8 Alternative Operating Systems For Your Mac (That Actually Work)
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The best part of getting a MacBook, Mac Mini, or Mac Pro is OS X, Apple’s fantastic operating system (OS). But that doesn’t mean you can’t try out some other great alternatives. The whole Windows vs. Mac vs. Linux fight is irrelevant now. Let’s try something new, eh?

The point of this article isn’t to just find the best alternative operating systems for a Mac. These alternatives should also be easy to install, work well with the Mac keyboard, and support existing hardware without needing too many drivers to be installed or other such procedures. Basically, we’re looking for hassle-free operation.

Before You Start…

There are different ways to try out a new operating system on your Mac. You could:

Joel has gone into the pros and cons of running multiple operating systems What's the Best Way to Run Multiple Operating Systems on Your PC? What's the Best Way to Run Multiple Operating Systems on Your PC? Undecided between Windows and Linux? It's possible to run multiple OSes on a single machine either by dual booting or using a virtual machine. Let's find out which one is best for you. Read More on any PC, so read that before you make your decision.

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Whatever you finally decide, make sure you backup your Mac first! If you want an easier solution, turn a NAS or Windows Share into a Time Machine backup Turn Your NAS Or Windows Share Into A Time Machine Backup Turn Your NAS Or Windows Share Into A Time Machine Backup Use your NAS, or any network share, for backing up your Mac with Time Machine. Read More . You should absolutely back up your data before you install any of these.

Make sure you have a recovery partition to reinstall Mac OS X in case you want to go back. If possible I recommend grabbing a standard Windows USB keyboard and mouse. They work much better with all Linux distros than Apple’s hardware.

Now that you’ve covered your back, let’s take a look at the operating systems you can use on your MacBook or other Apple computer.

Windows 10

Surprisingly, the best alternative operating system on Macs is the one Apple fans love to hate: Windows. In our books, Windows 10 is the latest and best version of Windows, so if you’re looking to install Microsoft’s operating system, then this is the version to get.

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Windows 10 works remarkably well with all existing Apple hardware. You will hardly need to install any special drivers, and connecting third-party peripherals to your Mac works flawlessly too. Plus, Windows 10 works well with high-resolution Retina screens used by MacBook Pro laptops and newer iMac displays.

Justin has rounded up the four ways to install Windows on your Mac 4 Ways To Get Windows On Your Mac 4 Ways To Get Windows On Your Mac Want Windows 8 running on your Mac, but don't know where to start? Let us show you how. Read More , helpfully listing the benefits and drawbacks of each method. OS X comes bundled with the Boot Camp assistant, which is the cheapest and easiest method to get you up and running.

Ubuntu 15.10

Why would you want to run Linux on a MacBook, you ask? Well, there are plenty of reasons! Ubuntu is one of the most popular and best Linux distros The Best Linux Operating Systems The Best Linux Operating Systems There are Linux distros available for every purpose, which makes choosing one difficult. Here's a list of the very best Linux operating systems to help. Read More out there, and it requires the least amount of setting up on a Mac. Most of the drivers are preinstalled, and there will only be a few things you need to specifically seek out.

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Ubuntu’s default Unity surface also supports the high-DPI (HiDPI) Retina screens on Mac devices. It’s not yet perfect, but it works pretty well. In case it’s not working right for you, we have a guide to improve Linux HiDPI support Improving Linux HiDPI Support For Gnome, KDE, Xfce, Cinnamon And Firefox Improving Linux HiDPI Support For Gnome, KDE, Xfce, Cinnamon And Firefox Running Linux on a system with a HiDPI display, you may have noticed that everything is either tiny or perhaps just looks weird. We'll help you get a better experience on your HiDPI display. Read More .

Perhaps most importantly, Ubuntu is great at recognizing third-party apps and devices. I’ve tried connecting an Apple keyboard as well as a Magic Trackpad while running Ubuntu, and it recognized the peripherals right away. Ubuntu also works perfectly with Mac function keys, command and so on.

If you’re just getting started with Ubuntu, you should probably check out our beginner’s guide to Ubuntu Ubuntu: A Beginner's Guide Ubuntu: A Beginner's Guide Curious about Ubuntu, but not sure where to start? Everything you could possibly need to get started with the latest version of Ubuntu is right here, written in easy-to-understand, plain English. Read More .

