4 of the Best Linux Distributions for Mac Users

In late 2016 Apple released a new Macbook that they stated would be everything everyone wanted. The result was that the public wasn’t so happy with it. People found themselves needing to use dongles for everything, even SD card readers. The escape key and top command keys were replaced with a gimmicky “touch bar,” and as a result the Macbook had a lukewarm reception.

As a result of all this, Linux PC manufacturer System76 reported getting the highest amount of Mac switchers in its history. It’s safe to say that when it comes to macOS, the honeymoon is over. Longtime users are starting to get fed up with Apple from the way they force everyone to use dongles, to their amateur file system, to the way their operating system takes away advanced functions longtime users are used to using.

In this article we’ll go over four of the best Linux distributions that Mac users can install on their new Linux laptops.

mac-switcher-elementary-os

It is impossible to talk about Mac-like operating systems without talking about the Elementary OS project. This is a Linux distribution that adopts some of the design philosophy that Apple employs into their work: simplicity, beauty, and features. When it comes to this Linux distribution, if you’re coming off of macOS, this is the choice you should consider first and foremost.

Elementary has taken a lot of functions and features that some Linux distributions struggle to enable easily (like HiDPI, for example) and made it so users have a great out-of-the-box experience. If you’re a new Mac user frustrated with Apple and have recently switched, try this version of Linux first.

mac-switcher-solus

The Solus project is a new one that has only recently gained popularity. Since then their mission has started to resonate with a lot of people: a Linux distribution that works as hard as it can to give you a first class desktop experience. Solus, like Elementary, tries to make it so users aren’t hunting around for software or looking at forum posts in order to figure out how to use their newly-installed Linux distribution.

Budgie is the flagship desktop for Solus, and it is created from scratch to mimic the look and feel of Mac. It comes with a notification area that highly resembles that of macOS. As a Mac user, when you install Solus, you’ll feel right at home.

Alternative: Ubuntu Budgie is also based on the Budgie desktop and has recently been included as one of the Ubuntu favour. It is based on Ubuntu which gives you a solid core to start with. If you like Solus, chances are you will like Ubuntu Budgie too.

mac-switcher-linux-mint

Long before many other Linux distributions tried to do “easy to use Linux,” there was Linux Mint. It was a humble operating system based on Ubuntu that took the time to include little things that beginners have a hard time with: proprietary codecs, the flash plugin, and an easy-to-use Desktop that anyone can pick up.

Though Linux Mint is a bit traditional and something that most Mac users will not be familiar with, I encourage them to give it a chance. This is a solid Linux distribution with a reliable set of software that would make any Mac user feel at home.

mac-switcher-ubuntu-gnome

The Gnome Shell desktop environment has a lot of similarities when it comes to Mac OS: it has a dock, and it values simplicity instead of piling options on top of options. The Gnome desktop essentially makes Linux way easier to use, as well as modern. For a Mac user recently switching to Linux, Ubuntu Gnome is a good choice.

It takes the stability and reliability of the Ubuntu base and combines it with a desktop environment that Mac users can appreciate.

For a long time Apple was the place to be for a lot of users, including advanced ones. Even if you needed to do technical work, you could at least expect a terminal and reliable hardware. As of late, Apple seems not really care what its hardcore, advanced users have to say. Instead, they seem to be more focused on perfecting dongles and selling thunderbolt headphones.

That’s why users have turned to Linux. For as much negativity that you can give Linux, these new switchers will never need to worry about a Solus developer ending the project to focus on some silly way of replacing the escape key or an Elementary OS developer deleting features.

36 comments

  1. There is a need for a solid, non-Gnu, commercial OS – and Windows is not it. I agree that Apple needs to get a clue about serving a wider range of needs.

    What is needed is either MacOS licensing for generic hardware, or a new, probably BSD based OS to supplant MacOS. That would provide incentive for commercial software to target the platform. Commercial software and Linux don’t mix well.

    • Well Apple did foolishly do licensing in the past and almost ruined themselves. Licensors would price compete with Apple’s own Macs, bleeding Apple.

