Operating Systems

Why Mac users don’t switch to Linux

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?

Before I go any further, I want to encourage folks that are new to Linux to check out these helpful books on Amazon. They will help you understand what Linux has to offer and will let you get the most out of it.

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: Essential Commands

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: A Complete Introduction

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.


How Linux Works

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

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.


By Jim Lynch

Jim has written opinion columns, reviews and roundups for many leading industry publications and sites over the years including PC Magazine, ITworld, InfoWorld, ExtremeTech, Salon, CIO, Forbes and many others.

20 replies on “Why Mac users don’t switch to Linux”

Looking back as a Windows power user, Linux was a natural progression for me. I was always customizing the OS and using third-party software anyway.

Because many Mac users are like religious zealots? More than anyone else they have adopted the myth of “there ain’t free lunch” which is of course nonsense because most important things during the mankind have always been free with no idea of looting folks.

It’s the apps, then the rest is a distant second. If Linux apps had more functionality, better user interface, better documentation, and better support we would be in business. Of course, we Linux users (and I am one) will need to pay for apps. Anyone willing to pay for better apps?

Of course, we are talking about the desktop. Linux is doning quite well in embedded (Android), and on the server.

Honestly I find the quality of the apps that do exist to be of much better quality than alot of the windows stuff…….freeware to freeware linux wins hands down(ie kdenlive vs window movie maker), having a fairly safe repository to install software from is invaluable. just go search for a freeware windows program for whatever and you end up with nothing but virus/trojan/adware programs that dont work anyway.

as far as paying for apps I did recently purchase Harrison Mixbus……(recording DAW for music production etc). And it is windows/mac/linux.

payware linux&mac win but that is only because of companies choosing not to support it….thats not linux’s fault but if you are a graphic design or recording professional etc I cant really fault someone for keeping their business going etc but they really do not have a choice about it.

I dunno. There seems to be a sub-set of Linux users these days that are hell bent on turning Linux into OSX. And most of them seems to be operating using some kind of Mac for their hardware base…

I’ve been using Macs since 1984, Windows since Windows for Workgroups 3.11 and Linux for about 2 years now. Mac users HATE the fact that Microsoft requires you to jump through so many extra hoops just do get the damn job done. Calling it an infuriating experience is a very large understatement. As an old geezer sysadmin my Mac clients rarely needed my help, and I frequently could talk them through an easy software fix over the phone. Doing preventive maintenance once a quarter is the norm for Macs. Mac users just want to do what they got the computer for. They have no interest in doing what Windows forces everyone to do. From an IT perspective, Microsoft equals job security galore. Windows needs you everyday all day. Just getting the job done does not exist in the world of Bill Gates’ bare naked greed.

So, Mac users are very happy that they have escaped the black hole of a Microsoft dominated world. But they don’t realize that Apple is just as greedy and controlling as Microsoft. Apple has done a better job than Microsoft at appearing beneficent while hiding a genuinely black heart.

Think of Mac users as partially freed from the yoke. They haven’t yet seen the true light of computing freedom that Linux provides, but they are at least shackled by a smaller set of chains. Ever since Steve Jobs died Apple has been behaving more and more like Microsoft in public. They have been consistently shooting themselves in the foot. They can’t seem to help themselves. Be patient. They’ll eventually see the light. It’s just a longer path to the inevitable.

Sorry this was so lengthy.

Given that Apple wants an arm, a leg, and your first born for anything and that Apple customers seem ok with that perhaps the real reason is that Linux doesn’t cost enough. Or perhaps a life without Applewood panels on the walls is to scary.

I took up Linux in the mid nineties and dropped Windows at the turn of the millennium. At that point I told the wife that I don’t do Windows. My son then had to help her with computer problems. She lately got fed up with all the problems she had with Windows and switched to …. a Mac, to my horror. So now I’m totally in the dark. OSX was obviously designed for computer idiots so I simply have no idea how to use it because after 45 years in the computer business I’m not a computer idiot. And my wife who IS a computer idiot can’t figure it out either.

Ah well. I DID ask her to get rid of Windows. So always be careful what you ask for!

