If you followed this blog for a while, you might remember that back in December 2021 my, until then, trusty Thinkpad decided it was time to blow up its battery and I, for some reason, decided to get a MacBook Air as my new computer.
This post will be about the ups and downs I had with this laptop since then, what I did to it, to make it a usable machine for me and also about some annoying things I can’t seem to get rid of.
The general experience so far
When I first ordered this machine, it was intended for one purpose only, like my old Thinkpad I would use it to connect to my PC at home and work on that machine whenever I wasn’t at home.
It seemed perfect for that, long battery life so I wouldn’t have to worry about carrying a charger, OS provided by the manufacturer, so it was optimized for the provided hardware, no fans, so it would be quiet, a nice screen with a 2k resolution, more than enough space to work on.
So when it arrived, I installed wireguard and nomachine on it and figured I was about done setting it up.
The first hiccup followed the second I tried connecting to my PC. NoMachine usually sets the host resolution to the client resolution automatically. But as it turns out, only if the aspect ratio matches. And with the MacBook Air not being 16:9 (which is a good thing) it didn’t match the resolution and instead displayed my 4k monitor.
I figured, well, gonna set it manually the, no biggy.
This was the first time I noticed, that my new notebook did scale its resolution, heavily at that.
Also, no biggy, right? Head to system preferences and set scaling to 100%, right?
Well, no. Apple doesn’t think that ist good for you, so it’s not an option.
At that point the Linux user in me went: “I knew it, should not have gotten that Apple shit, even as a remote machine it annoys me”.
But I had already spent the money, so I took to the web and found a nice application that solved the issue for me. Called “Display Menu Pro”.
It allowed me to set my display to the native resolution and I was set.
Over the course of the next couple of weeks I would have it with me all the time, open it up, connect the vpn, sign into my PC and then check my Mails of what ever I was going to do.
But at some point I figured, why connect to my pc only for getting access to my mails, just install thunderbird directly on this machine and do the rest on my pc if I need to.
And that was the point, where I started to actually interact with MacOS.
And at first it was a major pain in the a**.
But there always were so little things my Ubuntu PC made completely unnecessary complex the Mac would just simply do an be done that lured me further in and I started doing more and more on it. Spoiler: It has become my main machine.
At some point, I guess one or two months in I decided to try and use it as my primary machine, mostly to prove to myself it wouldn’t hold up.
Starting to actually use MacOS
One of the first things that really started to bug me on the Mac was that ctrl+left or right was used for switching workspaces. But on Linux and Windows, that ist used to jump words when editing text. The first day at the home office using this to connect to a Windows machine at work was just shy of me quitting the experiment, that was too annoying.
But I figured there must be a way to fix this, other people are using remote connections as well and they must have the same issue, so I headed to the world wide web and found that MacOs actually allows to reassign keyboard shortcuts. (Unlike Windows)
On a Linux machine that would have been the first thing I had tried. But my mind went: “It’s Apple, they won’t let me change that”.
I was mistaken. System Preferences -> Keyboard -> Shortcuts -> Mission Control -> Move to space left and right.
If you are wondering why I hadn’t had that issue earlier on NoMachine, they capture the keyboard input and directly pass it to the remote machine. Microsoft RDP Client doesn’t do that.
But I was still mostly doing remote work on my Laptop and that wasn’t the point of the experiment.
I went ahead and installed my software stack and tried doing more and more natively on the Mac.
But being a Linux user at heart, the first thing I went for was the terminal and oh boy does the default terminal suck. No getting into details as this would blow the scope of one post, but iTerm2 saved the day for me, it is a very good terminal emulator, lets you navigate text easily, has good options to set up a nice profile, it just works.
I am also used to launching my terminal via ctrl + alt + t. And yes, I do agree with who ever said it, that should be an ISO standard. But on a Mac it is not a thing. Actually I found no working solution to natively set keyboard shortcuts to launch applications.
What I found however is an application call HotKey by Peter Vorwieger. It allowed me to set up all my application short cuts in no time and I couldn’t work without it anymore.
There is, however, always a next thing to bug you when you are switching to MacOS from any other OS and this one is a big one.
There is no such thing as window management on MacOS. They have their weird fullscreen mode, a mode where you can spilt fullscreen between 2 windows, upcoming feature called stage manager that is even worse and as for the rest, chaos.
Let me get started on why I don’t like fullscreen mode. I takes up the entire screen. Yeah, no kidding you might say, but this isn’t a maximized window, this is a window taking up all of you monitor, no menu bar at the top, no dock, no second window to hover so you can quickly pull in a file or something. This is a computer made as stupid as a “smart” phone and completely useless in my eyes.
Same goes for their split mode, which I need to access via holding down the mousebutton while clicking in fullscreen. A: How is that intuitive and B: not having any other windows available is not user friendly.
