Should Linux Take a Lesson From Apple?

The Secure Boot saga may seem like it’s been dragging on forever here in the Linux blogosphere, but the truth is that it’s a mere babe in Redmond arms compared with the never-ending Apple v. Samsung drama.

It seems safe to say that most FOSS fans are sick to death of hearing about both of them, of course, but recently the always-insightful team over at TuxRadar posed yet another interesting question. Specifically, “What can Linux really steal from Apple?” was the title of the latest Open Ballot poll posted on the thought-provoking site, and there’s no doubt it’s provoked a lot of thinking.

“Is it the design aesthetic, or its uncompromising attention to detail?” the TuxRadar team asked. “Or how about its dictatorial approach to development? Or the narrowness of its hardware provision? Or would you like to transplant some of that famous Cupertino idolatry into the free software ecosystem, or simply shroud each Ubuntu release within Steve Jobs’ Reality Distortion Field.”

More than two dozen comments appeared in short order on the TuxRadar site; unanimity, however, was harder to find.

‘Hang On, That’s Ubuntu’

To wit: “A respect for design would be nice,” suggested Spanwiches.

Alternatively: “Steve Wozniak — the only innovative thing Apple really had,” offered eages.

Then again: “Nothing!” chimed in Willhem Tell. “Linux for me is freedom of choice. It’s about diversity. I can switch between distros and desktop managers. For free.

“Appl is the exact opposite: it’s mind numbing ‘eat or die,’ no choice and costs money,” Willhem Tell added.

And again: “1. App[le] store. 2. Disappearing scrollbars. 3. Pretending that your desktop is actually a tablet,” quipped Steve Occupations. “Oh hang on, that’s Ubuntu.”

When Linux Girl broached the subject down at the blogosphere’s Walled Garden Cafe, she immediately got an earful.

‘Its Public Relations Department’

“Technologically speaking, there’s really nothing that Linux can steal from Apple,” opined Google+ blogger Linux Rants, for example. “Usually, it’s going the other way. While Apple is held up as a bastion of innovation, it’s hard to find a feature that they have that wasn’t present in Linux long before they incorporated it.

“Apple doesn’t innovate,” he added. “They take other people’s innovations and add a little spit and polish and call it new.”

If there were one thing that Linux could stand to steal from Apple, however, “it would be its Public Relations department,” Linux Rants suggested.

“Linux has gotten the reputation as a hobbyists’ OS that’s hard to install and even harder to use,” he explained. “This reputation doesn’t sync with reality, but it’s hard for Linux users and corporations to sell that to the public. Apple PR could really help in that regard, as they’d actually be able to sell something that was real, instead of claimed innovation that’s really just dusted-off, 10-year-old ideas.”

‘Their Graphic Designers’

Chris Travers, a blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, saw it differently.

“The one thing Apple shows which many Linux developers have known for some time, is that design matters and that engineering is best directed by small groups,” Travers offered. “But we really can’t steal that since we’ve known it for some time.

“So, I guess that means the next best thing: steal some of their graphical designers,” he concluded. “But leave their technical designers: design-wise, OS X is more or less very unlike Unix.”

‘There Isn’t a Lot to Take’

Alternatively, “Linux needs to take the hint and make sure common tasks work well rather than just worrying about new features,” opined consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack. “If the common tasks are easy to do then the whole platform looks better.”

Then again, “Apple is primarily a hardware company, and Linux is software,” Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien pointed out. “So there isn’t a lot to take, I would think.

“And just in terms of software, Apple is the most freedom-limiting company out there, so I certainly would not want Linux to take that from them,” O’Brien added.

Indeed, “from Apple? Nothing,” agreed Robin Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor. “From its grandchild… many versions, with many app stores all hosting compatible apps.”

‘The World Should Shun Apple’

“Stealing from Apple? No way,” exclaimed blogger Robert Pogson. “We are already dependent on them for CUPS, Safari and WebKit, and they show themselves to be patent trolls.

“I remember using Apple’s software in schools a decade ago,” Pogson added. “They shipped stuff that crashed hourly and had a viscous networking stack. They ‘stole’ a Unix core, and now they accuse anyone who has rounded corners on anything.”

In short, “the world should shun Apple until they show a little bit of humility at least,” he concluded.

‘Take the Android Approach’

“If you wanna take something from Apple, take making actual money from desktops, laptops, and tablets,” Slashdot blogger hairyfeet advised. “Give companies a way to survive while selling Linux so you can build critical mass.”

On the other hand, “GNU/Linux is more like a cultural phenomena than a commercial initiative,” Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol pointed out.

Still, “companies can use it and make it a commercially viable option,” he asserted. “How? Take the Google/Android approach: a great OS, with the lowest price possible (free, in many cases) and customize it to the manufacturer’s hardware.”

It’s Android, in fact, that offers the best example for Linux as a whole, Ebersol concluded.

Follow that example and “GNU/Linux will be a killer OS,” Ebersol predicted. “The companies can tinker with the OS to make it awesome and then take advantage of the GNU/Linux ecosystem. Then, GNU/Linux can not only compete with Apple, but gain market share from both Apple and Microsoft.”

