Given Apple’s increasingly evident distractedness from Mac OS development as it concentrates more on the mobile space with the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch, some are suggesting that Ubuntu captures the traditional “Mac” spirit and vision better than the actual Mac OS does these days.


A week ago, on April 29, Linux distro Canonical released Ubuntu 10.04 LTS (Lucid Lynx) in Desktop, Server and Netbook editions. It featured a new look that some rate more attractive and up-to-date than Snow Leopard’s. “Lucid Lynx’s” new graphics card drivers and other consumer-oriented innovations front a Linux-based operating system package containing all the essential productivity applications you need, all for free: a web browser, office suite, media apps, instant messaging and much more, and is being pitched as an open-source alternative to Windows and Office or Mac OS X and the iApps. Ubuntu’s core applications are all free and open source.

The Register’s Gavin Clarke reported last week that with Lucid Lynx, Canonical is hoping to entice Mac and Windows users to switch, quoting the company’s COO and blogger Matt Asay asserting that changes in the consumer-oriented Ubuntu 10.04 LTS edition will cause “Apple fanbois” to reconsider their love for Steve Jobs, while “milk-fed Windows users” will be less inclined to run screaming to their retailer to return their Ubuntu PCs.

Given Apple’s increasingly evident distractedness from Mac OS development as it concentrates more and more on the mobile space with the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch, some are also suggesting that Ubuntu captures the traditional “Mac” spirit and vision better than the actual Mac OS does these days.

In an April 28 essay anticipating the imminent Ubuntu 10.04 release, ServerWatch’s Paul Rubens said that Apple is fading from relevance in the computing space as it focuses more and more on phones, web tablets and other consumer gadgets, and that if you’re an old-style Apple fan (by which he means a fan of real Apple Mac computers, not so much the new Apples-R-Us toys and games company), there’s no need to fret because while Apple may not “get” it anymore, it seems Canonical does. He asserts that during the past 12 months Ubuntu has evolved into something that’s powerful, easy to use, and far more stylish than Snow Leopard, which he thinks is not really that surprising when you consider that Apple is far too busy with its iPhone OS to bother much with updating OS X. Rubens says that Ubuntu is innovative, forward-looking, stylish and fun, and rapidly becoming everything that OS X might’ve been had Apple not decided to turn its back on it and become fixated with iPhone OS — “except for being overpriced and closed.”

The concept of desktop Linux possibly better capturing the early-days essence of Mac culture isn’t entirely new. A decade ago I reported on another user-friendly Linux GUI project by a startup called Eazel. The Eazel team was spearheaded by a who’s who of Macintosh alumni. Staffers included Mike Boich — former head of Macintosh evangelism for Apple Computer; Andy Hertzfeld — lead programmer for original Mac OS development in the early ’80s who wrote much of the code that became the iconic Macintosh GUI; Susan Kare who did the graphic design for the original Mac OS Finder icons; Darin Adler who had been technical lead for System 7 development at Apple; and Bud Tribble — first software architect on the Macintosh project and manager of the original Macintosh software team. Mac people all from way back. Arguably, that bunch had a more purebred Macintosh “pedigree” than the folks who were developing OS X at the time.

I suggested back in 2000 that there was a case to be made that the thinking behind Eazel may well be truer to the original Mac essence than OS X itself. I wondered whether OS X would retain enough distinct classic Mac-ness, that je ne sais quois that made the Mac a Mac for many of us veteran users, to sustain the dogged loyalty that had characterized the Mac community through thick and thin for 16 years up to that point? Or would it be so NeXT like, or much, much worse, Windows-like, that hitherto Mac loyalists might be tempted to stray into other pastures? As it turned out, the Eazel project eventually withered on the vine, as it were, and we Mac OS fans adapted to OS X, which turned out to be a very decent computing environment, but lately there are rumblings that Apple is losing interest in the Mac OS with its focus shifting primarily to the mobile space.

Indeed, in his April 29 philippic against Adobe Flash, Steve Jobs appeared to refer to “the PC era” in the past tense, “implying that the computer and mouse paradigm is passé, with the mobile era being about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards (notwithstanding that ironically the iPhone OS environment is anything but ‘open’).”

