Windows/Linux to MacBook Pro transition (that failed). And a tip on getting better hardware for half the price.

What follows are the notes I started taking when I first started trying to use the new MacBook Pro (provided by my company), in the hopes that it will be useful some other Linux user being forced to buy into the Apple's walled garden.

My colleagues know that I have always had a bias against Apple products, but given that I didn't have a choice this time (company policy for any new laptops requires buying only MacBooks), I honestly wanted to start using the new MBP so that I can get back to work at full throttle. But as will be seen by the notes below, it ain't an easy transition from Linux/Windows to MacOS.

And for the Apple fanboys, don't get me wrong. I love the hardware configuration of the MBP (except the keyboard layout and lack of some keys). The MBPs are a great choice for some people, but I am not one of them. At the end of this post I compare the MBP hardware we got for $2000 with a slightly better hardware of Samsung Series 7 laptop for $1000 I saw at a BestBuy store. Look for the phrase "comparison of the MacBook Pro and the Samsung Series 7" down below.

This exercise was done 9 days after the laptop actually arrived, so I had lugged it around, along with my older laptop, using it very sparingly.

Pardon the occasional profanity, they reflect the frustration I was feeling as I went through the process. Here it goes:


Fresh MacBook Pro

Hung on day 2. I had spent a total of no more than an hour since the time it arrived at the door.

Fucking hate the clamshell mode. And I hate the most the fact that there's no way one can disable it!

Found insomniaX to disable the clamshell mode.
Update: insomniaX is not reliable. Every time I run a VirtualBox virtual machine, the setting resets to default, and insomniaX doesn't even detect it, and keeps showing me that clamshell mode is off. I found NoSleep, and that has been working without a hitch.

Found 'MiddleClick' and used it to assign mouse-middle-click to three-finger-tap gesture. I absolutely need a middle-click (like on a 3-button mouse) to make the most of my Firefox experience (to open link in new background tab, and to close a tab).

I like that two-finger-swipe-right/left gesture is associated in browser with "Go back/forward in History".

If you minimize all windows of an app, say two windows of Firefox, the dock will show 2 Firefox icons, and yet clicking on both the icons will bring back only one window. To see the other window, focus on the app's window that is visible, and use the four-finger-swipe-down gesture to see the other windows appear in the icon form just above the Dock. Clicking those icons will bring back the other windows.

For all practical purposes, Command key is the same as Ctrl key on Windows and Linux. Don't be fooled by the "control" key on MacBook.

cmd-x : cut
cmd-c : copy
cmd-v : paste
cmd-z : undo
cmd-y : redo
cmd-s : save

Firefox shortcuts:
cmd-L : Focus on address bar (Location bar); works on Windows and Linux too.
cmd-k : Focus on search bar.
cmd-option-left/right arrow : switch tabs ; Windows/Linux : Ctrl+PgUp/PDn

Focus on spotlight : cmd+space
Show all windows of an app : cmd-` (but this won't show the windows that are minimized)

Go to beginning of line and end of line in an editor: (Windows/Linux : Home/End)
(But apparently these do not work in post editor, where I'm taking these notes.)

Go to beginning of document and end of document in an editor: (Windows/Linux : Ctrl+Home/End)
(But apparently these do not work in post editor)

The 'delete' key works like the backspace key on a regular keyboard, and to get the actual behavior of a 'delete' key as on other keyboards, one has to use fn+delete key combination.

Unanswered questions:
How to maximize/minimize/restore windows.
    I am addicted to the following combinations on Windows/Linux: 'alt+space X', 'alt+space N', 'alt+space C'

How to add more clocks/cities to the standard clock in the menu bar.
    At times I need to lookup times of different cities. I used to use Google searches like 'Delhi time' to find out, but later added all the clocks to my standard clock in Ubuntu. I now have the following clocks: New York, UTC, London, Istanbul, Delhi, Sydney. On Mac I don't see a way of doing that, except for adding widgets to the Dashboard.

How to make cmd-tab switch between all open windows, not just that are un-minimized.

