Linux and Apple: Which Is the Lemon, Which Is the Lemonade?

When life gives you lemons, everyone knows you should make lemonade, as the old saying goes.

But what if life gives you Linux on a Retina MacBook Pro?

That, too, has been shockingly referred to as a “lemon” in recent days, but the solution there isn’t so clear.

“If you are planning to buy one of the new Apple MacBook Pro notebooks with a Retina Display for use under Linux, hold off on your purchase,” warned Phoronix’s Michael Larabel in a review last week.

‘Linux Is a Lemon’

“Running the Retina MacBook Pro with Linux isn’t a trouble-free experience, and after using even the latest development code and jumping through various hoops, Linux on the latest Apple hardware is still less than an ideal experience,” he added.

Larabel’s conclusion? “Linux Is a Lemon on the Retina MacBook Pro.”

Now, Linux fans aren’t exactly unaccustomed to hearing criticisms hurled at our favorite operating system. But when Apple hardware is involved, well, let’s just say it’s hard to take lying down.

‘That Isn’t Their Business Plan’

“Au contraire,” shot back blogger Bob_Robertson on LXer, for example. “Rather, it is the hardware which is the lemon, when trying to run an exemplary OS such as Linux.

“I’m almost surprised, actually,” Bob_Robertson added. “Considering that Apple is a hardware company, why not make it easy for people to run other software? It just means more hardware sales to those who happen not to like the Apple software.”

Then again, “that isn’t their business plan Bob,” countered montezuma. “They run an interconnected web of overpriced hardware and software. Making one dependent on the other increases revenues because you cannot have one without the other.

“If they just sold you hardware to run Linux then they couldn’t charge you an exorbitant price nor cram OS X down your throat,” montezuma added. “It all makes sense in a perverted Jobsian way.”

‘Other Products Have Better Features’

And again: “The bottom line is, there are way too many suckers who are keeping Apple filthy rich,” concluded Fettoosh.

“Apple periodically comes up with a new gigs, or steals a good idea from some else to release a product before anyone else,” Fettoosh added. “With its marketing resources and the help of it worshipers, it makes a killing, even though other products have better features, properties and resources.”

Down at the Linux blogosphere’s Mealy Apple Cafe, Linux Girl got an earful.

‘Boo! to Apple’

“Apple is a lemon for all IT and so is Nvidia, with its anal-retentive drivers not working for Linux,” blogger Robert Pogson told LinuxInsider.

“At least 2D worked for Phoronix, which is good enough for most uses of PCs and users got to see all those wonderful pixels,” Pogson added.

“In the good old days, when Nvidia’s drivers did not work for GNU/Linux, I used the good old Vesa driver and got by,” he recalled. “These days Nvidia even messes that up. Boo! to Apple for using Nvidia’s junk.”

‘A Waste of Time’

Indeed, “why would anyone buy a ‘retina’ Macbook Pro to run Linux?” wondered Robin Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor.

“Apple products don’t follow industry standards,” Lim explained. “Coding Linux to work on them is a waste of time.”

For those who want a high-resolution display on a laptop, “it would really be better to get a unit designed for Windows with a 1080p display,” Lim suggested.

‘Tens of Thousands of Drivers’

“This has been SOP in Linux for ages: Device comes out, device doesn’t work,” Slashdot blogger hairyfeet opined. “By the time device DOES work, it has been out of the retail channel for a year or more, only to be replaced with a device that … doesn’t work. Lather, rinse, repeat.”

The problem, hairyfeet added, “is that the entire repo system and having the devs responsible for drivers was fine … in 1994. Back then you had maybe 100 packages and maybe half that many drivers.

“Today you are talking billions of lines of code, thousands of packages and tens of thousands of drivers,” he explained. “If you put Apple and MSFT together with all their cash, they still couldn’t pull that level of effort off with any QA or QC to speak of; you expect volunteers to do better? Please.”

So, “it’ll work in a year or two, when the devs get around to it,” hairyfeet predicted. “Expecting Linux to support something completely new with a much higher screen res? This early? Not gonna happen.”

‘Linux Will Have to Be Ready’

Consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack took a more measured view.

“There are bound to be growing pains when using Linux on resolutions that are much higher than whatever it has been run on previously — give the developers a bit of time to adapt,” Mack began.

“One thing to keep in mind, though, is that these new high-res displays are lower power than the existing displays, so I doubt it will be long before they become standard,” Mack pointed out. “At that point, Linux and Microsoft will have to be ready for it.”

‘It Will Take a Little Time’

The bottom line is that “hardware support in Linux has strong and weak areas,” noted Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien. “The strong point is that once we can get drivers, we keep them, so your five-year-old printer will still work.”

With Windows, on the other hand, “hardware just a few years old will stop working when a new version of Windows comes out because the manufacturer isn’t interested in writing drivers for the new version of the OS when it can force you to buy a new product just to get something that works,” he explained.

However, “the weak area for Linux is brand-new hardware can take time to get drivers because the manufacturers will not work with the community, so everything has to be reverse-engineered, which takes time,” O’Brien concluded. “This is what we are seeing with these new Macbooks with the Retina display. The community will get this done if there is demand for it, but it will take a little time.”

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.

1 Comment

  • It doesn’t take "years" to make linux work on new hardware. I am writing this comment on a retina MPB working perfectly for what I need it to do (intel graphics, suspend/resume, backlight, keyboard backlight, low power -right now 13 W as I type). The linux devs do not necessarily have access to all new hardware beforehand. But I can tell you that they are incredibly reactive when they do (most of the ones I was in contact with solved the issues in the area they were familiar within days after receiving their machines) and this laptop was going perfectly within a couple of weeks after I got it. Almost all the pieces are in place now, but the patches will take some time to get into the kernel and even more to get into the distributions. So I don’t totally disagree with Larabel’s article: right now, linux -the current distros- won’t work properly on these beast, unless you work quite a bit on it. But it’s not totally linux’s fault; Apple is handling a lot of thing in a non-standard manner, and yes, of course, it doesn’t work with the current kernels.

    Side note: regarding nvidia: Linus may have his reason to trash them, and their driver might be close, but it was the only one that was working on this machine from the start and allowed me to go ahead with my work, so thanks nvidia (note that this is their hardware, so it’s understandable their driver work, but still).

    As far as Marabel’s comment about running linux within a VM, I find that rather surprising. I’ve been running linux on apple hardware for 5 years now, and on most of them I had a battery life similar in linux than in osx. Even though battery life is important to me, I don’t call 20% difference "outrageous" at the point I would run linux within a virtual machine. I curently have about 5 (to 6) hours battery life in linux and that’s either close or longer than what I would get in osx on the same machine.

    Lastly, yes, the pixel density *is* somewhat of an issue on modern linux desktop environments. But it’s not unworkable even for my weakening eyes. Text can be made of "normal" size, only icons are a bit small (yes, it will probably take years before linux DEs get to a workable solution).

    A very happy rMPC linux user (last uptime was 8 days and I rebooted only to shrink my osx partition to 100GB and enlarge the linux one to 390GB).

Leave a Comment

Please sign in to post or reply to a comment. New users create a free account.

How will consumers react to Apple's WWDC 2023 announcements?
Loading ... Loading ...

LinuxInsider Channels