Looking for Linux advice

Today’s the day. After a miserable experience trying to handle an interview last night with an old Mac that is apparently drowning in molasses (huge lag issues, computer fans howling while I was running nothing but Zoom), I decided that today was the day I had to do something about it. My first thought was a clean wipe, erasing the drive and reinstalling the system and restoring from my backup, but that was going to take many hours and wasn’t a guarantee that the problems would be repaired. Then I took a hard look at my laptop: keys falling off, blotchy dead spots on the screen that only display green, dinged-up case, and a power cable that’s a frayed fire hazard. If I have to, I could make do with it for some undeterminable time longer before it died outright, but it’s frustratingly ugly and unreliable.

I could just buy a new Mac laptop, but I browsed the Apple store, and yikes, a Macbook Pro would set me back $2500-$3000. Nope. By the way, it’s the first of the month, so on top of paying my mortgage I have to send a good chunk of money to pay off lawyer fees. It’s good to have won that case, but the money I’ve sent off to our lawyer in the last 4 months could have bought me a new computer with all the bells and whistles I could dream of.*

So…making do. My wife has an old Asus laptop we got several years ago for cheap, when her old Mac was fritzing out on her. Again, we tried to save money to get functional. It was a bad idea, because it was a Windows machine, she hated Windows (as should we all), and was so repulsed by the OS that she decided she could make do by using her phone for all of her online interactions. She’s like a teenager that way. The Asus was left to gather dust.

A short while back, as I saw the handwriting on the screen of my Mac, I dusted it off, puked on Windows, and then erased it and installed Linux. I’ve been puttering around with it since, installing software, taking it for a test drive, and have been impressed. It’s an older Windows machine, but it outperforms my antique Mac with a clean install of Pop_OS. I could get used to it. While the hardware is nothing special, I could upgrade it to something shiny and chrome for half the price of a Mac, if ever I manage to crawl out of my financial hole.

But now I’m ready to commit. Farewell, Mac, you’ve served me well for 36 years, but the time has come to jump ship. Now I just need to find replacements for a few tools. Tell me, O Linux Experts, what you recommend as replacements.

Keynote. This is the one that hurts the most. Keynote is kind of the pinnacle of Apple software design philosophy — clean, elegant, powerful. Comparing it to the Windows alternative, Power Point, is one of the key factors that quickly steered me away from considering anything Windows. The Windows design philosophy is to tack a hideous, giant toolbar on everything and fill it with little cryptic icons — see also Microsoft Word. I’m still trying to find Linux presentation software comparable to Keynote. This is important to me, since one of the things I often do is put together presentations.

iMovie. iMovie has limitations, but it is also clean and elegant — I don’t need super-powered video editing software. I might be willing to work with something high-powered, aware that there’d be a bit of a learning curve. I’ve been looking at…KDENlive, I think? But I haven’t buckled down to figure it out.

I gave up on Photoshop long ago when it went to a subscription model, so I’m used to klunky old GIMP. Linux has no shortage of good text editors. I’ve been using Pages, but I guess any cleaner alternative to Word would be good. I may just switch to Google docs — ditto for a spreadsheet, which I don’t use for anything fancier than a gradebook. There is an office suite that comes with Pop_OS, which I might just settle for, since there’s nothing exciting about any of those applications.

I’m guessing now that all the nerds on the internet are going to flood me with suggestions.

*Richard Carrier is such an asshole.


  1. daved says

    LibreOffice, which comes with many Linuxes, can handle most of the Word stuff. I don’t have any recommendations for the rest of it.

  2. remyporter says

    Your best bet for Linux-specific slide software is LibreOffice, (which covers Word and Excel as well) which is not comparable to Keynote but is comparable to PowerPoint. It’s either that or a cloud based tool like Google Slides (or one of the presentation-focused alternatives).

    There really aren’t any great options. Keynote is a really good piece of software.

  3. John Small Berries says

    Another recommendation for LibreOffice here, for word processing/spreadsheet/presentation/etc.(LibreOffice Impress is probably the closest equivalent to Keynote, though since they try pretty hard to work like PowerPoint, you’ll probably hate it too).