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+.


  • I have tried for a number of years to install a Linux on a Mac. Ubuntu 11, for instance, needed translation of an .iso to .dmg file, which when burned to DVD, failed. When tried on a thumb drive, it rendered 2 such drives unreadable and unrepairable.

    Installation of things like GNU-Octave require ‘several hours’, according to the instructions.

    What should Linux take from Apple? How about installations that read ‘drag A to B’?

    It may surprise Linux programmers–whose expertise I do not doubt–to discover that there are people using computers whose principal interest is not messing with the OS, however clever it may be, but examining rainbows, or free-surface hydrodynamics, or oil-population-standard-of-living models, or the effects of social punishment on the evolution of civil behavior, or whatever.

    I have not used anything of Bill Gates’s since 1978, and do not intend to start now. I haven’t been able to get Linux to work. This leaves Apple. Their machines are esthetic delights, and work seamlessly. Their OS does what needs doing without backtalk. Nisus is a superb, affordable, book-sized polyglot word processor. Gerris does free-surface hydrodynamics at no cost. Regress+ (free) fits data to equations. All sorts of genetics-massaging programs are available free. I have my own optics, image-analysis, graphics, and population programs, begun with MMSForth on the Trash-80 and now running in Carbon MacForth under Snow Leopard on the MacBook Pro.

    I like the idea of Linux, but I don’t really need it. rEFIt puts up a penguin at boot time, ready for Linux. I found a way to partition my hard disc without erasing it, and have a partition waiting for Linux.

    But I don’t have time, interest, or patience to fight with distros whose installation instructions ramble off into unix command line jibberish and hunts on the internet at the 95% point. Amateur!

    • Do you think magical Linux fairies will fix all the problems?

      The reason Linux has gone absolutely nowhere in the consumers space, and don’t bring up Android because that has as much to do with Linux desktops as Apple does to BSD, aka practically nothing, is the simple fact that Linux suffers from "the busted toilet problem".

      What is the busted toilet problem? simple, if I ask for volunteers to pain me a picture or write me a song, i’ll end up with several to choose from, some will even be quite good. if I ask for volunteers to fix my nasty overflowing toilet? well i better get used to using the bathroom at the gas station down the street.

      Bug testing, driver testing, regression testing, bug fixes, QA and QC, there are ALL boring, slow, painful, lousy thankless jobs. In Windows and OSX the parent companies pay millions upon millions to get that work done, in Linux? it just don’t get done at all. Even something as non technical as Man Pages, how many are nothing but placeholders?

      For Linux to be able to stand toe to toe with OSX and Windows would cost a minimum of 100 million dollars as there are several systems like pulse and WiFi that just ain’t gonna cut it and nobody is gonna do these jobs for free. Linux works in severs because the corporations pay Linus and friends to fix their problems and support the limited hardware that is enterprise server units. Linux works in embedded because they pay devs to strip it and they control the limited hardware, but it simply doesn’t work in the consumer X86 realm because of the busted toilet problem.

      In the end TINSTAAFL and no Linux fairies to magically wish the issues away.

      • You misunderstand my point, I’m saying that Linux should not take any lessons from Apple because Apple is a monopolized company that has an ego the size of the Earth itself, it takes the walled-garden approach, yes the products work but deep down they still have code from *nix in there.

        Apple stands for everything that Linux as we know it stands against. I’m not saying that Mac OS and Windows are bad (well maybe Windows 8 ;), simply the companies behind them.

        I’m afraid I don’t agree with you about the bug fixing, numerous times under Windoze I’ve installed so-called ‘Hotfix updates’ that only cause a problem to either arise or get worse. On Linux I have found if there’s an update to something it will have a ton of bugfixes and maybe some new features that unlike the hotfix patches, will actually aim to fix something rather than patch over it.

        I’m not expecting Linux fairies, or blocked toilets or pictures or songs, what I’m saying is that penguins need to make themselves known without expense, mentioning casually in conversation ‘I use Linux’ or mass-requesting drivers from hypocritical hardware vendors isn’t exactly going to take hundreds of millions of american dollars.

        • Ohhh…so you believe in the magical communism fairy, my bad. Same complete disconnetct from reality, different name. It has already been proven that the "all eyes make bugs shallow" myth is just that, because 1.-You have to have eyes capable of spotting bugs in low level code, 2.- Willing to spend significant time for free to fix said bugs and 3.-be able to get past the entrenched know it all clic that is the devs and get the changes added to mainline, which if you aren’t part of the clic and kiss the booty rarely happens. Look up Con Kolivas who quit patching the Linux kernel because he got tired of the "good old boys" club.

          You see the reason the magical communism fairy doesn’t work is because if there was ACTUALLY a truly open merit based system? Who knows, it might work…but its like Candyland, a place that doesn’t exist. Instead you get the old guys that get there first setting up their own fiefdoms and controlling things from on high, which leads to apathy, egos, and stagnation.

