Linux has better hardware support than OS X

TL;DR: OS X users pick their hardware from a very short list of known-good configurations, and when you do the same thing for Linux, the results are equivalent.

Like most nerds I know, I don’t mind disagreement, but something in me just can’t stand a poor argument. And thus it is that I feel compelled to write about one such argument. The one that goes:

I’d use Linux if the hardware support was as good as OS X.

This is (usually) a bullshit argument. Read on for why.

Do you use OS X? Great! I used it for close to two years, and was very impressed with it. I’ve already written about why, for me, switching back to Linux was the pragmatic choice based on the work I do. Linux gave me a more broadly useful,  reliable, it-just-works development environment than OS X. YMMV; I’m not here to tell you what works for you, or rehash that old article.

Anyway, if you use OS X, what are you running it on? Did you put it on that old Dell you had lying around? Or the Toshiba with the funky keyboard layout? Or are you dual-booting it on your hand-built gaming rig?

What’s that? None of the above? You bought it pre-installed on Apple hardware? And, lo and behold, it supports that hardware really well? Amazing. What are the odds of that?!

Here’s the problem with the “Linux has lousy hardware support” argument. What people are really saying when they make this argument in comparison to a Mac is this:

Linux didn’t support the hardware on whatever random computer I tried to throw it on. But OS X runs on its reference platform with no problems!

This is a double standard. To have its “great” hardware support, a given release of OS X has to support a few dozen hardware configurations. Linux has to support eleventy-billion, including but not limited to intelligent prosthetic knees. But while a poor argument, this would still be a perfectly viable reason to buy a Mac if Linux had no reference platform. Supporting 95% of the hardware in the universe is no great comfort if your laptop’s touchpad is in the other 5%.

But here’s the thing: it does have a reference platform. No, it doesn’t have an official reference platform, not even whatever PC Linus happens to be using these days. But for developer workstations, there’s a de-facto reference platform, and it’s called a ThinkPad. If you’ve been using Linux for any length of time you know that if you want a linux desktop machine to Just Work, you buy a ThinkPad. There is a self-reinforcing cycle that perpetuates this phenomenon. Linux developers tend to use ThinkPads, so they tend to make sure that the hardware is well supported, so Linux developers tend to buy more ThinkPads, and so on. I don’t know where it started, but that’s how it works.

Chances are you implicitly picked a MacBook or a MacBook Air when you chose your next  OS X machine. You paid a premium, but it was worth it for the great overall experience. When I last decided it was time for a new development machine, I picked a ThinkPad X230 because I know ThinkPads are the gold standard for running Linux on the desktop. And guess what? It Just Works. Beautifully. (In fact, these days I’m starting to see Linux support PC hardware better than Windows in some cases, which is just embarrassing for MS. But that’s another topic…)

It’s not completely limited to ThinkPads; these days you can also get a Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition, with Linux pre-installed and tweaked to work perfectly. And of course there’s always System 76.

The point is this: if you have a great OS/hardware experience because you picked from a short list of known-good configurations, that’s no great feat of engineering. If you do a little research, you’ll find that there’s a similar short list for Linux machines. Your choices  are limited and you may pay a little more… go figure.

But stop complaining that Linux didn’t work on your dad’s old Compaq as well as OS X runs on a brand new MBA. It’s a double standard and you know better.

(Addendum: in rare cases, someone actually makes the “Linux has bad hardware support” in good faith. Usually it’s in the context of some very new (or very obscure) hardware which they need for their work, but which Linux doesn’t yet have drivers for. If this is you: I hear ya. This article is not about you.)

EDIT: There is an important corollary here for Linux users. If you use Linux and like to advocate for its use, it’s time to stop telling people they should try it and it’ll Just Work. Because it won’t. It’ll probably Mostly Work. And the remaining 5% of not-workiness will cause yet another person to start propagating the “Linux has bad hardware support” meme. If your friends are curious about running Linux, tell them to go ahead and give it a whirl. But make sure they know that for best experience, they will have to research and choose a known-good configuration. Just like they did when picking out their shiny Mac.

EDIT 2: I should also point out that I use Ubuntu, because it has the highest it-just-works factor of any distro I’ve tried. I’ve thought about going back through this article and s/Linux/Ubuntu/. 

EDIT 3: Yes, it’s true, even some ThinkPads (or some choices of components) are wonky. I checked ThinkWiki before I pulled the trigger on my last workstation purchase.


  1. I read this other article where this guy says, “Does Ubuntu have more than its share of usability warts? Yep. Does its hardware support drive me to distraction from time to time? Absolutely.” What do you have to say to him? 😉

  2. I see what you’re getting at. Yes, Linux gives you much more choice when it comes to hardware. But on the other hand, OS X just plain works. When I upgraded my MacBook Pro from 10.7 to 10.8, the audio continued to work, as did the brightness hot keys on the keyboard.