Linux Mint 17 Cinnamon

For those running a MacBook with a Retina screen, Linux Mint 17 is probably your best choice. That’s because the Cinnamon desktop environment supports HiDPI out of the box, without you needing to make any tweaks to it.

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Mint is a great distro to start off with if you’re new to Linux, and is often touted as “the Ubuntu killer”. Plus, like Windows and Ubuntu, you won’t need to install many drivers to get up and running.

Personally, I loved Dave On Code’s guide to perfectly setting up Mint on a Retina MacBook Pro. As he notes, you’ll need to update the Wi-Fi driver but keep the Nvidia graphics driver intact, and do a little bit of configuration to get the trackpad working smoothly. Be aware that there are some problems in connecting an Apple Magic Mouse, if you use one.

But more or less, you can start using Mint without facing issues with your speakers, Wi-Fi or while connecting to a plug-and-play printer.

Elementary OS

If you like the look and feel of OS X but need to install a Linux distro, then look no further than Elementary OS. The design and feel of this operating system is heavily inspired by OS X, so you’ll feel like it belongs on your MacBook.

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Several of our MakeUseOf staff love Elementary Why I Switched From Windows 7 to Elementary OS Luna Why I Switched From Windows 7 to Elementary OS Luna Bye bye, Windows. Hello, Linux! Here's what convinced me that eOS Luna is a better bet than Windows 7. Read More , using it as their primary boot or as their preferred Linux distro. Elementary is rising in popularity and getting tons of cool updates that make it a robust system. Since it uses the GNOME desktop environment, it can also support Retina displays, but you might need to install the GNOME Tweak Tool to set it up right.

One problem with running Elementary OS on a MacBook is the Wi-Fi. The OS does not come packaged with the necessary Broadcom drivers. You have two options to install it. If you can tether your phone to your computer and use the Internet, you’ll just need to automatically update the wireless driver. If you can’t, you’ll need to find the right Broadcom driver, download it, and install it via USB. Elementary Now has a full step-by-step guide in case you need help.

Apart from Wi-Fi, Elementary OS works pretty well with Mac hardware.

Puppy Linux

In case you have an older Mac, get your hands on Puppy Linux to give the machine a new lease of life 13 Lightweight Linux Distributions to Give Your Old PC a New Lease of Life 13 Lightweight Linux Distributions to Give Your Old PC a New Lease of Life These flavors of Linux are light on CPU and RAM, meaninig they run great on older and weaker devices! Read More . Puppy Linux is designed to be a fast and lightweight OS that can even run smoothly off a USB drive.

Best-alternative-operating-systems-mac-Puppy-Linux-tahrpup

It’s a simple operating system and comes with all the basics that you would need. You’re free to install more apps too, of course. My MacBook’s Wi-Fi, keyboard and trackpad, and sound were working fine without needing any additional drivers, so that’s a bonus.

Puppy Linux famously prefers a Live USB Running Linux from USB: Are You Doing It Right? Running Linux from USB: Are You Doing It Right? Did you know that can keep data persistent, or even do a full install for Linux, on a USB drive? Take computing totally mobile -- stick a Linux USB PC in your pocket! Read More , so if your main Mac’s hard drive is corrupt or full, this is a pretty good way to make it into a useful machine again.

Of all the different Puppy Linux distros, I tried Tahrpup and it worked fantastically, but feel free to check out the others. If you want to stick with our tried-and-tested option, then download Tahrpup.

Not-Perfect, But Good-Enough

In the hunt for the best alternatives to OS X for Mac users, I came across a few OS options that were just short of the mark in terms of compatibility and usability. That said, you might want to check them out anyway.

Chrome OS (via CloudReady)

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If you’re keen to try out Chrome OS, then Neverware’s CloudReady is the easiest option to install it on a Mac. It detects Wi-Fi, sound and your trackpad or mouse, but the Apple keyboard has several problems (like issues with function keys) when being used with Chrome OS.

