📅 October 10, 2021     🕐 10 minutes read

Using Linux on a Mac. A Year Later…

A year of running Linux ( Manjaro Gnome ) on my iMac. AND I LOVE IT!

Back in December of 2020, I showed you how to dual-boot macOS and Linux on your Mac. Almost a year later, I’m still using Linux, particullary Manjaro Gnome, as my main driver and I never looked back.

So how’s it going?

NOTE: It might be a good idea to keep macOS around. Good for updates which will update the firmware too. Please note that when you update macOS, most probably, grub boot will be corrupted. Easy fix, the internet is full of tutorials on how to fix grub.

This is not about which distro to use, what desktop enviornment so on and so forth. I will not get into that. That’s not the scope of this article, and to be honest I think it’s a silly discussion. This is not even about using only free and open-source software ( you’ll see why later, although it’s about fonts not software ).

 

WHY I SWITCHED? ( not why YOU have to switch )

There’s not much to it, to be honest. I was running macOS Mojave. Couldn’t update to Catalina due to graphics card issues. ( macOS Catalina is the last macOS to officially supports my iMac13,2, late 2012  )

Yes, I know I can jump through hoops and install Big Sur but… it’s easier and way faster to install a Linux distro. Besides, I was already familiar with Linux and, most importantly, on macOS I was using mostly FOSS, cross-platform software. There wasn’t much of a transition for me.

That’s pretty much it. Not much to it. Breathe new life into a perfectly capable and usable computer. And it runs like a champ.

 

HOW’S IT GOING?

As I mentioned before, I don’t miss macOS. AT ALL. My workflow didn’t change much. Probably the biggest change I had to get used to was the keyboard shortcuts.

No more CMD + key, now I have to Ctrl + key to perform the same task. However, I got used to it. Here and there I’ve changed the key shortcuts to replace Ctrl + key with Alt + key. That was around the time I’ve installed it, almost a year ago. It felt natural at the time and didn’t switch them back. You know… muscle memory.

Installation

Was a breeze. You can see the original How To article, linked above. I encourage you to read it. Not for the extra page views (no ads = don’t care ) but not all Macs are the same when it comes to installing Linux on them. I was lucky, everything worked. Except for sound and screen brightness, but that’s fixed now.

Customization and fixes

As I mentioned before, I’m using Manjaro Gnome.

Manjaro because it’s a fantastic distro. Never had any issues with it. Not only that, but Manjaro being Arch-based, there’s a lot of support for it and last but not least, the AUR. If I were to do it from scratch, I would probably install Arch ( since there’s an installer for it ) or another Arch-based distro like EndeavourOS.

So yes, for me the Arch User Repository is a decisive factor when choosing a distro. If it wasn’t for the AUR I would’ve probably installed Pop!_OS. Better support for Nvidia out of the box.

And Gnome because I think it’s a middle ground when it comes to customization and workflow between XFCE and KDE Plasma. You might not agree, and that’s exactly what you should do. Choose YOUR distro and YOUR desktop enviorment. What works for YOU.

For the layout, I’m going with Manjaro Layout.

 

To mimick macOS, because again… muscle memory, I’m using the WhiteSur theme ( also for Firefox ), WhiteSur icons, WhiteSur mouse cursors ( although the default Adwaita cursor theme is just fine ). For the WhiteSur theme, I encourage you to check the GitHub repo ( linked on the page ) to use the theme at its full potential.

I also moved the titlebar buttons to the left.

You can do everything using Gnome Tweaks which comes pre-installed in Manjaro ( at least I think it does, I don’t remember installing it ).

 

The only thing I manually changed to the WhiteSur theme, was the activities logo ( top left corner). Changed from the Apple logo ( or distro logo, see the GitHub page for the theme ), to a Tux logo. You can see that in the screenshots above.

I go more in-depth ( including customizing your Terminal ) in this article.

 

Gnome extensions

Manjaro Gnome, comes with a lot of built-in extensions. However, I’m not using most of them, but have quite a few that were manually installed. If you don’t know how to install extensions, see the customization article linked above. Once you figured that out, it’s easy to search for the extensions that I manually installed and see what they do and if you need/want them. No reason to go into detail.

 

And here’s the first “beef” I have with Linux. It’s a Gnome issue. Desktop icon support is a mess. The extension(s) sort of help but, to be honest, I only use them to avoid clutter.

Whatever gets saved to the Desktop, is temporary. If it’s not saved on the Desktop, and it gets saved in the Downloads folder for example, I will forget about it. Simple as that.

Definitely not a deal-breaker, by any means. I’m just saying, desktop icon support in Gnome sucks.

 

Fixes and going out of my way

Typography on Linux is OK, once you tweak it. Out of the box is horrible. At least to my eye. So to fix that, I installed Apple and other fonts. I won’t link where I’ve downloaded them from, but trust me they’re EVERYWHERE. No need to jump through hoops to get them.