Long story short, I needed a way to tile windows on my notebook and via keyboard shortcuts, not the mouse. Enter “Magnet”.
Magnet allows you to setup shortcuts for tiling windows in MacOS, it lets you customize these shortcuts and works like a charm.
I also took a look am Amethyst, which is a full blown tiling window manager for MacOS, however tiling wms weren’t my thing in Linux and aren’t on MacOS either. But if it’s something you like, the link is below and it works very well.
This next issue I had caught me at surprise. MacOS is natively not able to write to NTFS drives.
No seriously. There is an experimental driver you can enable, but even Apple themselves tell you not to, because it destroys the file system and that is it.
While not without its own issues NTFS is the defacto default file system these days and not being able to write to it is a big issue if you are working with anyone else. Yes, I know, use Ext4, use BTRFS hell, even use APFs all better than NTFS. But again, how many Windows Users vs us?
There is a third party software called “NTFS for Mac” by “Paragon Software” that finally solved the issue for me. Until now I had no issued with it.
By now my Mac was running pretty smoothly for daily operations, but also was a far shot from “It just works” as they advertise. The following issue I had is one, almost no one else is going to run into. I have used X-Forwarding to do things on my linux servers when I was just to lazy to use the terminal, for example setting up KVM virtual machines. Linux to Linux this works extremely well but on MacOS?
Turns out it works brilliantly here as well, for as long as you got XQuartz installed.
Quote from their website: “The XQuartz project is an open-source effort to develop a version of the X.Org X Window System that runs on macOS. Together with supporting libraries and applications, it forms the X11.app that Apple shipped with OS X versions 10.5 through 10.7.”
And that is pretty much it, works like a charm and very reliably.
Switching Windows in MacOS is a nightmare for me. CMD+Tab switches applications and not windows, so you have to switch to the application, let go of the keyboard, the OS will bring some random window to the front. Then you got cmd+< to cycle through this applications windows.
This isn’t ideal on Linux either I have to admit, Microsoft nailed it with their version, alt+tab and always cycle all open windows.
But I also found a solution for this, it’s called “Witch” by “Many tricks”. It let’s you re-assing cmd+tab to it. Still switches Applications but if you hold cmd + tab it opens its menu, lets you cycle using the arrow keys and even switch browser tabs within windows. The last option in the down menu is direct text search. It has become an indispensable tool for me.
In MacOS applications are actually .app files that contain everything they need to run. Installing goes by copying to your machine and uninstalling by deleting them, which is a brilliant approach. But some applications go around your system and leave trash everywhere. To remove it, the application AppCleaner has become my tool of choice.
Speaking of applications. Package managers like apt and dnf make using Linux such a breeze, open the terminal, type “apt install firefox” and the application will be installed, all dependencies included. The Mac sadly lacks that ease of use, but there is a project called homebrew that implements a package manager on MacOS. They even call it the “Missing package manger for OSX”. It allows you to install (almost) all those nice commandline tools you are used to from Linux, like nmap, that I recently needed.
Networking. That one was really annoying for a long time. It seemed that MacOS always defaulted to using the Wi-Fi connection, no matter if it was plugged into ethernet, on the same f****** network. Why prefer the slower, more unstable connection???
Turns out I wasn’t doing it right. MacOS always uses the connection as primary that is the upmost under System preferecnes -> Network. If you want your Mac to auto switch to ethernet when plugged in, just drag that connection to the top and it will, in the future, auto switch to that. Rather brilliantly easy actually, once you figure it out.
I made my MacBook Air work for me by now and comfortably at that, but the factory version of MacOS is really lacking a lot of things that I would consider crucial for an operating system. However it also comes with a lot of features that I had to install additionally on linux, like spotlight (ulauncher on Linux) and tiling windows is only available per default on Windows and KDE (and Pop_OS! but that’s a different story). Connecting to a samba server is at full speed when doing it via finder, not like on nautilus (Gnome). It comes with a dock and once you get used to it, the global menu on top makes sense. Also all applications respect it, not like on KDE.
Applications respect the OSes dark mode as well, without commandline interactions like with flatpacks and snaps.
Oh, and also, the systems GUI is coherent, unlike almost everything in Windows.
However there shouldn’t be any need for an additional application to uninstall applications, seriously Apple, come on….
To me Mac has become an imperfect but pretty close to perfect System. It has its faults, like not being able to use two external monitors and not all the things I needed to make it work being exactly cheap.
There are things I couldn’t fix, like notifications always takeing the focus away from whatever your are typing on (really annoying) or the two external monitors issue.
But this computer works, it does its job well, updates don’t give me the headache of something not working afterwards (Like tiling under gnome…..) that I need for my daily tasks.
All in all:
I LIKE IT.
Links to mentioned programs
Display Menu Pro: http://displaymenu.milchimgemuesefach.de
NTFS for Mac: https://www.paragon-software.com/de/home/ntfs-mac/