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From Linux to OSX: Meet Your New Apps

Prelude

It’s time I resume what I started in my previous article documenting my first year as an OSX user a few months ago.

In this article I’ll focus primarily on the applications I’ve adopted during my short time being a Mac OSX user, after being a GNU/Linux user for quite some time before that. The focus of the article will be mostly desktop applications, since the command-line tools are more or less the same in both operating system. I will mention a couple of OSX specific command-line tools near the end of the article though.

Productivity

Office Suite

On Linux I was mostly using LibreOffice (chiefly its Impress module) and while it did get the job done I wasn’t particularly fond of it. At some point I was so frustrated with LibreOffice, that I started running Microsoft Office with CodeWeavers CrossOver for Linux. If you like LibreOffice – it’s available on OSX as well. If you don’t like it – you have some solid alternative available.

First, there is a native port of Microsoft Office for OSX. It’s a far cry from the Windows version of the app, but it does have a few advantages over LibreOffice. If you’re doing a lot of document authoring and editing it might be a good option for you.

The other office suite you might want to explore is Apple’s own iWorks. It has a few distinct advantages over Microsoft Office – you can buy only the apps you need (as opposed to the whole suite), it integrates great with the OS (but that’s hardly a suprise) and it’s much cheaper. I only bought Pages (Apple’s Word alternative) and Keynote (PowerPoint alternative). Pages is a so-so application, but Keynote is simply fantastic. I write a lot of presentations and for the first I actually enjoy the process.

Instant Messaging

Skype

Skype has a native client for OSX, that’s much more stable and featureful than the Linux one.

Pidgin/Kopete

OSX Mountain Lion ships with an app similar to Pidgin and Kopete called Messages (and iMessage in older OSX versions). It supports a plethora of chat protocols, but it kept constantly disconnecting and crashing for me, so I started looking for an alternative. Adium is a great free IM app that supports many protocols and works flawlessly (at least for me), so I’d recommend it to everyone.

IRC

If you’re in the market for an XChat replacement look no further than Colloquy. Personally I used Emacs’s ERC under Linux and continue to use it under OSX as well.

Twitter

Twitter has an official desktop app for OSX, that’s available for free in the Mac App store. It has one notable shortcoming – no retina support. Rumour has it Twitter will kill the app in the future, but it gets the job done for the time being and there are plenty of alternatives lying around.

Browser

The default OSX browser Safari is great and has some fairly unique features like pinch to zoom gesture support (smartphone users will appreciate those). Unfortunately it has a pretty small selection of plugins and might not be well suited for power users. I recommend the use of Google Chrome on OSX, since Firefox really seems to lag in terms of features there (the upcoming Firefox 18 will be the first with Retina support).

Email

OSX’s default application Mail is decent, but nothing more. Thunderbird is available for OSX, but I personally think it’s no better than Mail. My desktop email client of choice is the delightful Sparrow. It’s the first desktop email client I ever liked (I used to check my email with terminal clients and Emacs afterwards) and has great integration with GMail (it even supports GMail’s keyboard shortcuts), Dropbox, Facebook, etc. While it’s a doomed product since Google acquired Sparrow I plan to continue using it in the foreseeable future.

Keyboard remapping

By default you cannot remap that many things in OSX. The small utility KeyRemap4MacBook allows you to do much crazier remappings and despite its name the tool works on all recent Macs.

Virtualization Software

The go-to desktop virtualization solution favoured by most Linux users is VirtualBox and it’s available for OSX as well. VirtualBox gets the job done, but doesn’t even come close to Parallels in terms of performance, stability and integration with OSX. Parallels support for Windows guests is particularly good.

Software Development

Text Editing

Every major text editor has a port for OSX, so things are pretty much the same here. On OSX you’ll also get access to TextMate. My affection for Emacs is widely known though. Excellent Emacs builds are available here and the upcoming Emacs 24.3 will finally feature OSX Lion style full-screen support. If the mention of Emacs and vim scares you I’d recommend trying out Sublime Text 2.

IDEs

Eclipse, NetBeans and IntelliJ are available (no suprise since they are all Java apps) and look and perform great on OSX. There’s also Apple’s own XCode, which I found unwieldy.

Terminal Emulator

OSX comes with a pretty barebone terminal emulator called Terminal. I wouldn’t advice anyone to spent much time with it.

Install iTerm2. It redefines the meaning of insanely great.

Shells

OSX comes with Bash enabled by default, but Zsh is also preinstalled and you can easily enable it by typing:

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$ chsh -s /bin/zsh

Media

Video player

As in Linux VLC is the king.

Audio player

iTunes fits the bill for a basic music player. I still haven’t found an OSX app which I like as much as Linux’s Amarok and Exaile.

UPnP server

Under Linux I used to use MediaTomb and it performed great. It’s available for OSX as well, but was causing a lot of problems for me, so I finally decided to go with a commercial solution. I heartily recommend Playback. Of course if your media player supports NFS you should go with it instead of UPnP.

File Transfer

FTP

Filezilla is extremely popular under Linux and has a native OSX version as well. Cyberduck seems to be the top choice of OSX users.

Bittorrent

There are plenty of great Bittorrent clients on Linux – Deluge, KTorrent, Transmission, etc. Transmission is the only with an OSX port and it seems that it’s also the only popular OSX torrent client.

Package Management

OSX has no official package managent tool but it has plenty of unofficial ones. Currently homebrew seems to be the most popular option. Its package selection is quite vast and I’ve rarely experienced problems with it. While regular users are unlikely to use anything from outside the Mac App store, developers and power users should definitely check homebrew out.

Command Line

Most of the command line applications that you know and love from Linux are available in OSX (by default or installable via homebrew) as well (but might be slightly different since Linux ships with GNU’s version of many tools and OSX with BSD’s). Here’s a few notable OSX specific commands:

  • open – opens a file or directory in the appropriate desktop application
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$ open doc.pdf
  • pbcopy and pbpaste allow you to interact with OSX’s clipboard

  • launchctl is a rough equivalent to the service and chkconfig commands on some Linux distros

  • fs_usage allows you to monitor your filesystem usage statistics

  • system_profiler gives you information about your hardware configuration (kind of like lshw)

Epilogue

This was a whirlwind tour of so many apps. I hope that my superficial treatment of many of them won’t stop you from trying them out. It seems to me that the app selection catalogue on OSX is not as vast as the one on Linux, but there’s also a tendency that established OSX apps are much more polished and reliable.

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