    Compare that with my Lenovo X230 – after a similar upgrade, Pulse stopped playing audio, the brightness keys went from 16 levels of brightness to 2, and the machine no longer woke from sleep reliably. Fixing the issues required a new kernel, some kernel arguments, a driver recompile, and some config tweaks.

    Note that this was an upgrade within the same Linux distro (Mint), and in the previous version all those features functioned normally.

    So yeah, Linux does support a whole lot of hardware – way more than OS X. But the lesson is that there’s no guarantee of that hardware support being continuous across different versions of the same recent distro.

    And that is why I no longer use Linux as my daily OS.

    1. That is not at all what I’m getting at.

      I’m sorry to hear about your experience with Mint. I’m running Ubuntu on the same hardware and I’ve had no problems at all so far. I’ve read enough reviews noting that Mint isn’t polished enough for prime time that I’ve never seen a reason to look into it.

    2. I hate this kind of stories. Personally I hardly had any troubles, but you make it sound like you need to be a wizard to fix and use it. At my workplace from tens of developers, most of them use linux (both men and women). I was rather surprised when I joined them, but the fact is that there are more people using it productively than you may be aware of.

    3. This isn’t going to totally disappear on OS X, because hardware is deprecated all the time. I have a 2007 Macbook that’s permanently on Snow Leopard right now. Yes, it technically runs Lion, but the performance is so poor that it’s not a reasonable option. So within 4 years, I’m stuck on an outdated OS on Mac. That’s barely out of the warranty period.

    4. “OS X just plain works. When I upgrade my [MACBOOK PRO]”.

      Yes. That’s the point of the entire article. OS X works great on Apple hardware. It fails terribly on everything else. You just don’t realize that hardware support isn’t as good on that one device, because you insist on using Linux on one of the VERY FEW devices that it doesn’t fully support.

      With that said, I’ve had Linux running perfectly fine on the Macbook Pro, Macbook Air, and iMacs… It works fine, but your distro of choice isn’t good at it.

      1. I think you’d be suprised at the quality it runs on Custom Built Hackintosh’s. There are a lot of people who have got a hackintosh running flawlessly, so it “Failing Terrebly” is not true, just mostly.

        1. And what is a Hackintosh but a hand-selected set of components from a tiny subset of known-good parts?

        2. I’ve custom built a Hackintosh. You’ve got to have hardware that actually works for a hackintosh (many hardware configurations don’t!), you have to use custom / patched EFI loaders, and you have to modify the actual OS X disk to include support for your hardware.

          That doesn’t mean that OS X has good hardware support. You can run Linux on nearly every hardware configuration made in the last 20+ years. Do that with standard OS X and I’ll agree with you.

          1. I agree, but you claimed it failed terribly it can work, just not as good as Linux. Its true, Linux does have more compatibility and if anybody says else they’re wrong 😀

    5. So yeah, Linux does support a whole lot of hardware – way more than OS

      X. But the lesson is that there’s no guarantee of that hardware support

      being continuous across different versions of the same recent distro.

      There is if you’re using a major distro that doesn’t end in “buntu”.

  3. That’s a whole lot of paragraphs for stating the painstakingly obvious – that Apple only provides drivers (“hardware support”) for the specific components they use in their computers.

    1. i think thats a good thing, It makes the kernel less bloated. Also theres no reason why they should make more support for things they dont make!

  4. No one cares if linux supports 1 million different devices, they care that it supports their laptop with no effort.

    It takes a lot of time, money, and effort to make a reliable computing product. Lenovo has most of its install base running windows. Their driver developers spend most of their time building drivers for windows. Their QA department spends most of their time debugging windows issues. Likewise my server hardware people spend most of their time testing linux. My servers run linux very well. They work well because of the blood sweat and tears put in by the product teams.

    The linux devs have done the world a great service, and made a lot of hardware compatible but its not the same as having a product team which is devoted to a particular piece of hardware.

    I don’t believe the PC crowd is taking the linux laptop seriously. If they did, they would be running ads, and spending money and offering actual linux products as first class citizens. And that is why this stuff never works (out of the box).

    Dont buy a half ass-ed product. It will be unreliable.

    1. “No one cares if linux supports 1 million different devices, they care that it supports their laptop with no effort.”

      Since that wasn’t my point, I’m not sure why you bring it up.

  5. Interestingly, I run Ubuntu on a MacBook and a MacBook Air. As they are a “fixed” target, I figured that at least one developer would have made sure that they “just worked”. And, indeed, they did.

    The installation tutorial was comprehensive, the out of the box experience was great, and upgrades have gone smoothly.

