Why I Might Leave OS X

I’ve been a Mac OS X user for a long time; I switched from Windows to OS X in 2003 when the OS X flavor of the day was 10.2 “Jaguar.” Since that time, I’ve upgraded hardware (moving from a Titanium PowerBook G4 to a Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro circa 2006, then to a 2009-era 15″ Core 2 Duo-based MacBookPro, and finally to a 13″ MacBook Pro with a Core i7) and I’ve upgraded OS X releases (from Jaguar to Panther to Tiger to Leopard and finally to Snow Leopard). Both the hardware as well as the software have served me well.

I adopted OS X as my operating system of choice in 2003 because I wanted a stable, powerful, UNIX-based operating system. For the most part, OS X has delivered that over the years. Yes, there have been issues from time to time (no software is perfect), but—for the most part—I’ve been pretty happy with OS X. There was a time, a few years ago, that I couldn’t imagine I would ever switch away.

As millions of other users did, I also adopted the iPhone (and later the iPad), further strengthening Apple’s hold on my personal computing landscape. Much like OS X just seemed to “make sense” to me on my laptop, iOS just seemed to “make sense” to me on these new touch-enabled devices. One of the reasons I think iOS was (and is) successful is because Apple didn’t try to shoehorn “traditional” interface assumptions onto these new form factors. They recognized that trying to apply desktop computing paradigms to mobile devices wouldn’t work well. Instead, Apple’s engineers set out to design an operating environment that was tailored to the form factor.

Ironically, the very thing that I think led to the success of iOS is now pushing me away from OS X. However, as happy as I’ve been with OS X, it now appears that Apple is “thinking differently” about where OS X is headed, and that direction looks to be closely aligned with iOS. In the hopes of bringing the incredible popularity of iOS devices to the Mac market, Apple seems to be bringing OS X closer and closer to iOS. Yet, in the push to do so, they have forgotten what made iOS successful: it was tailored to the use case. iOS wasn’t designed for laptops and workstations; it was designed for mobile devices. OS X wasn’t designed for mobile devices; it was designed for laptops and workstations. Clearly, when you try to merge products that were designed for separate use cases, something has to give. Given the popularity of iOS, which one do you think will win?

So, the powerful UNIX-based operating system that I adopted so many years ago is now beginning to give way to a candy-coated plaything, where applications are sandboxed (thus crippling so many applications and their functionality in the process) and the concept of a filesystem where files can be freely shared among applications gives way to application-specific document storage (where files created in one application can’t be seen by other applications—see Documents in the Cloud). It’s a shame…but such is life. The only constant is change.

Don’t be surprised, then, to see me start talking more about switching away from OS X, and exploring applications and tools that work on other platforms. It won’t happen overnight; nine years is a long time to accumulate files and data. I have to look at how I can “free” my data from proprietary file formats so that I’m more platform-independent, and I need to examine the various alternatives that exist for my primary computing environment. Further, I need to ensure that the applications I need to get my job done will be present on my next platform. An OS is nice, but it’s just window dressing without the applications.

I welcome your comments and thoughts, both now and throughout this process.

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  1. Ivan Pepelnjak’s avatar

    Welcome to the club ;) It seems all the operating systems are moving in the direction of catering to the mouse-happy consumers … and it’s amazing how much productivity is lost chasing screen items with mouse instead of figuring out what needs to be done, investing in blind-typing course, and getting your job done fast and efficiently.

    Yeah, I know, I’m a grumpy old timer, and I hope I’ll manage to survive the next few years with an outdated operating system that will actually allow me to get my job done in reasonable time, but I also have no idea where to look – OS vendors are like lemmings, and for most problems I have open-source applications on Linux are still subpar.


