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Wal-Mart Offers Linux as Windows Alternative (2003) (rhizome.org)
68 points by dannyrosen 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 157 comments

Anyone else here remember LindowsOS (later changed its name to Linspire)?

In the early 2000's (around the time of the article), they were trying to get point and click simplicity for installing software (which even back then was abundant in Linux). I remember a few others distros, like Mandriva (Mandrake at the time) had graphical package managers. There were others.

To anyone who's curious and feels like giving old Linux distros a try, https://old-linux.com/ is a good resource. Unfortunately I can't find any mirrors of repos with packages that go back to 1998 and early 2000's.

> Anyone else here remember LindowsOS...

I don't just remember, I ordered the desktop!

Linspire's attempt at low-cost did Linux a lot of harm. The desktop was under-powered, their software manager lacked too many apps and... it still suffered from dependency hell - leading to breakage.

While it looked nice, the polish wasn't there. Eventually, I found Mepis and everything just worked but I didn't have enough knowledge & (especially) time to stick with it. It was years before I attempted to go full-time Linux again. I still did lots and lots of distro-hopping though

I'm happy to report that I've been a full-time Linux user the last three years (Mint, for the curious). The entire landscape has changed enough that I have even effortlessly transitioned three users. Most users aren't heavy downloaders like me, so once they have their core apps, they're happy. It literally is click-n-play as far as usage now with the benefit of tremendous built-in hardware support when doing installs.

I worked at Lindows/Linspire so below is obviously biased.

> The desktop was under-powered

It was the first sub $200 PC, what did you expect? The PC actually sold very well.

> their software manager lacked too many apps and... it still suffered from dependency hell - leading to breakage.

It was Debian under the hood and later Ubuntu and had every package in respective apt repo. It made available every major GUI based desktop app at the time via a graphical installer as the target user had no clue what CLI was nor “apt-get”. This turned a lot of existing Linux users off but they (you) were never the target market.

Linspire also made huge strides in specifically addressing dependencies including developing a package manager called Opium (https://cseweb.ucsd.edu/~lerner/papers/opium.pdf). A number of these features went on to be folded directly into apt itself.

> Linspire's attempt at low-cost did Linux a lot of harm.

To the target market/user Linspire did far more good than harm. To the community, Linspire/Lindows gave back a ton. This included:

  - Financial supporter to Wine
  - Financial supporter to ResierFS (far ahead of any filesystem at the time… horrible tragedy what happened with his wife Nina)
  - Financial supporter to Debian (RIP Ian)
  - Financial supporter to Mozilla Firefox/Thunderbird (ex. inline spell checking was first found in Linspire)
  - Funded gaps in applications such as NVU HTML editor
  - First sub $200 PC in retail store 
  - First commercial “app store” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CNR_(software))
  - Was sued for Microsoft for trademark infringement and walked away with $20 million (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microsoft_Corp._v._Lindows.com,_Inc.)
  - Fastest Linux installer at the time by wide margin
  - Early adopter of Haskell 
  - First distro to use Bittorrent for distribution
  - Funded Desktop Linux Summit
  - Funded initiative to translate major apps into 50+ languages
All told Linspire put millions per year back into the community. One can argue business model to death but over 10 years of hindsight now show that consumers simply had no appetite for commercial desktop Linux (nor do they still).

Where Linspire really fell on its face was running as root. There could have been much more elegant solutions to solve this but decision was solely outside of engineering.

IMHO, there is a market for desktop linux. My wife and my (old) mother have linux (ubuntu gnome). I provide the (remote) support. I think one of the problems of desktop linux is that it tries to much to mimic windows with its limitatiions. As an old linux user, I want network transparency. In particular, I want to be able to wake my PC from my phone, to connect to it to browse and download files, then to shut it down. Graphical remote access (like vnc) would be appreciated.

There are many, many remote desktop solutions for Windows, and they even solve the NAT piercing problem for you. How often do you use X network sessions over the internet (i.e., not on a LAN)? 15 years ago I used remote X via LAN quite a lot, but getting it to work over the internet was always a royal PITA, to the point where I stopped bothering. VNC-like approaches for Windows (CoPilot and similar) pretty much always work on the first try (well they did 5-ish years ago when I last used them - can't say for sure right now).

There are Wake On LAN Android apps, and I presume IOS too. There are many mobile torrent clients, and shell emulators. Those who can work with a CLI can set up their desktop/server/mobile integration on Windows just as easily as on Linux. Look, it's true that for some things Linux (rather, 'a Unixy OS') is easier, but that doesn't mean there's a market for desktop Linux. Those who are hardcore enough to want it, don't want to pay for it; and those who want to pay have plenty of solutions on Windows.

Screenshot of the LindowsOS desktop on Wal-Mart website: https://imgur.com/3VsE0zL

Forum thread with information on the system details / costs of LindowsOS desktops at Wal-Mart: https://www.dbstalk.com/community/index.php?threads/wal-mart... (June 2002)

I think that I've got full CD sets for Mandrake and Red Hat 7 or so around somewhere. Or maybe partial for Mandrake, and full for Red Hat? I'd have to look around and see what I've kept, over the years. It should certainly be more than the 1-2 disks that most of those earlier distros have on that page, but only maybe 1 or 2 releases.

Found 3 disks of Mandrake 8.1, one disk of Mandrake 9.0, and one of Slackware 11.

I know that I've got a few of Red Hat 8, and at least one of 9, because I had the book "Red Hat Linux 8 for Dummies", and downloaded the extra disks from Red Hat themselves afterwards. I think that book's in my (sleeping) son's room, along with some other mid-2000s Linux disks.