How to kill app automatically when all its tabs are closed.
    I expect the app to terminate itself when all its tabs are closed, but that clearly is not the case in Mac. I have to hit an extra cmd+Q to make sure that the app is actually killed! This frustrates me on Firefox and Terminal applicationsk which I use the most.

How to make Terminal close the tab when the bash shell exits.
    After I hit the control+D, the tab simply sits there with a useless message "[Process completed]"!

As noted above, cmd key behaves like control key, but in Terminal, cmd+D splits the window. To exit the bash shell one has to actually use control-D; this is freaking confusing.

Unix command 'top' is different! It doesn't understand the same options that Linux's top does.

There's no Home/End key. No PageUp/PageDown key.
(You can scroll down in man pages on the Terminal by pressing space key, but I couldn't find a way to scroll-up one page at a time (shift-space is the same as just the space); PageUp used to help on Linux. And going to the beginning/end of the man page requires that you scroll through the whole document laboriously; Home/End keys on a standard PC made it so easy.)

There's no USB socket on the right side of the laptop.
I have a wired mouse, and I keep its wire tied up to keep it short and keeping it from messing my desk. With MacBook I will have to open up that wire to make it long enough to go around the back of the laptop and on to the left side of the laptop. This is not a big deal for me.

Pressing control-left-arrow takes me to the previous workspace/launchpad/dock... I can't remember what they call it; the one that has these widgets (edit: Dashboard). All I wanted to do was go to the start of previous word while I'm typing. Apparently the shortcut is option-left-arrow. I have made this mistake numerous times and landed on the Dashboard, just while taking these notes.

Mac is fucking crippled; or maybe it thinks I am crippled. And I can't believe my company policy is forcing me to go through this. Spent $2000+ and I got just the hardware, since the software it comes with is useless for me. If I have to tweak every little shortcut to make it usable for me, then WhyTF am I not using Linux in the first place anyway.

Enough of this madness. Spent 4 hours of my Saturday morning figuring these things out. I have had this laptop for 9 days now, and never used it seriously, and today I wanted to dedicate time to learning it. Searching for keyboard shortcuts, configuring it to work my way was all going okay until I realized that the utilities like top, less, etc I use so often don't work the same way as on Linux. This means I have to redo my .bashrc file [1] and that is I something I want to avoid doing because that has been customized over years with my little tweaks and I am pretty sure I'll have to discover Mac version of those tweaks again. To be fair, I was warned in advance that the /proc filesystem does not exist on MacOS, but I didn't realize that the command-line tools/utilities to be used here are not GNU tools! And that GNU tools like top, iostat etc. are impossible to to compile on MacOS because they rely on /proc.


For someone who hasn't had the good fortune of talking me into using a Macbook, here are my gripes that I had thrown at the people forcing me into using it, and these were raised *before* I was handed this good-looking devil:

.) I spent 2-3 years, over mutiple attempts, to move away from Windows to Linux.
    This involved first trying some Linux distros on VirtualBox on Vista, then dual-booting my laptop with a distro I liked. But had to move back because I was too tied to Vista. Move back to Linux again because the development environment was much faster under Linux.

.) The time I spent learning to do things in Linux over last 3 years, will have to be forgotten.
.) I will have to learn new stuff to do the same things. And as seen above, that's a lot of work.
.) I moved my development environment, and the whole mindset to using Linux, and I have to do it again to get locked into another commercial system.
.) The things I would learn about MacOS, all the tunables etc. would be of no use when it comes to helping customers, none of whom is running Postgres (or any other service for that matter) on a MacOS.
.) If I ultimately decide to use Linux in a VirtualBox setup, my company spent $2000 for a hardware of which I can use only a part of, since a VM performace will never be close to bare-metal performance.