Not so with Ubuntu, which is committed to traditional desktop and laptop computing, and where the ‘free’ in ‘free software’ is used primarily in reference to freedom, and not to price — although the company says it’s committed to not charging for Ubuntu, and that the most important thing about Ubuntu is that it confers rights of software freedom on the people who install and use it, freedoms that will enable the Ubuntu community to grow, continue to share its collective experience and expertise to improve Ubuntu and make it suitable for use in new countries and new industries.

What do you think? Does Canonical with Ubuntu have a realistic shot at convincing significant numbers of Mac OS and Windows users to switch?

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  1. Marin Todorov Thursday, May 6, 2010

    Well, to say Ubuntu is more relevant or better at user experience is just ludicrous.
    I have Ubuntu at work, mac at home – definitely can talk about it and believe me, Ubuntu is never going to be as stable & fast as my mac, even if my Ubuntu is 4core, 4gb ram etc. etc. it just does NOT deliver :)

    1. Have you even used UBUNTU??? or just commenting for the sake of it. Notice the version mentioned?

      Or do you simply not know enough about linux to get it working?

      As far as stable goes, no matter what you do, you can’t get the stabilty of linux. Mac crashes, on boot itself it it must, windows … do we even want to go there… linux no matter what you are free to fix it yourself…

      And do backup your great comment with some examples… that we all understand (time for instance).

      I know for a fact ubuntu boots in a max of 10 secs… and no I don’t have a new fanged pc… just a dual core and 2 Gb ram….

      1. Well, I’ve been a Linux user since 1998, used so many distros, Slack, Red Hat, Mandriva, Gentoo, Debian, you name it…
        The last 4 years used Ubuntu as my primary desktop.
        Six months ago I made the switch to OS X, and I tell you, Ubuntu is nowhere near. While it was fun to hack the system, I enjoyed to deal with every single X issue, application install, wireless driver, sound driver, missing gnome menus, and the list goes on and on…
        But I reached a point in my life that those things aren’t fun anymore, I want my computer to just works, and Ubuntu wasn’t helping. To say that linux boots in 10 secs and other OS’es crash on booting is just a lie, I had quite my share of kernel panics under every single distro I used. Funny enough, it was precisely boot time issues that made me do the final switch to OS X.
        I have all my Unix needs and a consistent UI. Sleep mode just works, wireless just works. And most of the time, I don’t need to fix things myself, that’s is not a feature… If you have to stop your work to mess with source code unrelated to what you were doing, than that’s not something desirable. For the vast majority of people, this alone is one reason to abandon the OS, even so if we’re talking about a desktop system.

      2. @Bob Well said… as a *nix user for the past ten years myself, I know exactly how you feel. The Mac OS switch to Unix is is what brought me over to the Mac in the first place.

        The beauty of a Mac, and I can still pop open a terminal and fire up vi when I want.

      3. LOL

        “Or do you simply not know enough about linux to get it working?”

        is the exact reason why no one outside tech blogs cares about linux: If I want to drive to the supermarkt, I put my key in my car and drive – I don’t need to change a cam belt first or calibrate the transmission.

        Funny that this comment is made in this thread since “simply working” is the essence of OS X

      4. FYI: I ran a datacenter for huge e-commerce site. One of the top 5. For the last two years, I do iPhone apps.

        I would use Linux for servers. Period.
        When I needed extra-heavy-duty I/O (like a SAN database) I went to SUN Enterprise servers.

        Windows for an environment like that? R U kidding?
        Apple? Not there for this type of environment.

        Ubuntu for all Intel based laptops. Works like a charm. If users are having trouble with Ubuntu and their laptops, it is their System Administrator’s fault!

        The trick to having a perfect Ubuntu experience across the enterprise is: Hardware Uniformity.

        Don’t mess around with weird hardware crap. Stick to a hardware configuration that works and have your SA’s work out any kinks.

        Your users should never-ever have to complain about Ubuntu. NEVER!!!

        I am using mostly MACS at home. I write iPhone apps and it is a necessity. However, my mother-in-law, who is an older lady, uses Ubuntu (on a HP laptop) and she loves it.

