“I run operating system X, I prefer distribution Y, I like desktop interface Y better” I’ve heard the discussions over and over again. Sometimes people stick to their guns and defend their choice, other times people hop around from OS to OS or from Linux distro to Linux distro just because they want thingie X that isn’t available in Distro Y.
The question is : Why do we still need to choose ? If we can train our digital workflows to be operating system independent, why can”t we take it one step further and instead of ‘choosing’ our operating system .. why not design it ourselves ?
The question came up when I got back from a visit to Fossdem this week (Belgians largest open source conference with attendees and speakers from all over the world). Seeing all these pretty Linux distributions and the powerful stuff you can do with them made me all eager to take the plunge once again and go “Full Linux” for a while. I slide from OS to OS (My main workhorse is a Mac, my traveling companion is a Chromebook that has Ubuntu on the side, my desktop runs Linux Mint and I have a Surface Pro running Windows 10). Lately I have been having hours of fun playing around with the Chromebook. Its simple operating system charms me into using it quite often. Its clutter free, not a lot of distractions and I like its simple elegance. However it is limited. Some things just don’t work on Chrome, but luckily for the Chromebook I can just ‘sidestep’ into the Ubuntu version I’ve installed via Crouton.
Hopping from OS to OS at the press of a button is a joy, however, since Ubuntu uses the same Root kernel Chrome OS does .. Some features are missing. (No iPTables means no way to use Sshuttle, my favorite vpn client) The other downsides from working on the Chromebook are its limited storage (16 gigs divided between Ubuntu and Chrome OS) and the low quality screen. I love working with the little machine when i’m on the road .. but it has its limits.
Meanwhile my super powerful Macbook Pro sits by the wayside, waiting patiently until I have a new task for it to do. (I do most of my audio and video production on my Mac and it IS the main machine for my business so tinkering with it is just not done). A bit of a shame really.
Side by side.
As I was once again working on both machines side-by-side this week, I wistfully thought : How cool would it be to have the power and screen size of the mac, the simplicity of the Chrome OS and the power of Linux rolled into one machine while still having the option to “slide” back and forth between the operating systems at a whim…
Sure, I could dual boot my Macbook pro with some flavor of Linux but that would violate one of my basic principles : My Mac is my work machine, my livelihood .. so excessive tinkering that might harm the OS or the data on the machine is NOT done. Furthermore, since the latest upgrade to OSX Yosemite, dual booting has become a lot more complicated. So the alternative was easy : Using a virtual machine. With plenty of Ram and an SSD drive I would have not trouble throwing some Gig’s and a few cores at my Linux distro of choice and run one on top of the other.
So what to choose ? Choosing your distro is always hard. And in my case I wanted something very specific. I wanted the distro to have a light graphical user interface (I don’t like clutter + I wanted it to be sharp and snappy so I didn’t get the feeling I was running a VM. On the other side I also wanted it to look like Chrome OS. So what to choose ?
Chromixium : A great distro that I found out there that does just that is Chromixium. Basically its a re-build of Chrome OS but using the open source version of the Chrome browser : Chromium. The Chrome-OS look and feel is done by heavily modifying an E17 interface and adding a plank dock. The operating system is light, elegant and well done. The great thing is : Where Chrome OS Stops, Chromixium go on. Instead of running on a shared Linux Kernel (like the Ubuntu installs in Chrome OS via Crouton) Chromixium is pure Ubuntu under the hood. That means : A terminal and access to the software center. Install whatever you please !
Looks like Chrome, Feels like Linux, Runs on a Mac.
So after I installed my favorite Linux applications (both Command line versions and actual apps) I have “morphed” my Chromixium into something that looks like Chrome OS but has the full power (and applications) of Ubuntu available at my fingertips. So now to get it to play nice with my Mac. In order for the Chromixium VM to be able to use the full resolution of my Retina display I made sure to assign it at least 32 meg of video memory in the Virtualbox control panel. I also assigned 2 cores and 4 gigs of ram. Next up it was time to install the Virtualbox Add ons into the guest operating system (Chromixium) to let it use the full resolution.
The actual resolution of a 15 inc Retina Macbook Pro is 2650 by 1600 and I was puzzled why, no matter how I tried, I could not get my Chromixium VM up to that exact resolution when I put it in full screen mode. Turns out that this is actually impossible. The retina resolution is no longer tied to the actual resolution of your display. So you can “scale” the actual resolution of your desktop to ‘appear’ a certain resolution that is actually being ‘mapped’ on the actual resolution of your display. To make a long story short : I went into my Macs system preferences and set the host resolution of my system to a setting that “looked” like 1920 by 1200 and when I set my VM to fullscreen I saw that THAT was the actual ‘physical’ resolution the VM recognized.
