For the first time since 2003 I’m seriously thinking about switching to Ubuntu. It feels like, since Snow Leopard, more things have been subtracted from than added to my Mac. This syndrome infects product-management groups everywhere not just in Cupertino; “We know better; the experience for the average user will be better without that.” But there ain’t no such thing as an average user, and it’s almost always a bad idea to subtract a shipping feature.

In Particular · Since Snow Leopard, there’s been exactly one useful new OS X thing: windows you can resize at any edge. And there have been brutal amputations (most painful for me: loss of the Apache GUI and the moronic refusal to tell me what screen resolutions I’m using).

Apple salts these wounds by hurling gobs of engineering effort into beautifully-drawn fripperies such as Launchpad and Messages and Mission Control (and I’m still angry about Dashboard).

  • Re Launchpad: For any app or document on your Mac, type command-space, start typing its name, and within a few keystrokes you can press press Enter and you’re there.

  • Re Dashboard: You can make it go away forever by typing
    defaults write mcx-disabled -boolean YES
    killall Dock

And stupidest of all: Laboriously building in system-level integration with two different flavor-of-the-month social networks, rather than investing in a general sharing framework of the kind that’s been working just fine since 2008 on Android.

In General · This failing is not limited to Mac product management. Nor even to Apple, despite for example features users miss in iOS 6; connoisseurs of flameage will enjoy any of Linus Torvald’s jeremiads about the impoverishment of the Gnome UI.

Sidebar: Leaving the Mac · I probably can’t because I’m addicted to Lightroom and Keynote. Well... I could maybe step away from Keynote; my slides these days are mostly just pictures with very few words; and it’d be nice if they had a URL.

As for Lightroom, I’m starting to wonder if running it in a Windows VM on one of the stupidly powerful boxes Lenovo and its competitors ship is an entirely insane idea.

A Radical Idea · There are certain objects whose design is finished: the violin, the little black dress, the hammer, and nigiri sushi; complete unto their purpose. Certain aspects of the professional toolset on my computer are starting to feel almost as polished as my cello or my jigsaw, and I’d like it if systems vendors would please just stop fucking with them.

You know who else would be grateful? Not just geeks like me but the other end of the teeter-totter; less-technical people who’ve put serious effort into mastering the mousewheel or the chat window. What’s sad is that when product managers break stuff, these people blame themselves; my pain is abated by anger, theirs amplified by embarrassment.

But there’s a large, well-tuned engineering team and a product refresh scheduled for next year, and the announcement has to say “314 new features!” Increasingly, we get sideways or backward motion.

I’m not claiming computer interfaces are finished; there’s plenty of unexplored territory. Let’s see... touch, kinetics, text entry, and predictiveness. But please, if you care for me, don’t change your hair for me.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Parveen Kaler (Oct 10 2012, at 00:39)

There have been a couple foundational technologies added under the covers in recent years: XPC, Grand Central Dispatch. On iOS we now have UIActivity.

I sense that Services, AppleScript, Siri integration will all be overhauled soon. All of this stuff is clearly being deprecated and the new tech just needs API and UI to be exposed.


From: JulesLt (Oct 10 2012, at 01:30)

I'm feeling the same way re OS X itself but then the only reason I switched to OS X was for the applications (OmniGraffle, Keynote and TextMate, and iLife to a lesser degree). It was a pull, rather than push from Windows.

I'm not seeing anything drawing me over to Linux (or at least beyond the VMs I'm already using).

That's going to need a bunch of disgruntled Mac developers (and a business model to sustain them).


From: Duncan Cragg (Oct 10 2012, at 03:02)

A small warning: for me, Ubuntu has similarly been growing increasingly unusable with successive releases, and I'm considering switching to an alternative Linux distro.

Hopefully, subsequent commentors can help us both to find a good Linux; not dumbed-down, not buggy, not pointlessly complex. Just smooth for us power users.


From: Tom Welsh (Oct 10 2012, at 04:01)

Sorry Tim, but that's capitalism for you.

Worse still, companies that put serious effort into seeking major breakthroughs go under, year after year; while those that cynically subordinate everything to profit (you know who you are) thrive.


From: dr2chase (Oct 10 2012, at 04:45)

Are you sure you're not just getting old? (says another old guy.)

Multitouch is nice, and that's new since Lion. I didn't think I would pick it up quickly or like it, but I did.

Launchpad, meh. It sits way the heck over to the left on my dock, I keep forgetting what it is good for (and indeed, not much -- too many apps, I continue to happily use DragThing).

iCal, on the other hand....


From: Roland Schweitzer (Oct 10 2012, at 05:18)

I adopted Ubuntu for my professional platform a few years back. My experience has been somewhere between "do a happy dance" to "I can live with that". One piece of "my professional tool chain" is an old collection of C and Fortran that does specialized graphics and analysis for ocean and atmosphere data and it runs well on Linux, ok on Mac and not at all on PC. I chose Ubuntu because, well, because Dell offered a laptop with it pre-installed.

