For the last few months, I’ve had this idea that I wanted to try a linux desktop machine as my main development computer for a while. With the release of Ubuntu 9.04 in April, I decided to put together a machine and give it a try. Unfortunately, I had to wait a while in order to get a large project completed so I’d have time to do the testing an building.

Finally, in July, the project was completed and I ordered a few hundred dollars worth of new gear to update a desktop machine that I had sitting idle and installed Ubuntu 9.04 64-bit. There are a lot of great things about Ubuntu linux and I was very impressed with the performance of the OS on a quad-core processor with a pile of RAM.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a Mac. Let me explain what I mean by that.I was able to get a bunch of things working correctly on Ubuntu including multiple monitors, my development environment, and email/calendar/address book integration. It seemed with every thing that I tried to do, there was some little “gotcha”.

I installed the 64-bit version of Ubuntu 9.04 on my new hardware. Almost immediately I needed to get Flash player running inside Firefox. That turned into a 30 minute exercise of unzipping the 64-bit beta from Adobe and following a couple different blog posts to get it installed–only to have to redo the entire exercise when I updated to Firefox 3.5.

Then there was the issue of mail and calendar support. All my various email accounts are serviced by Google Apps and I use IMAP connections so that my desktop client and my iPhone stay in sync. Neither Evolution or Thunderbird let me set which folders were to be used for Trash, which meant that I now had an extra [Trash] folder in the list of IMAP folders. Had I been one of those folks that just use the web client, it wouldn’t have been an issue. Oddly enough (odd since I’m a web developer) I don’t like using web clients for mail all the time.

I mentioned that I got my multiple monitors working on Ubuntu. I’d purchased a GeForce card with twin DVI connectors so I could run both my monitors natively (as opposed to using the USB to DVI adapter like I do with my Macbook Pro). Multi-monitor support worked, but it treated the two monitors quite differently than any other OS I’ve used multiple monitors on. Application splash screens that displayed at startup were centered across both monitors as if they were one big desktop instead of 2 distinct monitors sitting side by side. That in and of itself wasn’t a deal breaker, but just another example of things you get used to working differently as I’ve used OS X for the last nearly 3 years.

Finally, not having as much choice in good, polished applications even though there are thousands of titles in the package manager contributed to me coming back to the Apple “fold”. GTD apps that fit my working style and a full-featured alternative to iTunes are two examples.

There were several software packages that were analogous to things I’d gotten used to on the Mac. GnomeDo is a respectable Linux alternative to QuickSilver which I use constantly. Workspaces in Linux operate much the same as Spaces in OS X, although there are some key differences when “ALT-Tabbing” between applications.

I’ll be the first to admit that Linux as a desktop operating system has come an incredibly long way in the last couple of years, but after having gotten used to the “fit and finish” of Mac OS X, it just doesn’t quite come close enough for me to leave the Mac.

One thought on “My short foray into Linux on the desktop

  1. My experience has been remarkably similar. I ended up giving up my Ubuntu laptop at work when I couldn’t upgrade to FF3.5 due to proprietary bindings that hadn’t been upgraded yet. I couldn’t (read: didn’t want to) upgrade to 9.04 (from 8.10) because I had a few apps that I compiled from source and I’d have had to do it all over again.

    I did, however, like Gnome Do even better than Quicksilver. Much better, in fact. I also liked Compiz – particularly the animations when switching desktops and apps (alt+tab). Also with Compiz, I love the ability to stick windows to the screen edges (dock them, if you’d rather).

    So near and yet so far. At least for my liking.

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