I bought a Dell linux laptop in 2008 with Ubuntu that I used as a primary machine for a few years. This was a few years later of course, but linux machines were definitly "doable" back then. I still have it. It runs xubuntu (14.04) well.

It would probably run Xubuntu 16.04 just as well too :) My Dell desktop form the same year does.

Lubuntu is even lighter.

I have modern hardware but still use Lubuntu.

Last week I was sitting in an undergraduate lecture hall with hundreds of students. I looked back at their laptops and it was a sea of Apple logos.

We've traded one monopoly for another.

That's because MacOS is the Unix/Linux desktop done correctly. Gives both power users, and my grandmother, what they want in that environment, with a proper interface, and good software.

I used to think so too. I used ubuntu desktop and macbook for laptop for years. But every year the macbook has shifted to be more for your grandmother than me. Its always been overpriced but for the hardware you are getting now you really have to accept that you are a sucker to buy one. At an OS level everything is slightly different- different versions of tools, different packages, etc. My software is going to run on redhat or ubuntu based servers in production, so using those OS's everywhere makes life just a little bit more pleasant. And, do I even have to mention that stupid fucking strip at the top? What kind of programmer is ok with a virtual ESC key? I dont really pay attention to mac news but the last series had a huge battery problem that the company didnt seem to even bother fixing?

Windows for PUBG and Overwatch. Linux for everything else. But yeah if my grandmother asked me to get her a laptop I'd probably go with a mac.

Linux for me, Chromebooks for everyone else.

Probably like many here, I have to support several family members' personal computing needs. I switched them all from Windows first to Linux, and then Chromebooks, and each time support became five times easier.

With Chromebooks, the only support I have done in the last year has been getting a cloud printer working again.

Even for me (a full time Linux guy) Chromebooks have become very attractive since they added Android app support. I can get quite a lot done on my dinky Chromebook over ssh in Termux, without even having to bother with Crouton.

> Gives both power users

Oh really? No package manager included (need brew for that), removal of most GNU tools, nothing open sourced about the OS, "good software" is hardly relevant when you see the breakage they cause when moving users to the newest version... Additionally the desktop style is hideous and if you don't like it, you can't change it. Nothing to do with a proper "Linux desktop".

And Macs are expensive. That's not what most users want.

> No package manager included (need brew for that)

So power users install it

> removal of most GNU tools

installed after you install brew

> nothing open sourced about the OS

No one really cares. Really, no one cares.

> And Macs are expensive. That's not what most users want.

Amazing that they sell so many of them then. Of course people don't 'want' expensive, but I have yet to find a laptop built with the same quality as a mac (trackpad is a biggie for me), and people are ok paying for status symbols.

Linux isn't there for personal use. I use Linux for various dev tasks, but it's painful, and when you run into a problem it's too quick to throw you to the terminal for a solution. That alone means most people will never use Linux.

> Of course people don't 'want' expensive, but I have yet to find a laptop built with the same quality as a mac (trackpad is a biggie for me), and people are ok paying for status symbols.

They sell well among their target demographics, which is people who don't have strict budgets along with people who like showing off. I know, I have people like that in my own family and among my friends. I don't mind them, but assuming that it's for everyone is just misleading and false. Working on a Mac from scratch if you come from other experiences is just awkward and require a lot of investment.

> Linux isn't there for personal use.

It's just because you lack familiarity with it. If you had spent 10 years using Linux, you'd find Windows and Mac "not there for desktop use" either. What does desktop use mean anyway? I do everything on my Linux desktop, including video editing, photo editing, audio editing, and as well as all typical other stuff like browsing, watching movies and consuming content. What's "not there yet?" I have converted several folks to Linux and my amount of tech support for them has dropped to about one question per year, compared to the numerous issues they had with Windows. That's not a Mac vs Linux comparison, but if you assume Windows is not a bad desktop experience, then Linux is certainly at an even better level. At the same hardware your computer will be way more snappy with a Linux distro than anything else you throw at it, and don't get me started on customization, where Mac and Windows just completely lose.

Yep. I put Ubuntu on my old Macbook for this reason. Was tired of the "Linux like" environment of Mac OS for my software work.

Given that there are more MacOS than Linux machines, I'd say that is exactly what users want:

(And don't get into some "But Android is linux" nonsense)

With the exception of the desktop space, from tiny embedded machines to the world's top supercomputers, linux installs dwarf any other OS. If you want to compare 'macos' and 'linux' machines at that level, macos is just a blip.

Linux is hardly marketed by any single company with billions of dollars in cash, so I'd say the comparison is completely moot.

You mix marketing induced needs with rationality

> ... removal of most GNU tools ...

It is not that GNU tools were removed. It is more like GNU tools were not added. There is no reason too. Mac provides its own POSIX compliant tools. If you prefer GNU tools, well there is GNU/Linux. If you don't mind more traditional POSIX compliant tools, then macOS is a good option, as are FreeBSD, OpenBSD, etc.

> Mac provides its own POSIX compliant tools. If you prefer GNU tools, well there is GNU/Linux.

The point is that MacOS does not really give you much choice (until you start hacking around with homebrew).

GNU is Not Unix! Nor is it Linux. MacOS was a Unix, not sure if it technically still is, but if not it has Unix roots. And it is simple, the vast majority of users don't need a CLI package manager, they get the App Store and downloading from the web. If you want one there are package managers. Also Darwin is open source, it isn't developed in the open but they do release sources last time I checked.

"The vast majority of users ..." argument is just another way to rephrase "it's not for power users". CLI utilities and development tools is exactly where a proper package manager comes in handy.

I would be ok with MacOS if Apple wouldn't try so hard to sell me everything else from them. If they instead would push more to open standards and iteroperability, but they are busy building a prison for their customers where they can push them all their products down their throat.