Last week I did a presentation built with Google Drive. When downloaded as .pptx (because the hotel wireless was flakey), Office Libre displayed it flawlessly. Happy dance. I couldn't get my laptop to sync with the projector in a reasonable amount of time, so I copied the pptx to somebody else's laptop. I can almost live with that.

For the most part Ubuntu is getting better with each release, but they change their default hair enough that you sometimes have to fight with it a little to get what you want (like I want scroll bars visible all the time thank you very much).


From: Nathan (Oct 10 2012, at 06:06)

Why Ubuntu?

I have nothing against Ubuntu, just curious. I found it interesting that you would state "switch to Ubuntu" rather than "switch to Linux".

(OK, I do have one thing against Ubuntu: it's so ubiquitous that software companies making forays into Linux tend to target it first and sometimes only. That's not really the distro's fault, though. Shame on it for being so simple to use that it achieved critical mass. Actually, I may have just answered my own question.)


From: Ian McKellar (Oct 10 2012, at 06:32)

I've recently returned to using Linux as my primary platform from a few years on the Mac. It's a breath of fresh air. Shit actually works. Just think how you'll feel when you have a "maximize window" button again.

Personally I like Gnome 3 a lot. It does almost exactly what I want and if I don't like the behavior it's all scriptable with JS.

I miss Apple's laptop hardware, but I've rediscovered the joy of the Thinkpad TrackPoint.


From: lahosken (Oct 10 2012, at 07:08)

Ha, I just switched away from Ubuntu to Mint Linux because lately Ubuntu's been messing up their UI. From your description, I wonder if Ubuntu's been trying to "keep up with the Joneses" with OSX.


From: Anton McConville (Oct 10 2012, at 07:17)

I've noticed a difference in my trust of mac os and Apple lately too. My MacBook suffered kernel panics all summer. It took repeated visits to the genius bar before they eventually replaced the logic-board.

By the time they'd fixed it, my photos, documents, music, iPhone apps were all out of sync between devices. They'd advised me not to restore from backup in case of pollutants and it was a waste of time anyway given the number of os re-installs being made.

In the meantime I discovered that Google Drive's presentation software is adequate for my needs - works well on iPad, and well enough in browser. I like Keynote too, but it feels liberating to switch to an alternative at the moment.


From: Josh (Oct 10 2012, at 07:44)

I did a little bouncing around the intertubes looking for alternatives to Lightroom (somewhat for you, but also to use myself since I'm morally opposed to helping keep Flash alive). I haven't played with Lightroom, so I'm not a good judge of what you might be doing with it, or the level of what things CAN be done with it, but I have a general idea, having read about it here and there, and listened to my photography hobbyist friends talk about the details of tweaking their workflows and such (somehow photography stops being an art and starts being a science when engineers dive into it). I didn't figure that GIMP was something that would suit your needs.

What I found that might be able to handle your needs was Raw Therapee (, darktable (, and Rawstudio ( It seems that a hacker of your caliber would be able to cobble these together if you needed to (that's a matter-of-fact observation, not a gauntlet being thrown), but I'm not positive what your needs are nor if any of those pieces of software can accommodate those needs.

Anyway, if you do decide to use an alternative to Lightroom, I would love to hear about your I can follow in your footsteps (since I'm not quite ready to start concentrating on my photography yet).


From: Terence Eden (Oct 10 2012, at 07:56)

I've only tried OSX fleetingly, and didn't like it much.

I'm happy to say that both MacBook Air & Pro run Ubuntu like a dream. Was very easy to install and needed no fiddling to get Wifi working.

Of course, I fiddled anyway :-)

So, I'd recommend dual booting - that way, if you *need* something only available on OSX, it's right there at your fingertips.


From: len (Oct 10 2012, at 08:05)

I miss being able to change the order of my YouTube channel offerings. Really.

Someone said I should pay for that. Since Google pays pretty much nothing for the content, I don't think I should. Analytics used to work better. Thanks for the opportunity to make videos longer than 15 minutes. When I start writing all day symphonies or a YouTube surfer gets more than a two minute attention span, I may use that extra time.

OTW, complaining about technology churn that inconveniences us is just another way to say getting old hurts. It does. No one cares.


From: David Reese (Oct 10 2012, at 12:30)

"Since Snow Leopard, there’s been exactly one useful new OS X thing"

I have to think you're pulling some weird Andy Rooney hyperbole thing here?

Just because you're not interested in a feature, doesn't it's not a feature, or that lots of other people aren't. Take notification center -- I didn't personally feel like I needed anything more than Growl, but I can't tell you the number of times I've had to install Growl on friends computers, or update it because it had started throwing some error message.

Not to mention mutitouch, and the various minor UI improvements (remember scrollbars?!) that add up over time. Launchpad is a bad idea, of course, but you can just remove that from the dock! As far as adding features that get in my way as a developer... OS X has not been guilty of that.


