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Mac OS X vs. Linux (Ubuntu)

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Mac OS X vs. Linux (Ubuntu)


I've finally come around to realizing that my Windows box simply won't cut it if I want to use many of the math applications that are out there, some of which run only on Unix and some of which run better on Unix. And, if I ever want to be involved in improving the PM code, I'll need a box.

So I've been looking at Ubuntu. My first problem is that it's not very easy to find anywhere a list of hardware that will run Ubuntu. Dell has exactly one laptop and one desktop that are certified, and I've found *no* other laptops from a reasonably extensive Google search.

My second issue is whether I really need to go with Ubuntu, or whether Mac OS X is "close enough". Again, I can't really find any good information on the Web, and the Apple store people are completely useless. So, does anyone know: a) in general, if an app says it runs on "Linux", is it likely to run on the Mac? How about the math-related or LaTeX-related applications that we all use or would like to use? How about PM itself? b) I've heard that the new Mac OS will dual-boot Linux (I know it will dual-boot Windows, so I'll bet there's just a dual-boot mechanism in there). Does anyone know what flavors of Unix are supported? Do they share the filesystem with the Mac? (I know that Windows does not).

Any help, advice, or pointers would be greatly appreciated.


Thanks. Do you know if the various GNU development tools run without change on the Mac? How about other things like Python?

By the way, have you looked any further at the xypic issue we were talking about on Sunday?


Thanks, that was very helpful and exactly the kind of information I was looking for.

I use MikTeX on the PC and love it. Does it run on Linux? The web site seems to imply not, but I find it hard to believe.


I don't think you will need MikTeX if you use Linux. The built in Latex distribution is very well done. It probably has the fastest latex compiler available. All the commands are the same (except for texify which is a miktex only thing). I don't know for sure, but highly suspect that MikTeX and other windows/mac Latex distributions lift code directly from the open source linux versions. It is legal to do so and as MikTeX and others are free I don't see why the work would be duplicated.

What feature(s) of miktex do you love? My guess is that most features exist on linux, maybe under a different name.

The feature that I love that might be nonstandard is the project files for processing large documents. That and the UI, although on Unix, I might go back to Emacs.

Is there a project-style feature in the Linux Latex?

I think Texmaker or Kile will be able to do something like that
You can even try out texmaker on a windows box.

A long time ago (in 2002), I thought getting a Mac would be the "easy
way" to get access to lots of free software.

Looking back over my experiences, I would say (paraphrasing Galileo):

there is no royal road to free software!

The basic problem is: some essential packages come from Apple, some
come from Fink, and some you must download via CVS, etc. You can
certainly set things up "no problem", but if your hardware melts down
(numerous times like mine did) and the software needs to be replaced,
you begin to notice that it is actually *a lot* of downloading and
fiddling around.

By contrast, I'm now running Debian (on the same machine), and I have
no (major) complaints -- everything important is handed through the
package manager.

However, I also have an x86 desktop machine with Debian on it, and it
came (used) with a nice big monitor for less than half the price of
the Mac -- this is a nice way to go if you don't need your computer to
travel with you.

As for linux laptops, if you want to shell out some money, I think you
can get Sony VAIOs with Linux pre-installed (google turned up

For what it's worth, I have been using the Fedora distribution for
some time on Hewlett-Packard machines, both desktop and laptop
models. I haven't encountered any real problems running
GNU/Linux rather than Windows on these machines --- in fact, HP
is quite good about things like making drivers available for their
peripherals so that they can be used with may operating systems.

Since you mentioned running math software, one of the reasons I
like Fedora is that the distribution includes a lot of extra
software in the distribution which can be installed alongside the
operating system. In particular, they have more than 100
applications in their scientific category, which include, for
instance, Maxima, Macaulay, and Octave.

I am not using Mac OS X myself, but I would be surprised if the standard LaTeX packages and related math applications would fail to work on that OS. See

You may have to fiddle with Noosphere to get it running on Mac OS X, but I can't imagine it being too difficult: LaTeX, math and web apps don't tend to be very platform-specific.

// Steve

Debian linux runs nicely on my ancient Dell 250n laptop (though it did take a little while to get everything working properly), and Debian and Ubuntu are intimately linked. One good thing about Linux is that it will run on very out-of-date hardware, so you can try it out on any old machine that you can get your hands on.

You can read and write ntfs filesystems in Linux now, though I'm not sure writing is 100% safe.

As with Ray, I've used Fedora. I has regular updates and actually can run multiprocessor machines unlike the fakes multiprocessor methods of windows. Easy to install also. Latex is already installed as are many other packages and it has built in compilers for C and Java. The generic text editor will syntax highlight HTML, C, Java, Python, Latex, etc. It is a bit like codewarrior if you've ever used that.

As for Mac OS X. I have it on a laptop and mostly find it tedious to use. It is designed to mostly a mac interface with work to be done to get it to behave like linux. It also does not come with most of the useful linux free softwared such as GNU plot, GIMP, Openoffice, etc. because these products compete with big name products for Mac like photoshop, Word, etc. In fact, even to write silly HTML you need special software. I haven't been able to use my Mac as a linux machine for the most part.

Latex on Mac OS is usually done with the teTeX packages -- not exactly the same as MikTex, but probably not too bad. Installing it is a bit ugly. People also use TexShop to edit latex -- it is about a 75 out of a 100 for me. It doesn't handle multiple file projects in a user friendly way is my biggest beef.

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