I have been a Linux user for over 10 years. I have used it exclusively on my home systems since that time and although it was a struggle at the beginning, I haven’t had any desire to use any other operating system … until now. Recently I purchased a MacBook Pro. Principally because I like the hardware, and can put Linux on it. However, it has also given me the opportunity to use OSX. In fact I’ve been using OSX quite a lot – given I’ve paid for it, I want to really see how it works. However, in the course of using it, I’ve come across a number of features of Linux and the KDE desktop that I greatly miss. If you think I’m wrong on any of the items below, please let me know – I’d love to be able to fill in some of the gaps I’ve found. This is my list:
1. A Package Manager
Package management is a central feature of most Linux distributions. Whether it be apt, rpm, emerge, packman or the myriad of other package managers, the basic premise is the same – the ability to update every piece of software on your system from a central application, so that everything is up to date and secure. Furthermore, with most package managers, software dependencies are automatically resolved, and finding new software is a simple matter of searching in the package manager – no need to trawl download sites online, or worse still go to a bricks and mortar shop to buy it in a box.
Whilst OSX has a software updater, this only works with respect to Apple software. Non-Apple software gets no such love. There is an application called AppFresh which purports to provide a method to update all software from one central application, however, it still does not update every package on your system, and does not have the polish or automation of the Linux package managers. The benefits of proper package management are IMHO seriously underrated on the Linux platform.
2. KIO Slaves
KIO Slaves are a framework on the KDE desktop that allows access to protocols and resources so that they, in effect, look like a file system to KDE applications. The power of this is that these resources and protocols become available to KDE applications as if they are local files. KIO slaves allow you to view, access and manipulate file systems over FTP, HTTP, SSH, NFS, SMB, SFTP and Webdav as if they’re local file systems. So in the KDE file manager, you can open a remote FTP server and copy files to a separate server accessed via SSH directly without having to download the file to the local machine. This power becomes more pervasive because it’s built into the file open/save dialog in KDE. This means I can open or save a file remotely directly from or to the application I want to use it in. Almost like cloud computing, but without the hype.
Whilst you can access remote SMB shares in the Mac’s finder application, as far as I can tell, access to files via other protocols is not possible. To me this is a significant inconvenience when I’m working with a number of files over a number of machines.
Kwin is the window manager for the KDE Desktop. Whilst Windows or Mac users may wonder why you would even notice the window manager, let alone have a preference for different ones, for Linux users where there are a large number of window managers from the very basic to very complicated, having a window manager preference is quite natural. A window manager does what it says – manages how the windows appear on the desktop. They allow you to switch between windows, close, open and maximise them and move them around the desktop. There are a number of features of Kwin that I miss on Mac:
Keep Above Other Windows
One cool feature of Kwin is the ability to specify that a particular window should sit above all the other windows, regardless of which window has focus. Quite often I’ll be working on a document, but need to reference material in another window. It is useful to keep the window with the reference material above the window I’m working in, so that I can easily reference it. Additionally, I often watch video while I’m doing other tasks on my machine, and keeping the video window above others allows me to keep watching the video while doing other tasks in the background.
The desktop grid is Kwin’s implementation of “spaces” on the Mac. Whilst Linux desktops have had virtual desktops for years, this concept has only recently arrived on Mac’s. The advantage I see of Kwin’s implementation of this concept is that it combines both spaces and expose in one. So when the grid is activated, not only does it zoom out and show all the virtual desktops, it also applies an expose like function on each desktop. This allows you to see every application that is running on every desktop all at once. This can be very useful if you have a number of applications doing various things, and you want to watch them all at the same time. See the following video as an example:
4. Middle Click Copy/Paste
This is a function I miss on a daily basis. In Linux, you can select any text with a mouse, and then paste it into any other application simply with a middle click of the mouse. No right click to pull up a copy/paste menu, and no keyboard short cuts. Just select, then click very simple and it works universally across every application, as it is built into the X window system.
Kmail is a seriously underrated mail client. It is exceptionally powerful, but with an incredibly clean and simple interface. Unfortunately, Apple’s mail.app and other email clients on Mac don’t quite match its breadth of features. The main frustration I had with mail.app is its minimal support of the imap protocol. With no ability to specify which mail folders are subscribed to, this is a big problem. I have a number of folders that messages get sorted into, and I need to be able to subscribe to different ones depending on which machine I’m using. For me this is a significant problem. In addition, Kmail has great flexibility in terms of how the message list and viewing pane are laid out. This is a great usability feature that I have yet to see replicated on any mail client. The final feature of kmail that I use constantly is its inline search function. It finds messages as you type the search terms, and does so almost instantly. Again, I have been unable to find an equal in any mail client.
Whilst I am pleasantly surprised at the usability of Mac OSX, and my ability to configure it to my needs using a number of third party apps, I still struggle without some of the great usability features of the Linux, and more particularly, the KDE desktop. If anyone can point me in the direction of applications that can provide similar features, I’d be greatful. Also, if anyone can point me in the direction of a Linux distribution that works well on recent MacBook Pros, that would also be greatly appreciated.