Microsoft is doing the same, but in my opinion not that extreme, because they aren't as successful with it as Apple is.

Google and all the other big corps are doing it too to some degree and thats why I try to stay away from them as far as I can.

That "prison" you speak of, is exactly why people buy into the Apple ecosystem.


More like a Swedish prison, less like Holman Correctional.

Well a comfortably padded cell. :-)

To me a MacBook Pro with productivity apps and Ubuntu VMs in Fusion for software development is a pretty nice environment.

We're a Mac shop developer-wise (I'm one of the dozen or so of us that runs Linux), and I hear no amount of grief from the Mac users for random problems with wifi, VPN, etc. They also complain of performance issues (hangs, lockups, etc.). Some of the perf problems are certainly caused by the "security" junk IT has put on the systems, which I'm lucky not to have. But overall I have fewer complaints running Linux on my dev box than other developers have with MacOS, it seems.

I wouldn't put a Linux desktop in front of a non-technical user (yes, I know, people are successful at this, but...), but I still find it to be a much better developer OS than MacOS is.

I've been a Mac user for decades and I think I'm reaching the end of the line; it's always been just enough of a better overall experience to keep me paying the "Apple tax" over Linux on commodity x86 hardware, but the gap has seemingly been narrowing each year.

Sadly, too much of that narrowing is due to Apple ceding the advantage for me to be exactly happy with it (although there has been progress on the Linux front; things have come a long way, certainly). I'm still running MacOS 10.10 right now, and when something finally breaks, I don't know if I can stomach the thought of a forced upgrade to Sierra with its "System Integrity Protection". No, thanks.

You can disable System Integrity Protection pretty easily.

I've used Linux full-time at work, and while most things are fine, VPNs, WebEx meetings, Evernote, MS Office documents, Spotify and Skype are not. Spotify and Skype at least offer Linux versions, but they are for the most part terrible and not maintained.

With Windows running in a VM I could get through a workday just fine, but its an additional hassle and a good chunk of your RAM.

I'm using a Mac now (on Sierra), and for the most part its a great experience. That may change as this 2013 MBP dies and I'm forced to use that awful touch bar.

Yep, it still depends to some extent what apps you absolutely need. Fortunately I don't need any of the problematic stuff. We're on OpenVPN, use Zoom and LifeSize for meetings (both of which work fine using the native or web clients), generally use GDocs for most things, and personally I use Google Music (though when I last used Spotify I found their native Linux app to be fine... their Android app was much worse). I dunno, just depends on your needs, I guess.

Spotify gives me absolutely zero issues on Linux. What type of issues are you seeing with it?

Unable to play local files without crashing, enabling MPRIS2 support so I could control Spotify from other apps resulted in a giant toast notification for every song in the middle of my screen, which I couldn't disable.

Evernote, MS Office, Spotify and Skype all have web clients.

Correct, but they're very bad experiences compared to the native clients. Skype for instance (last I tried) didn't support screen sharing. Web Spotify won't let you listen to high quality audio or listen to local tracks. Office Web won't open or properly format large documents. Evernote's web UI (granted, as of 2014) was borderline unusable.

Different expectations? With Linux you're kind of expecting to get your hands dirty whereas Mac is supposed to "just work".

There's a trade-off still in that with Linux, often you have to spend time fixing things that you wouldn't accept to be broken on an OS you paid for, but at least you can often fix them.

Whereas on MacOS, you're stuck with the decisions Apple made about their window and workspace management, both of which I abhor even after giving MacOS a shot for a year.

Neither is right or wrong, but I feel the same surprise of GP. I don't understand how you could say "proper interface" as if there are no flaws.

I had the same reaction to MacOS. It's permanently chafing me versus forcing me to fix something myself once. I don't see how that's a preferable option.

That said, if I could only use one computer and OS, it would be a Mac simply because it's the best set of compromises. I can play a few games, I can run things like Lightroom and Photoshop that have no compelling (to me) open source alternative, and I can use a serviceable if clunky Unix environment for serious work. But it's worse at any specific thing I want to do. It's just better than any single alternative at doing all of them.

Do you find much broken on Linux distros. My impression with Ubuntu is it only breaks when I mess around with it - which I do a lot. I imagine LTS installs are pretty stable and don't require "tinkering"?

FWIW my family all use Win10 and I'm called to fix that pretty often (latest: an update wiped out ability to view any JPEGs by associating TWINUI, on a desktop, with loads of filetypes).

I do prefer an OS that doesn't have the bonnet welded shut.

If you deliberately buy a computer to run Linux, as you do with macOS, there really isn't any fixing involved nowadays. It just works. You may need to disable SecureBoot.

Except for that libinput bug which crippled my mouse for a year or so.

This on Debian.

(I'm not even going to start on SystemDestroyer.)

I've been using Linux for > 20 years. It still manages to fuck up really, really badly at times. At an increasing rate.

It remains my preferred OS, but the self-inflicted problems are getting quite annoying.


Libinput is sadly one of the new breed of code, from the wayland crew, that is supposed to make things simpler (for who though, i can't help they mean simpler for them rather than for users/admins).

It is part of the code/project churn that i so wish the Linux ecosystem could get over and accept that one gets better software in the long run by continual refinement of existing code (no matter how crufty it may look at first glance) than constantly churning out new code.

>Except for that libinput bug which crippled my mouse for a year or so.

Try to install hackintosh, your silly debian bugs would look like a joke to you after that. Srsly, you are comparing OS, preinstalled on certified hardware, with debian, which works on ppc, x86, raspberry pi and so on.

