Screen Shot 2021-09-18 at 2.37.21 pm.png

As a long-time user of Windows and macOS, I've long felt that these systems continually get in my way and slow me down. Windows is awful in its own ways, but I want to pick on macOS, because it's remarkably similar to GNOME without being nearly as usable, coherent, or efficient. macOS is fragmented, slow, and neutered. Options are often taken away from you and hidden in obscure locations, or otherwise completely disabled altogether. macOS is very opinionated, as all desktops are, but I think you'll agree with me that at least some of the decisions made are stupid and limiting for no good reason. Many decisions are relics of a different century that have never been rethought.

I really have tried to make macOS as usable as possible. I've worked at it for months, and it's better than it was, but I don't think I'll ever be able to call it efficient or powerful. So many things simply can't be mended, even if they are seemingly trivial. There are certainly nice things about the desktop not present in Windows, but it simply has too many issues, both large and small, that prevent it from becoming a reliable tool.

Join me as we dive into the hollow, stainless steel world of macOS, where you can look, but can't touch.

Spotlight, Mission Control, and Virtual Desktops Are Fragmented and Do Not Integrate Together

GNOME is simple. Press the super key, and you'll be presented with the activities overview. This is the area for any and all top-level management of your desktop. If you want to open an application, just start typing. If you want to manage your virtual desktops, all of your desktops are visible, and you simply need to move to a desktop to see the open applications. You simply need to double tap Super to bring up your application launcher, if that's more your speed.

In macOS, all of these activities are fragmented and managed separately. It's slower, and gives you less context. I often want to do several of these activities directly after each other, such as wanting an overview of my desktops directly before I launch a new application. There is no reason to have 3 different screens and shortcuts for very similar activities, and it just becomes more confusing and difficult to manage.

Virtual Desktop Management is Slow and Cumbersome

Virtual Desktops on macOS are at least not as crippled as they are on Windows, as it's possible to assign a keyboard shortcut to desktops reliably. You even have the option to set a different background for each desktop, something not as common on Linux Desktop Environments, and not on GNOME. However, there are issues.

Virtual desktops are very annoying to manage. When you press F3 (which is the key that brings up Mission Control), the top-level view of all desktops is hidden; instead replaced with text "Desktop 1", "Desktop 2", etc. You have to mouse over the top to see what's on other desktops as a glance. Then, if you want to move to another desktop without exiting Mission Control, you need to hit the shortcut on your keyboard to move to that desktop. So, quite often, you'll find yourself hitting a key, switching to using the mouse, and then switching back to using the keyboard.

On GNOME, you hit SUPER, and you can navigate using the keyboard. Alternatively, you can navigate using the mouse (if you really want to), by hitting Activities in the top left and clicking the windows in the top. There's no switching between different modes of navigation, and everything is present at once.

Another thing that makes virtual desktops more frustrating to use is that you can't assign a shortcut to move a window to another desktop; you need to use your mouse. In fact, Window Management in general on macOS is completely crippled, so it's no surprise that it extends to virtual desktops.

All this makes for a slow and cumbersome experience that I find myself regularly frustrated with.

Window Management is Crippled

Window Management on macOS sucks. It really, really sucks. I'm sure everyone can agree that Windows got it right, or at least right enough. macOS can't even do the basics. There are no keyboard shortcuts to maximise or tile windows like on Windows. You'll have to waste time with the cursor trying to get it the way you want. If you want to tile or move windows in a way that respects your time, you'll have to purchase or download a third-party app. The Maximise button, for some reason, is instead a fullscreen button that moves the window into a virtual desktop-like space that doesn't have a corresponding shortcut key, making it effectively worthless. If you want to access that window, you'll need to bring up Mission Control, and then switch to your mouse and peck at it. The actual way to maximise a window, just as on GNOME and Windows, is to double-click the titlebar. Unlike the other two desktops, you cannot hit SUPER+UP to accomplish the same task in less time.

