OSX or Linux/BSD Laptop?
April 21, 2005 9:10 AM   Subscribe

My laptop is basically toast. I guess I need a new laptop. I was heading toward an iBook/Powerbook, but it suddenly occured to me that a Thinkpad with Linux or BSD might be good. Whatchall think?
posted by five fresh fish to Computers & Internet (24 answers total)
If you're really really comfortable with the care and feeding of a *nix install then I'd recommend the Thinkpad. They're super-sturdy, long lasting and generally excellent machines.

If, on the other hand, you want a *nix environment that you don't have to mess with unless you really feel the urge I'd recommend the iBook. It's a great deal and a fantastic machine. I've heard rumors that the iBook is going to be updated soon, so you may want to want until after Tiger is released.
posted by bshort at 9:23 AM on April 21, 2005

Here are some laptop threads.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 9:25 AM on April 21, 2005

Love my Thinkpad, but I run Windows on it.
posted by grouse at 9:31 AM on April 21, 2005

I've run linux on a thinkpad, lots of support out there for everything besides the dialup modem. Currently I run Mandrake 10.1 on a Toshiba Portege and have been impressed with how laptop friendly they (Mandrake/Mandiva) have become over the past few years.
posted by furtive at 9:35 AM on April 21, 2005

Thinkpads are as good as iBooks (both are great machines) but do you really want to tinker with your OS and apps, or do you just want to get stuff done? If the latter, then go with Apple (and then you can still tinker in the OS when you really want to)
posted by anadem at 9:39 AM on April 21, 2005

Here's the deal. You really need to think about what you are going to do with it. For my job, Linux is useless, as all my apps are custom written to run in Windows.

If you're like most people though, and only really need office apps and mail/surfing, with OpenOffice 2.0 and Mozilla/Firefox/Thunderbird, etc... I think the gap has closed considerably.

Another aspect that's appealing to me is that all the Linux stuff is free. Microsoft Office (unless you get the academic version) is fairly expensive.

If only there was a Linux version of UniGraphics. Sigh.

Another good option for you might be a Powerbook. My brother swears by his, and loves the OS X/Tiger operating system (he's not very computer savy).

posted by kungfujoe at 9:41 AM on April 21, 2005

in my experience, linux with a thinkpad (x31) sucks. i say this as the author of one of the guides on the net of how to do this (it's not official, but it gets hits). it was painful and it didn't work well.

on the other hand, win2k with cygwin is pretty damn solid.
posted by andrew cooke at 9:42 AM on April 21, 2005

Thinkpads are good. But,

1) I am a Unix Weenie™

2) I know lots and lots of Unix Weenies™

3) More and more of them are carrying Powerbooks, despite the one-button mouse, because They Work.

This is a big deal to us old pharts. We don't want to fight with our computers to get work done. We want to get work done. OS X is doing something we like -- getting faster and more stable with every revision.

So, I'd go with the PowerBook. Which I did, and haven't looked back.

If you really don't want the PowerBook, a ThinkPad with FreeBSD is a winning choice. (My desktop at home is running FreeBSD 5.3-RELEASEp7 -- haven't bothered with p8, since it's an AMD64 hole that was fixed, and I'm not running that chip. I digress.)

I'm very, very happy with my 12" Powerbook -- small, light, tough, fast, very capable, and all Unixy at the shell, but *not* X like at the GUI, which is a huge win. We'd use X as a unit of suck, but it would be like a Farad -- we'd be using nanoX and picoX to describe the daily suckitude in our lives.

You can run X, if you need to, btw.
posted by eriko at 9:43 AM on April 21, 2005

maybe that's a pompous over-stating of my case (the guide bit). sorry - but it really pissed me off. i thought linux on ibm was going to be easy.
posted by andrew cooke at 9:44 AM on April 21, 2005

Mac OS X and Linux are very different animals. I run Libranet 3.0 on a T21 Thinkpad, and love it. I was able to install just the apps I use, what little configuration I had to do was a snap, and it is just the way I like it.

I've also been getting a Mac Mini ready for a relative. This is my first exposure to OS X, and it is giving me hives. I can't find out what programs do what, where to install things, even what apps are already on it. (It is one sweet bit of hardware, though.)

So, I'd say it is down to how you use your computer. If you are comfortable doing everything the Apple way, go for an iBook or Powerbook. If you have certain apps you must have, or like tweaking at all, go with a Thinkpad (I'd recommend the T series) and Linux.
posted by QIbHom at 9:50 AM on April 21, 2005

I use Linux on a ThinkPad R51. It works wonderfully if you can get over the idiotic placement of the Function key.
posted by cmonkey at 10:25 AM on April 21, 2005

Don't forget that it is possible to run Linux on Apples as well as OSX.
posted by stet at 10:35 AM on April 21, 2005

Nobody's pointed this out yet, but you can install Linux on a Powerbook if you really want to. You're going to need to do it first, while your hard drive is all new and doesn't have any interesting data on it. You can then do the same dual-boot thing you'd do with a Linux-Windows machine.

In my humble opinion, you'll never miss Linux on a Book. Anything that's made it to the point of being a Debian package (and that's just about everything useful in the GNU/UNIX world) is available for OS X.

I strongly recommend the Apple laptop.
posted by onalark at 10:35 AM on April 21, 2005

I own both a Powerbook and an older Thinkpad. Both are excellent machines. I run linux exclusively on the Thinkpad (threw away the windows CD without even using it.. I asked that they not include it in the package, but they did anyway) and have had no trouble (i didn't try to get the modem working, though, so perhaps this would be a sticky issue).