Additionally, CloudReady’s Chrome OS does not support all of Google’s features. For example, you won’t be able to install Android apps through APKs, it doesn’t recognize voice input, and there are some other known differences. Think of it as a Chrome OS trial. It’s good enough to give you a feel of Chrome, but it’s a major step down from both OS X and Chrome OS.

Remix OS 2.0

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We love Remix OS, an Android-based desktop environment A Real, Android-Based Alternative to Windows: Remix OS 2.0 A Real, Android-Based Alternative to Windows: Remix OS 2.0 Read More . If online comments are to be believed, several people have liked what they got from running it on a Mac. When I tested it, neither the USB mouse or trackpad’s right-click worked, and I couldn’t use trackpad gestures to scroll pages. Also, like many commenters on this Reddit thread, I couldn’t get Resident Mode working.

These might be minor issues that get fixed soon enough though, so don’t write this one off entirely. However, at the moment, I’m disinclined to recommend it as a true alternative.

Windows 7

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Running a Mac without a Retina screen? Then good old Windows 7 might be one of the best options for you. Windows 7 is astonishingly stable on a MacBook and the installation process with Boot Camp is super smooth. Plus, not everyone likes Windows 10 7 Things That Really Annoy Us About Windows 10 7 Things That Really Annoy Us About Windows 10 It's not a secret that Windows 10 isn't perfect. Cortana borders on being intrusive, mandatory updates can cause issues, and much appears half-baked. We present our top 7 of most glaring Windows 10 annoyances. Read More and all the online Microsoft account junk it forces upon you.

Why Leave OS X?

Apple’s operating system is loved by its fan base and cited by many as the best thing about owning a Mac. What’s your reason for looking beyond OS X?

We think MacBooks make the best Linux laptops How to Choose the Best Laptop to Install Linux How to Choose the Best Laptop to Install Linux It's never been harder to install Linux on a laptop. No longer a matter of downloading, burning, and hoping for a compatible WiFi card, these laptops, new and old, are your best option. Read More , but there are other explanations too. For some, it’s just about trying out other OS options. For others, the gaming environment of Windows is too important, or their hardware has become too old to run OS X well.

For more like this, check out the best Linux distros to install on your Mac The 6 Best Linux Distros to Install on a Mac (Depending on Your Needs) The 6 Best Linux Distros to Install on a Mac (Depending on Your Needs) Even long-time Mac users sometimes need a change. Dying to try something new? Here are the best Linux distros to install on a Mac. Read More .

So tell us, why are you ditching OS X, and which alternative operating system is tempting you?

Explore more about: Linux Elementary, Linux Mint, Ubuntu, Windows 10.

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  1. Perette
    January 6, 2018 at 3:51 am

    Why am I leaving? I love OS X, I find both Windows and Linux clumsy to use; I don't want to leave... except the recent 'root' login without a password security issue. And if you want to connect a modern Mac laptop to anything, you'll need a sack of dongles. And the laptops they offer are fine for the common folk, but nothing really stands out for the power user. Add to that the current Mac laptops being totally unserviceable (RAM soldered, SSD soldered or proprietary, batteries glued into cases, custom screw drives), nor upgradeable. I mean, I would not mind paying a premium for quality--but for something designed for obsolescence and disposability? Enough is enough. And just in case enough wasn't enough, I'm left with foreboding about Mac's future after seeing Apple's "What's a computer?" ad this past holiday season, featuring a kid doing various stuff with an iPad pro--at one point he connects a keyboard, which leaves me wondering, if he wanted a keyboard, why didn't he just get a laptop with one built in?

  2. John
    January 3, 2018 at 9:15 am

    Those are not 8 alternative operating systems. It is two alternatives (Linux/Windows) and a whole crapload of desktops and/or releases.

    • Anonymous
      January 3, 2018 at 10:15 pm

      Linux is a kernel, not an operating system.

  3. Dave
    August 12, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    Well, its like this, I have a 2006 Mac Pro Tower with a Quad core and running 12 gigs of ram, plenty of power for OS Sierra, but Apple says no go.
    I just want a updated OS for my computer, so I'm looking into alternatives!

    • Van
      March 11, 2018 at 4:31 pm

      You're right. I have a MacBook a1181 which can be updated up to os lion. Instead I find windows and linux updated and fully functional on my old computer.

