Linux On Macs
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Linux On Macs
by Jon Buys - Feb. 11, 2014Comments (9)
On a typical PC, installing Linux is as easy as putting a CD in the drive and rebooting. But, a Mac is far from your typical PC, and if you insist on running Linux natively, you might be in for a bit more work. Apple is not exactly forthcoming with information, especially with firmware, which makes the job of the distributions that want to support Macs difficult. In addition, Macs from different release years can contain very different hardware, one MacBook is not necessarily the same as another. That being said, once the drivers are installed and the system is configured, Linux on Macs can be a very nice environment, if you are up for a bit of fiddling. This recent Reddit thread reminded me of the many times I've run Linux on my Mac. I have a 2009 MacBook Pro that I've gone back and forth on using Ubuntu, FreeBSD, and OS X. The first thing you will need to know when installing Linux on a MacBook is that the wireless will most likely not work out of the box. I have always needed to hook up to a wired Internet connection after installing to download the non-free driver needed for my particular chipset. After running the install and patching to the latest level though, everything runs fine. Wireless, the built-in "Facetime" camera, bluetooth, and the speakers all work without problems after the first update. That's not to say that Linux is not without its oddities on the Mac. It is recommended that you keep a small partition for OS X available and dual boot the computer to apply the occasional firmware update released by Apple. I've always found the trackpad to be a bit of an annoyance, it is either too sensitive or too slow, and requires some tweaking. If you are ready to take the plunge, choosing a well supported distro will make things much easier. Ubuntu in particular seems to have good support for Macs, but they are not the only ones: Ubuntu Debian Arch Linux Mageia (documentation links through to another blog) Fedora It is possible that some devices will not work, especially if you have a newer thunderbolt equipped Mac. It is also possible that you may experience a notable decline in battery life when using Linux over OS X. However, most of the responses I've seen, as well as my own experiences, have been very positive. If you have experience running Linux on Apple hardware, the Reddit thread would love to hear from you, and I'd love to hear from you in the comments.
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by Sean Lynch on Feb. 12, 2014I have a Macbook Pro 17" (5,2) that I've had on it, at various times, Ubuntu, Arch, and OS X. Currently I have OS X installed because, frankly, I got tired of screwing with it. In my experience I never got the trackpad to work correctly and seemed to have something constantly take up my time to fiddle with.
I've recently adopted a 'no fiddle policy' since I found it was wasting too much of my time (even though I did enjoy it). Using OS X on a mac is about as braindead simple as it gets - everything, as they say, just works.... As long as you buy into the apple way.
I still wish I had Arch on my Macbook, where I would have a new GCC and I wouldn't have to mess with apple basically forcing you to use LLVM. I'm using XCode for development of a C++ project and I severely miss Eclipse. (I know I can use these tools on OS X but that would require more fiddling and I recently found that I can't get GDB to install and work correctly on OS X 10.9).
Given the pros and cons of both, I'm happy with just using OS X on my macbook because I can be very productive. But as a developer (of non OS X or IOS applications) my next laptop will not be from Apple and it will be running Arch.
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by Jon Buys on Feb. 12, 2014@Sean Lynch, have you looked at Homebrew for your GCC? (
I completely understand where you are coming from, it is a lot of hassle. Just out of curiosity, what kind of hardware would you move to? I've found it tough to find comparable hardware to a Mac in the PC world.
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by Sean Lynch on Feb. 12, 2014@Jon Buys I have looked at homebrew. I currently use MacPorts but I don't think it matters much other than homebrew is a little easier to use.
This issue is due to the fact that i need a newer version of gcc. A package manager needs to use gcc to compile the sources which becomes an issue when you install a different gcc. Or it will just install binaries but they can then become incompatible with your newer gcc toolchain. So I end up installing gcc from macports and then installing everything else (boost for example) from source with the newer gcc.
After a huge amount of fiddling I got everything to work but GDB wouldn't work. Apple removed the previous GDB to replace it with their LLVM tool LLDB. After installing my own GDB I found that it simply can't debug an apple dynamic library. That's when I just switched to XCode.
As for the hardware to be honest I haven't looked into it much. I think it will be hard to match the quality of a Unibody Macbook. But some of the ultra books I've seen look like they're getting close to the quality of a Macbook Air. That's where I would start.
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by souenzzo on Feb. 12, 2014On arch, there is no difference between mac or UEFI PC's.
All macs firmware are include on they default kernel too
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by John on Feb. 13, 2014First thing I did after buying MacBook Air (mid 2012, just after it came out) was install Arch Linux on it.
Everything, except keyboard backlight driver and that magical mac port (Thunderbolt?) worked out of the box.
In about two months the backlight driver was fixed.
And while I can't use the thunderbolt (or how is it called), Thunderbolt to HDMI connector works and that is pretty much all I need from it.
Trackpad works perfectly (including 2 finger scroll, 3 finger click, etc).
Also Grub2 bootloader supports UEFI so dual boot wasn't a problem.
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by srinivas v on Feb. 13, 2014Here are my experiences while installing Arch GNU/Linux on a late 2011 Macbook Air(4.2), 13 incher.
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by Jon Buys on Feb. 13, 2014@John @souenzzo Sounds like Arch might be the way to go? I've been using Ubuntu, maybe that's part of the issue. Did your wireless work out of the box too?
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by souenzzo on Feb. 13, 2014@Jon Buys
Arch all works "out-of-the-box". But need some time of study for first install.
Fedora and OpenSUSE also have an updated kernel and good firmwares. It may work too and is easier to install.
Try a live session from USB (for all distro, just download live ISO and make "sudo dd if=path_to_iso/arch.iso of=/dev/discX"). Be careful with "dd" command. it can destroy your data. but is really usefull
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by Eddie G. on Feb. 13, 2014While I don't doubt that it would be great to have Linux on an Apple device....I can't fathom the price of the Macbooks and other equipment from Apple. I figure if I want to run Linux, I would rather spend that kind of money on getting a laptop that will give less problems and would allow for an easier install. I don't mind twiddling and tinkering, but seeing as how I've abandoned all forms of M$ Windows in my life, it would be nice to have the Linux distro I'm using just install and run. And while I realize that not everything will work with it right out of the box, I can rest assured that what I need to work...will just work. This is not the same for those who need high-powered graphics intensive or sound-audio-video applications for their daily work as I know a lot of people who use Mac-books and Macs use them for A/V production work, but for those who just want a decent and secure way of computing, then I think it makes better sense to spring for a high powered laptop and then install the version of Linux you choose without having to jump through all the hoops tweaking on an Apple machine.
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