Despite what andrew said above, Thinkpads are some of the most linux-friendly laptop machines available. I'm not saying andrew is wrong, but I am saying his experience would have been just as bad or much worse if it was with an HP, Toshiba or... Compaq /shudder. But, as others have said, Powerbooks can run linux. So, if you're at all interested in a powerbook, go for it. You won't regret the purchase.

Unless you don't get the built-in dvd burner and your other IDE dvd burner then dies, and you wish you'd gone a step up from the combo drive after the fact.
posted by odinsdream at 10:47 AM on April 21, 2005

Get the iBook. Like eriko, I know a lot of UNIX weenies who have taken to OS X with a lot of love. I don't know anyone who's experienced QIbHom's level of confusion, but then again, I had never even heard of his Linux distro before.

I do a lot of UNIX-y stuff at work, and I do it all on a Mac. You can even install other window managers on top of OS X.
posted by mkultra at 10:53 AM on April 21, 2005

Wouldn't a current Thinkpad be much faster than the iBook?
posted by smackfu at 11:02 AM on April 21, 2005

I love my X31 with Linux -- partly because of trailblazers like andrew cooke. Thanks andrew! But I admit that it took a lot of tinkering, particularly with wireless.
Having one, or even two, buttons would really annoy me.
posted by Aknaton at 11:07 AM on April 21, 2005

If I were in your situation, and I could stand the touchpad, I would probably go with the Mac. But I can't stand the touchpad, so I'm typing this on a T42p running Linux. It wasn't difficult to configure, the only thing I don't have working properly is hibernation, and it boots up so fast I don't even worry about that anymore.

Wireless might take a few minutes to set up because it isn't in the kernel (at least mine isn't). Everything else pretty much just works, and you can't beat the hardware.
posted by bh at 11:20 AM on April 21, 2005

I'm a longtime Linux enthusiast. I really struggled with getting Mandrake 8-9 working well on my last laptop (a Compaq), so when the time came for a new one, I went with a Powerbook. I realize that the IBM has a reputation for playing much more nicely with Linux, but I was just sick of fucking around. I have no complaints with my Apple: it's a stable, fast, UNIX system that does everything I need it to do. Plus, it runs Word natively, which is great for when I need to collaborate with a coworker who insists on using MS Office products. I'm still running a Linux system on my desktop, but I'm beginning to think it might be my last one. OS X just works.

As for the touchpad and the single button, I just use a bluetooth mouse.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:47 AM on April 21, 2005

It's not so much that I want Linux, as that I don't want Windows any more. I personally prefer FreeBSD to Linux. The former seems like it was designed, the latter as if it were thrown together as needed.

Why do I not want Windows? Because I'm tired of fucking around. I just don't give a shit about the OS any more. The less I have to deal with it, the happier I will be.

I want a text editor, OpenOffice.org, and Opera. What I'd like to include are Corel's graphics products, especially Painter and Draw.

Both BSD and OSX can satisfy the artsy stuff: the former through Wine, the latter through OS-native versions.

Mostly I just don't want to cry out in angry frustration any more. I can't take any more dinking around. I just want things to work, dammit, and I don't think that's too much to ask.

I love my touchpad, and I don't understand why some people don't like them.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:09 PM on April 21, 2005

I love my touchpad, and I don't understand why some people don't like them.

I just measured my touchpad. It is 4 end of index fingers by 3 end of index fingers. My screen is 1600x1200. It is usable, but slow compared to the trackpoint I use, which also has the benefit of leaving my fingers on the keyboard. I like the trackpoint so much I have a USB keyboard that is an exact copy of a Thinkpad keyboard.
posted by bh at 1:25 PM on April 21, 2005

I'll chime in my 2 cents for the iBook (though personally I'd go for the PowerBook, but that's just me - lack of supported dual monitor setup on the iBook kills it for me) - the speed difference between it and the thinkpad will be negligable and you won't have to go dinking around with Wine. the other 3 software requirements are covered (and if you don't want vi or emacs I'd recommend SubEthaEdit - switched to it from BBEdit and love it except for printing). OpenOffice isn't quite as good on OS X as it is on other Un*xes, but it's usable, and you can run MS Office if you get a wild hair and a lot of money. OS X seems to be your best bet; dinking with Wine is going to be pretty similar to dinking with Windows (that subsystem is still there, afterall, in some form - much less dinking than just running Windows but still some), and OS X includes a good bit of the FreeBSD userland anyway.
posted by mrg at 5:16 PM on April 21, 2005

I think it'll have to be an iBook or PowerBook. I am just going to have to finally face facts: while non-Apple laptops give more bang for the buck, the Windows sucks so supremely that it's worth having a lesser machine and a much superior OS. And given that I am sick and tired of dicking around with OSes, it makes no sense to install BSD.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:09 AM on April 22, 2005

I have a 12" ibook, and the weight and form factor are great, but after two years the case is creaky, it's all scratchy, the key surfaces are wearing away, and one of the feet has fallen off. You can't run virtual pc very well because of the lack of l2 cache, there is no audio-in for living out your rock star fantasies, and no pcmcia slot. I am upgrading to a powerbook in July (unless we *know* when the pbooks are being upgraded, then I'll wait). I wish the PB had the awesome thinkpad keyboard, speaking as a Tpad 600 owner. I may go for a 15", I dunno. I even sold my palm after getting the ibook because I didn't use it.

BH--what's the model of keyboard you bought? (if you're still reading this thread)
posted by craniac at 11:47 AM on April 22, 2005

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