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Home / Articles / Running Elementary OS on a 2015 Macbook: a 30-day evaluation
Elementary OS

[This article discusses Elementary OS Freya on a 2015 Retina Macbook]

Not being happy with the increased sluggishness nor the manner in which Apple continues to police and dictate the way people to use their hardware, I recently installed Linux on my 2015 Macbook.

I'm most familiar with Debian-based systems so Ubuntu (based on Debian) was an obvious choice. While I was working my way through articles on customising the overall UI and look-and-feel I stumbled across Elementary, an operating system based on Ubuntu.

Elementary looked like a tweaked Ubuntu with a clean, minimalistic UI conceptually based on OS X. From the screenshots it looked exactly like the sort of thing I'd enjoy so out with Ubuntu, in with Elementary.

Here's my verdict after a good month of usage:

PRO

  • Clean UI, file dialog similar to OS X
  • mostly stable networking, no problem importing OpenVPN connections
  • Elementary still uses Ubuntu repositories, so quick software updates
  • Overall very lightweight feel
  • easy detection and mounting of Android phone and Apple iPod

CON:

Wingpanel/Plank
Instability of wingpanel/Plank, the components that hold the top bar and bottom icon tray respectively. Half the time several reboots are needed to make wingpanel and Plank appear.

Network-manager
Instability of network-manager (or the UI on top): often the network connection icon doesn't reflect the actual connection status. Having good a connection while the icon indicates no connection is merely a minor irritation.

What makes it downright unusable is the fact that VPN connections will sometimes silently disconnect without notification nor change in icon status. I can't work if I can't trust that my VPN is actually connected when the OS tells me so.

Touchpad
Instability of the touchpad: frequently the mouse arrow will jump the bottom of the screen while you're using it.
It feels like it hangs for a fraction of a second and that the mouse pointer coordination software just assumes that by now the location must be the bottom of the screen.

External screens
Unable to correctly manage external screens or projectors. With OS X my 22inch external screen was blurry compared to the retina screen, but still usable. With Elementary, the resolution of the external monitors stays so low that windows dragged from laptop to screen take up 2x or 3x the space, and become more or less unusable.

At this point I'm not sure if this a Ubuntu thing or an Elementary thing...

Apple Retina screen
Some apps are seemingly unable to cope with the retina screen. Pinta (graphical editor) and Shutter (taking and annotating screenshots) both have a toolbar that's so tiny they are basically unusable. May or may not be related to the previously mentioned issue.

Webcam
Webcam not detected.

Bluetooth
Bluetooth detected but unable to pair with any devices (headset, phone, ...)

USB-mounted drives
Buggy handling of usb-connected DSLR camera. My Nikon D70 camera needed several tries to get recognized, and the Photos app was unable to import photos half the time.

Terminal
The terminal app makes some "user friendly" improvements, such as making CTRL+C/CTRL+V work again, but at the expense of hijacking the CTRL key which, for instance, makes using nano/pico and less/more a pain to use.

Conclusion

I'm sure some of the issues are not specific to Elementary, some are due to incompatibilities with Apple's hardware, and some because I haven't figured out how to fix them myself.

Elementary looks promising, and is clearly the result of a huge effort by a good number of people. However, at the moment it's too unstable for me to enjoy working with it on a daily basis. As it's another layer on top of Ubuntu, it's just another layer to be managed, tweaked and debugged.

I'll return to "plain old Ubuntu" for now and see how it goes. Expect another review in 30 days or so.