  2. I actually came back over to Linux Mint from Windows 10 after trying several other Linux Distros. The last time I used Linux Mint was with Linux Mint 12 a long time ago. And today’s Linux Mint 18.1 Mate edition to me is by far the best Linux Distro yet. Not only is it very stable, it is very fast as well and very easy to install software on it. The one thing that really bugged me about all of the other Distros is they have there taskbars on top instead of the bottom like I am used to. Linux Mint has everything where it belongs with the taskbar on the bottom of the screen. That in itself is what sold me to try Linux Mint once again. I know that sounds trivial to some but to me it’s a big deal to have the taskbar on top instead of on the bottom where it belongs

    • I’ve also tried, and is trying around with other distros. I do agree with you that the taskbar feels best when it is at bottom. BUT of all the other distros that I’ve tried and kept for a while I was able to move the taskbar to the bottom from the top. So I guess if you find a distro that you like, put a bit of effort to customize it in the way you like. As they say: search and you shall find. In this case google your wish.

      /Paul – http://www.thurn.se

      • You’re right. But thing is in Linux Mint it already comes with the taskbar already on the bottom by default. So you don’t have to go inside and customize anything in that respect in Linux Mint

        • Isn’t it absurd that we are discussing taskbar placement (and ease of re-placement) as a legitimate reason to select an OS?? I’m no fan of Windows but at least it let you drag and drop it to any edge you wanted years ago! It’s so frustrating using Linux when you have to dig around forums just to make the smallest change to the UI.

    • Saul Goldfarb about the taskbar on the top, well you can change all that
      … in Linus Mint for example go to Control Center – Look and Feel – Appearance and simply change it to your preference.

      • In Linux Mint it’s already at the bottom by default. So you don’t have to do any customizing.

        • I believe that in regards to the distro you install it also matters what DESKTOP you choose!….you can install Linux Mint with any number of desktops, ranging from XFCE….to KDE….to MATE….and Cinnamon. I think MATE and Cinnamon will feel the most comfortable to most Windows users as those interfaces are designed to be as close to “familiar” as can be for newcomers to Linux. If you want a Windows like experience, but want customization features that are so prevalent they’ll make you dizzy, then you would be best to try KDE. It too “almost” looks and acts like Windows OS, but their claim to fame is that you can customize just about EVERYTHING. No matter which distro you choose or which desktop, you’re in good company when you choose Linux as your Operating System!!

  3. I use ubuntu 16.04 and macbuntu theme from noobslab.com
    + docky
    + variety
    Super!

    • Thanks for the tip! I really like how Mac looks and works, I don’t need a Windows emulator, just a better OS!

  4. I plan on trying all of the above. By default I’m using Windows 10. I try Linux every so often but as often as I try I can’t find anything that makes me happy. My long time favorite was Linux Mint 12, I loved it. A close second was Pinguy OS 12.04 and third was Emmabuntus 12.04. But when these distros were updated they lost me.
    Linux Mint 18.1 here I come. Wish me luck, I think I’m going to need it.

    • You’re gonna love it. Trust me. Linux Mint 18.1 Mate edition is far superior to Linux mint 12

  5. “4 of the Best Linux Distributions for Mac Users”
    Don’t you mean “4 Linux Distributions Most Familiar-looking to Mac Users”? Also, considering that 3 of th4 are Ubuntu-based, that’s only 2 distributions.

    “Best” is a relative term. “Best” is what works for you personally. With almost 850 distributions listed in the DistroWatch database, anointing these 4 as the “best” seems a little……….silly. What about PCLinuxOS or Mageia? I’m sure there’s one with the exact look-and-feel of OS/X.

    • As always Dragonmouth you make a very good point. Seriously MTE should hire you to write the Linux section here. Your knowledge of Linux OS’s really amaze me. You teach me a lot more then most people do. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. I wish there was a way I could contact you when I need help with stuff in Linux

    • DM,

      I see that you have retained your insights.

      Good points!

      Who knows what you – or I – prefer to use and what’s “best”? If I choose to use IceWM, a simple window manager, with a custom antiX setup, maybe this week that is the best.

      Maybe I want a fast but simple system like MX-16.

      Maybe I want to create a system from scratch that uses a graphical user interface only when I am displaying Web browser content?