So in the end I’m running an OS that is a mutated version of Chrome OS and that I have pimped out with a lot of “standard” Ubuntu applications ON TOP of my Yosemite install on my Macbook pro. It gives me the best of both worlds. The look and feel of Chrome OS , the power of the cloud (Both Chrome and Chromium can sync with my Google account and all settings, plugins and extensions are carried over between my Chromixium os, my Mac and my Chromebook) To power it all I have my Retina-display I7 Macbook pro and due to the fact this is a VM , I can easily make snapshots I can roll back to should something go wrong. I’ve already cloned the Virtual machine to my home server so I can access it remotely (via RDP) should I need to.
Tie in a couple of SSH connections and applications running on some of my other (remote) virtual machines and pretty soon I am having a hard time keeping track of what OS I’m actually using. And that is the whole point. The operating system needs to become abstract. A software layer that provides a you with the means to get things done. It is not there to be adored, it is not there to be fought over, its not there to make you choose.. its there to help you get stuff done .. regardless of what OS you choose…
Links : Chromixium
We deep dive into the world of Chromebooks and find an answer to the question : Can you survive on a Chromebook. We walk you through the possibilities and limitations of the Chromebook. We enlighten you on how to use it for work, connect back to your home network and how to use your Chromebook to entertain you. If thats not enough we go beyond the design specifications and sideload Linux on your Chromebook turning into a low budget sliders dream machine. All of that and more .. in Kw905 : Life on a Chromebook. Catch the live recording of this podcast in the Youtube video below and see if you can catch Sulu the dog as our Podcast assistant.
- The Acer C730
- First impressions
- Hardware – Software
- Taking the Chromebook to work (Article)
- Using the Chromebook to entertain you (Article)
- Connecting back to your home network via a Socks5 proxy over SSH (Article)
- Dual Booting your Chromebook with Linux (Distroshare.com)
- Sideloading your Chromebook with Crouton (Youtube instruction video)
With all these amazing guest bloggers showing us what gear they use and what is “in their geekbags” I feel a little intimidated showing you what I drag around. My “Bag” is my daily companion for the days I work onsite as an IT consultant. It is focused on portability AND the ability to facilitate my creative and commercial activities while i’m out the door.
The Bag : I have a thing for bags. I don’t have just one : I have several. As my wife jokes from time to time “I’m like a woman” when it comes to computer bags. Perhaps she is right .. The thing is : I don’t believe in “one bag” for every occasion. Depending on where you are going, what you need to take with you and what kind of venture you are attending … a different bag (or even a different setup of selected gear) might be required.
So in this case i’m showing you my “Day to day – on the road” bag (and its contents). The bag I carry around is a Thule Gauntlet 13. It was orignally designed for a 13 inch Macbook pro, but as I talked about it in the INITIAL REVIEW I did for Knightwise.com, it is a bit of a “Too tight fit” for the 13 inch Macbook but perfect for the setup I use it for. The bag is more of a ‘hard-case” then a messenger bag. This makes it compact AND keeps you from “over stuffing” your bag with things you don’t need. Like an old ‘attache’ case, it offers sturdy protection but also allows just a finite amount of stuff you can cram in it. This is both a positive and a negative thing. The bag is stylish (important) rugged (it protects my gear) organised (it has pockets and compartments) and waterproof (I tested that by aiming a garden hose toward it.) You can go for a detailed review HERE .
The laptop : I have a 15 inch Macbook Pro I use for just about everything. But I also held on to my 11 inch Macbook air that I got last year. Partly for sentimental reasons (its just a great device) but also for practical reasons : I would be terrified taking my 15 inch Macbook Pro on the road with me every day. Its too valuable for me (and also a little bit too bulky). The Macbook Air is also my ‘experimental machine’ to run Linux distro’s and stuff. It is encased in a clear plastic hardcase I bought on Ebay (i’m also a little bit of a case-afficionado) and on its 128Gig ssd drive I’ve dual booted Osx Mavericks and Elementary OS Linux.
Headphones : My wife bought me a pair of Philips Headphones (I don’t know the type, threw away the box) that sit snugly ON my ears (not one of those sets that goes AROUND your ears). I like them because they are still quite discrete and stylish to use on the road, yet offer good sound quality. I also carry around a pair of apple in-ear earbuds. (not in the picture). These are great for recording audio, listening to podcasts while walking outside .. and they are just plain indestructible. (I have had my pair since Christmas 2012 and they have been through the washing machine 5 times now…) What IS in the picture is a pair of el-cheapo Samsung earbuds I keep in my bag as a spare. Yeah .. triple redundant headphone/earbud setup.. i’m a geek.
Cables : Very few. A charger for the Macbook Air and a micro usb cable to charge my phone, the blue thing is one of those adapters that lets you transfer files from a usb stick TO your phone. I have no idea why I keep carrying it around since its a little redundant .. but I haven’t taken it out yet.
