From OS X to Ubuntu: 2 Years Later

Published on by Jim Mendenhall

A little more than 2 years ago, I made a switch away from Mac OS X to Ubuntu Linux. Since then, I have used Ubuntu Linux about 98% of the time on my personal and work computers. I still have to support Windows on some computers at work, I kept my Macbook (which rarely got turned on), I kept Windows XP in a virtual machine (which I need about once a month) and of course all my friends and family still call me with Windows and Mac problems.

Today, I want to revisit the article I wrote 2 years ago about 10 things I missed when switching from OS X to Ubuntu. There have been 5 major Ubuntu upgrades since I wrote my original article, have things changed that much? Do I still miss the things I missed back then? Let’s look at each point again, and see how things have changed.

1. Dashboard - No longer missed

Time and Weather in Ubuntu
When I first switched to Ubuntu, I really missed the OS X Dashboard feature. Most of all, I missed being able to open the Dashboard and quickly check the weather, see the calendar, and check the time in multiple time zones. I tried many different widget systems on Ubuntu, but found them all clumsy and unusable. Perhaps there are some out there now that are great, I don’t know, because I don’t even want a Dashboard any more!

At some point, Gnome added the weather and multiple time zones to the standard clock panel widget. This allows me to always see the full date, time, and weather conditions in the top-right corner of my desktop. If I click on the date, I’m presented with a calendar, events from Evolution or Google Galendar, and the time and weather conditions in any city that I’ve added to my list. This is far more convenient than pushing F12 all the time on the Mac and waiting for the Dashboard to appear. Of course, the dashboard can do much more than this, but for my needs, Gnome panel widgets do everything I want.

2. Quicksilver - No longer missed

I still love Quicksilver on the Mac for quickly launching apps and doing repetitive tasks. I can’t use OS X without Quicksilver because digging through the Finder to launch something like the Activity Monitor drives me nuts.

Since I wrote my original article, we’ve seen the major improvements in Gnome Do. It’s now a great replacement for Quicksilver. The thing I find most interesting, however, is that I almost never find myself using Gnome Do. I think this is because it’s so much easier to launch programs from the Applications menu or the Gnome Panel that I simply do not need another application launcher for Ubuntu.

3. Adium - No longer missed

I still think that Adium is one of the best chat clients I’ve ever used. It’s functional, beautiful and the best chat client on OS X. But I no longer miss Adium when using Ubuntu. Not long after I wrote my first article, GAIM was renamed to Pidgin and along with the renaming came a load of improvements, including a much better looking interface. Today’s Pidgin and Adium aren’t really that different form each other, they look different, but act basically the same. Unfortunately, Ubuntu no longer includes Pidgin by default, but it’s super easy to install.

4. Professional Graphics Software - Still very much missed!

The lack of professional grade graphics software for Linux is still a huge problem. I’m even more convinced of this today than I was 2 years ago. I actually forced myself to use only Ubuntu and open source graphics programs when working on 2 major projects. Did I succeed, yes! … but the process was extremely painful.

First, there was the pain of learning GIMP. From a technical point of view, the GIMP might be just fine, but from an end user point of view, it’s simply horrible. I was able to make it work, and I was able to complete my work, but the end result left me feeling disgruntled and I feel that my projects suffered as well. I used other programs too, such as Inkscape, and generally found them acceptable, but I still kept wishing that I had access to Adobe Fireworks or Photoshop.

5. TextMate - No longer missed

Vim, Free Man's TextMate

I still spend a lot of time working in a text editor. I got hooked on using TextMate for my web and Ruby on Rails work. It seems like all the cool Rails developers use TextMate exclusively, but we’re starting to see a shift from that. I see more and more people talking about using Vim for their coding projects.

Thanks to this great article, I discovered that I could do almost everything I want right in Vim and a Terminal window. I now have a set of Vim configuration files that I can use on any system (even on Mac and Windows) that have everything set up just how I want it. I love it and I’d never go back to TextMate!

6. Dictionary - Still missed

Mac OS has a great built-in dictionary application. I used to find myself using it all the time. It has high quality entries are from the Oxford American Dictionary.

On Ubuntu, there is a dictionary application installed by default, but it can only look up words in free dictionaries (results and quality vary). This means that you must be online to look up a word, which can be a real bummer.

I’ve also played around with other dictionary programs like StarDict. Unfortunately, I found them rather unusable and they generally don’t “just work.” I personally think that a high-quality dictionary program for Ubuntu is needed. I’d even be willing to pay for something, especially if it can give me multi-language translations.

7. Quicktime - No longer missed

When I was first moving to Ubuntu, playing media files was a really big problem. The codecs and players that were available at the time were very unreliable, they often crashed, didn’t work properly and sometimes didn’t work at all. I found this extremely annoying. It was also difficult to install the necessary codecs.

All this has changed now. Playing media files on Ubuntu is a breeze. The media player will automatically find and install any needed codecs, and it plays just about any file you throw at it. In fact, I can’t remember the last time that a media file didn’t “just work” in Ubuntu. The Linux community and the Ubuntu team have done a superb job of making media files work - way to go guys!

8. Bluetooth Support and Syncing - No longer missed

Much like the situation with media files, Ubuntu 7.04 did not do a good job with Bluetooth. The latest versions of Ubuntu, however, are pretty good at working with Bluetooth devices. It’s now trivial to connect a Bluetooth enabled phone to your computer, transfer files, etc. There may still be some ways to make Bluetooth better on Ubuntu, but I can’t think of any, it just works now, and I think that’s great!

9. System-wide spell checking - Still would be nice, but not missed

I can’t say that I miss this feature on a daily basis, but it still would be nice to have.

Mac OS X has system-wide spell checking for all Cocoa based apps. This means you can have just about everything you type into your Mac spell checked. This unified system means that you only have to train one dictionary with your new words.

Of course there is spell checking in almost every Ubuntu application, but each one has its own system. You need to train the dictionaries for each app and get used to each system’s little quirks. Hopefully, someone out there is working on a system-wide spell checking framework for Linux.

10. Smart Trackpad - Still would be nice, but not missed

When making the switch to Ubuntu, the trackpad settings (from 7.04) really drove me nuts. I had all kinds of problems with the trackpad not being shut off when typing, and missed some of the fancy trackpad features in OS X. In general, I don’t like using trackpads and prefer using a mouse, but when using a trackpad on Ubuntu, I can say for sure that things have gotten better. Things have also changed in the OS X world of trackpads (multi touch, etc). I still consider Linux to be behind Apple in trackpad technology, but I don’t miss any of those features any more.


I have to say that over the last couple of years, I’ve really come to love Ubuntu. Until recently, I rarely felt the need to go back to Windows or OS X (I’ll tell you more about that in another blog post). I’ve been generally pleased with each new release of Ubuntu and enjoy seeing the incremental improvements. Ubuntu has come an unbelievable way since I first tried it almost 5 years ago. I think the future is bright for Ubuntu and Linux in general … but there’s still a long way to go!

What are some things that you miss from Windows or Mac when you’re using Ubuntu? Share your ideas in the comments below!