      A Linux system might be the best for me, but for the person next to me in the office, maybe Windows 7 Enterprise Edition is the best for what their needs are in the office, but maybe at home they use an iPhone (even if I personally prefer to use an Android device).

      All of these things are personal preferences and claiming what’s best is arrogance at best and ignorance almost certainly.

      Personal “what’s best for me” is fine. What is best for you, your neighbors or the people who work for a corporation is for each of these entities to determine for themselves.

    • I agree with you, it may look like a Mac or Windows OS, but it is still Linux. Maybe I am just a dunderhead, but I don’t get the fascination with “looks like” themes. I think a new user using a “looks like” distro can be more easily confused as to what system they are using and become frustrated. Linux is Linux, no matter what it looks like to someone. Learn it and love it.

      • “look like” for a new Linux user is a crutch. But, as with any crutch one uses, one eventually puts it aside. Unless one is permanently disabled.

        My feeling is that I am trying a different O/S and it will look different. Why would I want the look-and-feel of the old O/S? If I were to switch back to Windows, I certainly would not try to make it like Linux. First of all, I don’t think I can duplicate the look-and-feel of KDE Plasma. Secondly, why would I want to? It would destroy, or at least cripple, the Windows experience FWIW.

        • I’m less interested in maintaining the aesthetics as I am having things where I’m used to reaching for them. I came up on Windows systems, so the bottom-mounted task bar with the menu, quick launch, window pane and system tray–in that order–is what I’m used to. Having those things where I’m used to them means I can instinctively use my computer. A mac user would instinctively reach for things where they are on a Mac. Same reason as when you climb into a different manufacturer’s car and say ‘Where the HELL is the headlight switch?”

  6. I lost it with apple about 2 months after I bought a macbook. I HAD to buy Win7 to use boot-camp. I hadn’t learnt how good Parallels was yet. Mac user group members simply said this is how apple works. When apple refused to upgrade beyond 10.7, I worked harder to get linux working so I could finally dump osx. Mint was my best friend and continues to be my go to distro. I play with other distros occasionally, but something goes wrong and I end up back at Mint. I still need osx occasionally to create usb installs. (I haven’t found a reliable way of adding an efi partition that works on the macbook. ) I had been beating off an ox usb. I needed a new hard drive, so installed osx, to see if anything was better as much as anything else. About 5GB of updates later, I tried to add some other software, but found I need osx 10.9+ to get anything to work. A minor protest to one software firm has not been answered.

    Will I try Elementary and Solus – yep. Ubuntu Gnome – I just might try gnome on a rainy day. But I have found Mate works really well

  7. Hi I’m back today just to say I’ve tried three out of the four and to give you my impression. I really wasn’t impressed.
    Linux Mint mate was the first one to disappointed me,. It’s too wonky.
    Solus – budgie wasn’t bad too bad but I couldn’t manipulate it the way like and it’s just not full featured.
    Question for you…Have you every tried ‘random distribution’ from distrowatch.com?…. That’s a good way to waste some time.
    And that’s what I like best about Linux – It’s free to try. Cheers

    • I used to try out a lot of software and Linux distributions. At this point I use whatever works best for me for a specific task.

      If I’m reading Email and browsing the Web, I don’t need sophisticated desktop environments that consume huge amount of resources. I’ll select something pretty light, possibly a distribution with a simple window manager and little else.

      Or I may choose a modest desktop system.

      The antiX project allows me to create systems that cater to my interests, small or large, and I can easily modify the system or even rebuild it. antiX does well and is flexible to provide whatever configuration suits me — clearly it caters to people who are capable of managing and configuring their own systems.

      • ” At this point I use whatever works best for me for a specific task.”
        With your *nix experience, you could make Minix or Tiny work for you. :-) Some of us need a little more meat on our O/S.