        I see no big difference between a MAC and a Ubuntu machine. A MAC is nothing more than Ubuntu running for a specific target machine.

        That’s why MACS work so well. They don’t have to worry about a thousand different configurations.

        Windows an a laptop? R U crazy?

        Windows is only for hard core apps that refuse to run on Linux or MAC. Those apps are getting fewer and fewer.

        If you need to run Windows, then just buy a machine and do it. Stuff like VMware and Parallels just don’t cut it as far as performance goes.

        Thank you for listening.

  2. It’s an interesting question to ask, but the answer is a rather easy and quick “no.” OS-X has always had a dock for instance and Ubuntu has a task bar. How can it be “closer to the essence” (which you never define BTW), when it doesn’t have a dock?

    Also, dig in beyond the thin surface layer and you run smack into full on Linux confusion and ugliness almost immediately. Also about as far from the original “essence” as you can get.

    1. cough He’s a writer from Low End Mac. OS X is the devil (until it’s a 4 year old version), Classic is king, and apparently IMAP can’t cache.

    2. Have you dug in beyond the “thin surface layer” of your precious OSX? Guess what “you run smack into”? Yep, that’d be UNIX (or a BSD derivative at least). So me thinks that someone should know what they’re talking about before they get all comment happy.

      1. In all fairness, if you stray outside (the admittedly nice) package managers, Linux software installation and control is a bit of a nightmare for average users.

      2. @D: That is a fair critique, but the very same thing can be said for Mac OS X. At least with Linux, the package managers generally have most every open source utility imaginable, even the very obscure ones.

        On Mac, this is not true. If it’s not in MacPorts, you are generally screwed. And even then, you usually have to compile the whole stack (including dependencies). It’s time consuming and nightmarish, and the reason why I dropped OS X from any computer I actually have to work on.

      3. Ouch, that is such a painfully dumb remark. I feel sorry for you.

  3. “except for being overpriced and closed”
    Are you serious about that?? This is certainly not describing Mac OS X. There is almost nothing that I can have on Ubuntu that I can’t get for SL…
    This being said, if I were a Windows user, I would definitely consider switching. Probably to Mac OS though… :)

    1. That “except for being overpriced and closed” was a quote from the Paul Rubens article mentioned earlier…hence it being in quotes. :)

  4. Patrick Santana Thursday, May 6, 2010

    I would say that Ubuntu is a good OS. I like to use it.
    You really could do this comparison with Windows OS, but regards to Mac OSX, it is really a joke.

    I use both system, but Ubuntu is still far from away Mac OSX.

    I see ubuntu server as a very good alternative for mac osx server. But desktop version. Ha ha ha ha ha

  5. ThePenciler Thursday, May 6, 2010

    I’ve felt this way about Ubuntu since the early days. Just visit the Ubuntu forums and you discover with refreshing realization that the people using Ubuntu are some of the nicest and even minded people you’ll meet in this “OS war” and it’s often infectious. Same deal with the community help documents. There’s no assumption that you’re an expert. And there’s no dumbing down of things. The Ubuntu community accepts you as you are and has you covered. That Mac feeling and humor that I first got from early subscriptions to MacAddict is definitely apparent with Ubuntu. And fun too. The various awareness campaigns are fun and interesting. Heck, I made an Ubuntu poster to celebrate it. http://the-penciler.deviantart.com/art/Ubuntu-Poster-No-Border-122740737

    I’m using Mac OS X 10.6.x now, but I would not have any issue using Ubuntu again. In fact I have VirtualBox with Ubuntu installed (along with many other OSes to be well rounded). Plus I know how to set up an Ubuntu box to the point that I would not end up wanting.

    I think to purely rate Ubuntu against the mainstream OSes on statistics alone sadly ignores what Ubuntu is about at its core and at the core of its community. And people taking the time to bash Ubuntu is unfortunate. A lot of it stems from ignorance of what you can do in Ubuntu and unfortunately a lazy attitude about it.

  6. Seriously, somebody who thinks thinks that Ubuntu is anything like Snow Leopard, not only in appereance but ESPECIALLY in ease of use should seriously consider an asylum.

