Linux for a 2007 MacBook Pro?
July 15, 2011 7:22 AM   Subscribe

What version of Linux should I consider dual booting on my MacBook Pro?

I'm feeling frustrated with my older install of Mac OSX (started with Tiger, upgraded twice to Snow Leopard), and am not too beholden to any software other than Google Chrome.

I'm thinking about dual booting with a Linux distribution, so I could focus on practicing programming and doing word processing and browsing in it, and return to OSX when I need something less crossplatform, like games or proprietary software I forgot about.

What linux distro would suit my four year old Santa Rosa 2007 MacBook Pro with 2 GB of Ram and an Nvidia 8600 GT video card? I know Ubuntu is kind of the default choice, but I remember it had some minor issues in the last version I tried about a year ago (don't remember the exact number), like not being able to enter sleep mode, although those were probably an issue of me being too lazy to config around them.

I don't plan on using Wine much, as I don't use it much on Mac, and I have access to a PC that's fairly modern.

Also, I've heard good things about Arch and Gentoo. Thoughts?
posted by mccarty.tim to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Go with Ubuntu or Fedora. It'll be easy to find answers to issues, and they'll be well supported by anyone who's distributing software.

Gentoo is fun to play around with, but eventually you'll get tired of compiling stuff all the time. And all that compiling doesn't actually make any noticeable difference in performance (and in fact may make it worse). But give it a try if you're interested.
posted by Nahum Tate at 7:30 AM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Also, I know 2GB is tiny these days, but I'd rather change my software environment than spend money on upgrading the RAM right now (unemployment has surprisingly low pay, amirite?).
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:32 AM on July 15, 2011

Best answer: 2 gigs is almost overkill for Linux. You could get by with a fraction of that.
posted by Nahum Tate at 7:36 AM on July 15, 2011

Response by poster: Also, should I get a 32 bit or 64 bit version? I know most apps are still 32 bit compatible, but hasn't it been at least 5-10 years since the upgrade in consumer desktops caught on? I know for most apps it's a small difference for performance, though.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:46 AM on July 15, 2011

Best answer: The one compelling reason to go 64 bit is if you have more than 4 gigs of memory. I'd probably go 32 bit myself, but you could make a good argument either way.

You're correct in that you really won't notice a performance difference on a desktop or laptop. It's a matter of being able to find 32 or 64 bit versions of software and drivers. You can run 32 bit software on 64 bit systems (with a bit of tweaking) but obviously you can't go the other way.
posted by Nahum Tate at 7:53 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Fedora, or if you want a more server'y system (say for running Oracle) then Centos.

If IMHO you like your desktop looking it was designed for 6 year-olds then Ubuntu, though I have to say Fedora 15 is giving it competition in that regard. The other big alternative is Debian. All have excellent support. Basically anything from the top 10 at Distrowatch.
posted by epo at 8:28 AM on July 15, 2011

I triple boot my MacbookPro3,1, and I use Parallels to virtualize the native Linux and Windows partitions. Works really well. This means I can boot completely into a full, fast Linux environment, and I also have access to all the same files and the same configuration in a VM window in OS X.

I use Ubuntu.

I'm still using Ubuntu 10.04 for reasons of binary compatibility with some lame machines I have to administer. Everything works really well, but in 10.04 the Mac hardware support isn't 100%. I would like the trackpad to work better. The motion is a little floaty and it sometimes mouse-clicks when I'm typing. Then I had to install and config some stuff to get the keyboard backlight etc. to work. I am quite certain that newer versions of Ubuntu are better in this regard.

I would try Ubuntu 11.04 (32-bit), and go to the standard Gnome desktop (i.e. avoiding the new Unity desktop – for now).
posted by krilli at 9:05 AM on July 15, 2011

Also, if you're going to go with Linux on your mac, you might want to look at rEFIt to manage your dual boot setup.
posted by The Bellman at 9:06 AM on July 15, 2011

Also, I've heard good things about Arch and Gentoo.

I've been using arch almost exclusively for the past two years, and I like it a lot. It's a lightweight, no-nonsense, get-things-done distro with a solid community. Most of what you will need in terms of documentation is in the Wiki, the repositories are reasonably complete and there is a community building system for things that aren't there. That being said, it's not designed with user-friendliness as a first priority - It's user friendly to me, because it goes about things in a sane way, but it's not targeted at your grandmother.
posted by Dr Dracator at 9:32 AM on July 15, 2011

I dual boot FreeBSD on a Macbook Pro from that generation and have no hardware support issues. It's not technically Linux but I like it better.

I would not expect things like sleep mode or video card support to differ much between distributions of Linux beyond having slightly different versions of the kernel, X, etc., which you can remedy fairly easily. I think the decision really comes down to how you most want to use it, and whether your idea of user-friendliness leans towards "oh there's an easy GUI application for that" or "oh I just have to edit this one reasonably laid-out and well-documented configuration file." If it's the latter I would encourage you to check out the various BSDs in addition to distros like Arch (from what I hear).
posted by makeitso at 10:42 AM on July 15, 2011

Good points by makeitso; I want to explicitly say that sleep mode and all the hardware support biggies work flawlessly on Ubuntu 10.04.
posted by krilli at 10:54 AM on July 15, 2011

Response by poster: I installed the latest Ubuntu (11.4 Natty Narwhal, I think). I'm used to QuickSilver or some sort of app launcher being installed on my machines, but I usually just use them to pull up programs really quickly rather than a bunch of productivity pseudo-CLI kung fu, so I like Unity a lot.

It's pretty great. Everything runs fast and smooth. The touchpad was glitchy at first, but I think it's good now after reworking Xorg a bit. Wireless was also slow and sporadic before I upgraded to the latest kernel and changed a setting. And all the apps I actually use have versions or analogs (IE "Nevernote") that work just as well on Linux.

It really feels like an upgrade after just scraping by on Snow Leopard. If I ever ran low on space or opened too many tabs, it would be a laggy slideshow. Reinstalls would not really help, and I didn't want to downgrade to Leopard, which was also slow, or Tiger, which is now fairly old. If anyone came across this this thread wondering if it'd be good for their aging Mac, I recommend it. The community documents what to do with each Mac model really well.
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:33 PM on July 18, 2011

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