  8. I’ve never spent money on an Apple product to this day. And I never will they have nothing that makes or validates a sometimes $1500 / $2500 purchase. I can buy a “middle-of-the-road” laptop, spend some extra to install a larger HDD and max out the RAM to 16GB, install the Linux distro of my choice…..and have that machine last for YEARS!….And since almost everything is now 64-Bit installs, then I should have no worries for the life of the machine. I too was put through an iMac upgrade that lasted the better part of an hour and a half, only to find out when the download was done that the person’s iMac was too “old” for the newer OS install. I just told the person they should get a new desktop and let me install Linux on it for them. That was about a year ago, they only RECENTLY reached out to me and asked me to help them with their PC purchase, and the install of Linux. So I guess another Apple-ite has crossed over!…LoL!

    But seriously folks would you pay thousands of dollars for a new car that had no A/C?……what about power steering?….or headlights and brakes?…..this is my analogy to Apple. Those items I just mentioned are considered “standard equipment” on the car….so then why would the manufacturer (Apple) remove ports and the like that are considered standard equipment?…in order to place a touch-bar that no one asked for….and that no one is going to ever really use? Its like a corporate “slap in the face” to all the consumers who bought the product! But I guess when they start to lose sales at a more rapid rate they’ll finally pay attention huh?….LoL!

    • “why would the manufacturer (Apple) remove ports and the like that are considered standard equipment?”
      Corporate hubris. WE know best what our users want/need!!!
      Also corporate greed. Notice that whenever Apple has eliminated a port, it always had a wireless device to replace that functionality for sale.
      Ever since Fruitco has deep-sixed the PowerPC, they have been building computers more and more with the non-technical inclined user, rather than then the techie. They have been, slowly but surely, returning its computers to the design of the original Mackintosh – a complete sealed black box. I would not be surprised if one of these days, Apple did not come out with a computer without any external connections. Power would be supplied either wirelessly or the device would have a built-in 2-3year battery that had to be replaced by a Fruitco tech when exhausted.

      • That would be awful!……oh wait…I use Linux…sooo…….NEVERMIND! LoL! I guess it just all depends on the user and their wants / needs. If I had the money that could afford Apple products would I buy them? No.But I think that’s because I’ve been in the IT field for some time now….and I’ve seen what they “really” are. As for the average user?…If they have the money then for them buying Apple products just makes sense. It give them everything they use and are used to, it makes them feel as if they belong to a “group” or family of like-minded individuals, and they get a sense of being exclusive for using products that aren’t “typical”.

        But if you peel away the apple’s skin?….you realize you’re not in an exclusive club….but a PRISON…as a lot of the apps on your device are not friendly on other hardware. You discover that your feeling of being exclusive in reality is just you being a type of outcast,….to a degree,…..and what you thought of as high-end products just turn out to be overpriced pieces of plastic that you cannot enhance or upgrade with the same level of customizations as other hardware that’s available to the public.

    • You know that most if the new PC laptops coming out this year have followed Apple and are only proposing USB-C.

      We’ve heard the same comments when Apple launched the MacBook Air with no DVD drive. Now, we don’t see any DVD drive on laptops anymore.

      • This is true….so then you’re proposing this is a trend with ALL PC makers?…that they just sit around waiting to see who will make the change first and then they all follow? Hmmm…….interesting. I guess this is all the more reason why I’ll stick with the old hardware I have, until its unusable permanently!….LoL!

        Guess this guy got it right huh?..

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AvND-RH79o

        I mean in all honestly, what makes us THINK that our PC is slower?…and who places in our heads that the .000003 nano-micro-pico-seconds difference is noticeable to all? When in all actuality the ONLY thing that might notice that kinds of speed change would be another computer? Somehow we’ve been brainwashed throughout the decades that if you’re not in possession of the newest, the latest, and greatest…then you’re behind the times. And this started I guess with cars….from their inception it seemed every couple years there was a “newer” model with a few design tweaks, a new set of initials attached to its name (XL….GT…..RS…) and a new colored interior….but in all actuality it was the same vehicle. I realize that yes…a CPU will only last so long, and will only be as fast as it was designed for. But I use Linux, and I don’t have the “Windows creep”….where after time your machine just gets slower and slower (due to temp files, fragments….leftover cruft from past installs etc) My openSuSE desktop has an i5 in it…with 16GB of RAM, and because of the way the Linux filesystem is I don’t have to worry about cruft, or old temp files, so my machine runs excellently. I don’t do video editing, or anything else that has to do with hi-def…..audio compression or any of that stuff. I just play music while reading technical articles, (such as this one) and trying to teach myself how to program in Java and Python…..so I’m fine with the current speed of my machine. I don’t envy those with an i7….or who have 1TB of solid state drive space, or who have an IPS-hi-def-4k display….my 23 inch 1080p monitor works just fine. I don’t anticipate changing this machine for a LONG TIME. And yes a lot of newer device have done away with a lot, and have added USB C etc..etc…but since i don’t have to worry about that stuff why do I care if my machine is “old”? It just seems that a lot of the push for people to stay current with technology is falsely grounded in the rhetoric that if you don’t you’re not fit for society…..LoL! I’m just sayin’

