How Does Ubuntu 9.04 Measure Up to Mac OS X?

Bucking the historical trend of comparing desktop Linux with Windows, Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth recently told journalist Bruce Byfield that he was looking to Mac OS X as the operating system to beat for future Ubuntu releases — particularly in the areas of usability and user experience.  Now that Ubuntu 9.04 is out, how does it compare to Apple’s latest offering?

The “overall usability” of an operating system is hard to assess because it is so nebulous, but by breaking down the subject into a handful of distinct areas, we can measure Ubuntu’s present status in more meaningful terms.

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16 Responses

  1. Mark says:

    I didn’t feel like registering over there so I post here. One of the major failings in these comparisons are that they are generally done by linux guys. I wouldn’t consider any of those apps they talked about as actual alternatives to Apple apps. There’s a certain simplicity to program suites like iWork or iLife. They don’t do everything under the sun but the do what “most” people probably want from their machine.

    Another problem I have personally with linux is app bloat. MacOS and Windows come pretty minimally out of the box. I know, on Ubuntu, I can’t uninstall stuff with out removing some kind of important sounding dependency like “Ubuntu-Desktop” (or something like that). Why not have a more realistic base install and make all the stuff like Gimp and whatnot optional at the end of install.

    With all this in mind, I think if Linux is ever going to really go head to head in one of these desktop comparisons, it’d likely be KDE that would do it and not Gnome. KDE genuinely seems like it’s trying to create a user experience while Gnome feels more like it’s piling stuff on top to play feature catch up.

  2. LMB says:

    I recently downloaded a NMWare image of OS X, and I can say only one thing:

    it’s horrible.

  3. GrimCat says:


    “ubuntu-desktop” is just a metapackage, it can be safely removed.

    Also, it you want a base install with no bloat, how about Debian or install a command line ubuntu system and build it up from there. It’s easy, I’ve done it and I’m certainly not a linux expert.

  4. Mark says:


    I’m aware of that. I just don’t understand why they need to have all the extra crap as part of the metapackage. But, I was also under the impression that the metapackage made it so several things under the hood got run when updates are applied to the system.

    I can honestly say I’ve never tried Debian but, in the 15 years that I’ve been running Linux on and off, I’ve tried many and despite the fact that Ubuntu defaults to one of the ugliest desktops (IMO) I’ve ever seen, out of the box, it’s easy to set up and gets a lot of stuff right. I like tinkering with an OS but on a much more superficial level. I don’t enjoy scripting, I despise the CLI. That doesn’t mean I don’t know how but, that I would just prefer not to.

  5. Gtech says:

    Thank you for your post. I think Ubuntu is great!

  6. Flosky says:

    Hey everyone,
    I switched from WinXp to Ubuntu on my HP Laptop about 2 month ago, and im loving it.
    I have to admit that it took me those whole two month to set up the system how i like it and get used to how things work (u just get so much support off the internet, MS and Apple should be jealous).
    But I (and probably most people) have worked with either Windows or Mac much longer, and it would take the same time or longer to get used to those OS as well.
    Now that everything works I have a better desktop than u could have on either OS. I have nice Aero Glass features and Tab switching like Windows Vista and a dock, active corners and widgets like on Mac OSX. Everything works fast and reliable.

    The only that annoys me a little is that not every program has a gui and even if it does, its sometimes not as good as i would like it to be. Oh, and sometimes when i close the lid of my laptop it doesnt go into standby, and sometimes it goes into hybernate even though it should go to standby, but thats just a small detail that doesnt meassure up with the slow and unproductive windows OS.
    Cant wait for the cuddly Koala (or what its called 😉

  7. Philippe Hanchir says:

    I’m Mac fan since early days… I went to Lunix only for a cheap notebook bought in order to stay connected so far when in foreign countries for hollydays.

    I tried Ubuntu, Ubuntu Lime and I’m using openSuSe on a HP 2140 mini. Maybe I will go back to Mint… OpenSuSe forums looks more structured however.

    It’s quite disappointing the amount of console typing you need to do… But I knew it before.