Minimizing is at least more useful on macOS, because the minimised applications are clearly distinguished on the right side of the dock, but I'm of the opinion that minimizing applications is worthless. If you're not using it, close it. If you're not using it now, but you will be soon, move to another workspace. Maximise is equally pointless for the same reason; you can just hit SUPER+UP or double-click the titlebar, which are harder to screw up. If you're a few milimeteres stray of the maximise button, you'll end up closing it instead.

That's why I like GNOME's paradigm of the one-button window. Truthfully, even the close button isn't necessary, but it's difficult to accidentaly hit it, and it's a necessary window management function not worth obscuring.

Hiding the Dock is Not Enough

macOS's dock suffers from the same issues as Windows' Taskbar. Even if you hide it, it will still show up at inopportune moments. You'll accidentally hit the edge (or close to the edge) where it's hiding, open it, and then have to move away and move back, slower this time, to get to the button you wanted to click. GNOME makes it easy by taking it completely out of the normal window management paradigm. It's in the Activities Overview instead, so you have to be intentional to get to it.

Truthfully, I don't find myself using the dock at all, so I'd rather go without, but for some users, I suppose it might be of comfort to have it there. At least on GNOME, it's completely out of your way—even when you are managing your activities.

Very Limiting Package Management

The App Store at least qualifies more than the Microsoft Store as a package manager replacement because it installs things in a similar manner to "normal" installation procedure, but it still sucks. You need an Apple ID to use it (why? Most of what I want is free in terms of price and licensing!), it's slow, and there's so much useful software that isn't there. There's really no excuse for a trillion-dollar company to have a worse package repository than all of the community-maintained Linux distributions (and also the commercial ones).

I wouldn't consider the App Store a package manager, because you can barely manage your packages with it. There's not a more efficient and powerful command-line utility for this in macOS by default. You can't even install 3rd-party packages using it. It's limiting and limited. Worst of all, often times the apps in the App Store are worse than the software you download directly from the vendor. Take Davinci Resolve, where the app doesn't have CUDA support because of Apple's restrictions. The App Store has all kinds of restrictions that, perhaps, are designed to protect Apple, but impact the user negatively. Why would you want to use the App Store when you get worse apps? That's not how it works on Linux!

There are, however, various community-maintained package managers for macOS which are...less bad. I've used Homebrew and MacPorts, and they make the experience less painful, but they're certainly not my favorite package managers. Whether it's speed or just the interface, they just don't appeal to me much.

Finder is a Terrible File Manager

Finder is a terrible file manager. Hardly anything has changed in over 30 years. It was bad then, and it's bad now. By default, there is no way to view the file path. If you perform some terminal wizardry, you can get the file path, but you can't edit it! There is no way to copy the current path, even if you can see it, inside of the GUI interface. No, you'll find that you'll have to hit Command+Option+C for that. Just like on Windows, there is no built-in terminal like there is in Dolphin and, if you use an extension, Nautilus. The ability to move up one folder is completely obscured in the GUI, or you can hit Command+Up.

Enter, for some reason, doesn't open the application. Instead, it changes the filename. You'll want Command+O for that. Enter also doesn't open Folders; you'll want Command+Down For that. There's no way to set double-click behavior in Finder to instead be executed using a single click. In Nautilus, there is. In Dolphin, this is the default behavior. Why click twice when you can click once?

To change the default application for all files with the same extension, you have to hit Command+I (or fumble through the bloated right-click menu for an option that has something to do with "Media"), which will then open a bizarre non-centered modal on the left of the screen that overloads you with useless information, then click the "Change All" button. If you hit "Change", you'll just change it for that file. Despite the fact that you could click "Open With" and select another application easily that way, which would hopefully then change that to be the default application for this file, this option still exists. In GNOME, you hit Command+I also, or Alt+Enter, or right-click and click "Properties", and then you can navigate to "Open With", which will give you the option to change the default application. There's much less useless information, the modal is centered and organised into tabs for specific options, and the menu item isn't named something opaque that you wouldn't be able to decipher at first glance.

At least you can install Ranger using Homebrew, which is more usable.