    I use kdenlive fairly extensively, though I’ve given a look at the free version of DaVinci Resolve 16 and was fairly impressed, though a bit disappointed that it doesn’t handle MP4 files. It does handle QuickTime, though.

    Krita is another good Photoshop equivalent, which I like a lot even though I generally just open GIMP out of habit; for an Adobe Illustrator analogue there’s Inkscape (though I find the interface clunky) or LibreOffice Draw (which to be honest I haven’t used enough to have an opinion on).

  4. mikeschmitz says

    Keynote: Ipe or scribus. Either one produces PS or PDF.
    Imovie: I’ve heard good things about kdenlive, but as I have no use for KDE, I recomment openshot
    Pages: I’m a vim guy and use html or markdwn if I need light formatting. I don’t recommend that path for most people, though. Word processing and spreadsheets LibreOffice is adequate.

  5. jessem says

    I often make presentations from RStudio (I use revealjs when I’m feeling fancy https://bookdown.org/yihui/rmarkdown/revealjs.html). It’s cross platform. It helps if you’re a bit knowledgable about html. Nice if you’re already using R. Sometimes use latex as well.

    Been reading you’re blog for a long time, thanks for writing it. First time I’ve felt I have anything to add so that probably makes me a Linux nerd then.

  6. bmatchick says

    If you can stand a 13″ Mac, best buy has a pretty good deal on a Mac Pro: “Apple MacBook Pro 13″ 2020 w/ freebies (i5/8GB/256GB): for $1,099.” They probably have some kind of free financing, too. 8GB of RAM is the bare minimum these days, but I didn’t see prices for 16GB.

    I know you’re looking to spend zero, but just thought I’d share. I’d hate using a Linux laptop- and I was a Un*x/Linux systems engineer for 20 years. :)

  7. jdmuys says

    I’m a Mac user too, and I feel for you.

    The only alternative to Keynote that I would really consider is Prezi (https://prezi.com/). Very interesting concept.

    Google Office is also okay-ish. One thing it does right that Apple still doesn’t is scatter plots (labeling the points)

    But now Keynote/Pages/Numbers have web app versions. You can access them through iCloud. Wouldn’t that work?

    For example here is a very small spreadsheet that computes the gravity effect of the moon:


  8. says

    I’m a windows guy myself, but if you got GIMP down, you can handle anything Linux.
    (Says a guy with about 8 hard drives installed in his junky daily driver)

  9. Michael says

    Admittedly my only experience with lawyers has been with my divorce. The question I have is, did you think the money spent on lawyers was worth it, in terms of did you get value for your money? The answer I’ve received, again mostly from other divorcees, is “No”. So why is it that lawyers are able to command such large fees? Why don’t economic rules seem to apply? ie. not happy with the value, so seek a cheaper alternative, and through competition push the rates down.

  10. nathanieltagg says

    Yeah, I think the only good options are cloud services: google docs, prezi, etc. I had a look at Ipe suggested by @mikesmitz and.. yeah, that’s early 1990s bad linux UI design there.

    I’m amazed more companies haven’t adopted the Keynote interface system, which is by far the easiest to learn: You want a text box? Click the ‘text box’. A text box appears. Edit it. There, now you’ve got something to start with, and can start learning how to do dropshadow or whatever. Windows is in the middle, but the poorest UI, like Ipe, requires you to first tell it what you want to say, then how it should look, and THEN might begrudgingly show you something…

  11. blf says

    Long-time *ix user and kernel engineer here. If one conflates “text editor” with “word processor”, then LibreOffice is an understandable choice. I personally think it, and every other “word processor”, sucks rocks bigtime. I myself use an actual editor (depending on the situation, ed, vim, or a teco port (not a fan of emacs!)), with luaLateX and GIT  — but that’s a very steep learning curve. (My normal X11/GUI interface is Kubuntu, but Lubuntu is a very reasonable alternative (all of my rescue / backup systems are Lubuntu). If one insists on a GUI interface (to LaTeX), I suggest Kile (part of the KDE suite), or, at a pinch, LyX (an earlier attempt by the same people).

