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How Ubuntu didn’t destroy my MacBook

This time, anyway.

In the past few days I’ve bitten the bullet and installed Linux on my primary machine. Before I’d only been dipping my toe in Ubuntu (and its close friend, Linux Mint) by way of virtual machines. But now I’m positively swimming in it. Swimming, and only occasionally treading water.

Why was I so hesitant to install Ubuntu? My reasons are as follows:

  1. Lazy.
  2. Too chicken.
  3. Pretty sure I’ve seen “triple-booting” listed as a symptom of madness.

But most importantly: 4. Last time I tried that, Ubuntu possessed my MacBook and transmuted it into something demonic.

The Ubuntu of yesteryear

When Linux was still – to me at least – new (and, well, not shiny) I decided to install Ubuntu on my MacBook. This was Ubuntu 8.04 or 8.10, I’m not sure which. Either way it was a huge mistake.

The screen was squished, the mouse impossible to use, and the brightness totally unadjustable. The wireless card was a hopeless case, and the graphics drivers even more so. I think I remember the fans not working, either, though that might be the memory’s tendency to dramatize. It was, in short, a disaster, turning a once-tolerable laptop into a blindingly bright and blisteringly hot deathbox.

Since the incident, I’ve been far more cautious about what I install Ubuntu on. This may seem a strange idea to some people, especially those new to Linux. “What, you don’t install it on every machine you touch?” I hear you asking. No. It’s unstable, it’s dangerous, and above all it is ugly.

There, I said it. I like brown, but really – too much brown.

But then Ubuntu 10.04 happened.

The Ubuntu of today

Knowing full well what I was getting into (this is always a lie when it comes to computers) I had my MacBook hooked up to an external monitor, an external mouse, an external keyboard, and an external drive. If there were any chances being taken, they weren’t here.

And then it worked beautifully. That’s probably some kind of irony, but I was too busy wondering what the hell just happened to categorize it.

Out-of-the-box: Touchpad support, button support, graphics support. It took only the installation of one single other package to be able to adjust brightness. There aren’t any fan problems, the wireless card worked after plugging my MacBook directly into a router and downloading the drivers (System -> Administration -> Hardware Drivers). It is mind-blowing. (Oh, and it looks like a real operating system these days, so that’s always a plus.)

So what I’m saying here is this: if you have a MacBook of any kind and you’ve been afraid to Linux it up, don’t be. Find your MacBook model in this list and be amazed at what Ubuntu can do these days.

The Ubuntu of tomorrow

Okay, so this has been a terribly optimistic post – possibly because my head is still reeling at the amount of MacBook support that appeared seemingly out of thin air in the past year. But there’s still work to be done.

For one thing, the touchpad is… weird. Not much more weird than it is running Boot Camp for Windows, but still weird. It’s extremely sensitive, but if I use traditional mouse utilities to decrease the sensitivity even a little it detects only one tap out of five. And supposedly Ubuntu shuts off your trackpad whenever you’re typing, but this is only true if you’re typing without any breaks whatsoever, and I can’t find a way to customize the wait time between “touchpad off” and “touchpad o– hey, where’d that paragraph go?”

For another, the battery life sucks. I can’t figure it out. Especially since I can dim the screen in Ubuntu far more than I can in Windows. Go figure?

Still, it’s a comfortable experience with an external mouse and the touchpad shut off. And that’s good enough for me – I’ve moved from virtualizing Ubuntu in Windows to virtualizing Windows in Ubuntu. It’s not my OS of choice when I’m going mobile, but if I’m just sitting plugged in somewhere, hell yeah Ubuntu.

In summary, thanks Ubuntu for being awesome. Now I can get back to writing!

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5 Comments on “How Ubuntu didn’t destroy my MacBook”

  1. Ahhahahaha. Now you have entered into my realm and you belong to me! Good job I have to get a mac in a year for university art program, after generals, and I am sort of dreading it. I am even putting money aside to pay for an extra laptop to run Ubuntu on. Even being well experience know Murphy’s Law. Macs and Ubuntu = bad ju ju. However for someone wouldn’t have to dual boot you in good shape.

    Do this immediately: Head over to ubuntuforums.org and click on the apple subdirectory. You can find great support there.

    Good Luck!

    • awkisopen says:

      Why would you ever get a Mac. Just why.

      That’s not a general statement. I understand maybe why other people would get Macs. But if you’re looking for a computer to screw around with, stay the hell away. Installing anything besides OS X is the most dreadful experience on any Apple product. OS X is a terrible operating system, by the by, you open up three programs and your RAM is shot.

      It cost me $200 to get my RAM upgraded to 4GB, which is at least a tolerable amount of memory. Ridiculous. I had to open up someone’s Mac Mini to swap the RAM (installation of Windows 7 was failing due to a very specific bug) and nearly broke everything in the process since the goddamn computer is hardly meant to be taken apart. Every single bloody experience I’ve had that’s Apple-related has been horrific when it comes to making the computer work the way I want it to work.

      That’s not to say that Macs don’t have their place. For certain people, in certain situations, they do. But if you’re the kind of person who likes their machine to cooperate with them, run for your life.

      • I have using macs for the last 11 years. My high school used them. I never had a single problem. I don’t like macs particularly, I plan on using it only for what I need and perhaps using bootcamp to install Ubuntu on it. (You can trick it) Air schools use them a lot. I don’t really like it but they are durable computer and thats what I need. What generation macbook do you have.

        The macbook pro I’m looking at has 2.6GHz Corei7 4 gigabytes of ram, 500GB HD and dual graphics. Price $2000 with $400 discount.

      • Typo not air art schools

  2. Teri Pittman says:

    I used to run linux on my G3, so it can be done. I’ve stopped using Ubuntu for now. Every other update would break something. I’ve moved to Linux Mint which is much more stable. I was looking into doing my first Mint upgrade and found out that they don’t have an automated way to update, like Ubuntu always uses. They want you to take the time to do a backup, test the new version first BEFORE you take the plunge. I like that. I’m using my laptop to work from home remotely and I really can’t take the chance of a major screwup with an update. And the other issue is the Unity desktop, which may or may not be ready for prime time.


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