    The only thing to note was that I was able to manually update the WiFi drivers for (supposedly) better performance if I wanted. Power consumption seems marginally higher, but I don’t run the same profile of programs in OSX.

    Having a fixed target is really good for Linux to show how it can shine – and I hope that Dell and Ubuntu continue to make perfectly matched hardware and software.

  6. I would actually argue that Linux has better hardware support than even Windows does out of the box. The problem comes in when you need drivers that don’t come in the OS by default. With Windows you just go download them from the manufacturer. With Linux your lucky if you can find something and very often you just have to live without that piece of hardware. Also many times the Linux drivers give you a degraded experience. But overall Linux hardware support is amazing; however, until you get manufacturers writing drivers there will always be holes.

    1. When I switch my KVM over to my Linux box it instantly picks up the USB devices that are plugged into the KVM. When I switch back to the Windows machine, I have to twiddle my thumbs and wait while it detects the USB devices. It’s sad.

  7. I bought a Lenovo ThinkPad W520 for the purpose of running Ubuntu Linux, and that was a tremendous mistake. Not only is the laptop nVidia Optimus based, which has very poor Linux support, but there are, in fact, BIOS bugs which prevent the laptop from booting when both Intel hardware virtualization and nVidia discrete mode graphics are enabled. Lenovo has refused to fix or acknowledge this bug, because Linux is not an officially supported platform. This is particularly frustrating, because the W520 is listed as Ubuntu certified hardware, which reveals that the Ubuntu certification is worthless.

    This will likely be the last ThinkPad I buy as well. If I were in the right place in the upgrade cycle, I would buy the Dell XPS 13. For now, though, I’m dual-booting, and jumping between Linux and Windows.

    1. That’s a shame. For brevity I omitted the fact that it’s not quite as simple as “buy a thinkpad”. I still always check ThinkWiki etc. to check which hardware configurations are working well before placing an order.

  8. At the time I bought my Thinkpad T420s, I found out — after attempting to install some flavor (or perhaps multiple) of Linux — that there was no support for discrete graphics. I would have had to permanently enable one vs. the other at the BIOS level, thus negating whatever advantages a discrete chipset provides. I haven’t looked into this issue since then (~December 2011) — no idea if it’s changed, or not. But this is one of the principal reasons why I stopped using Linux on my desktop: either something (significant) is not supported, or — worse — it worked and is then intentionally broken (in my case, kernel USB support, around 6 years ago or so; took me months to “troubleshoot” (<—- meaning, at least learn why USB ehci was timing out and disconnecting where previously, it worked; not so much actually fix it), as there never was any clear, official admission), presumably because the "new" implementation is compatible with "more" devices). One more instance of the same sh!t occurred two years later (related to WIFI, IIRC) and that was as much as I could tolerate. I don't have the time in the day to unfsck a system that works, works, then doesn't. With 20+ years of linux admin experience (and lots and lots and LOTS of time futzing around with it), I would never seriously recommend a Linux desktop to anyone. On servers — yeah, all day long.

  9. I love Linux and recently just install Linux Mint on all every single computers that are in my sight. After a week, however, I reluctantly have to re install windows 7 on one laptop. I hate Windows in general but my printer and my scanner work on windows and not so well on Linux or not at all. It really pisses me off that company like Canon and Lexmark still have half-ass support for Linux machine

  10. I’ll join the other guy posting here; If ThinkPad is anything like a “reference platform”, make sure you do not get the Optimus based ones. Considering most of the more powerful ones are, I would say ThinkPads may have been a reference platform, but no more. The Optimus based ThinkPads typically have an Intel HD+Nvidia combo, and in theory, disabling the Nvidia in the BIOS (which it supports) should make it a decent Linux computer. Well, except for the fact that ThinkPad engineers decided it was a good idea to not wire up the Intel HD adapter to the external ports. So you can use it as an “Intel HD 4000” based laptop, as long as you do not need to hook it up to an external monitor. If you need an external monitor, you need to enable the Nvidia chip. And since it’s Optimus that works like crap. I literally spend up to an hour just to get it booting with the Nvidia adapter enabled (no, it’s not deterministic).

    If you want something that works, get a “pure” Intel HD laptop. Since Sandy Bridge, performance is decent, and the Intel drivers just work.

  11. as I understood, you’re using Ubuntu. Try to give Arch Linux a try, you will learn a lot. And AUR has all kinds of wierd stuff, you won’t need to add ppa’s or stuff like that. But, be alarmed that you will spend some time to make Arch to work as you want it to do.

