My Operating System Story: An extended ramble, or why I dual boot Mac and Linux I recently completed a computer overhaul, to use Linux Mint as my primary OS on my 2011 Macbook Air. It is still dual boot, so I have access to Mac software when I need it. But this is the latest step in a long operating system drama for me.
There is a lot of background. I’ve been thinking about philosophy, computer use and operating systems for ages. Because it’s important to consider the source of things in your life: where your food and clothing comes from, where your software comes from, what motivations are behind it, what impact does that provider have on the rest of the world?
I started using Mac computers about ten years ago, after some years fighting Windows ME and other terrible, slow machines in my web development work. We were a tiny company with no budget for decent setups, and it was awful. I secretly wanted a Mac because it was for artistic, trendy people and graphic designers, (a stereotype that was probably meaningless then, and is totally meaningless now). Plus, even then, I was a software dork. I secretly loved digging around for the greatest free HTML editor or FTP program.
I got a little silver PowerBook, (which still boots by the way, although a couple of keys don’t work). It was lovely. What I really loved though was Disk Utility. Sounds silly, but it was the first time I knew what to do when it started getting weird. I felt empowered to know that I could check the drive, run some permissions repair, and it usually perked up again. I also used Carbon Copy Cloner when I learned about it from a genius tech savvy friend, and that saved my vegetarian bacon more than once when a drive corrupted. And in general I liked my Macs because I could tweak the system the way I wanted it to be. We lived reasonably happily for some years.
Until the Great iPad Debacle of 2014. I thought it would be nifty to get an iPad. I could write with it in the forest, it has a long battery life, it was cute. So I got a refurbished iPad 2, not new, but totally fine.
Meanwhile I had become leery of the cloud. NSA concerns, data scanning for advertising, Jennifer Lawrence’s hack, employees of companies looking at data when they aren’t supposed to, and so on. I thought it would be simple to find a way to sync my data locally, without icloud or Dropbox.
About my usage: I write a lot, and I journal a lot. I don’t have any state secrets or lawyer secrets or anything, but I like to spew out my feelings in my journal until I feel sane again, because that’s how feelings work sometimes. And I don’t want that stuff floating on the internet.
So I started trying to find a good way to share data between my main computer and my iPad in a sensible way. The short answer: it can’t be done. I did so much research, on every possible way to sync data, but with the restrictions on app interactions in iOS, it’s impossible to edit files and sync them without icloud or dropbox. You can transfer files and email them to yourself and whatnot, but no simple sync.
It’s a little easier with Android, as they allow more access to file structures. And I even bought an Android tablet, a Hisense Sero Pro to find out. End result was that I sold my iPad back to Mac of All Trades. I still have the Sero Pro, but the solutions that I found were never reliable. Sidenote: In the middle of that Apple even released a version of iTunes that disabled local data sync over usb, and only allowed it through iCloud. Folks raised a ruckus and they reinstated it. Thank goodness.
Meanwhile, about four years ago I got it in my head that I should set up a dual boot with my Mac and Linux. I knew nothing about Linux, just that it was cool and hackery, in a good way. So I found a Lifehacker guide or something and installed Ubuntu. It worked, but it was glitchy and weird. But it was fun. I did a few different versions, Ubuntu, Mint, all dual booting alongside my Mac. More recently I tried Elementary, which I really loved. I have had a dual boot or occasionally triple boot ever since, but I never used it for serious work. It never felt quite smooth enough to rely on 100%, or didn’t have the software I needed for photo editing, things like that.
But I like the philosophy. I like the ability to do it yourself, take control of your digital life and make it how you want. Now, I am a softcore nerd, not a programmer. My idea of hackery, which feels pretty badass, is installing a ppa from the command line. I like a little bit of code twiddling, but I love my graphical user interfaces, and do not want bleeding edge operating systems. Well, not for work. I totally want to play with them because it sounds fun and to support the project, but that’s different.
So philosophically Linux is much more up my alley. At one time I felt that Apple was more in alignment with my philosophy, but they seem to be going down the path of more limitations “user friendliness” for the user, to make it like iOS. And I don’t want to have to use my machines the way they say. I like my own weird little system. And I’m not trying to make this an Apple bash session, but I installed El Capitan and they stripped the options on Disk Utility way down. My favorite app! So I actually reverted to the Yosemite clone I had made. If I weren’t such a nerd about moving partitions around it wouldn’t matter, much, but that was personal for me.
If the trend with Apple is limitation, the trend with Linux is awesomeness. Some people have been using it as a main machine for decades, which is beautiful. But I haven’t felt able to do that. Until recently I installed Elementary along side Mac OS, and I rather loved it. I have had an ongoing struggle to find writing software that I liked and it turns out that my favorite apps were on Linux.
So now I’ve made that transition, shrinking my Mac partition and putting Linux Mint in place. I still love Elementary, but I wanted a little more customizability in the desktop. I will still do some work on Mac OS, photo editing mainly, but I aim to do the bulk of my everyday stuff on Linux. For the future, I’m not sure. I don’t want a Windows machine, but I can’t get behind the new Macbook at all (I love ports and 3 dimensional keys). I’m intrigued as well by the One Plus phones.
I’m enjoying the heck out of my Linux Mint, and it runs so well. And, huge triumph, it runs Minecraft with a zillion mods, so I can play on the server with my boyfriend and his buds. The first time it hasn’t crashed on Mac or Linux, and I’ve tried.
This is the end of the ramble.It’s a funny balance, that of function, fun and philosophy. We do what we can.