I used to program PCs in the early 80’s – before “Windows”, and before the Macintosh. But in 1984, I saw my first Mac 128. I’d had a Commodore 64 at home, but I’d been looking to buy a “real” computer, probably a PC or a PC jr. When I saw the Macintosh for the first time, I said, “screw the PC, I’m buying one of these.” I continued to program at work on a [DOS] PC-AT, but at home I had a more elegant system. I upgraded to 512MB, then to 1MB, and eventually replaced that original Mac with a Mac-LC, and finally a beige G3.

It was when Apple came out with OS-X, a few months after I bought my G3, and I found out that the new OS wouldn’t run on MY relatively-new Mac, that I gave up. I had plenty of experience putting together PCs, so I bought a motherboard, a case & supply, and a disk drive, and cobbled together my first Linux PC.

I tried several distributions, and settled on OpenSuSE because it was the only one which seemed to let me easily interact with my old Mac, to fetch files off of its disks. At first, I’d occasionally have to run the G3 because I had so many documents in “Mac” formats (e.g. “Clarisworks”), but eventually, they all moved over, and the Windows versions of some programs (running under Wine) got me to the point of not using the Mac at all after 2003.

Like many old-but-not-yet-antiques, that G3 is now in the garage, under a lot of other things that probably should be tossed. I haven’t used it in a dozen years, and probably never will again. It was fun while it lasted, but that fast obsolescence turned me off from Apple. Buh-bye.

Linux users think too much. Next time you read through People, Time, Newsweek or watch TV:

count how many Windows advertisements you see

count how many Apple ads you see

count the total of Ubuntu, RedHat, SuSe, Debian ads you see

User counts will be proportional. Or maybe it’s more like (add counts)/(cost of ownership) = user counts.Guess it’s obvious I’m a Linux user.

OTOH, when PCs were all putty-colored, I kept asking who would want something so fugly in their home. Apple has it’s appeal, if you’re not all that into actually computing.

I did not come to Linux as a desktop user all that willingly; I was driven here forcibly by Microsoft. I had a Windows laptop that had failed again for the umpteenth time by infection, despite the fact that I had virus scanners running all the time. I had lost my Windows 2000 install disk (never did find it,) and I was pissed – I had a dead laptop. I was not going to install a cracked version of Windows. I had previous open-source experience running Firefox and OpenOffice so enough was enough. I downloaded Ubuntu 7.04 using another machine, installed it on the laptop, and never looked back. I felt I was entering a Brave New World and I loved it, despite the initial teething period.

Since then, I have heard more than one Mac user say to me, that the problem with Linux is that nobody appears to be in charge. There are “so many Linuxes” they say. I explain that there is Linux, and then there are the OS distros based on it. You choose what you want your OS to do, not somebody else.

I think the fundamental issue with Mac users, is that although they might not like the Microsoft hegemony, they do want somebody FIRMLY in charge.

I don’t bother trying to explain any more; either you yearn to breath free and compute with liberty … or you don’t. Computing freedom, like any other freedom, can be scary.

All casual users can switch to linux easily but if you are using or dependent on propriety apps that are designed for windows then you have no choice but to use windows.

Yes obviously any casual Windows user can switch, but the question wasn’t why don’t Windows users switch to Linux, but why don’t Mac users switch, assuming application lock-in is not the reason.

I think the most fundamental reason is that there is indeed a different mentality, and most people like somebody in charge. In this regard, I think Apple has proven competent at judging human nature and behavior.

I don’t expect Mac users to switch to Linux any time soon. They usually buy a computer based on the color of the case, not on the capabilities of the machine. I know it is politically incorrect (and it may even be considered flamebait), but among fellow Linux users the Mac is known as the “computer illiterate’s computer”.

I agree the issue is mindset, but that mindset is primarily secondary to awareness. People have heard of Apple and Microsoft, The general public have not heard of Linux. Adverts that create awareness see no money from advertising a product that is free.

The other issue is the general purpose computing platform has changed from a computer to a phone. The first bit of software that most (American) smartphone user use after the browser is not a creative suite or office application…it is iTunes.

>Is there something that prevents Mac users from making the jump?

More money than brains?

I luv my mum and aunt and my wife loves her mother too but there was no way in hell we were buying then expensive laptops so they can Skype and surf the web.

Bought nice 2nd hand laptops for under 200$, put Kubuntu and Ubuntu (we gave them a choice because its important that the user feels comfortable and not push a fave desktop) and all I got to do is udpate the LTS every two years and everything else is done automatically.