That being said, there are some nice features in Finder, which File Explorer doesn't have but should. It has tabs. It has integrated preview for pretty much every file type (something GNOME also has with Sushi) if you hit the spacebar. And...I'm sure there are other things. Just none that particularly matter to me.

Terminal is Okay, But macOS Doesn't Have a Default Dropdown Terminal

It's really not hard to beat Windows' CMD. Terminal has tabs, at which point it can take home the trophy (though Windows 11 has Windows Terminal, which finally has tabs, as well as the ability to open different shells in each tab). However, the font and text rendering is hard to read. It uses zsh instead of bash by default because Apple is allergic to the GPL, I guess. There's also no drop-down terminal like Guake, which is infinitely more useful because you don't have to worry about window management and you can pull it up anywhere, and keep it going in the background. When I need a terminal, it's usually what I use—they're great. macOS, disappointingly, does not have a dropdown terminal by default.

To its credit, Terminal offers much more extensive customization options than CMD does. It's a tool that you can conceivably live in.

But I find myself recommending that you just download iTerm2; most of what you want will be default, and it has many more customization options. You can even get a dropdown terminal with iTerm2, though it requires some fiddling. Even after that, Command and Control have a weird relationship with the shell that are not as intuitive to figure out as you might think.

As a BSD descendant, macOS has quality command line tools, but it doesn't quite reach GNOME, and certainly not by default.

macOS has no WSL

WSL makes Windows a lot more usable, because you can replace File Explorer with Nautilus, or my preference, Dolphin. On macOS, you can't do that. You can install an X Server and Nautilus using MacPorts, but that will only get you so far, because it isn't actually usable. You can't actually use it normally; it can only open Xorg applications.

WSL also gives you low-latency access to a Linux distribution, and of course, GUI applications. It's not perfect, but it's better than what macOS has, which is nothing.

At Least the Office Suite is Free... Because I Wouldn't Pay For This.

I really don't think I have to say much about Apple's Office Suite. LibreOffice is better. Apple's Office Suite is so basic and at times bizarre. It gets bonus points for actually including it with the OS at no extra cost, unlike Microsoft. Apple has also made the decision to use a proprietary format as the native format for all these applications (though they have compatibility with Microsoft Office formats) instead of, for example, open document formats that already exist. They might be more intuitive for some users, but I haven't been able to do anything complex with them. I imagine the learning curve is similar to wrangling Finder, with just as small a payoff.

Microsoft OffiEe does work better on macOS than Windows in my experience, so go figure, I suppose.

Even the Keyboard Makes Things Worse

What makes macOS different from Windows and Linux is that macOS isn't just an operating system; it's one part of a complete package where Apple is responsible for every single part of the experience. Microsoft doesn't make a desktop, mouse, keyboard, monitor, and speaker package for Windows, though I guess you could say that Microsoft Surface is their "flagship", but that's an exception, not the rule. Most people are not using Microsoft Surfaces. I suppose you have IBM to thank for the more decentralized hardware market we have today. Linux comes preinstalled on some machines, but aside from System76, there are no real "flagship" Linux systems, and there probably never will be. It's an entirely decentralized market.

ChromeOS is much like Windows in that it's preinstalled on a great many machines, but no package is "the real deal". It's a descendant of GNU/Linux that shares more blood than Android, but it is proprietary and considerably more locked-down than most distributions. That's not an indictment on its usability or use cases, however. But it, too, is not a complete package in the same way a Mac is.

My point is that Apple had every chance to get this right. They lock you in, refuse to give you any choice, and have complete power over the experience. And it still sucks. Command is not an adequate replacement for SUPER. It's no longer an active key, and instead can only be comboed with other keys. That's a useless reduction in productivity for no reason. It also means that 3 Function keys are taken up by worthless junk that could just be mapped to the SUPER key. For the rest of the function keys, just add some extra media keys on the full keyboards and put them there. At least then, we would have access to F2 instead of Enter for rename in Finder!

Or better yet, as Apple is so fond of giving the Function keys specific semantic meaning in macOS, why not have a bunch of keys that do actually useful stuff (assuming macOS had an Activities Overview mapped to SUPER), like Launch Application 1-12, where the user could choose to map applications to those keys? It would certainly be more useful than what's currently on the keyboard.