The mouse and basic mouse inputs are things which absolutely should not break. Let alone for a bloody year.

And yet it did.

Someone's failing to mind their knitting.

Mind: I've seen some far worse breakage of other elements, and all very frustrating. But this is ... just exceptionally hard to excuse.

After keyboard issues (I'm dealing with those on another system -- hardware, mobile, ergo, not just a "well, replace the keyboard then" matter), mouse is very nearly as annoying. Screen/display would be up there as well.

Get your basic input, output, and storage right at the very least.

As for installing Debian on various kit -- I'm more than slightly familiar with it. Including doing zmodem transfers of UUEncoded DEBs over serial port in order to get PLIP up so that I could get PCMCIA ethernet running. Bootstraping from the Potato root tarball split out over ramdisks having initially booted Tom's Root Boot. Partition the hard drive, then cat the tarball into one piece, and untar.

(PLIP is actually surprisingly useful, it turns out.)

> As for installing Debian on various kit -- I'm more than slightly familiar with it. Including doing zmodem transfers of UUEncoded DEBs over serial port in order to get PLIP up so that I could get PCMCIA ethernet running. Bootstraping from the Potato root tarball split out over ramdisks having initially booted Tom's Root Boot. Partition the hard drive, then cat the tarball into one piece, and untar.

As a 'young' linux sysadmin (approaching 10-ish years), I felt like I was sitting at granpappy's feet listening to a story just then :)

Get off my lawn!

The fun part is that there are tools to address virutally any situation you're likely (or unlikely) to run into. If you know how the pieces work, how they come apart, and how to put them back together, you can to a hell of a lot.

Well, it was. I think the high water mark for MacOS as a Unix-with-a-nice-UI will, in retrospect, be back around 10.8 or 10.10. The latest iterations have been stagnation in most respects, except for iOS-like functionality that's been forklifted over, and increasing lockdown that makes it hard for a user to have control over their own hardware. Oh, and broken binary compatibility with older versions of the OS (by removing ObjC GC support), which is really just nice.

Every OS manufacturer has tried its hand at "convergence" across desktops and mobile. Apple seems no different. I'm not sure why, but OS vendors seem drawn to the concept like moths to a flame, and it's always a mess.

I'd place the high water mark a bit earlier, probably around 10.6. They mostly hadn't started removing or dumbing down stuff yet: you still had Front Row, because they weren't trying to sell you Apple TV; it was new enough to have the modern Cocoa Finder but also still provided Rosetta; iOS influences weren't a problem yet; iCloud wasn't so deeply integrated and File menus still showed Save As by default; multi-monitor use hadn't yet been ruined by the new full-screen app modes; you still had real scrollbars and the OS didn't make the mistake of treating indirect touchpad scrolling the same as direct touchscreen scrolling.

There's still a lot to like about newer versions, but the stuff that was removed on the way to 10.6 I was mostly glad to see go (excessive brushed metal) or at least don't miss now, while there are some things from 10.6 that are now gone and I still miss them.

I don't see the removal of ObjC GC as all that bad, especially in comparison to the death of the Cocoa-Java bridge. At least the former offered a compelling migration path for actively maintained software, in the form of ARC.

> Every OS manufacturer has tried its hand at "convergence" across desktops and mobile. Apple seems no different. I'm not sure why, but OS vendors seem drawn to the concept like moths to a flame, and it's always a mess.

That is an interesting observation. Off the top of my head I can think of: MS, BeOS, MacOS, and Ubuntu.

I want freedom and access to the source code of my OS and desktop. Wish I could have that with Apple

I do too. But what really gets me with Apple is that they're unwilling to grant even freedom 0 - you can buy a copy of OSX - but you're not allowed to run it on non-appearance hw. So you can't legally run a gnu/Linux desktop on a lenovo laptop and run OSX in a vm. But you can run Linux and Windows on a macbook.

You do have access to the source code of the underlying operating system itself with Darwin don't you?

But not Cocoa and the UI :/

Which is the good stuff. This is similar to the them open-sourcing Swift, but none of the libraries like UIKit that actually make it worth using for open source.

I'm still holding out hope that GNUStep will fix that someday.

Please be realistic here, no one is asking for that when looking for a computer. You, and your peers are an incredibly small fraction of a percent.

They don't know that they can ask.

But people —average people— do that for their food, their cars, their homes, their personal appearance. This includes clothes, hairstyles, after market pigmentations, permanent and temporary, as well as extra holes and plugs in their epidermis in all sorts of novel and creative ways.

They ask for customisation on their vacations, hotel stays, upgrades on airplane tickets and car rentals. People ask for concessions on their employment contracts, seek special arrangements for schooling, loans and mortgages.

Some even customise their computer hardware, slapping stickers on custom cases, adding fancy illumination, aftermarket cooling, fancier peripherals, upgrades, et cetera, ad nausea.

And companies jump at the chance to chance to service these requests.

But not commercial software and operating systems. They are special snowflakes apparently.

I and my peers are an incredibly small fraction of a percent? 2% anyway. But sure, ok, a small group.

But we're loud, and we're having it our way. We make sure people see us having it our way, so they will start asking to have it their way too. Whatever that way might be.

And it's working. Which is why that "incredibly small fraction of a percent" somehow motivated Microsoft to add bash to Windows. They weren't catering to average people. Or why there is growing interest in customising Mac OS. https://www.reddit.com/r/unixporn/comments/61gdup/ricing_mac...

Not much I can add, except to say I completely agree, and that this is incredibly well written.

Thanks. I'm glad you agree, and I'm pleased that you liked my writing.

We might be a small fraction, but we are a vocal fraction. Our rage might be impotent, but it is very loud.