  2. Graham smith’s avatar

    I’m at the other end of the table just recently moved from windows to OS X so I guess I am still in the honeymoon phase. I can see your point the interface is very similar feel to the iPhone with the App Store looking to be interchangeable between the two but my main reason was to get onto a unix based system.
    If OS’s go down the generic device route then I struggle to see them doing well in the market place just look at windows 8 built for phones and so far failing as a desirable desktop OS

  3. Felix’s avatar

    Hi Scott

    Absolutely am in to your thoughts about the use cases. But my question to you: If you want to leave OS X, what is your alternative?
    As far as I see so far, MS is doing the same really thing with Win8, pushing desktop users to use their mouse as a replacement for a finger. Sure, besides the two big ones, there are plenty of platforms especially based on Linux, which most of it, once understood and configured run pretty well. But what is the average non-experienced user left with?

    Best regards,

  4. Gabi’s avatar

    A good read, thank you for sharing your thoughts and unfortunately I have to agree with you.

    OS X /Apple just don’t seem to be the innovative company that they used to be a while back, I don’t know if that’s because they have reached their peak just like “Microsoft” or because of the people that have departed the business.

    You just have to look at the latest release of iTunes, it doesn’t conform with the rest of Apple’s work, seems to have been rushed (more so than usual) and just doesn’t comply. Apple TV’s interface is another one where it’s strange.

    One thing that I do thoroughly appreciate is the pricing structure of the software upgrades.

    I think what makes Apple work is how nice the hardware/software combination is and I find their support/after sales superb.

    Hopefully you will stay on, if not, what will you go for?

  5. Marcus Evans’s avatar

    I moved away from OSX about 2 years ago and would never dream of going back.

    My OS of choice has varied through the years:
    1988-1994 (Amiga)
    1994-2006 (DOS, Windows 3.11, 95, 98, ME, XP, Vista)
    2006-2010 (OSX Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard, Lion – although only on a Mac Mini connected to my TV)
    2010-2012 (Windows 7/8)

    If I am being honest, I find OSX to be a slow and clumsy OS GUI to operate – little things like the unmatched horizontal and vertical speeds of the mouse, the perminant shared menu bar for all apps (confusing and terrible for dual screens), the awful floating menus, the lack of a consistant full screen button, the space hog that is the launcher, the strange blurry text anti aliasing… I could go on.

    There was a point 2005-2008 where Windows was so DRAMATICALLY behind OSX that OSX felt like a bolt from the future! It was so beautiful and had so many headline grabbing features like Expose, Spotlight, Time Machine & integrated Google services support.

    Then came Windows 7 in 2009, I never looked back, the OS just screamed on even the weakest of hardware, looked really pretty and had some really nifty new features like the superbar, aero peak, aero snaps, unified system icons, quick search. I loved Windows 7, it was the OS I always wanted MS to make, it made OSX feel sluggish and ‘quaint’.

    Now I am on Windows 8 and I love it even more, in fairness I have ditched the Metro interface with Start 8, but the improvements to the desktop interface are so great that I can safely say that this is the greatest OS which MS has ever made.

    I would love to hear about your future decisions regarding your OS of choice.

  6. Olli’s avatar

    Funny. I’m in the same process. There are two things, which let me believe that OS X is not what makes me happy these days. First of all I can see Apple getting more and more power today. Apple is a “hype”. Not bad but you can see companies getting sometimes strange when they have too much power. One of the things with Apple is indeed the iOS behavior for all devices.

    The second thing is that I can still see lots of problems with MS Office environments, which let me switch over the past years between different mail clients and office versions. Our company uses Exchange and MS Office and there are still some incompatibilities between Office 2010 and Office 2011.

    And to be honest, the newly Windows 8 is really good. It matches perfect from a price point and has a lot new interesting features in it although I can see similarities to the smartphone world. Let’s see what else is out there. Different Linux versions are also very interesting.

    However, I will follow your way and still need some time to think about what I really need for my business.



  7. moshkow’s avatar

    It seems to me, that all known OSes goes to the same way – pad-style.
    Windows Metro interface, Gnome 3 in Linux…
    What to choose for old fashined unixoid? Linux KDE? Solaris? Where I can get stability?

