General Question

Jayne's avatar

What advantage does Linux have over Mac?

Asked by Jayne (6751points) May 4th, 2009

I am contemplating what type of laptop to buy for college, and since I am an absolute computer noob I needs me some help. I really have two pressing questions here. The first is, how much hassle will I have in setting up a computer running some version of Linux versus one running Mac, to get it sorted out to the point that I am not having to cope with technical difficulties at every turn? I don’t want to spend my summer kicking my computer around the room.

The second is, once I have gone through this hassle, what will I have that I won’t have with Mac? I am interested in learning more about computers and programming, so access to the workings of the computer is important. However, I know that Mac runs on Unix, so I can get a fair amount of that access if I want, while still having a nice user interface. So is there still much of a reason to go for Linux, aside from the geek factor?

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26 Answers

Ivan's avatar

It’s free.
It’s open source.
‘Nuff said.

If you just want an operating system that you never have to mess with and recognizes every piece of hardware you plug into it, then by all means, spend $500 more and buy a Mac. But if you want a secure, stable operating system that continually updates itself and has a boatload of free, open source software and can be customized however you see fit, then Linux is for you.

ru2bz46's avatar

It has a smaller market share, so those who want to rebel against the corporate giants can go to Linux…until they become the corporate giant.

GIFTownP's avatar

I doubt you’ll want linux. I specialize in IT and have fixed things that baffle the entire computer department, and, not to sound corny, but I’m a Mac. Mac OS X is secure, supported, and easy, while allowing you to access the inner workings (though from experience of breaking my past 5 PCs, I reccomend not to mess with said inner-workings.) you don’t really need to mess with them to program, all you need is a developer license (not the $99, but the free one, cause you don’t plan to make apps for the app store) and that gets you xCode, Interface Builder, and tons of powerful tools for free. Linux is a novelty for most of the computer users in my community, and it is definitely not for the non-geek-aspiring-programmer.

hiphiphopflipflapflop's avatar

I think Linux probably has the community of people you can learn the most from (for free).

Ivan's avatar


I am not a geek-aspiring-programmer, and I have been using Linux as the OS on my average desktop computer that I use for average computing needs. I have found it intuitive, fast, and easy. I have had very few problems and it is anything but a novelty.

Jayne's avatar

A follow-up question: is mac able to run most Linux software?

passerby's avatar

The primary advantage of linux for most people is price.

You could say all the open source software, but I run OS X and most of the applications I run are open source to.

Ivan's avatar


I don’t know about “most,” but a lot of Linux software is cross-platform.

cwilbur's avatar

Your best bet is to buy the kind of computer you can most easily get support for. If you have no informal computer support network at all, the Mac is probably the best way to go, because Apple has excellent phone support and in-person support if you’re near an Apple store. You might also contact the help desk at the college you’re going to to see if they have any specific recommendations.

If you’re interested in playing with Linux but not sure you’re interested in committing to it, you can run it in a virtual machine. Get VMWare Fusion for the Mac, or VMWare Desktop for Windows, and run Linux as a virtual machine. This will give you the best of both worlds.

Ivan's avatar

Also, you can use a Linux Live CD to test it out without installing anything. If you like it, you can always dual-boot.

Bagardbilla's avatar

As @cwilbur said, get a Mac and run Linux on it. Heck you can partition the drive and run both natively, (I think).

Vincentt's avatar

I would recommend you to get a computer that has a Linux distribution (probably Ubuntu as most people seem to like that best and it has widest support) pre-installed (see e.g. or System76 if you’re in the US). That will make sure you don’t have to fiddle and it’s still a lot cheaper than Macs are :)

Also, it’s open source – the friendly people behind the software can really give you a warm fuzzy feeling ^.^

Well, and as for the advantages of the actual software, beyond price and fuzzy feelings, I’d say there is a lot of high quality software available free of charge, and it’s really, really easy in maintenance. Security updates for all your software in two clicks (or automatically, if you want), how much easier can it get? Oh, and it looks gorgeous, and if you disagree, it’s easy to make it look gorgeous :)

Of course, there’s one important point to consider: both have a learning curve that you’ll have to take into account. You won’t “get” the whole system after ten minutes of use, so if you already have experience with using a Mac, you should take that into account (i.e. that you don’t have to spend time to get comfortable in your environment at first).