For such a small group, we've won some large concessions. Some of them have probably benefitted you.

That's because MacOS is the Unix/Linux desktop advertised correctly.

What I mean is:

Market share of Mac is tens of times more than Linux.

Not because its that much better.

The hardware/software integration is a big part of it, it's not just the software.

Linux attempts a much harder task than MacOS, in trying to be compatible with a wide variety of hardware. That it's even considered remotely comparable to a product that's sold only on a few supported platforms at a time is impressive. (In fairness, Windows manages this too, although it does it by forcing most of the work on hardware vendors and OEMs to do driver development and integration, respectively.)

Although a few companies have tried over the years to do Linux preinstalled on private-label hardware, thus taking the hardware-compatibility and installation issues out of the picture, there's sort of a chicken-and-egg issue with doing it at scale. Apple has managed to always have just enough volume to compete with commodity systems (even if just barely compete, particularly on price) but present a tightly-coupled hardware/software package.

When i read about the "hardware integration" of OSX/macOS/whatever I really have to wonder.

Power 32 bit is dead. Apple never ventured into other architectures. macOS (and OSX 10.whatever plus since the mid 2000s) are running on x86 and stumbling towards ARM; iOS runs on ARM. It's still commodity hardware, just like Windows and Linux.

I understand that Apple supports a much smaller set of hardware and drivers, but in my mind it's not really 'integration' the way, say, dinosaurs like SPARC + Solaris or POWER virtualization under AIX is integrated hardware with software. I'm really just being cranky here and splitting hairs.

This isn't HW integration at the CPU level, but the whole damned device chipset. Apple know what network, WiFi, video, audio, network, camera, USB, FireWire, or whatever else device(s) are going to be on the system. They can buy out entire production runs of hardware if need be. And if there are changes to spec, they can stay on top of that as well.

Linux ... takes what you throw at it. It does this pretty damned well most of the time, but I've lived and seen the challenges.

Broadcom chipsets. Nvidia. Dell's so-called RAID controllers (PERC). WiFi.

Audio, trackpad (at least for single-touch), networking, and WiFi not so much any more, though bootloaders and telco kit remain issues.

The fact that sometimes things in the Linux ecosystem just break is pretty daunting for any company that wants to make money selling Linux boxes. For example sound was good for a while and then PulseAudio happened and it was terrible; these days PulseAudio is supposed to be okay, but if you were selling laptops in 2007 and the sound on those laptops broke in 2010 you've got a big problem on your hands as a vendor. It's difficult to insulate yourself from because you don't know which hardware is going to break tomorrow and you might not be able to fix it but your customers probably quite reasonably want to upgrade their computers. Even PC-BSD is not immune when, for example, KDE 4 is released.

Apple owns the software that runs on their computers. None of these problems will ever happen to Apple. This has been around:


> Apple owns the software that runs on their computers. None of these problems will ever happen to Apple.

None of my Classic software runs on a modern Mac. No PowerPC software runs on a modern Mac. I think those problems do happen to Apple's users.

The one company which does take this sort of thing seriously is … Microsoft. I hate using their OS, and so I don't, but I gotta respect them for that.

That's entirely beside the point. I was 't talking about what happens to you, as a user. I was talking about what happens to Apple. Apple knows when its stuff is going to break. System76, in some ways, may not always know. That makes it hard for them to provide guarantees.

The last 90% of polish is what makes the difference however.

You meant the last 10% of polish which requires 90% of effort makes the difference?

Yeah, seriously; I think it all really comes down to willingness/ability to learn. My grandfather came to computers very late in life and has since managed to pick up every Windows iteration since 95, Ubuntu, ChromeOS, and OS X with aplomb. He loves his iPad best, though (mainly for Skype and FaceTime). My mother, in the meanwhile, struggles to use Word.

The user experience of an Apple laptop may be 10 times better than a Linux laptop for the types of things most people want a computer to do. Consider the out of the box battery life experience for example.

>That's because MacOS is the Unix/Linux desktop done correctly.

Isn't it kinda Unix/BSD (non-Linux) desktop?

It's actually a NeXTSTEP fork with FreeBSD code integrated in.

>It's actually a NeXTSTEP fork with FreeBSD code integrated in.

Sure, but NextStep itself belongs to the BSD family.



Anyway, the accent in my previous post was more on the non-Linux nature of the MacOS.

Then say "Mac OS X belongs to the BSD family". Don't call it a fork of FreeBSD.

Reasonably derived from FreeBSD I suppose. It's obvious to most that they made their own components on top of the work already done on FreeBSD, in some versions they've done updates to Darwin to match more current FreeBSD versions (guessing core components / kernel), not sure if they bother anymore as much though.

It is actually more complicated than that.



There is a "base" of MACH/NextStep that is partially based on "original" BSD and then there are some parts added later coming from both FreeBSD and NetBSD.

I think it's strange that there isn't any Linux distro yet that successfully mimics the good parts of the UI of OSX.

Cohesion is something that can't be mimicked; you have to actually build out the entire ecosystem of apps with a consistent look and feel. That's a monumental task.

I think the lack of imitation is because people don't actually like OSX UI, other than people who are simply accustomed to it, or who like the idea or the fashionable commodity luxury appeal of Apple products. If people actually liked it for qualities divorced from brand or narrow experience, those of that group who had deeply held FOSS beliefs would have had any number of widely used workable imitations by now.

Apple UI is bad. The belief that it is good is largely religious and a result of branding.

Can you offer any specifics about what makes the OS X/macOS UI so bad? And is there anything you think Apple's UI does better than most other platforms?

Elementary and Fedora come close. It's the hardware that's the stumbling block.