  8. Matteo’s avatar

    Sandboxing is not a style exercise but a very needed feature in these days of rootkit and all that jazz. Beside the fact that your apps will clash on the sandbox issue is a coder problem not an os one, i have apps that can access my local files just fine while in a sandbox(like unarchiver) so you just need to press your app developer to do better. While i understand that you may be upset by the “appliance-like” tendency of mac os in modern releases i don’t think its a con, just compare esxi to a xcp server, one is a lean and predictable server, the other is a mess of dependencies and spaghetti plumbing to make it work. Beside all that what is your unix alternative? BSD or linux?

  9. Jon Hudson’s avatar

    So I came to OSX for the very same reasons, actually about the same time. And while I run a windows vm for visio, I also occasionally run linux and bsd, even opensolaris vms.

    And I also have been growing very concerned with the very obvious migration of OSX to a more IOS like creature. Dashboard for example, pisses me off.

    And just on friday I got a nice shiny new i7 quad core 2.7GHz 15″ macbook retina pro with 16G of mem and a 768G SSD drive. And just before seeing your post I was happily updating fink and getting rsync working, grinning ear to ear that I was doing this on the same box that I run Microsoft Office and Quicken.

    There is where the issue really rears it’s ugly head. OSX is a window manager. A window manager on a very nice UNIX OS. And while that window manager has been going places I am not happy about, that same window manager succeeded (finally) in getting to a point that the ONLY application I have run into in about 4yrs now that I can’t run on OSX is Visio.

    What other UNIX is going to pull that off? What other window manager is going to gain the capabilities and software support that OSX has?

    So while I agree that the time may be soon coming where OSX is not the darling OS that it once was to me. My question to you is, what else is there? Because we both know Linux isn’t anywhere near that level. (as much as I wish it were) The recent Dell laptop that came out is promising, but still a ways away.

  10. Patrick’s avatar

    I toyed a couple of times with a switch to OSX. First it was the price of a well sized 13″ macbook, then it was the lack of some applications that I need for my job, now it’s the need that my wife and I have to share our homeoffice, which means ONE docking and TWO notebooks that are compatible to this dockingstation. And Apple things about to move away from Intel… Hach ja…

  11. LWR’s avatar

    I’m still on Snow Leopard, so I guess I’ve “missed out” on the latest 2 releases, but I’ve been ignoring all the “nifty GUI stuff” like Dashboard for the last couple of releases.

    Have “command-tab” to switch between running apps, and “command-`” (that’s a backtick — shares the key with “~”, right below ESC, on U.S. keyboard layouts), which switches between windows of the same app, stopped working in Lion and later releases? (Also, turn on Keyboard Shortcuts for “All Controls” in your keyboard preferences.)

    Am I being *way* too miopic?

  12. Justin Scott’s avatar

    I was very interested to see this post because I’ve been feeling the same way but in the opposite direction. I’ve been a long-time Windows user and I’m not thrilled about the direction Microsoft is taking Windows. The “modern” GUI is great for tablets, but not for the desktop (another commenter mentioned “Start 8″ which I assume brings back the Start menu; I will have to check that out). Your points about Apple keeping their operating systems separate for mobile and desktop is one of the primary reasons I have been considering a switch to Mac OS from Windows. I have heard that Apple has been making some changes to OS X to bring things more in-line with iOS (e.g. the naming of applications so that they’re consistent on both platforms and ensuring iCloud integration works, among other things). If they’re heading in the same direction as Microsoft with a “one OS to rule them all” mentality then I might as well stick with Windows (at least there I don’t have a learning curve and all my software still works even if my old trusty desktop is yesterday’s news). I’ve also looked at Fedora Linux with the Gnome 3 desktop and I do like it (honestly, it is what Windows 8 should have been, in my humble opinion), but most of the software I need isn’t available on Linux and I’d end up with a virtual Windows PC inside it anyway. It is an interesting time for the desktop for sure.