      1. I would omit the “need to” part out of the equation. I don’t think your life will change fundamentally if you will use it 🙂

        I also tried a lot of distros before Arch, and felt pretty comfortably in the terminal. But only when I started using Arch Linux, I realized, I didn’t know shit about Linux. (pardon my french)

  12. This is nonsensical. OSX runs on the best hardware lying around, the only argument worth asking is whether Linux runs on it too. If not, you have no case.

    1. Overheating is something that I have been having a lot of issues with running Linux on Mac platform. Have you tried to run Ubuntu on iMac (early 2011 model here)? Boy, it heats up.. and there are no simple fix to get it to cool down.

      Another annoying bug with Linux on Mac is that the screen brightness is often set to superbright on start up…totally burns my eyes. I had to type some command in the console to re-adjust the brightness.

      Running Linux on Mac (specifically iMac) is a PiTA

      1. Simple fix:

        $ type fanctl
        fanctl is a function
        fanctl ()
        echo 1 | sudo tee -a /sys/devices/platform/applesmc.768/fan1_manual > /dev/null;
        echo $1 | sudo tee -a /sys/devices/platform/applesmc.768/fan1_output > /dev/null

      2. Have you tried to run Ubuntu

        This is the problem. Ubuntu, Ubuntu, Ubuntu. Ubuntu? Ubuntu. Ubuntu!

        Linux Ubuntu. If you’ve got a flaky distro… try another one. Like Windows, just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s good.

        1. I also tried mint and arch linux. They both have same outcome… so which distro are you using that is not having overheating issue?

            1. Try what Linus Torvalds runs on his MacBook, OpenSUSE.

            2. If it were really overheating, it would shut down. As long as that doesn’t happen you should be ok. the little thin metallic buggers aren’t the coolest running devices around for obvious reasons.

  13. I am considering Linux after 10 years on Mac. Considering buying a maxxed out ThinkPad X1 Carbon. 1. Is it recommended for Linux? 2. Which distrp of Linux provides best support for it out of the box? Thanks!

      1. Is that with UEFI or without? And is that the newest one? I heard they got updated a few months back. Would it be possible to remove windows completely?
        My only concern is that I have heard that installing linux on machines having windows 7 has always been not that of a big deal but things have gotten difficult on windows 8 machines. Is that true?

    1. Try arch! Arch has a massive compatibility although may be a hassle for some. Fedora is brilliant as well, although most Ubuntu + Ubuntu spins work pretty welll

  14. I’m not even sure why this even written up. OSX is meant for proprietary hardware, where as Linux never was. Done with that debate.

  15. I would be one of the people that prefer OS X (not the Finder…God no. I despise Finder) over Linux. It is true I am using a Macbook Pro. But hey, I don’t have to deal with getting X11 up and running nor do I have to deal with CPU temperature overheating. Plus, the graphical candies is OS X isn’t all that bad on the eyes, and you get them straight out of box (obviously, you can get something of similar from Linux, but you have to “customize” it. Who has time to do that?)

    With ThinkPad (I have a T400), it runs Ubuntu alright. I did not have to deal with X11 configs all that much (awesome!), but I still had to deal with CPU overheating and random shutdowns from overheating. Even with thinkfan/tpfand installed, the whole Linux still runs hotter than Windows counterpart (Yes, Windows 8 runs cooler in temperature than Ubuntu 13.04 on my T400).

    Now I did talk about not having to deal with X11 configs. Well, that was a yes, but my T400 was the first ThinkPad model with swithable graphics from ATI from….2008. And to this date, I wouldn’t even bother to get the switchable graphics to work under Linux. Obviously, closed graphics source code is to blame here, but with Linux, that’s why I can’t have switchable graphics feature. (IIRC, I had to stick with dedicated graphics the whole time with Linux…complicating the CPU overheating issue that I am already experiencing)

    Still, I have been thinking about moving back to Linux platform. Maybe my next notebook would be a brand new ThinkPad with some flavors of Linux (maybe Debian or Mint), and maybe Linux will have a better fighting chance with latest hardware.

    1. My Lenovo Z560 runs cooler on Ubuntu 12.04 than Windows 7, although 13.04 does take the temp higher. I have outfitted my Ubuntu environment beautifully with Gnome/docky, and I love it. Looks better than mac in my opinion. Your whole graphics card deal sounds like a headache. I’m glad I haven’t had any problems. My suggestion to someone who wants everything to “just work” in linux is simply to purchase a System76 machine. You may save some money compared to a mac, I’m pretty sure you will have better performance, and it will stay current much longer (Maybe upgrade RAM/HDD eventually, but still). Long Live Linux!

  16. I don’t get it… so I can chose between Dell and Lenovo instead of just having only Apple. Convenient not to mention the dozens of workstation and gaming rigs, that work as out of the box as the Lenovo solutions provided by tonymacx86 and others 🙁

    BTW i’m running a Linux x230 and iMac/Hackintosh.