  4. Jilll
    August 2, 2017 at 5:10 am

    > Think of it as a Chrome OS trial. It’s good enough to give you a feel of Chrome,
    > but it’s a major step down from both OS X and Chrome OS.

    Huh? ChromeOS is a major step down from ChromeOS?

  5. ms
    July 25, 2017 at 3:27 pm

    Elementary OS refused to see my MacBooks wifi card, after a week of trying I surrendered.

  6. Chris Carnes
    February 28, 2017 at 4:57 am

    I have an older Mini (G4) & a lot of the new technologies on the internet are simply not compatible with the old Safari browser. I just can't part with my little friend, so I want a new OS to keep him going a little while longer. Amazing how we get attached to these things.

    • Mark
      November 21, 2017 at 2:41 am

      I have a powerbook G4 and am running OpenBSD. Takes a few steps to get it up and running, but there are lots of online resources to help.

  7. AJ
    December 18, 2016 at 3:21 am

    Apple became greedy, under spec and over priced MBP2016's, just not value for money.

  8. William
    November 25, 2016 at 3:33 am

    Older core 2 duo mac mini can not upgrade to latest mac OS so changing to keep using it

  9. Bob Harper
    April 1, 2016 at 2:55 am

    2015-04-01 - NO April 1st joke !
    I have recently upgraded from an iMac to an i7 in a Z170-HD3 Gigabyte motherboard Linux Box. I have installed Ubuntu 15.10 on one 1TB HDD and am looking to install an alternative on another 1TB HDD. All up the install went without any serious issues. The reason for going Linux rather than OSX is that Apple and Microsoft sell upgrades, and therefore every time I "Upgraded" I lost access to some software. OS9 was the OS on the first Mac I had, changing from Win98 as I 'HAD' to use a mac for the publishing software that came with the magazine I took over in the diting and production role.
    Apple went to OSX soon after and I loved the idea of doing Unix although I had little experience with it. I changed over to OSX (10.0) on a new Mac Power Box between monthly issues and still met production schedules. The first OSX was easily the best transition from one OS to another that I had had to make.
    Short version of my complaint..
    EVERY TIME osx 'upgraded' some functionality was lost. "ERROR: OS9 no longer supported", followed by several more incremental losses of OSC-carbon, etc. software. I can still use my old DOS programs under DOSBOX etc. (I can even use my remaining CP/M software)... BUT Apple DOES NOT support it's own recently past software. MANY bought applications and utilities simply stopped working with the far too frequent 'Upgrade' to a 'Better' OS. Microsoft is no better or worse, well maybe ?, but the commercial nature of each has resulted in feature creep that sees new OS's with ridiculous changes that alienate their long term users.
    Finally, I am now using a powerful new computer, with a powerful Free OS that IS NOT commercially self-indulgent. Although I miss BBEdit and the Adobe collection, I have successfully replaced almost all my favorite software with Free alternatives.
    Thanks to a world of truly dedicated computer users. (FSF,GNU etc.)

    Bob Harper
    retired: TAFE Teacher, Textbook Author, Editor and Magazine Production Manager,
    VK4WG

  10. Tim D.
    March 31, 2016 at 8:37 pm

    I bought the 64 bit version (when it came out,) about 7 years ago for my PC. I don't know where now, as i got mine from best buy, through the geek squad. At the time I had to be stubborn, the sales people couldn't understand why a 64 bit over a 32 bit OS. (Ancient history, yes, I know.) However, I would not be surprised if you could find it on e-bay or even through some online retailer if you did a web search for it. Google up!

  11. FlightDreamz
    March 31, 2016 at 5:27 pm

    Where do you get a copy of Windows 7 now that Microsoft if phasing it out in favor of Windows 10?

    • DogeTech
      March 31, 2016 at 7:05 pm

      Yeah, I have the same question as I have been wanting to get Windows 7 as well. I prefer it over Windows 10 (yes, I have a laptop).

      • Chris Carnes
        February 28, 2017 at 4:59 am

        I got an .iso from Microsoft a while back to burn an install disk. I had my COA, I think they required it if I remember correctly.