Why I Switched to Mac (and Not Linux)

This weekend I had one of those experiences that exemplifies the reason that I switched to Mac rather than Linux nearly two years ago. I spent the better part of this weekend trying to get my girlfriend’s laptop to dual boot into Linux because she’s been having all sorts of inexplicable issues with Windows. After hours and hours (and hours and hours) of driver hell…no mas. I’m done.

The laptop is an old one of mine, but it’s hardly ancient. It’s a Dell D600 Latitude – about four years old, I’d say. The specs are still pretty decent too, except that the wireless and ethernet cards are provided by Broadcom, a company that appears to be somewhat (in)famous for not offering Linux drivers. The result: I couldn’t get online – wired or wireless. That put me at a distinct disadvantage with respect to getting anything else done, so I tried to make it work.

Although the basic install – including partitioning – worked brilliantly and took only minutes, most of my weekend was spent shuffling back and forth between my Mac – where I Googled for solutions, downloaded Windows drivers, the ndiswrapper binary and its dependencies – and the newly-minted, but still unusable, Linux machine, carrying my USB memory stick with the downloaded files and instructions copied and pasted into text files.

I don’t blame the Linux community for not providing drivers. It’s not their responsibility, nor is it really Broadcom’s. None of these folks are responsible for providing drivers I can use. Nonetheless, it’s this kind of wasted weekend that kept me from turning to Linux two years ago. I just don’t want to have to spend this much time making my desktop machine work. This is the machine that I need to be productive with rather than spending my time making it functional in the most basic ways.

As evidenced by my recent switch to Linux in the workplace, Linux seems to detect and handle newer hardware quite nicely. Unfortunately, newer hardware isn’t always an option. This machine needs to last until the new line of MacBook Pros comes out and I can give her the one I’m writing this on, so she’s stuck with what she has for the time being. I was hoping it would be recent enough that the install would go as smoothly as the one on my work machine, but evidently not.

Maybe I could have gotten everything working. Maybe. But at this point the amount of time I’ve spent on the problem has vastly exceeded my interest in it.

Subscribe9 Comments on Why I Switched to Mac (and Not...

  1. John Cummings said...

    Rob, I have to say you’re right on with this post. While I won’t even begin to argue whether Linux has a real place on the enterprise desktop – the primary barrier to its adoption in any meaningful way will be just this kind of experience.

    Remember, these types of problems affect those of us who live and breathe this industry, and aren’t neophytes when it comes to troubleshooting hardware/software issues.

    Now imagine that this same type of (or similar) issue is experience by someone with less experience and/or patience. The Linux community has to work through that barrier before you’ll ever see mass adoption as a desktop OS. I know it’s an unpopular sentiment – but it’s true.

  2. Matt said...

    This was actually really easy for me on a D600 that I have. The Restricted Drivers application made this fairly simple to install the Broadcom drivers. Perhaps your network adapters didn’t use the bcm43xx chipset but if they did you may want to have a look at https://help.ubuntu.com/community/WifiDocs/Driver/bcm43xx

  3. Rob Wilkerson said...

    @John –

    Yeah, I hate to generalize like that since my experience with another, more current, machine been quite good – much better than I expected – but I think there’s some truth in it. For me, it’s not (necessarily) that I can’t fix it, it’s just that I don’t want to fix it. And I won’t, except as a pseudo-academic exercise, if I don’t have to.

    @Matt –

    First, nice avatar. Are you driving KITT in this shot? :-)

    I’ll take a look at that URI, but was your D600 as old? Is there any way, within the Linux OS, to determine the networking hardware to be certain I’m accessing the right drivers?

  4. Rob Wilkerson said...

    @Matt –

    Check that. Looks like there’s some information about determining hardware on the URI you posted. I’ll try that next time I have access to her machine.