On the plus side, I got to test Firefox's Sync feature, and was delighted to see that I could migrate all my addons, history, even open tabs (50+ of them) from my Linux. Firefox + LastPass plugin + TabMixPlus (with tab settings imported from my other laptop) made my switch almost unnoticable, and I didn't even feel the difference between my old laptop and the new one, until I left Firefox to do other things :(

On to  trying Ubuntu 12.04 in VirtualBox. But I don't have high hopes from that setup either, because of the various missing keys that I use on a minute basis. I am not going to try dual-boot yet, because the setup procedure is pretty arcane and nothing is documented for MacBook Model Identifier 9,1. Compare that to any other laptop that is made out there; you don't need special instructions to install Linux for every different version of hardware, but with MacBook Pros people had to develop procedures for every new version of hardware [2].


Okay, installed VirtualBox and Ubuntu, and oh ... my... god.... I feel at home. It has key-bindings already assigned so that I won't have to retrain much.

The command key is properly assigned to the the Windows/Super key; alt and control keys do what they are supposed to do, so it is now control+c/v/x/z/y/... instead of the command+c/v/x/z/y/... madness. Has key combinations for PageUp, PageDown, Home, End (fn + up/down/left/right).

Assigned 7 CPUs  (my MacBook Pro quad-core, but I think it is configured by default to use HyperThreading, so it shows 8 CPUs on the system) and 96 MB of video memory, enabled smooth-scrolling in Firefox and voila, it's like I'm back to my old laptop, except it is now incredibly faster (boots up in under 20 seconds, and shutdown in under 5 seconds!)

I am now going to try and assign a raw disk partition for my $HOME directory, and use LVM for that, so that
1) I get to use the same partitions when/if I dual boot some day,
2) I get to use the same partition if I choose to use a different distro in VM (Fedora, CentOS, ...), and
3) I can expand my $HOME directory whenever I run out of disk space.

I liked the fact that MacOS allowed me to reduce the primary partition size from 496 GB to 100 GB on the fly, using the pre-installed Disk Utility. I don't think Linux would let me do that!

Sunday evening:
So I went hunting for a comparable hardware at the nearby BestBuy store, and found these beauties for much less than what we paid for the MacBook Pro: Samsung Series 7 NP700Z5C and Samsung Series 9 NP900X4C.

Here's the specification I gave to the guy at the store: Quad-core CPU, 8GB RAM, 500 GB Hard Disk. And the girl who was assigned to help me, after a little deliberation took me to these laptops. And boy was I surprised!

Here's a comparison of the MacBook Pro and the Samsung Series 7 NP700Z5C hardware:

MacBook Pro:

CPU:  2.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 Turbo Boost up to 3.3GHz
Display: 15" LED 1680x1050  pixel, anti-glare screen
Disk: 500 GB SATA 5400 RPM HDD
RAM: 8 GB 1600 MHz
Size: 0.95" x 14.5" x 9.82" (2.41 cm x 36.4 cm x 24.9 cm)
Weight: 5.6 lbs. (2.54 Kg)
Extra: Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter
Price $2028
(We paid $100 extra for the anti-glare screen (I don't want to use a glossy screen), and got HiRes as a result of that, else I would have chosen the 1440x900 pixel display. Had to get the VGA adapter, else I won't be able to use the projectors that most of the world uses.)

Samsung Series 7 NP700Z5C-S01UB:

CPU: Intel Core i7-3615QM Processor, 2.3GHz, 6MB Cache
Display: 15.6" LED 1600 x 900 anti-glare screen
Disk: 1 TB 5400 RPM, with 8 GB ExpressCache
RAM: 8 GB DDR3 1600 MHz
Size: 0.94" x 14.2" x 9.3"
Weight: 5.29 lbs.
Price: $999

(Apple doesn't say exactly which model of Intel CPU is in there, but from what I can tell, both have the same CPU.

Although I do not care about the graphics card much, here's what the Samsung machine is using "NVIDIA® GeForce® GT 630 M, external, 512 MB Cache". Apple: NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M with 512MB of GDDR5 memory.)

I can't say if Apple and Samsung both employed the same benchmark, but MacBook's battery life is shown on the specs page to be 7 hours, and that of Series 7 is 9.2 hours.