Elementary has a ton of hype so I tried it recently (laptop OS X, desktop Windows/Linux) and...man... Going to a well-supported desktop, and to the keyboard and the mouse I like should alleviate the hardware thing and it really doesn't. It's still GTK. And GTK just feels weird and gross regardless of hardware. As a GNOMEalike goes, Elementary seems just fine, probably a cut above (though it won't replace Mint/Cinnamon for me at the moment because I value how little Mint gets in my way). But it is still a GNOMEalike even with all its custom apps. It's really frustrating.

You haven't actually said anything bad about it except "It's GNOME".

Could you explain what's bad about GNOME?

GTK (and EFL, which Elementary actually uses and was absolutely indistinguishable to me in casual use, but I know GNOME and derivatives better) feels bad and makes me sad to use it. Like...that's it. And I realize that's not a satisfying answer, and that it's super subjective, but that's pretty much it. Navigating around feels off, the way it nods to OS X but adds very obviously Windows stuff on top of it is kind of hard to deal with, it doesn't feel cohesive. It also looks pretty rough (too much unrelieved flat-panel gray) and text rendering is nowhere near as nice as OS X.

My Linux Mint desktop runs Cinnamon, but it's a lot less of a pain there because the only apps I run are Atom, Chrome, and Terminator (which is not a great terminal emulator but whatever, it's fine).

[Woops - apologies for wall of text. The HN reply box is very small, I didn't realize I typed this much.]

FWIW, I think what you're describing may fall under https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncanny_valley. It's a pet theory I've had for a while.

I, too, have thought that GTK has a sense of "un-finished-ness" ever since I saw it for the first time. My first impressions of GTK (circa 2006) were that it looked quaint, but didn't seem reasonable for serious use.

People had a go at XP's Luna theme for being "Fisher-Price" too - the kind of thing they might give a[n ostensibly less-intelligent] family member (or similar) to use, but not something they'd use themselves.

This draws an interesting distinction between the equally important halves of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Look_and_feel: you can legitimately judge an OS by its look and get a few people to agree with you, but if the feel is right, the OS will win anyway.

I've always thought the GTK guys have very conspicuously lacked anyone who understands what the feel part of UX is, or that they need someone who understands that. Either that, or the threshold we're discussing is only fixable by doing work in every application. Objectively I do figure that the GNOME project has at least one decent UI designer on board, so it's more likely that it's probably something that requires collective single-minded agreement on a standard, something that requires focused investment from app developers, or both.

I've tried Enlightenment too, once several years ago, and once a few months ago. I don't actually remember what my setup of a few years ago looked like, but I remember there being a cute water effect animation for the desktop, which was really cool (especially the fact that it ran seemingly perfectly smoothly on a _several_-year-old 700MHz Pentium III laptop!). More recently I tried it out again (specifically focusing on Terminology), on a ridiculously old machine (800MHz Duron) as well as a modern i3 box. The Duron more or less choked full stop, but testing on the i3 was like... I've thrown all this extra hardware at this thing, and for what? I'm not really getting that much here.

Enlightenment is nice, but it also feels incomplete. I think E and GNOME probably both suffer from limited user testing and validation. The thing with for example Windows is that you have both official testing groups (and the presumable video data from sessions) along with an entire company of designers and developers to make noise about features. The result is something that feels incredibly intuitive and comfortable to use at the little-things-so-small-your-brain-doesn't-consciously-notice-them level, which, tying back to Uncanny Valley, is I think the area that makes the absolute most difference.

Worded differently, I very occasionally try and clip out loops of music I listen to. (I'm still looking for a nondestructive, fast music editor for Linux that will let me crossfade stuff. I find it hard to believe this doesn't exist. I use Rezound at the moment, I'm yet to see if Radium explodes on my ancient ThinkPad.) But with the looping thing, sometimes I'll extract a clip out of a song, and after Repeat #471 (where I've been repeatedly playing just the loop point), I reckon it sounds pretty good... so I zoom out and play the entire ~30 second loop... and suddenly the loop point sounds incredibly out of place. I think a similar thing can happen in any sort of abstract, subjective design - designers and developers can spend so much time on their work that they temporarily lose ground truth (possibly using a mechanism that shares some traits with https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semantic_satiation, something I descovered recently). That's why a giant testing/validation/feedback team who are paid to shout at you and tell you why your thing is terrible is NEEDED. Open source doesn't have enough of this - it's either toxic vitriol that needs IP-blacklisting or 10 PRINT "that is the most awesome thing ever" 20 GOTO 10. Well, in more cases than is useful, at least; I'm sure sensible discussion does take place, but if it worked this wall of text and associated commentary wouldn't exist...

Finally, I think that, in trying to make something absolutely amazing, these projects are "punching above their weight", if you will; trying to put out a product beyond their collective capacity, either deliberately or indirectly. In every aspect of life, any activity can be engaged, but not every activity can be pulled off with confidence and competence. Trying something without confidence frequently doesn't work; trying something with confidence but without competence often turns to disaster and just pans out wrong.

This is a really, really good post, and I feel like you're hitting on the right thing.

You should write a blog post, not a HN comment.

Not much nowadays, but they still sometimes just change things "just because". They still have a bug with changing the number of volume steps, took they 5 years to accept any patch and it's still inadequate.

Luckily that's not frequent though.

Elementary is not GTK though. It uses EFL.

Really? Whoa. Because it feels as gross and GTK-y as...well...GNOME. TIL though.

Could you define what those "good parts" are? You're painting a rather vague target here.

ElementaryOS is probably what you are looking for.