    Core truth here: It simply completely doesn’t matter how broad your support is, as long as that peripheral that worked with windows doesn’t works with Linux.

    Your base assumption that Linux has better out of the box support because you have 2 unofficial instead of one official platforms simply sucks 🙁

    the x230 costs as much as a macbook, so reason for hate here too

    1. Mac doesn’t do all that good on it’s own hardware too. Poor graphics performance and new graphical glitches due to broken graphics drivers on each update. Macs have a pretty bad track record on 3D graphics drivers, even worst than Linux (on recent Intel graphics or nVidia proprietary drivers, for that matter).

  17. Linux on a ThinkPad or on a Dell still doesn’t have as good of hardware support as OS X. And it’s not a double standard. “Good hardware support” means, the things I want to do, I can do, without a whole lot of problems. On Linux it’s always a struggle to get things into a state where things work well.. OS X does this out of the box.

    Plus, a great OS on great hardware is always going to be better than an OK OS on crappy (Dell) or OK hardware.

    I wasted too much of my life dealing with Linux on the desktop… it’s ok for servers, but only barely tolerable there. (If there were a decent hosting company that ran Macs, I’d host on OS X Sever without thinking about it- the additional cost is cheap compared to the expensive hours of my time that dealing with Linux wastes.)

    1. MacBooks used to be horribly unreliable. Pre-unibody, they had a 20-25% hard failure rate at the shop I worked at; I lost count of the number of people who had had a logic board replacement. Whereas the Dells I had, while they had terrible cosmetic quality, were rock-solid for as long as I owned them.

      And that’s Dell; ThinkPads are a cut above that. The X230 has the best laptop keyboard in the industry; yes I’ve used the newer Mac keyboards, and Lenovo is the only company that has actually done them one better. And then there’s the removable battery, the incredibly easy component upgrades, and the fact that you can spill a drink on the keyboard and it’ll just drain out of special drain channels while the machine keeps on chugging.

      So I really don’t agree that Apple has the best hardware. It’s pretty, yes. But I’ll take my tank of a ThinkPad over any of the (current) Apple hardware.

  18. Also, you kinda lost the “I hate bad arguments” position with your linkbait & misleading headline.

    1. Guilty. While I feel my central point stands, the temptation to troll the developer OS X monoculture is… strong, sometimes. Especially since I was once part of it.

  19. Running 13.04 on a ThinkPad W530 right now. I can assure you that despite this laptop being nearly a year old, there is an unfortunate lack of support for the hardware. Nouveau doesn’t support lid close/open events. It crashes when resuming from suspend, and doesn’t support Optimus. I’ve heard some people have gotten bumblebee to work with the NVidia driver, but despite wrestling with it for days at a time, I’ve not had any luck. Because of this, my extended batter lasts 1/2 as long as Windows 8.

    Sure, MBPs have some heating issues, and have had some SSD issues, and you won’t find me owning one any time soon, but I wouldn’t suggest that Linux on a Lenovo is equivalent to OSX on a MBP.

    1. The fact that you even got it to boot up is a marvel. You wouldn’t have as much luck booting OS X on your ThinkPad.

      1. How is it that you’re talking about hardware compatibility and you
        don’t know the name of the de-facto Open Source Nvidia Driver?

        It’s an open source Nvidia driver. It’s what’s used by default, but you can use the closed-source drivers which support more of the features… in 12.10, you could install directly from Nvidia, but as of 13.04, you have to switch to a non-Nouveau driver, then boot to single-user mode, then, if you’ve enabled /home/ encryption, log out of the su root and log in as your user, then run the Nvidia installer. Oh, wait, you might not have the kernel headers installed, so the driver couldn’t compile… well, reboot into GUI, figure out what packages you need to install, of course, don’t follow the top 7 links you find in the google search because they’re all the very correct solutions for past versions of Ubuntu. Seems nobody that actually answers those problems know that you can just install the meta-package for the headers… at least, they certainly find odd ways of cat’ing from the system to find the right specific package to install. Anyways, now that you’ve got those installed, reboot, run the nvidia installer, and ignore the three errors/warnings that it gives you.

        Now that your new driver is installed, you can tell if you have the Quatro 1k (default on w530) based on the 8 randomly blinking pixels in the upper left-hand corner of your screen. Thankfully it’s constrained to the space occupied by the Ubuntu Swirl button, so it won’t annoy you too much. The Quatro 2k does not have the blinking pixels, but does seem to crash on Flash videos more often.

        I love Ubuntu, and I love my Thinkpad, and I love Ubuntu on my Thinkpad… I’d love for it to be the actual “reference” hardware… and it might even be the closest thing to it… but it certainly isn’t actually there.

