How to leave your MacBook Pro and get a better, “Just Works” experience on Linux

I’ve had a lot of friends lately talking about leaving the Mac world (for a variety of reasons). They are mostly developers, but some are not. The overarching theme however, is that they want something that for the most part, “just works.”

You’ll find no shortage of opinions out there, and I’m sure there are plenty that will disagree with me. However, having recently purchased several different laptops, and having successfully helped many people convert and be happy, this is my advice:

Youve got two tracks to choose from. Either of these will leave you happy:

  1. Buy a Lenovo T580 (or similar). Install the latest version of Fedora Workstation
  2. Buy a Dell XPS 13/15 (or Precision 5520) with Ubuntu pre-installed.

Lenovo T580

Pros:

  • Less expensive but still great hardware
  • Newer software thanks to Fedora, incredible out-of-the-box experience that “just works” (for the most part).
  • Hardware in general feels very nice (trackpad isn’t as good as the Dell, but keyboard is great and trackpad is very usable)
  • Fedora’s Gnome experience is amazing. Spend a few minutes learning the Gnome way (hint: it’s all about the keyboard shortcuts and the Super key), then profit
  • Red Hat, an elite all-Linux company, uses Lenovo laptops with Fedora, and therefore you have some of the best hackers in the world dog-fooding your platform and fixing things for you
  • Linux compatibility with hardware is superior here, and it translates directly to better performance. No screwing with video drivers to get hardware acceleration and reasonable performance from graphical programs

Cons:

  • Hardware isn’t as visually appealing and doesn’t have that super high quality feel of a Macbook or the Dell
  • You pay the “Microsoft Tax” since the factory ships it with Windows. However it’s still quite a bit cheaper than the Dell
  • You’ll have to install Linux before using it (this could be a pro actually, since you can install it with options you like such as full disk encryption via LUKS, but since this is about “just works” I list it as a con)

Dell XPS 13/15 (Or Precision 5520)

Pros:

  • Ubuntu is pre-installed at the factory, and you get customer support
  • Making a restore image is super easy using the pre-installed tool and lets you easily go back to the factory setup anytime
  • The hardware build quality is incredible. It feels and looks very nice. The trackpad on this machine is the first that has ever matched the quality of Apple’s trackpads
  • Ubuntu is a great Linux experience, very power-user and newcomer friendly.

Cons:

  • The factory image is Ubuntu LTS, which gets pretty outdated. In return you get some (theoretical) stability. I find Fedora’s stability to be superior tho and the distro keeps up with software releases much better.
  • The price is high. Still cheaper than Apple, but higher than the Lenovo option
  • Performance isn’t as optimized because of lower compatibility with graphics cards. You may also have less stable wifi
  • If you want to stray from the Dell blessed path and install something else, you’ll need to build and install the Dell drivers yourself for everything to work (like your back light)

What about the Desktop Environment?

  • Fedora ships with Gnome by default, but you can easily install whatever you want. I personally love Gnome, and I think the Fedora out-of-the-box Gnome experience is great.
  • Older versions of Ubuntu ship with Unity, but newer ship with Gnome. Again you can install what you prefer pretty easily.

Ben Porter is a Linux and open source advocate, currently working as an OpenShift consultant for Red Hat.

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