          And the BIG difference between Windows and OSX and Linux? I can HAVE YOU FIRED with Windows and OSX, no way to get rid of Linus and Co if they do a lousy job. Take Vista, nobody liked it, people were fired, and new people gave us the goodness that was Win 7, I have no doubt the same thing will happen to Win 8, and we may even seen the CEO Steve Ballmer end up getting the boot. Again just like the party officials in China and the USSR there is NO WAY to fire Linus and Co, all the heads of the various projects, if they do a bad job, so they can scratch their itches and ignore the users without penalty.

          But you go ahead and believe in the communism fairy, Linux has only been giving the product away for 20 years with ZERO share growtth to speak of, but I’m sure one of these days that communism fairy will wave her magic wand and fix all those issues and make it better…right?

          • Either you’re misunderstanding me or I’m misunderstanding you, or you’re trolling, because forgive me, but I can’t see how communism fits anywhere. Just because Linux happens to be free and open-source does not mean people who use it are communists, it would stand in that logic that Mozilla Firefox users are all communists too which is an absurd assumption to make.

            I’m not entirely sure what point it is you’re trying to make but I really can’t find a specific message in your reply at all? If you’re saying Linux should be part of a giant company where people can be fired etc then take a look at Red Hat maybe?

            Either way it appears we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one.

          • Its actually quite simple and equates to communism perfectly, you just seem to be either missing it or being obtuse, but in either case i’ll be happy to break it down for you and anyone else who cares to know..

            You see you think that being "free" to modify and give it away somehow will fix all the problems within the system, this is exactly how communism was SUPPOSED to work, in that "the people" owned everything and everyone worked towards the common goal…sounds nice right?

            The problem is in reality this DOES NOT WORK because in both the case of Linux and in the case of communism you get an "old guard" that set up control from on high and make merit based changes useless unless you are part of the system. Again read "Why I quit" by Con Kolivas and you’ll see that even though he had thousands of users saying "Yes his changes make my system better" that because he wasn’t part of the old guard clic he was basically ignored.

            But the code is free right? that shouldn’t matter right? WRONG because the old guard make changes that constantly break your code so you have to waste all your time playing "fix the broken messes" or get into mainline, that’s it. Can you use a Radeon or Nvidia driver from just 5 years ago in a new distro? Nope because the guts have been fiddled with by the old guard so much the drivers simply won’t work.

            So your point, which is because its "open" it’ll get better? False, its a classic "is ought" logic fallacy, you are arguing about how things OUGHT to be when what reality IS is completely different. And it has NOTHING to do with the users, they are completely helpless in this situation and can do nothing about it. The relation to communism is NOT from the users, its from the old guard developers that have entrenched themselves at the top and there is nothing you or I can do about them…you can’t fire them, you can’t affect them in any way, shape, or form. With Windows and OSX if they don’t listen to users, again Vista and soon Win 8 are perfect examples, the users refuse to buy, people get FIRED, and new people come in to fix the problems or the company goes under…tell me friend, how do you get Linus FIRED? Answer, you can’t, its not possible. Oh you can attempt a fork, but because Linus and Co control so much of the internals and software depends on those internals you’ll waste all your time trying to fix what they broke rather than innovating and will just waste your time.

            So I’m sorry but the magic fairys simply don’t work, there is no such thing as a merit based system, not in Linux or in communism, its the old guard controlling things from on high and you get stagnation, apathy, ego issues, the whole works. I could list issue after issue that neither you nor I would have any hope in hell of ever getting fixed, be it Pulse, or WiFi manager being buggy poo, or the constant churn in the low level internals that cause the constant driver breakage…why? Why can we not get them fixed? Simple, because we are not part of "the old guard developers club" so we would just be insulted and ignored.

            If you think I’m wrong there is a simple way to find out, take ANY serious problem you’ve had with Linux and write to the lknl mailing list with the issue…watch as you are insulted and blown off, you are not part of "their group" and so don’t matter to them. Again at least with MSFT and Apple if enough people refuse to buy they change or go out of business, no matter what you or anybody else says about the direction the Linux internals are going you simply have NO say and can’t even get them fired.

            Why do you think I and every other B&M retailer on the planet avoid Linux like an STD? because problems we’ve highlighted for years get ignored and the cost to fork an entire OS would be in the tens of millions of dollars. We refused to carry Vista what happened? MSFT let us continue selling XP until they could get Win 7 out the door, they listened, the Linux team does not, its as simple as that.

  • This is a very common misconception, Linux is an operating system that is OPEN SOURCE. It cannot and never will be feasible to be like Apple because that structure goes against what Linux stands for and is all about. What is happening, however, is because Linux is free and open, people are creating Linux OSes that take an approach like Apple (, Linux is what you make of it. It does not need fancy advertising campaigns and ridiculously priced products nor does it need hyperactive fanboys, what Linux needs is recognition without advertising, an automatic knowledge if you will, to not be disguised under OS names eg Android is Linux-based but most people do not recognize it as a Linux operating system.

    Linux does not need a lesson from Apple, people need a lesson from Linux.

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