    2. These are Ubuntu issues. If people would just put down the ‘buntu, Linux would be a whole lot easier to use.

      Try putting Opensuse 12.3 on there and see if you observe the same problems.

      1. Alas, I have work to get done, I don’t have time to spend on trying Ubuntu and Fedora and Suse and Mint and Debian and Arch and Slackware.

  20. It was shocking when I realized that linux had better support / user experience for quite a number of devices (printers, removable block storage devices, & more). Amazing revelation — from about 5 or 6 years ago.

    Unfortunately the only way to discover that was by actively using linux as a desktop computer. Given the advantages of developing on linux like similar development and production environments, free toolchains, consistent package management, and modern UI features, I can’t understand why so many continue to choose OSX.

    It can’t be poor hardware support, as that is not an accurate complaint as you point out. So if you can figure that out, please share.

    1. I think that a lot (not all) who use OS X do so because they are without issues. Im not saying Linux is full of issues, although i have had to go to the terminal to install many things, It doesn’t bother me and is definitely my preferred way, Although not a lot of people want to have to use commands and prefer a GUI.

  21. they will have to research and choose a known-good configuration. Just like they did when picking out their shiny Mac

    Bzzzt! Wrong. I didn’t have to research Mac, I just picked it up at the store, returned home and started working right away. That’s basically why I use Mac in the first place: I get paid for stuff I actually do, not for “researching a today’s-known-good configuration” of desktop Linux.

    This is the very same reason I use Linux pretty much exclusively on server side: it works. Not “probably Mostly Work” (sounds like something I’d wish upon my worst enemies), just works.

    1. I didn’t say the research was equally easy (although it would have been if I’d picked a System 76 machine, or that Dell developer edition). But the point is, you picked your system from a very short menu of options that support your OS of choice well. So did I.

  22. I run Ubuntu and love it. However the software support for external 3rd party hardware is crap (printers, usb-dongles, etc). Somehow I have a feeling that was meant by the original quote that you mentioned at the top of the article.

  23. “Hardware support” has never just been the machine. There’s more hardware than just “the box”: printers, external video cards, etc.
    And Thinkpads don’t “just work” with linux immediately. I have an X200s which NOW works perfectly with the latest Linux Mint*, but when I first got it SSD trim wasn’t supported and getting all wifi and bluetooth were a pain.

    *Yes I use the “newb” linux because I would much rather spend my time creating and using new software rather than troubleshooting things that are already figured out.

  24. Show me the Linux distro with Macbook Air trackpad multitouch support, and I will leave OS X in a heartbeat.

  25. The difference is you pay much more premium for a Mac with OSX then a whatever other brand or even a clone PC with standard intel chipset motherboard. In lots of case, as long as you use popular & standard hardware, linux will just plug and go without needing to play around with drivers.

    A mac with similar CPU, Memory, storage & Video Card config, will at least cost you a 30% to 50% more as premium while linux cost you nothing. What can you complain.

    1. This is patently false. You can get budget hardware for less. If you configure a system to be similar specs to a MBP – including SSD, RAM (16GBs) – with a quality PC hardware provider (Lenovo, System76, Sony) they come out to about the same price, with a lower max resolution for the panel of choice and heavier.

      1. You can get budget hardware for less.

        This is a myth OS X users like to spread to make them believe their premium-priced devices are special.

  26. This is one of the stupidest arguments I’ve read since reading reddit this morning. OSX doesn’t have to run on a multitude of hardware. That’s not the point. face palm

  27. For everyone having issues with the Optimus graphics, the simple solution is disable the Intel card in the bios. Nvidia works fine with the proprietary drivers (included in Ubuntu for sure). Running a W510 with Ubuntu 13.04 in that configuration.

    1. WHAT? A Think Pad from Dell?! ThinkPads are Lenovo! This comment makes you look like an idiot 😀

  28. This is really a pointless argument. Apple sells hardware with tightly integrated software. They leverage that to allow OS X to provide a arguably better experience than is possible for Linux or Windows, which cannot know what they will be running on.

    OS X is tuned to run on specific hardware. Nothing stopping anyone from doing the same with Linux or Windows.

    Yes, you can run OS X on non-Apple hardware. But getting it done is often a time- wasting pain. Updates are problematic. Things like fan control are flaky.

    So, the question of how much hardware OS X can run on is moot.

    1. So, the question of how much hardware OS X can run on is moot.

      How is it moot? It’s no more moot than when choosing mobile OSes you have a handful of WinPhone devices, seven billion Android configurations, and just one iPhone.

      1. It’s moot because it’s made to run on Apple hardware, and nowhere else.

        So, it seems rather pointless to declare that Linux has better hardware support than OS X. It’s true, but it’s a win in a game Apple isn’t playing.