They're never going to do that though. On a Macbook, I can understand using the function keys in that way because you don't have enough space for media keys. On an iMac, there's no excuse.

But What Does it Do Better Than Windows?

I chose macOS because I prefer it over Windows, because it's far easier to make macOS better than it is to fix Windows. You can try messing with Auto Hotkey, Classic Shell, Windows Power Toys and all that, but in my experience, it was always clunky and never worked as well as Linux did. Even worse than macOS. AHK can map shortcuts to virtual desktops, but only if you aren't using native windows applications. It also causes strange undefined behavior at times.

Most importantly, macOS is based on Darwin, a BSD-Mach hybrid kernel from the late '90s that Apple released freely to the public. Importantly, you will note, they were not required to release Darwin to the public. Unlike Linux, a kernel which is licensed under the GPL, the BSDs (which are complete operating systems) are licensed under one of several BSD licenses which don't require the distribution of source code when you distribute a modified version of the original program to others. Darwin, along with XNU (X is Not Unix), Darwin's kernel is still released publicly today. In typical Apple fashion, it is essentially the "core" components of macOS, but it's not possible to build because it depends on proprietary components.

The history of macOS, like most long-lived technologies, is a long and winding one. I've only read bits and pieces to get an idea of the full picture, so forgive me if I've misunderstood something. Some parts are more convoluted, even, than the story of how and why GNU/Linux is the way it is.

The most interesting thing about Darwin is that it combines a microkernel (from Mach) and monolithic kernel (from FreeBSD) architecture together. Unlike the ill-fated HURD kernel, which also used Mach as a base, Darwin realised the limits of Mach and its microkernel architecture at the time and pivoted to combine it with BSD's monolithic architecture. The HURD still languishes today, with a small number of contributors attempting to create a stable microkernel from it 30 years hence.

The story goes that Steve Jobs was ousted from Apple in 1985 over Lisa's huge commercial failure which they sunk millions of dollars into, and the succeeding management proceeded to learn nothing from this mistake and over-promised and under-delivered yet again, while Steve built NeXTSTEP. NeXTSTEP was different from Apple in that it targeted a much higher-end market than Apple did with its workstations. It seems only natural, then, that NeXTSTEP would be built from a BSD operating system, which at the time was a variant of UNIX. But unlike UNIX systems at the time, it was far more user-friendly and featureful, while still being just as hackable.

NeXTSTEP never really became profitable in the long term, however. 10 years later, after a disastrous internal development cycle on the next version of the Mac operating system, Apple lost hope in developing a stable platform themselves and was looking to acquire something already stable to use as a base. At this time, BeOS (a company and an operating system you have probably never heard of) was being seriously considered, but that never quite happened. Haiku, the open source successor to BeOS, is still around today.

In the end, they went with NeXTSTEP, as Steve Jobs managed to convince the higher-ups at Apple to acquire NeXT. While NeXTSTEP may never have been highly profitable, its technology stack was beloved by the people and corporations that did use it. And so, Mac OS X, an operating system that has only recently been iterated with macOS and Big Sur, was born a few years afterward. And to this day, macOS's lineage is still very much that of NeXTSTEP and the BSDs.

I find Apple's early history deeply interesting. It's a far cry from the mobile-centric empire they've built today, and the culture feels starkly different. But I'll stop here, lest I start detailing the history of UNIX and the many UNIXes...

Darwin shares a considerable amount of similarities and architecture with Linux, which is also modelled after UNIX. These types of OSes are termed "Unix-like". macOS (but not Darwin itself) is POSIX compliant, which essentially means that it is easily interoperable with other Unix systems. This is important because it means that a considerable number of applications written for Linux will often work flawlessly on macOS—and, as I noted above, you can even install an X Server on macOS. It is for this reason that a lot of developers gravitate toward macOS. They don't want to deal with the headaches of GNU/Linux but the development environment is much easier to manage than on Windows, and it also has a considerable number of popular proprietary applications available, like the Adobe Creative Suite. macOS is a great middle ground for this reason. Many of your favorite proprietary and open source applications are available on macOS, without any of the development trouble Windows will throw your way.