    What is less funny is…

    1° Even after reading, downloading and upgrading a lot as described in many forums… Still no wireless available. I know now that Broadcom sucks but it’s working under Windows guys… 😉
    2° The best desktop possible remains ugly compare to OS X one
    3° Application management, once exiting from “official” depositories, is a nightmare.
    4° Choice kills the choice : iTunes is a dream… But how to choose between Amarock, Banshee and others ?
    5° No Net, no life…
    6° Many issues noted as solved are not : Wicd one in my case…
    7° Mac OS X and Mac case are very very sexy…
    8° Yast is nice but… Drag and Drop is nice too you know… 🙂

    As pos I’d say…

    1° Runs quite fluently on very tiny processors if you disable all desktop gizmos…
    2° Quite all of the app are free : that’s damned good thing because if it sucks you throw it away without worrying about your wallet health.
    3° Communities are full or very well aware guys full of kindness and devotion.

    But next handled computer will be a MacBook 13″…

  8. karatedog says:

    I wanted to fiddle around with Ruby and RoR, so I installed Ubuntu in Virtualbox as it was much easier to work with (I’m no way a programmer guy). It was a bit buggy, due to Virtualbox limitations, but worked well enough. Then I decided to install native Ubuntu, and convert my Windows XP work environment to Ubuntu (I’m a project manager, so I use Office, MS Project and mail – Thunderbird)

    First, fonts are ugly, everywhere (KDE, GNOME), so I had to install Tahoma, and spend 2-4 hours to set up DPI and font size. There is a configuration smorgasbord everywhere, which means the UI is badly designed. Advanced features should be more hidden, for the average Joe.
    Then the next problem, how to use Microsoft Exchange the way I used it under Windows. Ubuntu should beat Microsoft at the most basic, simple working envorinment: Exchange. Ok, I know that on Mac there is Entourage, made by Microsoft, and I don’t know anything about licensing the Exchange protocol, but this is the most annoying piece. If you can place a single computer – with Ubuntu – into a Microsoft environment, without any other user noticing anything, MS is beaten.
    THEN, only then should be the next most important thing, how shiny the desktop environment is.

    Anyway, after installing KDE, KNetworkManager crashes usually by every 30 minute, so there are things to polish.

    Regarding that “ubuntu-desktop” metapackage, I liked the Windows way here: If I install “kubuntu-desktop” package, then immediately uninstall it, you know what happens… You can’t easily (I mean the GUI-way) uninstall kubuntu-desktop with all its dependencies with a single click, only the kubuntu-desktop metapackage.

    My personal opinion is that OS development needs only one dictator and not democracy. That’s why Mac OS and Windows can win their user base.
    On Linux there are several “dictators” who need to work together. What can I do with the best Linux kernel, if KDE crashes all the time? Or if the Network manager cannot find a wireless network? Or why KDE asks password for connecting to a wifi network, where GNOME simply connects? Or when CompizFusion can make wonders to your desktop, but if one window is minimized, then – ouch – no effect can show that window, because Xorg won’t give back any information about it…

    These “annoyances” are no problem to the xterm people, who still use apt-get, or even dpkg and doesn’t like directory names colored.
    But Ubuntu can only win market share through the average users. If they can make the user interface simple enough, and yet give advanced features to the skilled users (this is a very hard task), give a few software for everyday use and some for the corporate use – that’s the way to do it.

  9. LMB says:


    I don’t consider myself a pro. Maybe a “power user”, but I’ve never written a line of C. Now I can imagine it’s hard to believe, but I do like Ubuntu, and what I wrote about OS X wasn’t simply trolling – I do consider it “horrible”.

    But I do realise that Ubuntu is not for the average Joe. You said it yourself: “Advanced features should be more hidden, for the average Joe.” – no, thy shouldn’t. There’s a market for Ubuntu, there are happy users who understand a bit more, and Linux is for them.