  7. curtismchale Thursday, May 6, 2010

    I personally love Ubuntu. I’ve put a number of friends on it as their first machine and it’s awesome. The latest update just makes it even better.

    For me the only issue is that I can’t run the latest versions of Adobe software on it. As a professional designer unfortunately Adobe is the standard for sharing files. I’ve tried GIMP and Inkscape and while they are nice they just don’t cut the mustard compared to Photoshop. I’d also agree that photoshop is a pig that has way too many features now.

    1. “The latest update just makes it even better”. Really? Do you mean the Ubuntu 9.10 with new default theme?

      How in god’s name is Ubuntu 10.04 any better than the previous version? Ubuntu 10.04 = Ubuntu 9.10 + new theme + ‘Mac OS X’-like icons.

      1. @UBUNTARD
        I think you’re correct. I have U9 and U10.04 installed on my MacBook Pro [in Paralells 5]. In a side-by-side comparison there is nothing new, except for theme and some useless freeware.

  8. No. And your understanding of the “Mac Vision and Spirit” is, at best, misguided.

  9. Ubuntu is still far from Mac OS X and Canonical is dreaming if they think is not. I have a special distaste for its typographical render engine. To me, most text feels wrong in Ubuntu, like in all linux.

    1. Oooh, that’s soo nice… Did you know that default text rendering is subpixel smoothing? And do you know who owns that patent? Oooh… yes it’s Apple… so stop bsing and get some facts straight!

      1. Raffael Erhart Dane Thursday, May 13, 2010

        The font rendering in Linux IS horrible. Have a look yourself.

  10. Will @ OS X Daily Thursday, May 6, 2010

    Most average users in the real world don’t have time to babysit an operating system, which is what you have to do if you are running Linux as a desktop OS. It doesn’t matter what window manager you are running or how pretty the GUI is, some of the most mundane tasks inevitably don’t work. You’ll be forced to read MAN pages and google around for the most obscure answers to questions you shouldn’t even be having to ask (try hooking up a digital camera and just downloading pictures, or installing a scanner/printer/fax combo and having everything work, for instance).

    Linux is an amazing server platform and certainly has its strengths, but it’s not as a desktop OS for the average computer user.

    1. I’m a perfectly average computer user with no special knowledge and I have been exclusively using various Linux distros for the last 4 years. In that time I have never had to look at a single MAN page and all of my peripherals such as scanner/printer/fax and web cams have just worked straight away. I’ve never had any problem downloading photographs and never had to google any information regarding how to do anything with the OS. Your comment seems to come from at best out dated knowledge and at worst pure ignorance. I suggest you try Ubuntu 10.4 before you carry on making such misinformed statements.

      1. I am a rather average computer user as well and decided to try out 9.10. After needing to sift through the internet to figure out how to install an application and what happens after it is installed I gave it a resounding “NO THANK YOU” and never bothered with it again.

        I think it’s humorous that people try to make the argument that Ubuntu is fine for average computer users. If i made my parents use this they would disown me.

      2. I think you under-rate yourself. If you’ve been using Linux for four years you aren’t average.

        Don’t get me wrong: the Enemy of my Enemy is my friend.

        I look forward to the day when Linux is so bulletproof that NOBODY needs to know how to compile anything: on that day, I hope Linux chokes the life out of Windows.

        But it’s not there yet.

      3. @clearzero: That’s specious reasoning. Just because you have to learn how to do something doesn’t mean it’s hard, it simply means that it’s outside of your usual frame of reference. I once spent half an hour trying to figure out how to uninstall a program on OSX, couldn’t find Add/Remove Programs anywhere…I came from a Windows environment and didn’t dream you could just drop an app in the trash. Does that mean OSX is harder to use? Of course it doesn’t, it’s actually much easier.

        Package management on Ubuntu is worlds easier than Windows or OSX. You open the install program, you search for the program name or a set of keywords, and you click Install. It’s a hell of a lot easier than having to poke around on the Web looking for an installer program, and it’s a more consistent experience than exes versus zips on Windows and StuffIt versus dmg on OSX.

        Now, if you actually find yourself wanting to install something that’s not in the repos, yeah, that can be tricky. But I haven’t had to do that in ages.

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