I, however, will probably never feel at home on macOS; its design and development philosophy is just too starkly divorced from GNU/Linux, and it's also not as easy to use as GNOME.

Lastly, but of a certain importance, is the fact that Windows 10 looks awful. I hate the font rendering with a passion. I would hope that you can fix it, with effort. I just hate the design in general. I never really liked the Aero theme either, and Windows XP just looks cheap. I'm sort of partial to the Windows 98 look, in a vintage sort of way (though I can't look at Windows XP the same way). Windows 10 is the best Windows has ever looked, but it still looks bad! macOS looks pretty good or at least decent most of the time, though I prefer GNOME to it.

Does it Do Anything Better Than Linux?

This isn't a section for what macOS does categorically better than Linux, because I really can't think of anything. I suppose you could say that macOS "supports" proprietary software better, but that's simply a case of developers of proprietary applications targeting Windows and macOS, not a product of Apple's fine engineering. Besides that, what else is there? Perhaps some people might say Linux/GNOME have a steeper learning curve. I don't agree with them. I've had to spend a comparable amount of time searching for solutions to problems on macOS and Linux because things are just different from Windows. Of course, that depends on what you need to do with your computer. If all you need to do is use web applications, they're the same level of difficulty compared to Windows; they just do some things differently.

I'll use my own experience as an example. I've been using macOS almost daily for over 5 years, and I just found out that Command+O is how you open files in Finder. There are so many other keyboard shortcuts I've had to memorise because Finder fails to expose many of these options in its interface, and I can't change them to something more useful or memorable! I've also had to flirt with the terminal in order to unearth stunning functionality, like the ability to expose the file path in Finder (but not edit it, because that would be too wild), the ability to actually quit Finder altogether, and the ability to turn off animations that waste my time.

Having to move .app files into the Applications folder when installing them threw me completely off the first time, and I still don't see how it's any better than an alert box asking you if you want to move it into the folder to install it. I can't count the number of times I've not been able to find the trash bin in Finder only to realise that it can only be found on the Dock. There are numerous other things on macOS that are not obvious at first glance in the same way they usually are on Windows or GNOME.

GNOME was easy. Every application in a different workspace. Manage all your work in one place. Rebind functionality you don't like in the unified keyboard shortcuts GUI, and add new bindings for bash commands. Sure, it took me a while to figure out that Ctrl+L is the only way to edit a path in Nautilus, and I did have to use the GUI dconf-editor to add shortcuts for workspaces 5+, but aside from that? Smooth sailing! I love it. It's so simple, quick, efficient, and powerful. GNOME is as opinionated as macOS, but it doesn't make things impossible to change. If you're feeling adventurous, you can even easily add or create your own extensions for the GNOME Shell. Things like a system tray, if you need that. Or desktop icons, if that's how you work.

Best of all? GNOME is more visually appealing and polished than macOS, and way moreso than Windows. I know a lot of people hate GNOME, but a lot of people hate macOS, too. And hey, a fair amount of people also hate Windows. Nothing will appeal to everyone, but macOS makes fatal missteps with its concepts and operations that GNOME just does right.

Okay, maybe macOS has a decent ePUB reader instead of GNOME Books, but Foliate's better than either of those. And Safari is also more powerful than GNOME Web, I guess, despite both being Webkit browsers. I also think that Dolphin is better than Nautilus because Nautilus doesn't properly accomodate single-click behavior (there's no select icon when you hover above files/directories like on Dolphin), so you have to work around it. Though there are other things I like more in Nautilus over Dolphin, like the SMB integration, when it's necessary, and the overall design.

I Don't Like it, But I Use it.

Apple refuses to give its customers choices because they claim to know better, but I've never seen any evidence to support that claim. Their design is sloppy across the board, and, in some cases, outright bad. It's an unproductive OS filled with annoying choices designed to slow you down and cause you frustration. I don't think it's even intuitive for a user that's new to computers. I can't imagine teaching them how to use Finder; I'd have to teach them to memorise a stack of commands to properly use it, or direct them to go menu-diving every time they want to do something more complex than endlessly double-clicking toward the bottom of the folder tree.