  5. Richard Chapman said...

    I installed PCLinuxOS on a Dell Latitude 510 laptop last summer and everything worked, including the wireless, right off with no fiddling. I don’t know what the differences are between a Dell Latitude 510 and 600 though. Linux is not Windows, or a Mac. That statement means a whole lot more than just technical specifications and compatibility. It means the way you interact with the OS will be different and again, it’s not the desktop, it’s the simple fact that there’s no Linux Inc. There’s no Linux hot line. Even the “Linux Community” has not been officially defined. If Microsoft could be considered a brick wall, then Linux would be a hologram currently showing a brick wall. You can’t interact with a hologram the way you would with a brick wall even if it looks the same.

    Sometimes Linux asks for a little more effort to get going on a computer than Windows. Does anybody “install” OS X 10? I’m sure they do but on a Dell Latitude 600 laptop? If that effort is too much then that’s fine. Everybody has their limits and constraints and it’s not for us to sit in judgment and declare the effort insufficient. As far as the “common” user is concerned, worry not. They will purchase their Linux computer with the OS preinstalled just like they do with Windows or a Mac.

    Linux is improving and evolving at a rate that shames the efforts of both Microsoft and Apple (over 3,000 lines of code are added to the kernel every day). I suggest giving Linux another chance every six months and not just Ubuntu. If you are looking for Gnome then understand that nearly every Linux distribution is capable of multiple desktop managers. Ubuntu is not the official Linux. It’s a very good distribution but if it doesn’t work on your machine where another distribution will, then it’s the wrong distribution for that computer.

  6. Rob Wilkerson said...

    @Richard –

    Trust me, I’m aware of the differences and they are both good and bad. I’ve been using Linux for years in my server environments and have tried the desktop several times over the years. I’m also a big fan of the community, official or otherwise. Aside from the RTFM jackasses, there’s rarely a shortage of folks willing to help at any hour. Much easier, I think, than dealing with professional support.

    Does anybody “install” OS X 10? I’m sure they do but on a Dell Latitude 600 laptop?

    I think this point misses the mark. You’re right, but it’s an apples:oranges argument. Apple has its own hardware and intentionally makes its OS difficult to install on non-Apple hardware. I’m not happy about that, but it’s their right to do so. A Windows comparison is a better one here and, the fact is, I wouldn’t hesitate to install Windows on virtually any PC hardware, no matter how old (within reason). I suspect it would work just fine.

  7. Rob Wilkerson said...

    Thanks to Matt’s URI, a little digging from there and some after school, remedial help via IM, I did manage to get my wireless card recognized and system updates are downloading now. Thanks, Matt.

  8. Jonathan said...

    Rob, I’m with you here. I’ve got one of each of these machines, too. But I’ve also had frustrations with all three, not just Linux. Printing to a shared Windows printer, for instance, that is connected to the Vista box via USB, is theoretically possible from a Mac, but in practice is obviously impossible. Even with Snow Leopard. The Linux machine found the printer in question immediately and prints to it all day long. So it’s really just a matter of taste, not which one is “better,” per se. Or more accurately, it’s a matter of which features you absolutely need to function.

    On that note, do you know how to get a Mac to recognize a shared Windows printer???

  9. Rob Wilkerson said...

    Hey, Jonathan. You’re right, connecting to a Windows printer is a bit of a pain in the ass. I had to jump through hoops to get it to work in Tiger, but Leopard was much easier. I haven’t installed Snow Leopard yet. From what I can tell, it largely depends on the printer rather than the OS (as long as the printer is shared). For my printer (an old HP LaserJet 2100 on a Win2003 machine via serial cable), I had to use the Gutenprint (?) driver. For my current printer (recent model, networked HP), I had to install the drivers from the printer CD.

    I feel your pain and could not agree more that Mac is no more perfect than any other OS. It is, however, more perfect in the places that most matter to me. I tell people that it occupies that sweet spot between ease of creating/maintaining a dev environment and ease of doing all of the day to day stuff.