From: Gavin Carothers (Oct 10 2012, at 13:56)

I too made the transition from Mac OS X to Ubuntu. At first I missed a few things, Adium and Lightroom. Really that was about it. Happily lightroom runs just fine in VMWare or OpenBox on a Windows 7 VM. Don't bother trying it in Wine. I too used Keynote a lot, but have found that just using HTML works a lot faster, and is far easier to share. I don't get hung up trying to make fancy animations. I would note that when moving to Ubuntu consider NOT moving to Unity, but rather GNOME 3. There will be a lot less UI churn.

... if your thinking about a laptop prepare to have MUCH shorter battery life then your used to :\


From: Mike Kozlowski (Oct 10 2012, at 15:24)

I've been using Linux exclusively for the last six months, and I love it, and I think all developers should switch away from OSX to proper Linux.

BUT: If excess change is your reason for switching, you'll hate it. Modern Linux UIs -- Unity and GNOME 3 both -- are arguably more aggressive than OSX and Windows in terms of adopting new UI paradigms.

Me, I think this is a good thing, because I think that traditional window UIs are terrible, and my complaint is that the Linux UIs don't go far enough in modernizing. But if you want Win95 forever, yeah, you're not going to like them.

If you do try Linux, check out Mint. It's a distro based on Ubuntu, but devoted to preserving GNOME 2/Win95-style UI paradigms.


From: Dustin (Oct 10 2012, at 21:19)

My two OSX boxes are running 10.6.8 and 10.7.5 versions of OSX respectively. I haven't seen anything that is drwaing me to upgrade the OS. In fact, there are a few things I like better about 10.6, which is why I'm still running it on this machine.

So, have you considered going back to an earlier version of OSX? If you think it's getting to a finished design, then don't upgrade!


From: Warren Strange (Oct 10 2012, at 22:18)

I have been running Ubuntu for two years now - and I love it.

Come on in - the water is fine!


From: Bruno (Oct 11 2012, at 04:07)

Just two months ago Miguel de Icaza wrote "What Killed the Linux Desktop":

If you follow his arguments, it is totally ironic that you would switch to Linux for stability.


From: JulesLt (Oct 11 2012, at 04:09)

Gavin - personally, what I like about Keynote isn't the fancy animations (Powerpoint also has plenty of those) - it's more the templates and those fancy layout guidelines that appear and tell you if your elements are lined up proportionally, etc.

i.e. it enables a design idiot like me to produce something that looks professional with relative ease.

I've looked at OpenOffice periodically, and while I'm convinced you could achieve the same results - ditto with HTML - you need to have more vision of what you want to achieve.

(In a way it is the same gap as between something like MS Publisher or Pages, and something like Quark. Or a colouring book and a blank page).

That said, I do think they're on a self-fulfilling slope - OS X became a strong platform for 'web programmers' in the 2000s because it hit a sweet spot of Unix and Java support, pretty much out of the box support for Ruby or Python based web development.

It's telling that these days how many extra steps you need to go through to make a default install 'development ready'.

It's not that I can't do it, but I feel it is indicative of Apple's changing priorities.

(Then again, I don't have too much of a problem with that. For a lot of people the social media and iOS integration is a Good Thing. The App Store is a good thing. I can understand that a lot of people want Jobs software appliance, not a personal computer. Our needs ARE niche).


From: Ed Davies (Oct 11 2012, at 05:05)

I'm a mostly happy Ubuntu user who's tried Mint on my netbook but couldn't see any real advantage to having slightly different OSs on netbook and laptop. Can't stand Unity, though: using Gnome Classic on both.

Get very frustrated by the number of tiny regressions I keep hitting, though. E.g., this morning I found that I can no longer put the dialog boxes for SketchUp on a second monitor - they snap back to the main one the moment you let go of them. On a not-so-large laptop screen that makes SketchUp unusable.

Something I do think is a concern with open source software is that decisions get made by those who “contribute”. Once upon a time that was a great thing but as software matures this it could become a liability in the case where the greatest contribution you could make is to leave well alone. Realizing that something ain't broke (or is only a little bit broke so needing only a small fix) is the domain of the more experienced developers so I wonder if there's a tendency now for changes to be made more often by less experienced people who don't see the wider picture, hence the regressions.


From: J. King (Oct 14 2012, at 06:02)

I used Ubuntu for a while back when 6.10 was current, but I couldn't live without foobar2000 (and still can't), not to mention that a lot of things were kind of clunky.

I've had a Mac mini for a little over a year now (it came with Lion), and while I love the machine itself and find such things as Time Machine and Plex (now available for Windows and Linux, but not then) and iPhoto truly wonderful, the system as a whole is repellent to me. I absolutely hate the entire UI mindset, and if I could install 64-bit Windows on the machine I would.

Personally I've found that Microsoft have made huge leaps and bounds with usability with Windows in recent years. Windows Vista had its faults, but I think it mostly got a bad rap, and Windows 7 fixes nearly every single annoyance about Windows which Ubuntu addressed for me, so I switched back and have never been happier paying money for an operating system.


From: Scott F (Oct 15 2012, at 19:52)

If you're serious about considering Ubuntu, I can't recommend the Xubuntu flavor strongly enough. It's based on the light Xfce desktop environment, which is easy to set up to your liking and has barely changed at all in the nearly 4 years I've been using it.


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