But...it's less bad than Windows. Why? It's more integrated, it's aesthetically pleasing on a basic level, and, with great effort, you can make it resemble GNOME. You can't get feature parity, but you can do enough to get it generally out of your way. On Windows, that's just a lot more messing around, and you may never get there.

And if I'm so lukewarm about this operating system, why do I choose to use it over GNU/Linux with GNOME?

The truth is, I don't want to be using macOS or Windows. I'd really rather be using GNU/Linux. There is one big issue that prevents me from doing so that causes all sorts of other issues:

Adobe doesn't support Linux, and it probably never will.

Hell, even getting Adobe to support macOS was a mission way back when. There are a lot of problems with Adobe, but they all stem from it having an almost-complete monopoloy on the creative industry. Everybody in the creative industry knows how to use Photoshop, Illustrator, inDesign, Premiere and After Effects, because that's the industry standard. And because everybody uses these programs, it also means that everybody uses their proprietary formats, which locks everyone into the Adobe ecosystem.

.PSD is a proprietary format that Photoshop uses for "raw" composit ions. It contains all of the layers, and designers can pass it on to other team members to work on. Everybody uses PSDs. There's no realistic alternative! It's the de-facto standard for original files. The issue is not only that it's proprietary, but that it's very complex and very poorly documented, which means that competing programs like Affinity Photo need to support it as well. Supporting layers is easy enough, and AFPhoto even supports smart layers, but none of the competing programs support editing text, and they probably never will. It's just too complex. Instead, it's rasterized, which means that users will need to recreate the text. This is fine if it's a simple composition, but in cases where the text has had effects applied to it, it's a lot of work to reproduce. Not to mention, if you go back and forth, you'll have to recreate it each time (or mess about copying the recreated layer back in and making the changes yourself). It's just not a fun or productive experience.

And that's for .PSDs, which are partially supported by other graphic software like Affinity Creative Suite, GIMP and Krita. No other software I know of supports .aep or .prproj, for example.

So, in order to be productive, and collaborative, you'll want to use Adobe. Because everybody you work with will use Adobe. That does not exist on Linux unless you have access to CS6 versions of the applications or before. Those versions of the applications work fine in WINE, or so I've heard. And...that's the issue.

Adobe pivoted sometime in the first half of the 2010s from "pay once, and you own it forever" to "pay us forever, and we'll own you forever." Before that, whenever you wanted an Adobe application, you had to pay for it outright. That might mean several hundred dollars! But you got to use it forever (well, as long as the DRM worked, and as long as Adobe supported the DRM; they no longer support those customers), so it seemed like a fair trade. Now, you pay AUD$70 a month to get access to a whole suite of creative applications; around 20 of them, and you get access to constant updates as long as you keep paying. That seems like a pretty sweet deal, right? You don't have to pay that much, and you get access to everything.

Not so fast.

If you only wanted Photoshop, you'd be paying twice the amount of money you would have paid in the original deal for the same thing in a year, and more every year. The updates you get aren't worth the money, because nobody is relying on whatever bleeding-edge features Adobe is working on lately. These software suites have reached such a point of technical prowess that there's not really that much further they can go; they're already so powerful and featureful. And, even not considering that, the second you stop paying for it, you no longer have access to your files. You can't edit them, view them, or export them. Beyond that, there are the invasive and annoying Adobe Creative Cloud background services that are constantly vying for your attention and consuming your resources that these already resource-hungry applications can't access. You know, it's just checking up on you to make sure you're not trying to bypass the DRM or something. Adobe doesn't trust you even after becoming a recurring customer.

