It’s been a while since Mac OS X 10.10 “Yosemite” has been released into the wild, so we have a pretty good idea of how it performs. Mac OS X is also sometimes used as the poster child for a clean and elegant interface (most of the time, anyways). As a Linux writer, it’s my duty to make comparisons not only amongst Linux distros, but also against the competition.
With Yosemite out and a new wave of distro releases out, it’s time to make the comparison between Yosemite and and these new releases. Which performs better? Which looks better? What can Linux learn from Mac OS X? Let’s find out.
First up, the most noticeable change in Yosemite is the user interface. In short, there are quite a few changes, but at the same time not very much. The user interface in itself is just about identical to what it has been through all versions of Mac OS X. It’s still the same familiar interface that Mac users have known for years. Yet at the same time, it got a visual update.
The theme? Flat. Whether you like it or not, the hot areas of design are still flat elements and colors, and a lot of elements have been flattened. These are more noticeable in menus and the window control buttons. The design did need a bit of modernization after remaining stagnantly unchanged for years, so this is a welcome improvement.
The user interface on Linux, of course, varies a lot as there are loads of desktop environments to choose from. Unity is pretty similar to Mac OS X in a lot of respects, with the exception that the “dock” is permanently on the left side of the screen. Aesthetically, KDE is most similar to the Mac OS X interface with the silver and blue color theme. If you want something different, there’s Cinnamon, MATE, or Gnome Shell. The upside to all these different choices is that, well, you have choices! You can customize your system to look however you want; with Mac OS X, there’s not a whole lot of customization available. Even with the most extreme customizations, a Mac OS X system is still recognizably so.
Winner: Mac OS X for tried and true familiarity; Linux for customization.
Performance on its own is pretty hard to figure out just by regular usage, as both systems perform well. Instead, we’ll have to resort to using benchmarks to determine the difference in performance. A lot of tests have been done on the Web that consistently show that recent releases of Linux distros tend to perform better than Yosemite, in both CPU and graphics performance. In fact, one popular site’s benchmarks showed that Ubuntu won in 12 out of 15 tests, which included all gaming-related benchmarks.
There are also massive differences in the amount of RAM that each operating system uses immediately after a reboot. I checked both my Mac OS X and Linux partitions’ RAM usage immediately after boot, and determined that Mac OS X used around 3.6GB of RAM while Linux only used ~600MB of RAM. Both systems had a roughly equal amount of startup applications, and the Linux system was running the Cinnamon desktop environment. Even with the heaviest of desktop environments, KDE, I still wouldn’t have used more than 1GB after booting up.
However, there are some hidden pros and cons to Linux. Linux does run on more hardware than Mac OS X does, but Linux may not always work 100% with Apple hardware, something that Mac OS X is (obviously) great at. In my case with a MacBook Pro Retina, my webcam doesn’t work under Linux and there’s no proper implementation for HiDPI support — it’s a work in progress, but far from perfect.
Although Linux tends to be leaner than Mac OS X, it’s not the best at power management. This is especially the case when compared to Mac OS X, since OS X is tuned specifically for Apple hardware while Linux has to be more generic in its power management. On my MacBook Pro Retina, the battery life on Linux is on average two-thirds of what it would be on Mac OS X (say 6 hours on Linux compared to 9 hours on OS X). That’s a pretty major difference, and a good reason why I sometimes have to run Mac OS X when I know I have a long day ahead of me even though I’d prefer to use Linux.
There are some tools in Linux to help you try to control your power usage, such as TLP which automatically adjusts variables to improve power usage, and PowerTOP, a tool to help you determine what’s sucking up power. Even then, it’s still not quite as efficient as Mac OS X — most likely due to the quality/progress/feature availability of the drivers.
Winner: Mac OS X.
Linux Isn’t Perfect, But Holds Up
After these comparisons, Yosemite and Linux are tied at three apiece. And I don’t really want to break that tie because, although I love Linux and like to “hate” on OS X because it’s proprietary and from Apple, I have to give credit in some areas to Apple’s operating system. While the user interface may not be very innovative, it is certainly familiar and still good looking. It works well (although not quite as fast as Linux), and it has fantastic power management for great battery life. And those elements combined are why Macs, especially for laptops, have become much more popular in recent years.
So what can Linux learn from Mac OS X and improve on? While I don’t think that there’s ever going to be a truly recognizable desktop environment (although Unity is arguably the closest one to that ideal), Linux can still pride itself on a customizable experience. Instead, it just still needs to focus on improving hardware support and especially power management. Linux definitely has a lot going for it already, but there are certain things — especially those related to improving portability — that could be better. And I know that because the open source community has to work on these things on its own, it’ll be hard to achieve those goals.
What are some things you think Linux needs to improve on? Let us know in the comments!
Image Credit: Phoronix (Michael Larabel)