    • Apple is not for eveybody, you should respect that because everybody is different.
      I alway had high end laptop like dell, hp. My best laptop ever is my macbook pro. I have my macbook pro since 2013. I accidently dropped it on the floor countless time. This laptop is solid. I travel all the time for work. I need a slim and powerful laptop. I never had a laptop survived me this long and i may keep it for years.
      Yes since 2013 laptop are better. Thank you apple to change the rules, otherwise, we would still have bulky laptop.
      I’m not a OSX user. I’m a linux user who like awesome hardware.

  9. elementary OS is fantastic operative system with a dedicated team working their best to offer a beautiful and well-designed OS, where not only UI but UX is key.

    One of their main team members wrote up a series of posts on “Switching from macOS” regarding what any previous user of an Apple laptop or desktop should take into consideration: The Basics, Developer Environment, Creative Work, Hardware and Open Source.

    https://medium.com/elementaryos/switching-from-macos-the-basics-210ca808ba53#.6wtmh7a6s
    https://medium.com/elementaryos/switching-from-macos-developer-environment-5754e40b2ae5#.l89jagy24
    https://medium.com/elementaryos/switching-from-macos-creative-work-864529af1958#.dpkv60mvf
    https://medium.com/elementaryos/switching-from-macos-hardware-5864552a569#.p6p15o9ek
    https://medium.com/elementaryos/switching-from-macos-open-source-b023d01ffa58#.616p94647

  10. Hi. I’m back to say I found something I like…. linux mangaka nyu final from 2015. It’s actually made for a touch screen.
    I don’t have that but it also works well with a mouse.
    The desktop is all icons. What I’ve done is bookmarked the ‘applications folder’ to make it handy so I can also refer to that.
    It’s early yet and I haven’t installed it yet but I really like it. It’s fast and responsive without any glitch.

  11. Might also give Korora a spin. It’s a very polished spin of Fedora with some unique features that make it stand out in the “Fedora Camp”

  12. Tried Elementary OS – looks nice if that’s your thing – but! Once you install non-intergrated apps that consistency falls apart. Gnome plus decent themes and icon set looks just as nice if not better.

    However, the thing that really drove me away was the god-awful touchpad feel. Pointer acceration all over the place when you don’t need it. Makes it very difficult to zero in on controls, even at slow speed, and there’s zero inertia when swipe-scrolling.

    Trust me, if you’re used to the silky and accurate feel of a Mac trackpad, you’ll be very dissapointed with Elementary.

    I have a feeling that it’s using libinput rather than the Synaptics driver – until libinput is more widely supported (in particular, inertia scrolling) and more configuarable (accelleration, sensitivity, disable while typing, etc), for me, it’s just unusable.

    • No need to fixate on Elementary. It’s only a suggestion by Derrik. There are over 275 actively developed distros in the Distrowatch database. Even discounting all the re-spins of Ubuntu and other Major distros, there are a lot of distros that could work better for you than Elementary. To bring up an old and tired analogy, distros are like cars. Each to his own taste.

  13. i have found only one distro that works out-of-the-box to support wifi on a 2015 Macbook Air: Anti-X

    at the time of this writing, the most stable release is antiX-16.1_x64-full.iso … it’s a bit behind, but you can kernel upgrade using the typical Debian incantations…

    i’m on 10.10.5, but if i get orphaned like i did with my 2012 iMac, i’m dumping Apple toute de suite!

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