If you wanted a lot of Adobe applications, it's a better deal. The issue with the current Adobe Creative Plan is that it only saves you money if you want a lot of Adobe Applications. At which point, if you didn't want all of them, you start wanting to make better use of the plan by using all of the other software in production, which locks you further into the Adobe ecosystem. And maybe this is okay for you; but who knows what Adobe will do next? Maybe they'll up the prices, and include more software in the base plan. Maybe they'll completely discontinue a product you regularly use—they've done it several times before. You have no recourse other than to pre-emptively convert all of your files to another proprietary format you hope Adobe won't discontinue later on. And, not that I think this will ever happen, but if Adobe ever goes bankrupt, all of your applications (and thus your files) also go up in smoke. Ever heard the phrase, "don't put all your eggs in one basket?"

In my experience, Affinity Creative Suite has feature parity with Adobe and is even more productive in some ways. The only issue is PSD support, which causes collaboration issues. This is how Adobe is bad for the creative industry; even if better applications get made, with more user-respecting practices (one-time purchase, no nannying background service), few companies and people will adopt them because they need to collaborate with other companies and contractors that still use Adobe, not to mention the costs of retraining staff to use these applications effectively. Affinity Creative Suite is really great and really cheap, so I hope more companies use it. But I think we're stuck with Adobe for the foreseeable future.

Also, please don't use Adobe Typekit for anything professional. The second you stop paying for a subscription, you no longer have permission to use those fonts commercially. Use Google Fonts instead; they're all open source and free-to-use fonts with no caveats. Or buy your fonts outright.

So, if you want to get Adobe applications working on Linux, your only chance is getting ahold of an older cracked version, because the DRM doesn't work and Adobe will not support you anymore. This is not a good idea for multiple reasons. Downloading this sort of stuff is risky, because who knows what has been done to the executable? Do you have the technical skills and time to reverse engineer it and analyze it for malware? It's risky business. Your best bet is getting a second GPU and attempting to get VFIO passthrough working on a Windows VM with the latest Adobe CC software you need to use. Not really practical in recent times, what with how expensive GPUs have been lately, and will continue to be for some time. But if you can get this working, it will probably be a better option than running it natively on Windows or macOS. You can completely disconnect the VM from the internet and stop it from abusing your data, and you get the best of both worlds because you can communicate between the two OSes in real time. All of the experience of Linux, with all of the software of the proprietary ecosystems. There's even a nice way to integrate Windows apps from the VM into your Linux desktop (though it requires some tinkering): https://github.com/Fmstrat/winapps

On the other hand, there's a relatively new open source file format for image manipulation called Open Raster which stores layers; its goal is to be application-neutral, meaning that instead of PSDs, everyone can start using an open source, well-documented format that any application can support. It won't support text layers either, but it should have good support for rasterized layers. If .ora becomes widespread, using GIMP or Krita instead of Affinity Creative Suite would be acceptable for me in most use cases, and I'd be able to ditch Adobe for the most part. But not all.

There's another issue with Linux, and that's the fact that it doesn't really have a professional NLE. Sure, there's kdenlive, which is good for quick and fairly basic stuff. More recently, there's Olive, which has more advanced node-based compositing capabilities, which is shaping up to be a decent professional NLE. But it's unstable as hell and still in Alpha. Blender is stable and, I'm assuming, perfectly usable for someone who's willing to put in the time and effort to learn its quirks. It's not primarily a video editor, but it's rather competent from my short experience.

I'm a fan of Davinci Resolve and have been using it in recent times on my Mac, but I just can't use it on Linux. Not because Linux can't run it or it's unstable or something; only on Linux, Davinci Resolve just doesn't fully support the two most widely-used codecs, H.264 and AAC. H.264 is supported in the Studio version, but AAC isn't. If I try to edit a H.264/AAC-encoded video on DR, there will be no sound, because the AAC codec isn't supported. If I wanted to use DR, I'd have to use FFMPEG to transcode every single video file I use, because every single video file I get uses this codec.