My mom is pretty l33t in her 80s. She surfs the net, gmails, skypes, writes old style letters in LO, watches DVD’s and takes pictures with her digital camera that she plugs into the laptop to DL. Her 2nd hand Dell XPS cost me 175$.

Both my wife and I have Macs and Wins at work and we both love our moms.

But there was no good reason to spend 5-10 times the amount we spend to do the exact same thing.

With the extra money, send you mom on a vacation instead.

I honestly don’t think you understand users. I’ve been a User Experience Designer for 25 years, starting on the Xerox Star (first GUI), then at Apple where I contributed to a lot of the Human Interface Guidelines, then Sun (contributed to Java Style Guide), NASA and now Cisco. Before that I wrote operating systems – so I’m about as nerdy as we come.

I enjoy tinkering with hardware and software but when I want to do my work – or just surf the web, watch videos, etc. I don’t want to tinker. I want the system to work – just as I want my car to work. UE Design Standards are important to people. Imagine if someone decided to build a car that required you to steer with your feet. I guess pilots might buy it, but no one else would because we’re all practiced using a steering wheel. Same thing for computer UEs.

There have been remarkably few real changes in UE Design since the work at Xerox PARC, SRI, etc. Mostly it’s been minor refinements, reinventions and reskinning.

In my experience Mac Developers, and many Mac Users are passionate about better UE Design because they want tools that work better. Some people like to throw around terms like “fan boy” or “zealot” – but we don’t care.

We’re not forcing you to buy a Mac, or a Windows, etc. Use the tools that you want and stop “hating.” Grow up.

No one’s hating. They simply made a characterization and it seems to have struck a nerve.

> I don’t want to tinker. I want the system to work

Those aren’t mutually exclusive. For instance, my KDE desktop works… but I can select “Special Window Settings” from an open window and get several tabs’ worth of extra options if I wish. For instance, I can force a program to start at a particular location on the screen each time or override almost any default behavior or appearance. On Mac or Windows (even some Linux desktops), if you don’t like the way something looks/works… you’re stuck with it.

So please don’t object with the statement “I want the system to work”. Everyone wants their systems to work, and they do – Windows, OS X and Linux. Linux users want their systems to work *the way they like it*. For whatever reason, Windows and OS X users are content to have Cupertino or Redmond dictate this for them.

Forgive me, but I continued to think that you don’t clearly Identify Mac users. Before the arrival of “iThings” they were looking for a something simple, easy and user friendly. That no other system offered.

Since the arrival of iPods, iPhones and iPad, Apple simply takes advantage of the current that carries them, and rebuilds his OS so that it looks more and more to iOS.
Commercially it is unquestionably a bankable approach. What is much less fun, is that OSX is now a system for users of these iThings i. And leaves to paths those which formed its basis.

That is why more and more MacUsers really begin to imagine a switch to something else.

And then the questions begin to arise.
Now there is Windows 10, which starts really look like something practical and user friendly.

And then there are the LINUX distributions. And there, whatever people say, this is not an obvious simplicity for a potential switcher from mac. Not because they seek a Mac clone, but because as soon as someone asks a question on a Linux forum, everyone has his harangue. Fedora, Slack, Ubuntu (and there are a bunch), Mint, RedHat … etc.

And it is better that he does not say he does not like the Terminal. because here the topic slips immediately.

There are quite a few ditributions that may be suitable.

But when the guy comes out of MacOS, believe me, he hardly understand anything when he addresses a Linux forum, and I speak from experience. Looks like everything is done to discourage the potential switcher. I know this is not the case, but it’s really discouraging for one who seeks to get by.

Why must he, too, always return to discussions “Totally Free or not”?
Why distribution can not she have the “look and feel” of OSX? It’s so serious doctor?
Why can not there be absolutely no proprietary software? There are many who are willing to pay, as long as what is offered to them is well finished, practical and harmonious. Why must the terminal become a must to go trough?

I return to PearOS, how many times have I read that it was not a Linux distribution worthy of the name? And I read it a few days ago about Manjaro “Why yet that look and feel MacOS like?”

Is there a superiority complex of the linuxers and hatred of everything that looks like the macOS?

No, Terminal is not necessary, it’s helpful ok, but it have to be an OS that can work without.

Sorry, I made a try, but I have a bad english.

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