“Writing utensils” : Pens : As few as possible. A highlighter, a black and a blue pen (a blue STAR WARS pen !) and a couple of small post it notes I use religiously to keep tabs on whatever paperwork i’m dragging around. I also carry around a manila folder (the red one) for every slip of paper I need to handle. It keeps the paperwork free from creases and prevents me from losing any document/piece of important paperwork that is smaller in size then a sheet of wallpaper. I don’t carry around a notebook or one of those snobby Moleskin books. I don’t believe in paper.
Harddrive : A one terabyte Western Digital Hard drive (usb powered) for those situations where I need to carry stuff around that does not fit on the drive of my laptop. It is pre-packed with some movies, some music and some tv shows to watch, should I get stuck on an airport or a train station. I NEVER plug this drive into a foreign computer and have thought about encrypting it too.
Usb sticks : 2 Usb sticks , one 8 gigabyte ‘Darth Vader’ one that sports a Live usb version of TAILS (the super secure privacy oriented linux distro that Snowden used) whenever I need to work on a computer that is “not trusted”. There are also some portable apps on there when I’m working on a foreign Windows machine. The other 16 gigabyte stick is just there to “sneakernet” data across.
Box of business cards : Running your own company means carrying around business cards. My super geeky wife found out that these little plastic “wallets” are perfect for doing just that.
Not in the picture.
My phone : I use a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 on a daily basis, combined with a 1st generation Galaxy Gear smartwatch. The Note3 takes care of many of my entertainment and communication needs. The Note3 is also the main “connectivity device” when I’m unable to smooch off some free wifi.
I love Apple products. Seriously. I do. They have liberated me from a life of ONLY using windows into a world of creativity and ease of use. Over 8 years ago they made helped me switch from a life of cleaning up temporary files and cookies on Windows 2000 machines to a computer environment that allowed me to compose music, record podcasts, edit video’s and do so much more. On a Mac it ‘just worked’. I still use Macs today. The high quality of their hardware is exceptional but unfortunately , so are their prices. Over the years a rift has arisen between what I demand of an operating system and what Apple has to offer. The fact that I have become a slider , who switches from OS to OS to get stuff done is not always very compatible with some Cupertino’s hardware and software interoperability’s. (Read : vendor lock in). Luckily I am free to choose : I hop from Linux to Windows to OSX and use the best operating system for the task. I’m free .. free to “leave the walled garden” when I want to.
We love our iMac.
So when my beloved wife started to notice that our 4 year old iMac was getting a little slow, I started to wonder what I could still do with it. Although I can still install the latest version of Mavericks on the machine, I do hear the silent whispers from Cupertino calling to “Buy a new Mac”. Perhaps that would not be a bad thing. Sell it off second hand and buy a new one. Problem is : its a 24 inch iMac. It fits wonderfully on my wifes desk and brings her a lot of joy. The options we have is buying a smaller 21 inch or a bigger 27 inch iMac. In both cases we would have to spend valuable cash for a small speed increase. Was it worth it ? I decided to ask the most important question I ask ANYONE who needs a new computer :
What do you use it for ?
To be honest : Niejana doesn’t use the Mac for that one thing that makes a Mac special : A reliable multimedia workhorse. She uses it to surf , do administrative tasks, manage her emails , her photos and stuff like that : No Final Cut Pro , Logic or any other of the great Apple production tools. So I asked the question : Why not keep the machine but ditch the OS ?
Time for a light weight alternative.
Linux is the obvious answer. It runs on almost anything and has a high degree of versatility. Its many graphical interfaces are strange, alien and mostly built for and by geeks. But that was not what we wanted : The goal of this project was to offer the SAME experience .. only faster. So what LOOKS like OSX but IS in fact Linux. The answer : Elementary OS.
Elementary OS : ‘I-can’t-believe-this-is-not-osx‘
So I bit the bullet, downloaded the 64 bit version of Elementary OS and installed it on the system. (No dual boot, no nothing). I don’t recommend going through this route if its your first time running Linux on a Mac. ( See our “Dual boot” articles to learn how) Elementary LOOKS like OSX and is a beautiful combination between the complexity (and power) of Linux (Elementary is based on Ubuntu 12.04) and a simple interface that LOOKS like OSX.
Making it look right.
Installing the standard tools Niejana uses ( Chrome, Thunderbird, Openoffice, access to Gmail and stuff) was not hard, because we largely use “slider friendly” applications in this house. Next morning I just pointed at the machine, told her the “close” button was gonna be on the other side of the windows, and left for work.
Time to jump the walled garden.
So was I done ? No, I was just beginning. This is a cross platform household with Macs, Linux machines and Windows machines. That meant I also need to “liberate” all the data from iTunes and iPhoto into an environment that would be accessible to both our remaining macs AND our linux machine.
So hang in there.
This week you will get more tips and tricks about “liberating” your data from a proprietary application like iPhoto, iTunes, iCloud and others so you can access them in a “slider-friendly-world”. Installing Elementary was just the beginning. Because whoever told you can only play YOUR music in CERTAIN application on SPECIFIC hardware … was wrong.