Saturday 4 July 2020

First Day With Linux On My Mac

After a lot of thought and talk of switching from macOS to Linux, today was the day I decided to go for it. I wasn’t brave enough to completely wipe macOS from my MacBook Air, so I decided to slim it down, remove my files and remove any apps I was going to reuse in Linux.

Once done, I resized the macOS partition from 250GB down to 70GB. Once done, I then made two USB drives, one was the bootable Linux Mint installer, which I used Etcher to create and the other I used to put the rEFInd files on.

Because it is an Apple laptop designed for an Apple OS, it isn’t as straightforward to install a different OS on, made even more awkward with the introduction of SIP – System Integrity Protection – brought in with macOS 10.11.

So first I needed to boot to the Apple system recovery (command+R) on boot and use the terminal to install rEFInd, a custom EFI boot manager which picks up multiple operating systems, similar to GRUB for regular PCs. It is easier to do it from Apple system recovery partition because this bypasses SIP.

Then it was time to install Linux Mint. Linux Mint boots in to a live installer and you can then choose to run the installer. This was where I came to my first issue. When I tried Ubuntu a few years back, it detected that Mac OSX was installed and asked if you wanted to install alongside it. Linux Mint is a bit different, it has to be done manually.

I had to wipe the free space, create a swap area and then the rest as an ext4 file format. I could see the Mac recovery partition and my macOS installation and just hoped it would leave them alone. Then I just left the installer to do its thing. I did ask my Linux guru friend and he said everything looked fine and he was correct.

Once done, it rebooted and rEFInd had gone, it just booted straight back into LinuxMint. So I rebooted in to the Apple system recovery partition and ran rEFInd again and it detected all four partitions (recovery, macOS, swap and Mint).

A quick wipe of my brow as it worked and I could pick which OS I wanted to be boot in to, with Mint being picked by default.

Happy with that, I began my mission to get updates and apps installed in Mint. Updates were detected by the system and done automatically. Most apps were in the Synaptic Package Manager, a handy place that you can search, select all the apps you want and then let it install them all at once.

There were a few apps I had to look for on their own sites, but everything worked and installed.

It was the simplest method of getting apps sorted and installed on any OS I have had.

After that it was just a case of tweaking a few things, as everyone likes thing certain ways.

I had three issues. One, I updated the wireless driver and for some reason it knocked out the wireless chip, but I couldn’t put it back without internet connection. This could have been a major issue as my MacBook Air doesn't have ethernet, but luckily I had an old wireless USB stick which I had used with Ubuntu before and knew it worked out of the box.

Secondly, being a Mac user you get used to a giant mouse pad with one button. But with Linux and Windows they use two buttons, with the right one being used for contextual menus. This used to be an issue with running Linux on a Mac, with some bizarre workarounds. However, the Mouse and Trackpad options now allow for splitting the mouse button in to two, but it only works for clicking not tapping. So clicking the right side of the pad gives you the small menus pop up. Getting used to having two buttons again has been a bit tricky, but something that will come with time and use.

The third – and I not sure this is directly Linux related – but Google Chrome will not stay synced with my account. Everytime I close Chrome and open it again, it needs signing in again.

Being quite up to speed with Linux and drive partitions helped a lot. It is not for the novice or someone who is used to just turning on their Windows machine and just using it. The nerdy side of my came out today.

I’m not a gamer and I don’t use commercial packages. So apart from the odd new piece of software – mainly replacements for Apple only iApps – I was already using most of the software I was used to.

The main issue I have had today is keyboard shortcuts. 20 years of using a Mac and your fingers automatically know where to go, I had to keep reminding myself today to use the Alt key in place of the Command key.

Linux Mint is a great user friendly and intuitive distro, which worked straight out of the box with all my hardware – no configuring or issues at all. Even the shortcut OS keys for screen brightness, keyboard backlights, music and volume controls work.

My journey has started. It has been far more painless and stressful than I thought it was going to be and I feel far more at home and comfortable than I would on day one.

I say day one, but I have dipped in and out of Linux and played with many distros for years, however this is the first serious trip I made, the first real effort to leave Apple behind.

Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at

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