Smaller, lighter, cheaper, more hard disk, and easily dual-bootable :) Which one would you have chosen.

Also, the body of the Samsung Series 7 compared here has a metal body, like the MacBook, and has a more vents for heat to exit, so I believe it must be cooler to touch too, as compared to the MacBook Pro that has no visible vents dedicated to heat dissipation.

GeekSquad (BestBuy's partner!) sells 1 year warranty for $169 and 2 years warranty for $269. Even counting that in, Series 7 laptop comes out way cheaper than the MacBook Pro, not considering my time spent retraining :)


  1. Perfect Gurjeet. Very good doc. And nice comparison in the end. I am using MBP since last 2 years and agree that MBP is over priced and does not worth IMO. Also apart from that i think cost of the maintenance is too high in MBP. Most of the guys start facing probs. with chargers which is too costly to replace.

  2. Keyboard is also very important piece of laptop.
    personally, i dislike the chicklet style keyboard that comes on sammy.
    The lenovo that we got in office had awesome keyboard.

  3. I see I'm not alone in suffering from the experience of being given no option but to have a Macbook Pro for work. I had asked if I could have an alternative, but couldn't as it was the standard machine for the company. There's a short rant I went on on a forum somewhere that goes like this:

    "But in any case, I was given a brand new untouched MacBook Pro from my employers and I've never had so many different technical problems with a single device. (power outtages, random kernel panics (at least 20 so far), applications locking up for up to a minute regularly, virtual machines being painfully slow to run to the point that I dare not run them (literally takes 10-15 minutes to load sometimes), screen savers that work in reverse (i.e. after inactivity, moving the cursor suddenly triggers the screensaver), the battery never lasts half the advertised 10 hours (more like 5 or 6 at best) despite low CPU activity, the hinge on the screen is becoming more difficult to close now, I'm on my 3rd power cable since the other 2 stopped working, running any HD video or anything processor intensive always results in an extremely hot case, there's no # symbol on the UK keyboard so you just have to know how to type it, file permissions get totally screwed up after a crash and need repairing every time.... gah, this isn't even half the list. But suffice it to say that I'm bloody glad I never paid for it. And before anyone asks, it's been into the "genius" bar twice for full tests and they say they can't find anything wrong with it, it's been taken good care of, all updates are installed regularly, no dust accumulation in the case, I haven't installed anything weird on it, and I tend to run minimal apps the vast majority of the time (TextEdit, Chrome, Terminal and Finder).

    When it behaves it's not bad most of the time. Just don't give it more than a few things to do or it'll throw its toys out of the pram. I truly believe that Apple used to make good quality products as I've used Mac OS 8 and 9 before for video editing at college, and those were great. Now it seems to be all hype with no basis in reality. It's more of a lifestyle accessory now than a piece of productive technology, which makes me want to snap it in twain. All these problems could be my own fault however... I could be holding it wrong. ;)"

    What I also didn't mention in my rant was that if I wanted to be able to use ALT+ combinations in the terminal, I have to sacrifice the ability to type "#". So instead I have to copy and paste it from another source. And cmd+Q (quit an app) is easy to accidentally type instead of cmd+W (to close a window), so many times I've accidentally closed an entire application and all its windows. I also have no equivalent of Home or End keys when using the terminal either, and can't jump to the next word on my command line. If I want to get to mid-way through a very long command, I have to hold down a cursor key for ages until I get to the point I want. The last 2 times I used the Mac, there were some weird rendering issues on the screen. I selected a menu and the drop-down list was offset from the shadow effect and somehow prevented me selecting any items.

    In the end I couldn't stand it any more and just got myself a ThinkPad and I just leave the MBP in its case. I only use the MBP on the odd occasion when I want to give some presentation where I don't have the necessary adapter for my ThinkPad (only because I haven't bought the adapter yet). I've never once had to support any customer who is trying to use Postgres on OSX. But I actually feel productive again rather than just looking at pretty transitions, shiny-effect icons and over-simplified interfaces. ;)