Daily-driving a Mac, one year later

It has been about a year since I published Really leaving the Linux desktop behind. This marks the first year I’ve used Mac OS as my primary computing environment since 2014. Now, I want to summarise my thoughts and feelings on using the Apple ecosystem as my primary platform – good and bad.

The Amazing

Universal Clipboard

Universal Clipboard has dramatically simplified my blog workflow. Typically, all of my articles are drafted and composed on my iPad Pro, as WordPress offers a great native app. This allows me to avoid using a browser. As I write this article, I am copying the links out of Safari on my Mac. They immediately show up in the pasteboard of the iPad.

KDE Connect does offer a Clipboard plugin, but it only supports plain text at this time. Apple’s implementation allows you to copy rich text, photos, files, and more.

Something else I would really like to note is that these features will work on High Sierra and later. It is transparent to the user no matter what version of the OS they are running. This somewhat alleviates the issue of newer OS versions having newer device requirements.

Safari Tab Groups

Safari 15 introduced the concept of Tab Groups, which is something I have been missing a lot since Firefox killed off extensions and replaced them with a severely limited alternative. Tab Groups simply allow you to categorise groups of tabs into cohesive sets. You can almost consider it a “focus window” where a logical set of tabs live.

The best part is that Safari’s Tab Groups sync between iCloud devices, which means I can use, add to, and manipulate tab groups on my tablet and phone as well. The replacement extension I used for Firefox had most of the features I enjoyed, but it doesn’t sync between devices using Firefox Sync, which meant I could really only browse the Web in this powerful way on my main desktop (then, my Talos II).

Having tab groups that sync between devices has allowed me to bring order to my previously chaotic Web browsing habits, allowing me to focus better and waste less time being distracted.

AirPlay

I love having the ability to AirPlay my screen directly to a TV. As far as I am aware, it is not possible on Linux to share your entire display to a smart TV without complicated command-line invocations that change regularly.

I used this to show my grandmother family photos while she was recovering from a health challenge. We use this monthly for budget planning in our household – just share Excel to the TV and we can see and discuss where the money is going this month.

There is no reason that this couldn’t be implemented on Linux, but off the top of my head I can think of a few challenges: the TV may have a different DPI than the computer screen (which has always been challenging for Linux windowing systems and toolkits), compressing the video using a libre codec while providing good picture quality and low bandwidth usage, and the general sorry state of wireless networking in Linux (which is due to the chipmakers, I know).

Apple Maps

Having a Maps app on my computer that I can use to view place details, satellite imagery, landmark information, and plan routes is a very powerful tool. I use this regularly to find places to shop local, and to plan weekend excursions to parks and attractions.

The closest thing I found on Linux was Marble. While I did enjoy the fact that Marble integrated so well with OSM, the views were always slightly grainy and off. Zoom and pan needed work and I could never understand the code well enough to contribute a fix.

You can still boot Linux on them

The Asahi Linux project has done an amazing job on building a boot loader for the M1 that should allow a whole host of alternative systems working. This includes not just Linux but also the BSDs, and perhaps even illumos when they bring up ARM64 support.

I remember when the M1 came out, everyone thought the firmware would be locked down and prevent non-Mac OS systems from running at all. It turns out that not only did this not happen, but you can actually sign your own kernels and have Trusted Boot using your own compiled Linux. This may end up making the M1 more libre-friendly than x86 systems.

Misc

  • Apps like Things really demonstrate the power of the Mac platform and what is on offer. You could probably make something as nice and integrated as Things on Linux, but for someone as busy as me, it is nice to use what is already there.
  • I feel much more in control of notifications on the Mac platform than I did on Linux with libnotify and Plasma. Notifications can be handled per-app, not just per-notification in the app itself. “Focus modes” (DnD) sync with my other devices like my phone and tablet. I can set repeating schedules (or one-offs) with profiles that allow some apps through but not others.
  • Older devices really are still supported. Even if you can’t boot Big Sur or Monterey on them, which is a big list if you are willing to play with a patching system, most of the niceties I’ve written about work back to High Sierra.

The drawbacks

The only real drawback that I’ve found in this year is that since the Mac isn’t a fully libre open-source system, I can’t fix the few bugs that I’ve run into.

I have not felt “trapped” or “helpless” or at all like I am living in a walled garden. Terminal is still there, unsigned apps can still be run with a simple context-click, and AppleScript (and now Shortcuts) is available to automate workflows.

I still believe that libre software ideals are correct and the goal of having a libre operating environment is a good one. However, I also believe that it was perhaps naive of me to believe that such a thing can truly exist in the way I hoped it could. The people who develop libre operating environments have different priorities.

And when you are spending your days using technology instead of making technology, the libre software ideals genuinely do become more of a theoretical than something in your face. This can be good, or bad, depending on your viewpoint.

At the end of the day, my goal in life is to make a difference, and also have a bit of fun. I want a system that is out of my way and lets me focus on that. For me, in 2022, that system is a Mac.

A final word on cost

Far too many people are priced out of the Apple ecosystem. I understand that part of the high cost of Apple products are to subsidise the R&D of making all these things work so well. However, they also have pretty high profit margins beyond their R&D expenditures.

I wish that Apple would lower their price, even a little, so that this amazing technology that works so well could be in the hands of more people.

Everyone on Earth deserves technology that is easy to use and lets them have a fun, happy life. That was my goal when I started the Adélie Linux project, and I only wish that more open source projects would do the same. Until then, I will continue doing my part to make the world a little bit better from the keyboard of a Mac.

4 thoughts on “Daily-driving a Mac, one year later

  1. Pingback: Daily-driving a Mac, one year later - The web development company Lzo Media - Senior Backend Developer

  2. Heya!
    Really enjoyed this post.

    I’m actually going to be in Oklahoma with some spare time between around the 6th and 10th of April, and I’d love to get beer and discuss free software and similar. Cheers!

    Like

  3. A lot of the things where you find apple shines (like most of the sync staff) are immensely helped with the fact that they are a proprietary closed ecosystem that you can only use on a minuscule hardware % that is out there.
    Like sure it is much easier if you control the whole stack to make stuff like that work nicer.
    At the same time in your ” Really leaving the Linux desktop behind. ” article you blame the community that they have no interest in supporting nvidia gpu’s (for reasons you leave out and that come down to nvidia did not want want to play nice with the open source community).
    And you move to an ecosystem with 0,1% of the possible hardware?

    You complain about Firefox crippling extensions (I agree that is bad) – but you switch to an ecosystem where you cant even run a different browser rendering engine on mobile??

    You still can run software on your Mac that is not controlled by Apple, but the direction is clear that this is becoming more and more difficult with more and more scary check-boxes that you have to deal with. If you develop for apple and want to distribute software you basically have no choice but to submit to apple.

    And I at least have a “fun, happy life” more on a system that does grand me true freedom than a system gives me better copy-paste (and I also think people deserve freedom more).

    Still thank you for the article.

    Like

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