Check out the newest Fedora (Gnome Shell). IMO best desktop experience ever. Of course, for the masses the lack of MS Office and a few other commercial programs is a problem, but as far as the OS itself, the desktop, how everything functions, easily the best desktop I've ever used.

I installed Fedora 26 as the only OS on my laptop and I am very impressed. I don't miss Windows at all. I have played with Ubuntu in the past but Fedora blows that out of the water.

Absolutely not dissing fedora at all but you might be pleased to hear that Ubuntu 17.10 will over a mostly plain gnome shell 3.26 experience

If that is the case, what benefits do you see in switching? I'm genuinely curious.

The main benefit I see is that you will get mostly vanilla Gnome yet with a more stable (yet not as current) system underneath

Insofar as an OS is really a visible middleware layer that lets you run application software and manage files, I don't know if the lack of applications can be hand-waved away; that's a very tough nut to crack.

Though, for developers, it's definitely a viable option since most modern development tools (at least for the web and Android, not so much for Windows, Mac, or iOS) are cross-platform. But it's a much harder sell to someone doing, say, financial analysis or data modeling, where they absolutely must use Excel or SPSS.

I've seen lots of modern companies where developers have a mix of platforms, but it tends to become a monoculture of either Win or Mac when you get into front (biz dev, marketing, etc.) or back office (AP, AR, finance, HR, etc.) functions.

> Insofar as an OS is really a visible middleware layer that lets you run application software and manage files, I don't know if the lack of applications can be hand-waved away; that's a very tough nut to crack.

Yes and no. For most people, Linux is more than ready to be their only OS. There's no lack of functional software. I went through University only using Linux on my computer.

Edit - For example, most of the profs use LibreOffice, for sharing everyone uses Google docs, statistics and economics homework was done with R (Excel and Stata were the other options), all CS homework could be done on Linux. The only place I had to use Windows at all was a single course (Finance) where Excel was taught. I still just used LibreOffice then transferred the files to a school computer to make sure the output was correct. ----------------------------------

The only problem is that certain software still has the public's mind-share.

> But it's a much harder sell to someone doing, say, financial analysis or data modeling, where they absolutely must use Excel or SPSS.

Excel sucks and SPSS does run on Linux.

I find Cinnamon to be quite a nice desktop experience too.

It's legitimately my favorite interface of the major OSs or the many choices of desktops on Linux. It has everything I want. And since they stopped having "hot corner" nonsense on by default, nothing I don't want gets in the way.

To those who value freedom, MacOS lacks it. All Apple has to do is release their software under the GPL or similar, but they don't.

You and Apple may value technical aspects more than freedom, but not all do.

> but they don't.

They do for a lot of it. Not Cocoa. Not the UI. But nearly everything else:


Even when the software I use is available for Mac I would be the odd one out running it on a Mac. Looks like Autodesk has support, but Cadence supports everything but Mac. To me it looks like most of the professional software available is for some kind of artist or another. When I tried a Mac it was only useful as a terminal/browser.

And yet I cannot disable mouse acceleration in my company MacBook Pro 2017 without having the sensitivity spike to insane levels.

[citation needed]

I disagree with your categorical statement, it's inevitably going to start comment wars just because of the provocative phrasing.

It's completely because of Apple's hardware design. No one else does touchpads as well as Apple and you literally interact with a touchpad every time you use the damn thing. Apple's cases and batteries and screens are also top 5 in the world as well.

You can tell that this is the stuff that's holding people back from other devices because when a manufacturer actually makes a product with solid hardware - like the Surface - people started to buy them.

They are also pretty good at integration (e.g. iOS with MaccOS) and at UI. Look at UI scaling on high dpi screens in Windows/linux and compare it to OS X.

Also of course the fact that OS X gets you both big commercial software for e.g. media creation and a unix-y machine.

So I wouldn't explain it with hardware alone, I think others have cought up pretty well compared to say 10 years ago.

That is an unusual definition of "monopoly"

Yeah as much as I dislike Apple laptops (now), monopoly != consumers making one choice more often.

What to you study? (assuming you are a student because you had to "look back" to see other laptops)

I imagine it is dependent on major.

Go to any tech conference and it is 90% Macs as well and a good portion of the remainder is Linux. But I'm guessing other industries / fields of study are mostly Windows.

The only developers I know still on Windows are either writing Windows software or using hardware that only works on Windows. And even some of them use a Windows VM on Linux or OSX. That is of course anecdotal.

> The only developers I know still on Windows are either writing Windows software or using hardware that only works on Windows.

This varies a lot by place too. Where I live, lots of developers choose to use Windows. Fashion and momentum matters.

Depends on what you call "developers". I believe that most developers in the gaming industry still uses Windows as their platform.

I put right in my comment:

> are either writing Windows software

I assume most people in the game industry need their game to run on Windows or use hardware that only works with Windows (like a dev kit for a console).

Unless you are talking Web and mobile games, in which case, most of the web gave devs I know use Mac and so do most of the mobile devs (thanks the the difficulty deving for iOS on Windows).

But that is why I called it an "anecdote"... your milage may vary.

I am legitimately curious why people down voted me... I was trying to start a conversation and asked a question of the OP I actually wanted to know the answer to.

If it is because I said "any tech conference"... if so I humbly beg for your forgiveness for using an absolute when I meant to be anecdotal. I thought people understood hyperbole. In any case, it would have been more productive to post a comment... "actually my experience at tech conference has been different" rather than down vote.

Personally I reserve my down votes for trolls and off topic posts, I don't even use it for people I disagree with, but to each their own. I accept your judgement.

I doubt it. I use only windows but I write my code using emacs and compile my code using mingw. Linux is way too high maintenance for me. I just don't have the time for it.