On one level, it's easily scriptable, and you don't lose any quality when transcoding from AAC to the lossless PCM codec using a .mov container. It takes up about twice as much space, and depending on the file size, it might take up to a minute to transcode. After you edit the video, you also need to export using a different audio codec like PCM, because it can't encode AAC on GNU/Linux, either. After that, if you need to use AAC—which you probably do—you'll need to then transcode it back to H.264/AAC with FFMPEG. Again, this is easily scriptable, but it takes time and space. DR is a great application—especially for the cost, whether you get the standard or Studio edition—but this one thing prevents me from using it any professional capacity. With no clear warning, either (their codec sheet isn't the easiest thing to read)! It took me a while to figure out why my videos were silent.

I'm hoping that AAC will be supported one day, but after reading some discussions on it over the years, I am seriously doubtful this will change. Perhaps the most infuriating part is that GNU/Linux supports this codec just fine, and DR decodes/encodes AAC on Windows and macOS. After some digging, I still don't know the speicfics as to why it isn't supported. But I do know that it is a choice Blackmagic is making. It appears to be due to licensing, as AAC is a proprietary format. I suspect this may have something to do with the legality of the x264 encoder and Blackmagic not wanting to increase costs for the application.

Your can either choose another codec (preferable, but not an option for me, as I do not film most of my footage), live with twice as much transcoding for each video once you have the Studio edition, or use another NLE. In the free edition, H.264, perhaps the most ubiquitous codec in existence today, is not supported at all. The bright side is that the Studio version is very affordable and it's a lifetime license. Blackmagic has not gone back on their lifetime promise yet. It is likely one of the best NLEs available for GNU/Linux, unless you're interested in Lightworks.

In terms of After Effects substitutes, I know Blender also does compositing, and there's Natron, but I'm unsure about this project's current status. I don't do much VFX/Motion Graphics work, so that's not as big a deal for me.

It may seem like GNU/Linux is an underpowered operating system because of these things. That's not exactly true. Technically speaking, Linux is perfectly capable of pretty much whatever Windows or macOS is (and some things they aren't); it's just that a lot of popular commercial developers have no interest in supporting Linux. I'm referring specifically to Adobe and Affinity here as disinterested developers, but that doesn't mean there isn't any creative software on Linux!

Whether it's Blender or Godot, there are some powerful (and entirely free software) packages for creatives on Linux. However, for some reason, Linux has just never had a canonical, professional, open source NLE. At a push, I guess you could say that's Kdenlive, but from what I've read, it has only become stable in recent times. It also appears to be much more limited than, say, Premiere Pro. However, Blender even functions as a fully-fledged, quirky NLE.

GIMP and Krita are two halves, each with their own strengths, but neither of which makes a drop-in replacement for Photoshop. There's Inkscape, a free software vector graphics application that rivals Illustrator, from what I'm told. Scribus is a desktop publisher like inDesign. Natron is a Nuke lookalike that offers some of the compositing/VFX capabilities After Effects has. FFMPEG is a much more powerful encoder that supports way more codecs than Adobe Media Encoder. Audacity is a destructive audio editor, so it isn't in the same field as Audition, but there are DAWs for Linux too; whether it's Ardour, Reaper, or Bitwig. The latter two are proprietary, however, and Ardour is a different beast.

So, it's not that Linux doesn't have creative software. It's not even that these applications aren't powerful enough, because some of them are actually better than the commercial counterpart. The reason why creatives can't rely on any of these software packages in the creative industry is very simple. Proprietary formats. That's it. Even if all of these applications were the most stable and powerful offerings on the market, without full support for these poorly-documented proprietary formats, they don't have a chance in the industry. Not unless the creative industry undergoes a complete reformation.

If everybody in the creative industry used open formats, everybody could use whatever creative software they wanted, as long as those software adequately supported those canonical formats. And it wouldn't be hard to do, because they're open! Instead, everybody uses Adobe's proprietary formats, which locks everyone into using Adobe, because Adobe was early to the party, and they were good at what they did. And this is how it's been, for decades, and it's probably how it will be for at least another decade.

The day GNU/Linux gets a professional NLE that actually supports H.264/AAC that isn't Blender, and Open Raster (.ora) becomes widespread, I can start packing my bags. And I won't be looking back on macOS or Windows.

...

Maybe I'll learn Blender...

Comments are closed
Got A Question