Revisiting Linux

It’s been a long time since I’ve used Linux on a daily basis. Back in those days, my development tools were vim, make, and CVS. I ran an early free version of Red Hat with the best windowing manager there was at the time: FVWM. My browser was Netscape, my multi-protocol IM client was the text-based CenterICQ, and my mail client was Pine running inside of Screen. (My cell phone was a big plastic Nextel clamshell which the IT guys called the construction worker phone.)

But like many Linux users at the time, I was trying to exist in a Windows world. I used VMWare for testing web sites on IE, and various command line tools for converting Word documents that people insisted on emailing me into watered-down PDFs. So when OS X came out, I rejoiced and immediately jumped ship (before it even supported CD burning), and I’ve never looked back.

But when builds of AIR for Linux started appearing, I decided it was time to revisit Linux (specifically Ubuntu) to see what had changed. I made the mistake of installing it under VMWare on my MacBook initially which didn’t impress me all that much since it wasn’t able to access the graphics card directly, so yesterday I decided to set aside some time and install Ubuntu natively on my Mac.

From the time I got it in my head to give it a try to the time I was running AIR apps was probably about an hour. That included downloading Ubuntu 8.10, burning the ISO, using Boot Camp to make my Mac think I wanted to install Windows, and more or less following these instructions for installing Ubuntu on a new partition. Although I used an internal build of AIR for Linux, a public beta build is available here.

The experience of running Ubuntu natively really blew me away. The windowing effects are beautiful, and after using the OS for a few hours, I began to realize that Ubuntu even does a few things better than OS X. All my AIR apps ran beautifully (here’s a screenshot of three of them running), and I began to realize that with Flex Builder for Linux, AIR for Linux, a few strategic AIR apps (Apprise Reader, TweetDeck, etc), Firefox, and with the amount of data that’s moving to "the cloud," I could very easily start using Linux again day-to-day. I did encounter a few incompatibilities running Ubuntu on Mac hardware, but if I could get my hands on a decent ThinkPad, I think I just might be able to make the switch. Of course, I’ll have to keep my Mac around for synching my iPhone since I did finally give up that Nextel i1000.

10 Responses to Revisiting Linux

  1. shaun says:

    How about wireless?

  2. I don’t do much with Air, but I’m a Mac user at home who recently went back to Linux (also Ubuntu) on my work laptop – a Dell Latitude 820 – and, like you, was pretty impressed. I still find little stuff that annoys me, but for the most part I like it just fine.Also like you, I’ve also found some things that I like even better than OS X. I drop a steady stream of tweets about those because they’re so unexpected. Of course, there’s also the trickle of tweets about things I don’t like, but most of those are centered on Debian’s fragmented Apache config.

  3. Mr.doob says:

    Oh! So the new AIR runtime will support alpha transparencies !!\o/!!Here it’s something that Ubuntu/Linux does better than MacOS: anytime a new update is available, you know it’s for fixing/improving something instead of for selling more iphones.There is no way I’m going back (to Windows), specially with Adobe supporting the platform more and more ;D

  4. sal says:

    any particular reason you’d choose a thinkpad? I’ve been thinkin of getting a decent viao and running ubuntu…anything special about a thinkpad I should know about?

  5. Christian Cantrell says:

    Sal,No particular reason, except that I like ThinkPads. I honestly don’t know which are the good PC laptops these days. ThinkPads are mostly what I’m exposed to (if you don’t use a Mac at Adobe, you use a ThinkPad), but I’d be willing to try other brands.What else is good?Christian

  6. Christian Cantrell says:

    shaun,Wireless was no problem at all. Worked right away. The biggest problems I had were with using a second monitor via DVI, and the updates I installed took some time to get working.I’d like to try Ubuntu on a PC and see if the experience might be even better, but since I’ve been using Macs for so long, I don’t have any PCs handy at the moment.

  7. Mr.doob says:

    C’mon guys! Don’t play the Apple game. Macs are Apple branded PC’s. There is no reason to differentiate from PC’s anymore, they use the same CPU’s than Dell/IBM/Toshiba… branded PCs. It’s not a C64 or an Amiga that has a totally different architecture. It’s a PC. Don’t let the ADs eat your brains.Don’t get me wrong. They are cool machines tho, but PCs after all.

  8. Robin says:

    I’m a Linux user and a Flash/Flex/AIR Developer. Developing Rich Internet Applications is very doable in Linux 32bit. But I’d really like to see some amd64 builts of FlexBuilder, Flashplayer and AIR.I’m running a 64bit ubuntu 8.10 and I have to use a VirtualMachine (VirtualBox) for RIA Development.Some visual ubuntu tips: avant-window-navigator, conky

  9. Christian Cantrell says:

    Mr. Doob:You’re right about Macs being branded PCs, but when it comes to running different OSes, it’s a matter of drivers. Windows didn’t run well on MacBooks until Apple put a huge amount of effort into writing Windows drivers (which took a long time). The same is true for Ubuntu. I found that multiple monitors, power saving, fan control, trackpad control, right-clicking, and keyboard lighting were all sketchy on my MacBook under Ubuntu. This is obviously a matter of drivers, not the hardware itself. My assumption was that Ubuntu would come with drivers better suited for machines like ThinkPads, Dells, Vaios, etc. I don’t know for sure if that’s true, but I strongly suspect that it is.In other words, the differences between Macs and PCs really boil down to drivers, but those difference are important.Christian

  10. Mr.doob says:

    Christian:Yeah, I agree on that. That’s one of the reasons I use Apple computers (being the most important one their quietness). I was referring more to the way you guys were talking about MACs ad PCs 🙂