The question isn't perhaps what kind of computer they were using but why on earth they brought computers to a lecture hall...

I've been looking to "upgrade" my OSX laptop to Linux and on a whole have been disappointed by the hardware build quality on the Linux machines.

What I really want is a thin and light unibody aluminum frame and high density screen on a Linux machine. But since I can't find that, OS X is a nice substitute.

Edit: Thank you for the suggestions everyone.

You might check out Dell's Project Sputnik on the XPS. They are similar in weight to an Apple Air, made of aluminum and come with Linux installed and working with all the hardware.


Writing this on a Dell XPS 13 DE.

Reinstalled it with Fedora and everything works without any configuration or tweaks needed.

With 4.12 kernel and TLP the battery life has been amazing (I can get about 24 hours at idle with screen on - about 2.55 Watts)

Also...powerful enough to drive dual 4K monitors if needed.

There are a few machines with a good build quality to run Linux on: Dell Inspiron 7000 series and Dell XPS series come to mind

Maybe the upcoming Xiaomi Mi laptop too.

I have the Xiaomi Air and am very happy with it. The build quality is not as good as the mac, the lid does flex but I can still open it with one hand.

The price, though was amazing - £350.

I'm eyeing the Xiaomi Pro laptop hard as my next machine. If it's a smooth Linux install, I could see lots of developers picking one up.

If you like Apple's hardware but want a different OS, what's stopping you from putting Linux on your Apple laptop?

Exactly - my mum loves the Apple design but needs to use Windows-only software, so she has a macbook that runs Windows 10. I don't see any problem with doing that.

I've got an Asus UX305C for 1,5 years now, very nice machine.

Ive also been using a UX305C for a bout 2 years now also, Its a great cheap fanless macbook air clone. Been running Ubuntu Mate and out side some issues with the function keys, its worked 100%.

Its pretty great for a fanless laptop thats sub $600. Its too bad you can't buy the latest model(UX330CA) right now outside of ebay. Its only available in Canada for some reason

Yes, it sounds like GP is looking for a ZenBook, UX410UA for example.


I'm assuming it didn't come with Linux installed. Which version of Linux are you running? And do any features of the laptop not working with the Linux OS?

I have one with ubuntu 16.04. The only thing that didn't work was the volume up/down keys due to some weirdness in the Asus BIOS. I changed it to be shift + Fkeys instead of fn+FKeys in the keyboard settings.

Other than that, because the Intel chipset has pretty good open source support, it's an excellent laptop.

IMHO one of the best machines to run linux is macbook pros. The hardware just works.

Clevo N130BU

I'm guessing in the ensuing 14 years this offering did not continue. I wouldn't know; I'm part of the generation that swore off buying software or computers at Wal-Mart when they were selling Duke Nukem 3D with the parental control option permanently turned on.

There was a huge effort by Microsoft to squelch Linux on the desktop.

The greatest threat came when Asus introduced a Linux subnotebook, the EeePC 2G Surf, which not only ran Linux, but could not run Windows. At the time, Microsoft was pushing Vista and killing off XP. But Vista needed more hardware than subnotebooks of the time offered. This led PC makers to offer Linux-only systems. Microsoft's strategy to move people to Vista was threatened.

Microsoft's response was to extend the life of XP as an OEM-installable OS, but only on "little" machines. There was a maximum allowed screen size, CPU speed, and disk size for an OEM XP install on a subnotebook. Then Microsoft pushed hard for vendors and retailers to put "Dell/Asus/HP/etc recommends Microsoft Windows" on their web sites, and deemphasize Linux. This was enforced by terms in the OEM licensing arrangement for manufacturers and the retail kickback arrangement for retailers.

It did continue. They're called Chromebooks now.

Granted it perverted the entire idea of Linux by limiting the user's freedom to run anything but a data-harvesting web-browser, but, semantics.

FreeBSD (as the other thread points out) brought us macOS and Linux brought us Chrome OS. Do FOSS folks lament this dramatic irony a lot?

I will admit to passive-aggressively refusing to help people fix their Macs and iPads, telling them that Apple makes a point of being closed and proprietary, and that if they want free tech support from me they should ask me for a software recommendation I'm willing and able to stand behind first.

But... I don't really care if my contributions to open-source get used in a closed-source product. I just won't buy it because you intentionally neutered my ability to fix it myself. And I'm going to raise that point if your potential customers ask me what I think of it. But I don't feel any bitterness over it that I don't also feel for stuff that's entirely proprietary to begin with.

BSD people certainly do not.

> Do FOSS folks lament this dramatic irony a lot?

Not so dramatic as linux and FOSS have brought us so much more. FreeBSD too.

It's trivial to run Linux on a Chromebook, so I don't see much of a problem.

Wasn't this about the same price-point as eMachines (sans Linux)?


I bought SuSE Linux at Best Buy 15 years ago. This was before I had a fast-enough internet connection to download it. I remember there were a few other distros available as well.

15 years and Linux still has barely improved the usability for the average user.

Average user of Linux, or average computer user?

Specific DE that you have in mind? Those vary, a lot.

I am a happy Linux user and find it very usable. It is just point and click. I find other OSes to be more difficult, but I suppose that's unfamiliarity.

Considering the direction windows has gone with usability I'm quite happy with remaining stagnant.

I would argue that Xubuntu is almost grandparent-ready.

Frankly Linux is grandparent ready.

The problem i "power user" ready, in particular "media production power user" ready.

But then that group is tribal, if not religious, that makes RMS seem atheist.

Xubuntu was mom-proof about 7 years ago. I put her on mint for a year or two, but I've had her on Xubuntu for most of the past 7 years. She's old enough to be a grandma.

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