    No suggestions at all on video or audio editing, nor on presentations per se (albeit there is LaTeX support for such, with which I am not familar). No real suggestions for a Gimp replacement, which I agree is clunky and basically shite.

    Whilst I’m currently using a fairly high-end system (running Linux) to type this, I have a collection of older / lower-spec machines, all but one normally running Linux, which (modulo failing hardware), continue to perform their assigned tasks. The exception is a Sun machine which runs Solaris (albeit there is an ancient Linux port for it), which, sadly, is the least-performance machine, probably due to its age & uncertain history.

  12. says

    One way to make an old machine perform like new is to replace its existing HDD with a SSD. I have some 12-year-old Dell laptops (current Ebay value: $25) that are running 1Tb SSDs and OpenBSD and they kick some ass. Well, they don’t suck, anyway.

    Google docs is not too horrible though I hate relying on anything from them. Libreoffice is pretty good, and works better if you disconnect from the cloud periodically.

  13. says

    So why is it that lawyers are able to command such large fees? Why don’t economic rules seem to apply?

    They unofficially colluded to set their service rates.

  14. JoeBuddha says

    Apple lost me in the ’80’s when I was trying to develop an app for the company I was working for to interface the original Mac with a digitizer. It was an interesting idea, but they wanted $2500 for just the dev system. In the ’80’s. That was back when they were touting their computer as an appliance. Not to mention the proprietary hardware. I’ve been on Windows ever since, and never regretted it (well, DOS back in the day, but still). Now that’s where I do all of my dev work.

  15. d3zd3z says

    I’ve had good results for video editing with Davinci Resolve. They have a free version that likely does everything you want. The only difficulty is that installation can be challenging if you’re not using the Corporatey RedHat Linux Distribution they are expecting.

  16. Kevin Karplus says

    I use Macs at home and Linux at work. My newest computer is an early 2014 11″ MacBook Air (the last one with an adequate number of USB-A ports). The desktop machine at home is 2011 27″ iMac (used price is now about $500). The big screen is nice for recording videos, as I can have many windows open and switch between them. It is also good for watching YouTube.

    There are no good equivalents on Linux of much of the commercial software: the biggest one I notice is that GIMP is not as easy to use as Photoshop Elements, as I don’t use Word, Keynote, or PowerPoint, and haven’t used Pages much in years.

    I’ve always hated presentation software. Back when I still talked at conferences, I used the “beamer” package in LaTeX to create PDF slides. These were almost always easier to work with than PowerPoint or Keynote, and I didn’t run into trouble if the conference insisted on using their computer. (PowerPoint slides work on Windows or Mac, but not on both, unless you are very very careful—the presentations don’t include the fonts, and the default fonts are different on Windows and Mac, so you get nasty font substitutions.) You can’t do some of the fancier presentation stuff with LaTeX (like embedding videos), but that stuff always breaks at conferences anyway, resulting in huge wastes of time.

    I’ve also used LaTeX for creating posters, writing letters on department letterhead, and pretty much anything else that needed professional formatting.

    For class presentations, I use the whiteboard (for remote presentations, an IPEVO document camera and calligraphy markers), with computer projection just for live demos of software (gnuplot, Waves, PteroDAQ…), which runs on Mac, Linux, or Windows. For the videos I’m pre-recording, I’m using OBS on a Mac, but it is available for Linux and Windows also.

    LibreOffice does a poor job of opening other people’s docx files (that is, it can read most of them, but has to do font substitutions for all the Windows fonts, resulting in everything getting a little messed up). Microsoft deliberately defaults to Windows-only fonts like Calibri, to try to lock in customers.

    Our campus provides Google tools for everyone (students and faculty). Google Docs is terrible (maybe even worse than Word—I’m not up on Word’s latest horrors), but may be a better Word replacement than Libre Office—at least you can be sure that you can share your files with others, and they can check whether their stuff is readable before they share it with you.

