLife POS's . . . FOR ME!

Geeze, if your whole argument boils down to something as silly as "Easy to use!", then you've already gotten lost. Ease of use is subjective, and personal. As the old saying goes: "Unix is very user friendly. It's just picky about its friends!"

The only useful measure for a real apples to apples comparison would be a holistic but objective measure of functionality, power, flexibility and cost. BUT . . . only extreme power users would find the results relevant!

Hands down, Linux is out out of the box more useful in any objective measure of functionality, and it is undeniably cheaper, and much more flexible and free. But if you can't live without iDVD, and can't learn something new, and that is pretty much all you do with a computer and all you will ever do, then MacOS is the winner FOR YOU.

Does everybody get it yet? If you're a power user who learns quickly and does just about everything with a computer, then go Linux. Otherwise, cater to your weaknesses, but PLEASE don't mistake your weaknesses for some kind of universal condition!

Jeremy M. Jones
2007-08-02 17:43:05
@John Stevens,


2007-08-03 04:55:18
Linus is known for such statements... But you have to understand that what Linus uses a computer for greatly varies from the average computer user. He is a software engineer and uses the GNU development stack extensively. Mostly all of it is command line. He uses a console text editor and has likely 10 different command consoles open at any given time. He does use some commercial software and is not using CVS or SVN to manage the Linux source repositories. I forget the name of the commercial source code repository but he chose it because it can do things that the Open Source competition cannot. So yeah, Linux does everything Linus cares about. His kids play on game consoles and he can use OpenOffice for most school and business documents.

Ironically, I've found that an Intel Mac can do all that Linux can do and then some. In fact, it even can do all Windows can do. All the open source software that I would run on Linux I can run on a Mac. I can dual boot Windows on Intel Mac hardware or run Windows and Linux under Mac OS X via virtual machines ala Parallels or VMWare Fusion.

The Mac is the absolute best Unix workstation and laptop available today. It is a good server as well but it is not nearly as good on the server side as Linux. Nor is Linux nearly as good as OpenSolaris. But each shop, business, developer and consumer needs to buy the computer that is "right" for them.

Time to drop the absolutes of Linux or Mac OS X is the best and all others are "Crap". In the real world most shops are a mix of systems (Mainframes/AS400/Solaris/Linux/Win2k3Srv/MacOSXServer) and likely a mix of Windows, Linux and Mac OS X on the desktops. I don't know of many large companies that buy just one OS on the server side.

Jeremy M. Jones
2007-08-03 05:26:46

Thank you for the sensible comments. Sounds like we're similar in our setups. I am beginning to run Mac OSX as my primary desktop OS. I am in the process of selecting a VM player (probably going to settle on VMWare Fusion) and am setting it up to suit me. I don't boot into windows except occasionally at work on my desktop system there (which dual boots Kubuntu and Windows).

I would mostly concur with your statement that "all the open source software that I would run on Linux I can run on a Mac." I'm lazy. There are some applications for Linux in the Ubuntu repository that don't seem to have a Mac package for either in Darwin ports, fink, or just a .dmg file. For those, I'll fire up VMWare. And for just browsing what cool open source software is available, I'll fire up VMWare and browse synaptic.

Great post! Thanks!

Sandy Greer
2007-08-07 04:52:53
I use Windows at work, Linux at home, and just got a Mac, specifically for music composition. Why? Well, the Linux box is several years old and would need a substantial upgrade to be suitable for musical notation and MIDI; but it is perfectly fine as it is for Linux. (I have been using Ubuntu most recently. Now that I have another system I can tear that one down and add some disk space for more Linux experiments).

The Mac comes with everything already plugged in, although I had to buy a MIDI interface box for my keyboard, and some cheap notation software as I am not using GarageBand. I think I made a rational choice.

I let our IT guys at work worry about the Windows security. I also don't let friends drive Windows; depending on their geekiness quotient, I advise Mac or Linux.
2007-08-08 16:08:30
Windows currently has everything working for it since it is the most popular OS and most of the hardware makers make drivers for it, etc. Basically, you can expect everything to work, however, it's not as secure, and some things such as using a limited account can be done to make it more security but there is only so much one can do. Studies even show that Windows crashes pretty fast if you leave it several nights without shutting down!

Macs are made by apple and apple makes sure that all of its hardware is best suited for interactivity (basically why the hacked version of Mac OS on PC doesn't work so well).

Linux has everything, as would a Mac, for a secure and functional environment. BUT, it has more. I am talking specifically about Ubuntu and its related operating systems...they are open source, so whenever the hacker target switches to Mac, and then people come to Linux and then has the hacker target on itself, it will have a whole community of programmers to defend it against the hackers.

Bottom Line: All operating systems have their strengths and weaknesses and Windows' strength is purely popularity which is why many users switch to Linux or Mac.

Mac has its strengths obviously but just like any other operating system, it would be much better as open source, but propietary software will never reach a fully open source environment.

Linux while not currently the best due to lack of support, has the potential to be. I mean this in term of hardware compatibility since pretty much anything can done on it. If you are a high speed internet user (you most probably are) then you would most likely not run into a problem with Ubuntu, however, if you are a dial-up user you most likely will since most modems are winmodems and who wants to pay so much money for a hard modem?!