  13. Seth’s avatar

    I agree with you Scott. Especially with the following: “So, the powerful UNIX-based operating system that I adopted so many years ago is now beginning to give way to a candy-coated plaything, where applications are sandboxed (thus crippling so many applications and their functionality in the process) and the concept of a filesystem where files can be freely shared among applications gives way to application-specific document storage (where files created in one application can’t be seen by other applications—see Documents in the Cloud)”

  14. phocean’s avatar

    Hi Scott,

    I am using all OSes, but after many years on Linux I recently switched to Mac. Because I wanted a nice and stable OS to support my work (which includes virtual machines of other OSes).

    And I have been really happy with that. While I agree to your concerns, I am still convinced that it is the best OS. The one that just works and helps me to focus only on my work.

    Yes, like you, I am worried about the future. But right now, Mountain Lion is still a good OS and no ones can tell what the future will be. It won’t happen tomorrow all the sudden. Maybe they will do it wrong, maybe not. Telling that Mac OS will definitely merge with IOS sounds like FUD to me, or you have sources that I haven’t read…

  15. Paul’s avatar

    I’ve been a Linux desktop user since 1998, and i have never really understood the fascination that OS X seems to hold for many sys-/net-admins For me, the proprietary nature of OS X was enough reason to stay away from it in the first place, but i found its GUI less intuitive than Windows, and a lot of its features (like Expose and whatever they called the 3D box thing that switched virtual desktops) were just ways to introduce visual noise into functions that could much more easily be done from the customisable keyboard shortcuts that my X11 window manager (icewm) offered.

    I have to disagree with Jon Hudson – there are plenty of good choices in the Linux world for someone like Scott, given all the playing with Linux he’s been doing lately. As Felix hinted, they might not work for the average home user (although my 63-year-old mother seems to manage just fine), but anyone who’s made Open vSwitch work on their server should be able to get a desktop environment on Linux tuned exactly to their liking. I would start with Ubuntu and if you don’t like the GUI experience with Unity (their GUI environment), try Linux Mint for Cinnamon or MATE, Kubuntu for KDE, or Xubuntu for XFCE. (In my experience *BSD isn’t as practical a choice as Linux because its driver coverage is more limited, but most of the same desktop environment options are available.)

    With any recent Intel-based hardware (i recommend ThinkPad X or T series), Linux should give a great laptop experience right out of the box, and the ability to pick & choose hardware is a bonus as well. I was able to get a 12.5″ sub-1.5 kg laptop with 16 GB RAM, a built-in Gigabit port, and a removable battery (!). :-)

    I must admit i’m a bit of a minimalist when it comes to applications, but i don’t find the applications that i use on a day-to-day basis to be poor in quality. My must-have apps are browsers (Firefox, Chromium, and Opera), email (Thunderbird), LibreOffice, desktop notes (Tomboy), utilities like Unison for file sync and Picasa for photo management, but the vast majority of my work is done in an ssh session in a terminal window.

  16. phocean’s avatar

    @Paul: I know all that, I had been advocating it for years.
    On the paper, the offer is great and almost on par with other OSes. But there is a problem: BUGS.
    Some of those that I reported years ago are still sitting in bugzilla. Sometimes, one get resurrected as regression.
    I don’t criticize because I know very well that developpers of free software do their best and often produce great software. But when it comes to a complex environment like a complete desktop system, believe me, you will always be annoy ed by a few sticky bugs that will destroy your experience and distract you from your real work.

    So definitely, I won’t recommend anymore the “Linux desktop” to an intensive user.

  17. Darryl’s avatar

    I’ve been feeling the same way. I’ve been a Mac user since 2006 (when they went Intel), but I’m also very well-versed in both Windows and Linux on the desktop. My initial foray into *nix was Ubuntu back in 2007 and I still love the IDEA of running Ubuntu on a daily basis. However, every time I make that switch I run into something that pushes me back to OS X. Whether it be Ubuntu’s inability to sleep properly or its poor driver support for some piece of hardware, it just doesn’t seem to be *there* yet when it comes to a daily driver.

