At request from my friends from ROSA Labs , I was using a mac os x-based machine this week, to get a feeling on how it works, feels and looks like. As I had never used a mac before, it was certainly a nice experience, and I think I managed to extract the feeling of what is fundamentally different between a Mac and PC-based approaches (in this case, let’s consider PC as being Linux-based OS instead of Windows, which stands in between those approaches and perhaps I’ll describe my thoughts about it later).
Hi, I'm Mac.
So, after using a Linux-based OS exclusively for my Desktop for the past 10 years or so (except the time at Microsoft where I was using a pre-released version of Vista during the work hours), I finally was able to get a hold of a MacBook Air. One thing I can say that most of the mac advertizements are true – the hardware really looks amazing and “cool”. As for the software, well, let’s go step-by-step in this evaluation.
The fest thesis I want to emphasize is that the fundamental change between the Mac and Linux Desktop approaches is that Mac does everything to force you to understand and bend to the system default settings and the way it works, and Linux is completely aimed at making the system easy to customize and adapt to you. In other words, Mac forces you to adapt to the system, and Linux focuses on making system easily adaptable to what you want. This ranges from each and every level of the system configuration, starting with the UI, standardization of the used applications, the standardized menu, dock, and so on. On Mac, it is done this way, and you should not even think on changing it – it just works and the only solution for you is to get used to it.
On Linux, the things are quite opposite on all stages. Each and every part of the system can be customized, adapted, modified; there is no single point of complete integration between applications, settings and features. It is quite common to have a Linux system with systemd+kde+pidgin+openoffice, where each application has its programming framework, UI, look-and-feel, and functionality. And by no means it makes this system a second-class citizen when comparing to a upstart+gnome+emphaty+libreoffice one. This is the biggest advantage (and, for some, disadvantage) of Linux-based approaches – the large choice without One True Way of doing things.
This also brings me back to the eternal flame was which says that “the Mac is the Best Desktop Experience out there”, which I personally cannot agree with. Yes, Mac has its own experience, but the largest drawback is that is the only experience you could get out of it. By the contrary, on Linux there are thousands ways of how one could create, customize and run his Desktop. Somebody feels comfortable with pure KDE experience, someone would feel much more natural with a GNOME desktop. Many productivity-oriented Linux desktops are running dwm, icewm, ratpoison, wm3, evilwm and many many other desktop environments with multitude of apparently incompatible applications and do not miss any of their larger cousins (like kde, gnome or xfce) features.
So to summarize it all, one big advantage of a Mac-based experience is that the entire desktop feels like an appliance. To illustrate, consider any cellphone OS, or any TV or a videogame – the things “just work”, and you have no choice nor need to modify the way they work and just go on with using them. This is certainly a huge plus for casual users who just need to use their devices to get things done – it is very hard to get confused about what to do with the system, and in most applications all keyboard shortcuts, UI, menus, appearance and so on is standardized. In other words, you don’t learn how to use a Mac or Android or Symbian, you just use it, and there is only one correct way to get something done.
The advantage of a Linux-based desktops is their absolute – and even exaggerated sometimes – flexibility. They are completely focused on making the desktop experience bendable towards what you need, at a cost of much higher entry level and necessary learning about all the puzzles which compose it. It is certainly not focused on casual users (and, in my personal opinion, it should not be), and it is more of an elitist system – only the ones willing to learn, customize and adapt the system will be able to get the most out of it. But the ones who manage to get through this exhaustive task will be truly rewarded with a system where you know exactly what each and every piece, process or file are responsible for.
In other words, Mac is an appliance, and Linux is a constructor. Mac just works (not necessarily the way you expect), and Linux gives you the possibility to make it work the way you want (at a cost of a high learning and customization curve).
So in my personal opinion, it is pointless comparing a Mac experience to a Linux Desktop one. If Mac should be compared to anything, it is to other appliance-like environments, like cellphones and similar devices for example; or to end-to-end solutions based on any OS which has the similar goals in mind (like meego, android, winphone, windows, symbian, ubuntu – and now mandriva, which has invested a lot of time of ROSA Labs designers and developers to introduced a new UI experience for the 2011 release). In such cases, the user does not cares – nor should he – about what the system is based upon – a darwin os, a win kernel, a linux or any other low-level operating system. What use gets is the overall default UI which just works, and he should adapt to.
Hi, I am PC^WMandriva 2011 (this shot was shamelessly borrowed from softpedia because it really looks awesome!)
At the end, summarizing and concluding this long text, I can say now that it is more clear for me now where the ROSA Labs designers and developers are getting their inspiration from. Personally, for me, the Rosa Panel (included by default in Mandriva 2011) feels more natural and easy to use than its Mac equivalent and more flexible and tunable than its Windows counterpart. The same way, the ROSA Launcher application feels more powerful than Mac’s finder+dockbar combination, and much more flexible and friendly than Windows 7 start menu. This, at least for me, only complements my opinion that Linux is a constructor – you can build anything from the tools and pieces it has, take the best ideas out there and use them as inspiration, and result in something new. This is specially true to the geeks (like me) who do not like some of the design choices taken by ROSA – so we can just go ahead and make the system the way we want, taking the best from the both worlds.
Hi, I'm a bit customized Mandriva 2011 - and the limit to my customization is only your imagination
And, of course, having the power of Linux constructor, you can certainly adapt the system towards your needs, remove or change things you don’t want, and add what you find missing.
That’s it .
P.S.: Please, consider everything said here as my own personal opinion. By no means it represents the official Mandriva or ROSA view on the matter. This is what I think.
P.P.S.: Some extremely interesting discussion and feedbacks in the comments, be sure to check them out. Thanks for all this feedback!