Here’s the font settings on my end…

 

Here’s the font settings for Firefox. Trust me, you’ll want to do this. You might also want to change the default page zoom to 120%.

 

I mentioned that screen brighness control didn’t work. That’s easy. Kernel 5.14 fixed that. I’m pretty sure it was 5.14, but it could’ve been 5.13. Either way, one of the newer kernels fixed it.

NOTE: the products below are not linked because:

  1. I don’t do affiliate links ( if you want to donate, there’s a bunch of options below the article. Thank you in advance! )
  2. I don’t want to send you to a particular store. Do your own shopping, compare prices etc.

The Apple Keyboard, for me at least, is a no go if you’re not using macOS. So I bought the Logitech K380 keyboard. Wonderful bluetooth keyboard. Small, just the right amount of key travel, you can pair it up with 3 devices ( includin an iPhone or iPad ) and switch between the devices on the fly. I really like it. The buttons are circular shaped, which my put off some people and it definitely took me some time to get used to. Like a day or two.

The biggest pain was the sound. Linux, out of the box, played sound only on one of the channels/speakers. It’s an easy fix to make it play sound on both speakers ( see the dual boot article linked above ). However the sound sucks. It has no balls. There’s not much you can do. Get used to it.

As a workaround, I’ve used my turntable’s amp and speakers and that worked beautifully. However, an amp + speakers took too much space on and around the desk. So I was looking for something better without breaking the bank.

Luckily I’ve found a fantastic PC soundbar, the Serioux SoundVibe. Wait, what? Exactly. No idea what it is, but it’s fantastic. First of all it was cheap ( 20 something euros ). You can use it plugged in or wireless, it connects via Bluetooth ( Blueetoth 4.2 however, and don’t rely using it via Bluetooth on Macs. macOS or not ) and AUX. It has a clock, alarm clock, FM radio and USB port. Jack of all trades.

Long story short, very nice design that fits perfectly under the iMac and price is way too low for the sound it outputs. I was blown away. Still am. Again, who the hell is Serioux?

It wasn’t all good though…

I use it plugged in and using the AUX cable to connect it to the iMac. However, when the battery in it is fully charged, there’s a buzzing sound coming out of the speaker. I knew exactly what caused it and, luckily, how to fix. Using a ground loop isolator fixed it. ( I already owned one ).

NOTE: the video below is a nocookie embed. Invidious link here.

 

Here’s where it gets weird. Most of you will not to this but…

Since Linux is definitly my daily driver now, and I won’t switch back to macOS, and the sound issue is fixed, I took it a step further. I took the iMac apart, and pulled out the built-in speakers. I don’t recommend you do this, unless you really really REALLY know what you’re doing ( see iFixit ), but I already did it when the hard drive died ( this iMac came with that fusion drive bullshit ).

Why did I do it? The built-in speakers, alghough perfectly functional, weren’t used. By pulling them out, I created better airflow inside the iMac which means better cooling.

So there you go. Pretty much all the issues I had when switching to Linux are fixed now. Again, your experience may vary.

 

Applications and alternatives

I don’t think I can help you too much here. As I said before, even when I was using macOS, most of the apps I used were FOSS and cross-platform. So, the transition was pretty painless in this regard. Besides, my workflow and needs are not identical to yours. However there’s a couple of things we can go over.

Spotlight search can easily be replaced by uLauncher. You can theme it and add extensions to it and it’ll be just as pretty and useful.

 

If you’re into ebooks, you can check out Bookworm or Foliate.

If you like the keyboard shortcuts to take screenshots on Mac, you can pretty much do the same by installing the Screenshot Tool Gnome extension. Once installed and enabled you can set the desired shortcuts. Also fn + Tab takes a screenshot of your entire screen.

 

If you use AirDrop, here’s an alternative which pretty much will work with any phone/table, computer or OS. Snapdrop.

Want to run Apple’s gorgeous Aerial Scrensavers on your Mac running Linux? Here’s how to do it

The only piece of software I really miss on Linux is Photoshop. And no, Gimp is definitely not a replacement for Photoshop. Gimp is super potent, however when you know how to use Photoshop, it will take you 20x+ longer to do the same thing with Gimp. If you can do it.

That’s pretty much it. IF I forgot anything, this article will definitely be updated. But if you’re planning on installing a Linux distro on your Mac:

  • If you’re not familiar with Linux, just download a bunch of distros and install them using VirtualBox. Distros and desktop enviorments. Play around. Tweak to your heart’s content. If you break something, try to fix it. If everything fails, delete the virtual machine and start over. No harm, no foul.
  • Once you decide on a distro and a DE, burn it to a flash drive, boot from it and in the live enviroment check if everything works. Wireless, bluetooth etc. If something does not work, just open the browser and search for a fix. Only after you’ve confirmed that everything/most important things work ( or there are fixes out there ), proceed with the instalation
  • After installation, update and use something like Timeshift to create backups. If you screw something up it’s super easy to restore.
  • Just have fun!

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