Linux and Mac users share at least one specific thing: they prefer not to use Windows. But after that the two groups part company and tend to go their separate ways. But why don’t more Mac users switch to Linux? Is there something that prevents Mac users from making the jump?
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Datamation took a look at these questions and tried to answer them. Datamation concluded that it’s really about the applications and workflow, not the operating system:
…there are some instances where replacing existing applications with new options isn’t terribly practical – both in workflow and in overall functionality. This is an area where, sadly, Apple has excelled in. So while it’s hardly “impossible” to get around these issues, they are definitely a large enough challenge that it will give the typical Mac enthusiast pause.
But outside of Web developers, honestly, I don’t see Mac users “en masse,” seeking to disrupt their workflows for the mere idea of avoiding the upgrade to OS X Yosemite. Granted, having seen Yosemite up close – Mac users who are considered power users will absolutely find this change-up to be hideous. However, despite poor OS X UI changes, the core workflow for existing Mac users will remain largely unchanged and unchallenged.
No, I believe Linux adoption will continue to be sporadic and random. Ever-growing, but not something that is easily measured or accurately calculated.
I agree to a certain extent with Datamation’s take on the importance of apps and workflows, both things are important and matter in the choice of a desktop operating system. But I think there’s something more going on with Mac users than just that. I believe that there’s a different mentality that exists between Linux and Mac users, and I think that’s the real reason why many Mac users don’t switch to Linux.
Why don’t Mac users switch to Linux
Linux users tend to want control over their computing experience; they want to be able to change things to make them the way that they want them. One simply cannot do that in the same way with OS X or any other Apple products. With Apple, you get what they give you for the most part.
For Mac (and iOS) users this is fine, they seem mostly content to stay within Apple’s walled garden and live according to whatever standards and options Apple gives them. But this is unacceptable to most Linux users. People who move to Linux usually come from Windows, and it’s there that they develop their loathing for someone else trying to define or control their computing experiences.
And once someone like that has tasted the freedom that Linux offers, it’s almost impossible for them to want to go back to living under the thumb of Apple, Microsoft or anyone else. You’d have to pry Linux from their cold, dead fingers before they’d accept the computing experience created for them Apple or Microsoft.
But you won’t find that same determination to have control among most Mac users. For them, it’s mostly about getting the most out of whatever Apple has done with OS X in its latest update. They tend to adjust fairly quickly to new versions of OS X and even when unhappy with Apple’s changes they seem content to continue living within Apple’s walled garden.
So the need for control is a massive difference between Mac and Linux users. I don’t see it as a problem though since it reflects the reality of two very different attitudes toward using computers.
Mac users need Apple’s support mechanisms
Linux users are also different in the sense that they don’t mind getting their hands dirty by getting “under the hood” of their computers. Along with control comes the personal responsibility of making sure that their Linux systems work well and efficiently, and digging into the operating system is something that many Linux users have no problem doing.
When a Linux user needs to fix something, chances are they will attempt to do so immediately themselves. If that doesn’t work, then they’ll seek additional information online from other Linux users and work through the problem until it is resolved.
But Mac users are most likely not going to do that to the same extent. That is probably one of the reasons why Apple stores are so popular and why so many Mac users opt to buy Apple Care when they get a new Mac. A Mac user can simply take his or her computer to the Apple store and ask someone to fix it for them. There they can belly up to the Genius Bar and have their computer looked at by someone Apple has paid to fix it.
Most Linux users would blanch at the thought of doing such a thing. Who wants some guy you don’t even know to lay hands on your computer and start trying to fix it for you? Some Linux users would shudder at the very idea of such a thing happening.
So it would be hard for a Mac user to switch to Linux and suddenly be bereft of the support from Apple that he or she was used to getting in the past. Some Mac users might feel very vulnerable and uncertain if they were cut off from the Apple mothership regarding support.
Mac users love Apple’s hardware
The Datamation article focused on software, but I believe that hardware also matters to Mac users. Most Apple customers tend to like Apple’s hardware. When they buy a Mac, they aren’t just buying it for OS X. They are also acquiring Apple’s industrial design expertise, and that can be an essential differentiator for Mac users. Mac users are willing to pay more because they perceive that the overall value they are getting from Apple for a Mac is worth it.
Linux users, on the other hand, seem less concerned by such things. I think they tend to focus more on cost and less on the looks or design of their computer hardware. For them, it’s probably about getting the most value from the hardware at the lowest cost. They aren’t in love with the way their computer hardware looks in the same way that some Mac users probably are, and so they don’t make buying decisions based on it.
I think both points of view on hardware are equally valid. It ultimately gets down to the needs of the individual user and what matters to them when they choose to buy or, in the case of some Linux users, build their computer. Value is the key for both groups, and each has its perceptions of what constitutes real value in a computer.
Of course, it is possible to run Linux on a Mac, directly or indirectly via a virtual machine. So a user that liked Apple’s hardware does have the option of keeping their Mac but installing Linux on it.
Too many Linux distros to choose from?
Another reason that might make it hard for a Mac user to move to Linux is the sheer number of distributions to choose from in the world of Linux. While most Linux users probably welcome the vast diversity of distros available, it could also be very confusing for a Mac user who hasn’t learned to navigate those choices.
Over time I think a Mac user would learn and adjust by figuring out which distribution worked best for him or her. But in the short term, it might be a very daunting hurdle to overcome after being used to OS X for a long period. I don’t think it’s insurmountable, but it’s something that is worth mentioning here.
Of course, we do have helpful resources like DistroWatch and even my own Desktop Linux Reviews blog that can help people find the right Linux distribution. Plus there are many articles available about “the best Linux distro” and that sort of thing that Mac users can use as resources when trying to figure out the distribution they want to use.
But one of the reasons why Apple customers buy Macs is the simplicity and all-in-one solution that they offer regarding the hardware and software being unified by Apple. So I am not sure how many Mac users would want to spend the time trying to find the right Linux distribution. It might be something that puts them off considering the switch to Linux.
Mac users are apples, and Linux users are oranges
I see nothing wrong with Mac and Linux users going their separate ways. I think we’re just talking about two very different groups of people, and it’s a good thing that both groups can find and use the operating system and software that they prefer. Let Mac users enjoy OS X and let Linux users enjoy Linux, and hopefully, both groups will be happy and content with their computers.
Every once in a while a Mac user might stray over to Linux or vice versa, but for the most part, I think the two groups live in different worlds and mostly prefer to stay separate and apart from one another. I don’t compare the two because when you get right down to it, it’s just a case of apples and oranges.
More information: Books about Linux
Check out these helpful books to learn more about Linux:
Linux Pocket Guide provides an organized learning path to help you gain mastery of the most useful and important commands. Whether you’re a novice who needs to get up to speed on Linux or an experienced user who wants a concise and functional reference, this guide provides quick answers.
The Linux Command Line takes you from your very first terminal keystrokes to writing full programs in Bash, the most popular Linux shell. Along the way you’ll learn the timeless skills handed down by generations of gray-bearded, mouse-shunning gurus: file navigation, environment configuration, command chaining, pattern matching with regular expressions, and more.
Brian Ward makes the concepts behind Linux internals accessible to anyone curious about the inner workings of the operating system. Inside, you’ll find the kind of knowledge that normally comes from years of experience doing things the hard way.
Linux All-in-One For Dummies explains everything you need to get up and running with the popular Linux operating system. Written in the friendly and accessible For Dummies style, the book ideal for new and intermediate Linux users, as well as anyone studying for level-1 Linux certification.