    I REALLY liked Windows 7 (after hating Vista), but now Microsoft has gone and made a truly awful OS in Windows 8 (IMO). It seems that their GUI changes are as bad as Unity and the new GNOME. There is no really attractive option right now. Snow Leopard was, in my mind, the ideal operating system but unfortunately Apple has restricted their newer pieces of hardware to Lion and newer. So I’m stuck. It’s a bad spot to be in.

    I’ll be really interested to see what mixture of OS/apps you choose, especially in light of all the workflow stuff you’ve posted that’s specific to OS X. I assume you will move towards Linux based on your recent projects/posts. Good luck.

  18. EricW’s avatar

    As someone that worked with you in the past, and joked a bit with you about you using a mac, i must say that your use of the mac was actually a consideration when i made the switch from windows to mac. I wanted to see what all the hubbub was about lol, there are things i like, and things i miss from windows, but in the end i think all the major OS’es are heading down the same road, so switching off of it may not buy you much!

  19. Frank Wegner’s avatar

    Great thoughts, all. I use Mac OS X for work, Windows 7 on my home machine, and just recently discovered Linux Mint/Cinnamon which I think is the best Linux I have tried so far. It supports all my PC hardware out of the box, and after a day I could even get my Brother printer to work.

    I still need Windows 7 for some of my main use cases, i.e. scanning and OCR of documents, as well as my tax software.

    One topic which did not get discussed much here, but which I find crucial: How do you liberate your data from your OS? Apple’s way of proprietary repositories in iPhoto put me off. I prefer plain directories on my Synology NAS for images, music, and video. So I might try out Picasa. For office docs Libre Office is perfect cross platform. Mail, calendar and tasks I manage with gmail cross plattform (using the web based GUI). This covers 90+ % of all my use cases for data.

    I have a combination of my “private cloud” (Synology-based) and public providers like Dropbox (using Truecrypt for sensitive data). I’d love using Mozy and Stash more but there is no Linux client (yet) for them.

    A final thought: Spend time deleting data – we all keep much too much. Moving OS is like moving house. If you have not touched data for a year or two, chances are you will not miss it. And changing your OS is the perfect time to get rid of old stuff.

    Great topic, and lots of open questions on my end. I’ll watch this space for more ideas ;-)

  20. phocean’s avatar

    There are many ways for liberation the data.

    For photos, I use software like LightRoom that uses the file system for storing and organizing photos, and not a proprietary database structure.

    For notes, I use exclusively text files. There are easy to move and get indexed by the system.
    On this point, there is a big caveat of going back to Linux: since Beagle was abandoned, there is no more serious and well integrated file indexer like Spotlight: Google desktop is also unmaintained, Tracker does not work well while there are other alternatives but with a poor GUI integration.

  21. Robert Pelletier’s avatar

    For the comment about iPhoto, the library file is in fact a folder, and all the pictures are available in a folder structure maintained by iPhoto in it. The only proprietary part of it is the database containing the metadata and how the structure is maintained.

  22. John A’s avatar

    I’ve had this thought a few times, but what it comes down to is that Linux (even Ubuntu) doesn’t have the user experience I want and often has hardware issues, and Windows has its own set of issues, so while I’m not really happy with any OS at the moment, the Mac still comes out ahead.

    OS X also works the best on laptops in terms of sleep/wake and overall stability. MacBooks are also the best laptops out there in my opinion in terms of keyboard/screen/weight/build/overall feel.

    If I switched to Linux there isn’t a laptop I like using.

  23. Paul’s avatar

    @phocean You’re not wrong about the search functionality. I was very happy with Google Desktop until it was discontinued; i can’t even find a download of it any more. In my experience Tracker is slow to search and often produces incomplete results.


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