  29. Doesn’t this article show the need for more pre-installations of linux and more vendor support?

    The issue isn’t simply the title statement. Apple are really good at marketing and education. I would propose that the lack of great marketing and good education creates this sort of argument in the first place.

    I hope for a day when I could go to my local Linux store with a giant penguin outside it.

    1. That would be nice, A linux store, Just for Linux Computers and Distros that you can plug your USB stick and it will burn it to or a Disc. And Accessories just for Linux! And Help centers for Noobies and Help guides and all other Linux related stuff!!! Brilliant Idea! i might start one!

  30. I definitely see what you saying. Although as an OS X/Linux user i see some things i disagree with. First of all i think that the people who are saying the statement may be referring to external hardware like Cameras and Mouse and Keyboards. Also it is quite “easy” to install OS X on a Windows/Linux Native computer. Its known as Hackintosh. It works great providing you have the correct hardware which includes GPU’s CPU’s and motherboards. But Yes, Linux is aaaalot more compatible and scalable.

  31. My biggest complaint up to this point has been the fact that I have yet to find a thinkpad that will properly let me use 2 external monitors and my laptop as well. That is one thing I do frequently with my Macbook Pro. It’s a pain point for me.

    1. Where does that number come from? For the most recent version of OS X (10.9), the most recent unsupported hardware is the “early 2008” Xserve, which was 5.5 years old at time of release.

      For other Mac lines, the support is even longer. “Mid 2007” iMacs and Macbook Pros (now almost 7 years old) are still supported with the latest version of OS X.

  32. I think you’re confusing “Good” support for “Broad” support.

    Linux has Broad support.

    OSX had Good support.

  33. From the point of view of the “ordinary user” (the one who buys a computer to get some work done), the abstract question of “hardware support” is not what matters. Their question is “what do I need to do to get a machine that just works, with technical support that will help me when something goes wrong”. In the Mac universe, the answer is “go to an Apple store”. In the Linux universe, there is no answer. Even if there is a machine on which some Linux distro works just fine, it takes a lot of effort to find out which combo of hardware/distro works, and no (to 99.99% accuracy) hardware vendor will tell you which one. No manufacturer will make any promise, but rather tell you there’s no warranty if you install Linux.

    What Linux lacks is not so much “hardware support” as “human support” to people who are customers rather than community members.

  34. Can we please stop calling ThinkPads “reference” hardware for Linux? They aren’t offered with Linux preinstalled, many of them have unsupported hybrid graphics, and it’s ridiculous to buy one when several companies (including Dell) are actually shipping Linux-preinstalled systems.

  35. The main argument against Apple computers as I hear it: “it is overpriced”. I do understand that other PC’s can be cheaper, but once you actually are looking to buy what you want, it is going to be just as expensive as Apple. You have to know and look at the computers and choose wisely.

    I walked away from Ubuntu, because of a twisted experience. I had Sony Vaio and had ubuntu for 3 years on it (9.04 – 10.10) Why 3 years and not 2? because I installed new versions of Ubuntu as they were coming out (11.04 – 12.10), but the PC would stall and work just terrible (either of 32-bit and 64-bit). I loved Ubuntu and I really enjoyed it until it did some changes to it. I was hoping that new Ubuntu comes out and it would be better and lighter than the previous ones.. but until 12.10 they all offered just the same experience, in fact, I didn’t even see any differences between the versions. That’s why for the last few months of its life, I had been running Windows 7. The laptop had a great hardware too.

    With Apple it is easy, because they choose the good configuration for you and do what they can to support it for as long as they can. I.e. people buy experience that Apple promises to offer.

  36. “I’d use Linux if the hardware support was as good as OS X.”
    Thats something only someone disconnected from computing reality would think of saying.

    This article shouldn’t need to exist. This should just be common knowledge. I suppose the article can act as a node for those who are behind and don’t already know this though.

  37. Hey Avdi – this I was talking about this post with a buddy and he said for him the killer app isn’t MacOS hardware or whatever – it’s Time Machine, saved his life many times. What do you use instead – I used to use flyback but it was last updated in 2010.

    1. I use CrashPlan. It combines local, PC-to-PC, and cloud-based backup in one app and it works the same on my Linux, Windows, and Mac machines.

      I tried various open source solutions but I wound up using CrashPlan because it’s so comprehensive.

  38. I love this article. I don’t think most of the people commenting are getting the main idea. Linux works great, if you take care in getting the right hardware. You don’t buy a washer or dryer without first making sure they work with the fittings you have. I have had some hardware issues, but I historically have bought what was cheap and easy for me to get. I know plenty of people running Linux who’s hardware works as intended.

    1. “Linux works great, if you take care in getting the right hardware.”

      That just throws all blame back on the poor user: if it isn’t working great, it must have been their fault for not getting “the right hardware”!

