My Search for the Perfect Desktop Environment Part 2: How I spent 2 weeks attempting to be an Apple Fanboy

Josh Sherman
6 min read
Linux Apple Debian / Ubuntu GNOME

In case you missed it, here’s part 1 of this series.

So earlier this year I got my hands on an 11” Macbook Air that we had laying around the office. This was around the same time my 14” Dell “Black Friday” laptop starting giving me shit (cheap system, over a year old, was to be expected), so I decided to give the whole OSX thing another go.

When I say another go, this would be the third such endeavor in the last 10 years or so. The first was way back when when I purchased a used iBook G3 (no not that ugly clam shell model, the one with DUAL USB PORTS!!~!). OSX didn’t do much for me (10.2 at the time I believe) so I promptly installed Gentoo Linux (after I added a wireless card… back when you could actually open up a Mac without the need of a “genius”) and never went back to OSX until I went to sell it.

The second trip down OSX lane was a year or so ago while developing a cross platform application with Titanium Appcelerator. After realizing that the creation of the OSX binary was done in the cloud and didn’t need to be done on a Mac at all, I finished the project on a Linux system and tested briefly on a Mac. Overall, still not liking OSX.

The third experience was entirely different. I was completely impressed with the first moment, but within 2 weeks, I was back in Linux. Feeling lazy today, I’m posting an email sent to Alison Foxall of Gobble Logic from January 25th when asked:

So really, I’m curious; what did you not like abut OSX? Was it lack of customizations to the UI?

To which I replied:

as always, i have my strongly worded reasons:

  1. maximization of windows was/still is utter shit, i want to be able to maximize windows to full screen. the new to lion full screen stuff was slow, when you maximize a window, it shouldn’t take 2-3 seconds to slide over to another workspace
  2. speaking of workspaces, the way that lion handles them is shabby at best in comparison to gnome shell. if you want a new desktop, you have to click a button to create it (from the expose view) in gnome shell you move the window to the next desktop and it creates a new workspace for you automatically. way more productive
  3. the lack of out of the box customizations, the lack of free theming options, the lack of theme support for lion (seems themes are very point release specific in their function). i’m partial to a dark themed setup, and fortunately ubuntu / gnome-shell have both started to default to that color scheme. gnome shell now lets you customize the desktop with CSS files. it couldn’t be any sexier than that
  4. the fact that it’s not linux (from a developer standpoint). i was reluctant to try setting up a MAMP server because of how diverse it would be from all of my production servers (all 5 of them are running Ubuntu 10.04 LTS). i run into issues developing on a bleeding edge version of linux (11.10) so I could only imagine the deploy issues i’d have running a MAMP server and deploying to Linux. my preferred method to avoid this was to run VMware VM’s of 10.04 to develop in. it was do-able, but it would have taken some getting used to as a long term solution.
  5. OSX is a very mouse driven environment, I’m partial to more keyboard shortcuts and they fell short for me

but wait, i did like some stuff

  1. conceptually i like running VM’s for my servers, I may get into that locally in Linux. It makes a ton of sense as I can run a clone of a production server and get down to simulating package upgrades before running them live. If i didn’t give OSX another try, I never would have gotten hip to that concept.
  2. Even though I didn’t like the reliance on them, the way the mouse works in OSX is an absolute pleasure, and I hope that sort of support is adopted better in Linux. right now, the apple trackpad support is crappy at best.
  3. I didn’t necessarily feel out of place, more Linux apps now have native builds in OSX, that was a bit contention point back in my 10.2 days.

i think if i had given OSX a shot on Lion while still using Ubuntu’s Unity, I’d be more apt to switch, but my recent exodus to Gnome Shell completely changed my mindset on how a productive [to me] desktop environment should be. aside from customizations, the “activities” view is a brilliant combination of expose like display of both open windows and workspaces and the dock but also a context app / file search like OSX’s spotlight. one key, one place, do it all. gnome shell’s notification system got revamped recently as well, adding support for interactive notications (seen here: and overall has a nice tucked away feel to it.

overall, the apple hardware is bar none some of the best on the planet, the macbook air was surprisingly sturdy and easy to use (same size keyboard as all macs up to the 17”) even though it was a mere 11” screen. the system was underpowered with only 2GB of RAM and overall linux runs moderately well on it.. started to notice some issues yesterday with it that will probably be the death of me using it

albeit late, dell’s about to blow the fuck roof off the ultra portable notebook market with the XPS 13… 13” display in the chassis of an 11” laptop, i5, 4 GB of ram, 128GB SSD…… starting at 999… that will probably be the next laptop I own.

So yeah… I’m still a Linux guy, OSX is getting close though, but the direction of Linux desktop computing recently is poising it to pull ahead (or stagnate for another 10 years like last time ;))

That was from January. As of this writing, I currently do not own a Dell XPS 13 (and I’m pretty sure it didn’t change the world as I anticipated) or use Gnome Shell… but that’s for my next post. There’s no emails laying around on the subject, so expect fresher content as I get caught up on my journey.

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About Josh

Husband. Father. Pug dad. Musician. Founder of Holiday API, Head of Engineering and Emoji Specialist at Mailshake, and author of the best damn Lorem Ipsum Library for PHP.

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