    There’s also a bit of knowledge Joes like you need, for example how to set up Microsoft fonts, how to enable MP3, and the like. It does take more than the 4 hours you mentioned to set up Linux, just as it does take a full day to set up Windows. Who’s really happy with out-of-the-box install of XP is simply in the wrong class.

    Frankly, I don’t really care how much trouble you had with it. I’m not a maniac on the road of trying to convert everybody to GNU or OS. I like it, I invite you to try again in, let’s say, two years when the problems you mentioned will have been polished, and then you may enjoy it. Linux IS better, if you know how to deal with those annoyances. I I have time, I’ll list them, but believe me, it’s like Amsterdam in the eyes of Vincent Vega’s eyes: it’s about those small differences.

  10. karatedog says:

    I don’t quite get what you wrote, but I’ll try. I don’t use Mac OS X, but I use Windows.

    First, if it takes a full day for you to set up Windows, and I mean Windows XP, then there is something wrong about your install methods. Full Windows XP + Microsoft Office 2003 or 2007, an archiver, and an antivirus software takes no more than 3-4 hours. In my company, there are about 9000 employees, I know what I’m talking about. And this is a normal install, and not an image install, where all these softwares are packed together, that way it is 2 hours.

    Second, it is clear that you have never worked in a corporate environment. That is the market segment that needs and buys the largest amount of OS. There exist even people, who don’t have administrative rights on their computer. They don’t choose what they work with, but I don’t think they are in the wrong class as they must be happy with the out-of-the box XP. To be precise, they don’t even “see” Windows XP.
    The difference between them and you is that they think computers and OS’s are just tools. Apple fanboys and Linux geeks think different (although they are neither in the wrong class)

    An MS Office is well enough for normal work in a telecom company. Maybe some Visio or Project, and a few Photoshop and a very small amount of other softwares, but let’s stick to MS Office. These were the examples, where I’d expect Ubuntu to integrate flawlessly to completely “beat” Microsoft Windows.
    You are talking about Ubuntu being better than Windows, and I don’t disagree with you. But I’m talking about “beating” Windows, which failed. Maybe it’s Microsoft good marketing tactics, selling server products with a desktop OS and software, or making good patents. I don’t know.
    Apple’s tactics wouldn’t be any different, but there is Entourage, the Apple equivalent of Outlook (made by Microsoft). This way it is easier to “infect” a Windows dominant territory, but if you’d have to use the default OS X mail application, you’d be doomed.

    As the article is about to “beat” Mac OS X especially in usability and user experience, do you really think it will succeed if it is not for the average Joe? Mac OS X is quite handy for the average Joe. It DOES hide very advanced features, and hey, it even works with a one-button mouse 🙂

  11. LMB says:


    this thread is about OS X vs Ubuntu, so to stick to the topic: personally I prefer Ubuntu to OS X in many aspects. OS X employs a different approach to help the average, lost Joe deal with his computer, but for me the experience was simply frustrating. Somebody mentioned iTunes, and that’s exactly the bad example I mean. As far as I remember songs are sorted by their ID3 – that’s wonderful, but too good to work if one rips one’s songs.

    Another example is the one-button mouse – if there’s no third button, in Firefox how do you open sites in a new tab without keyboard? (ok, not so much a software issue).

    To wrap it up, I understand what Apple, inc is trying to offer, but for a person raised on DOS loaded from 5¼” floppies (yes, that was horrible) it’s an unnecessary overhead to an OS.

  12. karatedog says:

    Sorting the songs only by their ID3 tag is not a bug, but a feature (and not handling folder structure). If you buy your songs trough Apple’s shop, your ID3 tags will be OK, and you won’t get frustrated.

    Maybe I went back a little with the topic. But the “he was looking to Mac OS X as the operating system to beat for future Ubuntu releases” meant to me that Window XP has already been beaten, which is not true.

  13. LMB says:

    Karatedog: surely if I bought my songs in iTunes shop etc., but why would I do that?

    As far as desktop is concerned, Linux wins.