      Unfortunately, there is no authoritative list of what “the right hardware” is, or what it means to be fully supported, so this can never be used as a predictive statement. (Look at all the reports here of people with Thinkpad trouble in Linux.) It can only be used to pass blame after the fact, which is not helpful for anybody.

      I’ve only ever bought hardware for Linux which was reported on the internet to be supported, but a fair amount of it just plain wasn’t. Everything from “no hardware acceleration” to “not supporting both ports at the same time” to “kernel panic when you try to transfer files larger than 4KB”. User reports are a completely different ballgame than professional QA, and (with a couple rare exceptions like perhaps System76) Linux only has the former.

  39. Is it surprising that more developers produce more output that less developers?

    microsoft’s “new” memory management scheme public alpha (win7)
    invigorated my linux fandom into linux use. Everything at home except
    this laptop (which isn’t mine) runs linux or osx, but mostly linux.
    XBMCbuntu (at the time) made many new fans as did ethical-usenet. freeBSD powers our firewall/router appliance [pfsense], and CentOS our PBX – SIP paging/conferencing at home, hooray!

    OS X just plain works

    when you buy into hardware lock-in, DrFyzziks , then your truism

    “OSX works everywhere it works”

    continues to be true. wow

    this was an upgrade

    Lock package versions to those you known first hand to be good? Or opt for masochism as you did. Freedom is grand until chairmanO tells you which products to buy.

    Old hardware become more problematic. If you want to keep your old hardware it’s irrational to expect it to function “as well” as it did on old software. duh?

    the only way to discover that was by actively using linux as a desktop computer


    LiveDVD? if your programming sloth-virtue interferes with old fashioned research. “Ubuntu certified” hardware databases might suit you.

    unfortunate lack of support for the [crappy] hardware

    Yes, there is little support for crappy hardware, @hatsix:disqus . That’s the hardware that requires host-software to have functionality. Host-software other than drivers.

    have work to get done, I don’t have time to spend on trying

    if you spent less time raving on the interweb you might have time for more important issues like spending less money.

  40. The problem with this is that — speaking as a former Thinkpad user — Thinkpads are just not all that impressive today when it comes to laptops.

    Your Thinkpad X230 has a 12.5″ display with a resolution of 1366×768. A Macbook Pro (for only $100 more) has a 13″ display at 2560×1600. It has the same Core i5, the same 4GB of RAM, the same weight, the same thickness, and a couple hours better battery life — possibly because it has an SSD instead of a 5400rpm. There’s a reason that PCMag’s top 2 laptops right now are both Macbook Pros.

    It’s like you’re trying to sell me gasoline which doesn’t work in my VW Jetta, and you’re arguing “We have excellent test case: Russian tank! Runs great in Russian tank. Shell gasoline also good, but different. Russian tank not run on Shell unleaded at all.” That’s nice, but I don’t know anybody who drives a Russian tank. This thing you’re trying to sell me does not align with the needs and desires of actual people.

    To stay relevant as a laptop operating system, Linux needs to have first-class support for the best laptops on the market at any point in time, not just one particular brand. That brand was once Thinkpad, but today it’s Apple.

    This isn’t a minority viewpoint, even in the Linux world. As Torvalds said, “I have to admit being a bit baffled by how nobody else seems to have done what Apple did with the Macbook Air – even several years after the first release, the other notebook vendors continue to push those ugly and clunky things.”

    He uses a Macbook himself, so I’m a bit puzzled as to why it still doesn’t have great driver support. That right there is kind of damning: even the creator has to put up with things that don’t work right. What chance do I have of it ever working right for me?

    1. I wrote this a while ago. The appropriate comparison today would be with an X240. Of course there will always be little pluses and minuses to be quibbled over, but ThinkPad hardware stays roughly comparable, and is superior in some ways. E.g. these days I’d probably stick with ThinkPad for the spillproof keyboard alone (I lost a laptop to a spill once). And speaking of keyboards, as a fan of the Apple island-style keyboard from way back when it was introduced, the newer ThinkPad keyboards are the only ones on the market that are actually better than Apple’s.

      For the purpose of this article I really don’t care whether Linux is “viable in the market”. I wrote it strictly to counter the ridiculous argument that an OS which has excellent support for a few dozen hardware configurations and NONE for any others somehow has “better hardware support” than an OS that has some support for a million configurations and excellent support for a few.

  41. Linux has broader and overall greater hardware support than OS X (XNU), but OS X has deeper hardware support.

    You will not find a laptop/distro combo that reaches the some of the stuff OS X does with its reference hardware out of the box. However, if none of the OS X hardware offers what you want, you will probably have a much better experience using a Linux distro on a different piece of hardware.

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