GIFTownP's avatar

If you want to play around with linux, then download Ubuntu or Fedora or something and install it in VirtualBox for Mac, a free OS virtualization software that requires no partitioning or rebooting.

Truefire's avatar

I use Linux, I promote Linux, I like Linux. But don’t bet your education on it – not enough software is supported for education.

Buy a Mac – the price will pay for itself, especially if you get the cover-all AppleCare.

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

Linux is the OS of choice if you’re on a budget and you want an ultra-portable, Atom-based computer like the Asus Eee. It will run faster than XP and won’t cost as much. Macs will be on the high end of the price range – the highest end, in fact – so if you want this computer mainly for the Web, email, and maybe for a few music files, save your money. You can find open source (i.e. free) applications to do just about anything you want. You’re not going to have blazing fast gaming performance, and it’s not gonna be a multimedia workhorse, but if I was just going off to college, it’s what I’d get.

Jayne's avatar

@IchtheosaurusRex; well, I am going off to college as an engineering student, so I will need to run fairly intensive software on it.

Ivan's avatar

If you need to run math software such as Maple or Matlab, you will need Windows.

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

@Jayne , you may not need as much power as you think. Most of the CPU cycles in modern computers get eaten up by processes that render graphics, access databases, and especially, use the TCP/IP stack. You would certainly need a lot of graphics power to run CAD applications, but for pure computation, involving arithmetic and logical operations, a low-powered CPU running Linux will still get the job done.

Now, I get myself in trouble with the Flutherites all the time because I try to discourage people from buying Macs. It’s not that I think they’re bad computers. They are very, very good computers, some of the very best made. But they are extremely expensive and they have limited utility. If you want to be a graphic designer or make music videos, by all means, get a Mac. But in your case, I think you want a PC. If you want to run Linux applications, it’s simple and cheap to load Linux on one. You would still save a lot of money over a Mac, particularly over a Macbook.

cwilbur's avatar

Before you believe anyone who tells you that Macs are more expensive, go to the Apple website, pick the Mac you like, and then go to the Dell or HP website and put together the closest computer you can. You’ll usually find that the price difference is less than 10%, and often the Mac comes out ahead.

The “Macs are expensive” myth comes because Apple simply does not compete in the low end of the market. You can buy a $400 PC crapbox, but you can’t buy a $400 Apple crapbox.

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

@cwilbur , $400 is a lot of money to some people. The Mac Mini, at $600 stripped and without a monitor, is the cheapest Mac you can buy. If you want a notebook, you have to drop at least $1300, as of their website 5 minutes ago. That’s a lot of money to anybody.

Ivan's avatar


That’s like saying Ferrari’s aren’t expensive because comparable cars cost just as much. Most people don’t want Ferrari’s, they want grocery-getters.

cwilbur's avatar

@IchtheosaurusRex: Sure, $400 is a lot of money. But for that $400, you get a crappy low-end Windows machine. You don’t even have an Apple option in that range, because Apple have decided that they’re not interestedin the crappy low-end part of the market. That doesn’t make Apple expensive; it makes them not cheap and crappy.

@Ivan: it’s more like saying that Toyotas aren’t expensive because they’re more durable and reliable than comparably-priced Fords, even though Ford has more lower-end options than Toyotas.

You want a Yugo for a computer, you can get a Yugo. It’s just not reasonable to call Toyotas expensive because they don’t compete in the Yugo range of the marketplace.

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

Mac… it’s not a computer, it’s a religion. <sigh>

Ivan's avatar


$800 does not get you a Yugo-quality laptop.

cwilbur's avatar

@IchtheosaurusRex: Windows. It’s not a computer, it actively causes brain damage and Stockholm syndrome.

joshstevens1989's avatar

To be honest, I’d recommend getting a Mac, that way you can run any OS you want on it, without much difficulty. They have Bootcamp drivers for Windows, you can run multiple Distros of Linux on it, and there are OSs a plenty for you to choose from.

I’ve been on a Mac since ‘04, and have never had any problems running software for my education. I did run Linux only on this machine for a long while too.

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