    In my opinion Gnome/Nautilus beats Explorer.exe in almost any field. Four desktops? Not available in Windows. Folder contents preview (the small triangle)? Not available. Such a simple thing as having your folder selected for you were in once you jump *up* a level was even implemented in Norton Commander fifteen years ago, but not in Explorer. (Imagine getting into a folder to see some pics, then you go back a level and you see a list of 600 folders, try to get back to the one you just visited). Or having a newly added folder put in the sort order, instead of hanging at the end of the folder list. I could go on about how useful “locate” is, or that you can put any character in the filename, including ? and :, but that would be too technical.

    Surely those are small things in comparison, but there’s a considerable number of them. Once you get past the annoying “no tahoma, no arial” stage, you realize it may have been worth it. I’m too old to be a Linux freak, but since I finally converted to it last year, I have not booted to Windows once. There was simply no reason to do so.

  14. karatedog says:

    It looks like we just hijacked this post 🙂

    Explorer sucks, that is no question, I use Total Commander wherever possible (but Explorer is good for many people).
    Four desktops – hmm – a personal opinion. This is missing from Windows, there were third-party projects to create something similar, but they utterly failed. I don’t miss it and I rarely use it in Ubuntu.
    About those Windows folder tricks, you are right, except the newly created folder. If you create a folder in Explorer, it will be added to the end of the file list, until you re-read the directory’s content.

    I keep on saying, you are a loner 🙂 You don’t work in a corporate or a workgroup environment. People there don’t even use Windows’s search function, why would they use ‘locate’, or ‘find’ on Ubuntu? They open windows, start a few programs, read&write documents, an mostly the live by their e-mails. What I say, there is a totally different “beating” scenario for those different targets (that is exactly where Google is heading, the OS being the browser…)

    When a company with a few hundred employees converts to Mac (and Mac OS) that is a leading news on Apple’s site. Why? Because their consumer base are still individuals and not groups.
    That’s why I said that beating Mac OS X is very easy. Just make Ubuntu as not a replacement for the individuals, but for the workgroups, with some useful packages, of course.
    Individuals are nevertheless important, they need that fancy and usable user interface. You can hear their voice, in blogs, comments, forums they would talk about how an OS is nice/not nice and useful/not useful and they give development ideas, and create a large base of testers.

    Our mother company used Lotus Notes for ages. When they bought a smaller company, where MS Office was used, there were talks about which system was there to stay. As everyone hated Lotus Notes, even those people who used it, they immediately ditched it, and bought a few thousand Office CAL. A clear “beating”. Managers are not interested in ‘locate’ or ‘find’ or ext3 or ext4. They need better efficiency, cost saving and integration to existing environment.
    I don’t want to switch topic but this is the same reason Blackberry (even the ugly and useless ones) became the corporate phone. It has some value that is value for the whole, and not for the individual (like remote management)

    Now we should relax a bit 🙂

  15. LMB says:


    I work for an organization, but it’s a university. A different way of working.

    When I was commenting on “ext4” and the like, I was talking about home experience. At work I use windows, because 1) I simply don’t care when I don’t have to pay for it, 2) some scientific applications don’t work well on Linux.

    Back to the topic, I don’t see any reason why a person using email, IM and office suite could not convert to Linux.

  16. Flosky says:


    you are talking about the corporate environment the whole time. in my opinion this is where linux has its most potential. out-of-the box linux might not look as nice, but its simple and works. you have, etc as MS Office substitute, and you said yourself, thats all you need. AND ITS FREE!! So, from a corporate point of view VERY IMPORTANT. There are only two problems. 1) Everyone knows Windows, so people need a while to get used to Linux and its different looks and features. 2) Its hard to integrate Linux into an MS environment (as you said it doesnt work well with MS Exchange). BUT that doesnt mean Windows is better, it only means its already there. If you would switch the ENTIRE IT (which would be stupid to do (never change a running system)) then it would be better and mor efficient. Thats why the German Government does EXACTLY that. They switch EVERYTHING to Linux, which might be a pain now, but will work better in the future.

    Btw, i agree with LMB that this is not the topic of this thread but I just had to say this.


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