  17. says

    With regards to OS I can recommend Linux Mint, which finally got me into the wonderful world of Linux.

    Not sure about video editors. On Windows I use Camtasia which is pretty decent, not too expensive and the best part: NOT subscription based. It doesn’t look like there’s gonna be a Linux version anytime soon.

    I tried KDENLive which was horrible to me, but I guess it takes getting used to.

  18. says

    The problem with your laptop (apart from age and wear & tear on the keyboard) is probably blocked fan ducts. Unfortunately, cleaning them out will probably take more than a can of air, especially as you want to blow the dust/fluff out, not in. Apple laptops are not generally the easiest gadgets to open up and service.

  19. says

    For general “office-type” needs — light-to-medium spreadsheet, document processing without rigid layout rules, slide software†, light database work — LibreOffice is probably your best bet (not OpenOffice, which was the “original” and ended up with evangelists “in charge” who are even more arrogant and narcissistic than any faction of the 1990s page-layout-software wars). For still images, GIMP remains probably the best choice of a poor lot. For video editing… it’s really hardware-dependent. Without knowing more about the specifics of the “old ASUS,” one can’t match the available software to the available driver set for the hardware, and that’s where most differences in video software usability actually show up (even more than in the dumb icon-bar interfaces).

    † Lord Acton’s aphorism was technologically unaware; he should have said “Power tends to corrupt; PowerPoint tends to corrupt absolutely.” I say this as a severely scarred and shell-shocked veteran of multislide military briefings (and as the briefing officer!) from the days when Sharpies were cutting-edge tech because they wouldn’t smear but were robust enough to use in the field with our acetate sheets. And only Cthulhu will have mercy on the supply clerk who runs out of acetate sheets and spare lightbulbs for the projector, because the flag officer and/or senior civil servant for whose “benefit” the briefing is being given won’t.

  20. blf says

    Paul Durrant@22, Whilst I cannot speak for apple’s products, I broadly concur that is a plausible diagnosis — I’ve been amazed at the amount of dust which accumulates. (This is one reason I keep a close eye on the operating temperature as reported by the various sensors, supplemented by the occasional finger-touch.) In the past I have literally blown up systems due to temperature problems (and also electrical problems (several times!)), fortunately only prototype systems of my employer’s…

    As you say, cleaning can be tricky, especially if disassembly isn’t an option. Sorry, no advice here, other than regular cleaning well before there is any problem (and a bit of hoping the sucking & blowing doesn’t cause any dust to become lodged in a “bad” location).

  21. chrislawson says

    Before I regale you with my preferences, you might want to give ITS FOSS a visit. It lists several FOSS options for most common app needs. Its reviews are very basic (and sometimes well out of date even on newly updated lists), but it’s excellent for digging up free apps…

    Office suite: LibreOffice.
    Caveat: Got tired of LibreOffice Writer for its clumsy interface, so now I write text and code in Atom (there are plenty of other good text editors) and then paste it into Writer for formatting once I’m done. Or you can write directly in LaTeX for scientific journals (LyX is also good for LaTeX).

    Video editing: Openshot.
    This is the one app where Linux really doesn’t have a good iMovie or FCPX equivalent. For basic functionality I use Flowblade but I think most users would prefer to learn OpenShot. OpenShot crashes a lot with complex editing, but it’s excellent for videos with only a few source files, so a good tool for vlogging or putting together spider vids, and its interface is reasonably intuitive. For more complex work, Da Vinci Resolve or Lightworks have free versions — be warned though that they require heavy processing power to really shine, and you might want to check that the knobbled free versions are acceptable to you (e.g. Lightworks Free will only export up to 720p resolution, which is why I never bothered to even try it out).

    Video playback: VLC

    Bitmap/raster image editing: GIMP

    Vector editing: Inkscape

    Audio editing: Audacity.
    Once you’ve got the hang of it, it’s better than most commercial options. It has the best noise reduction filter by far.

    Thunderbird for email. (Although there are many good alternatives.)

  22. Forrest Phelps says

    I switch between a Mac, a Windows laptop, and a Linux laptop, and I’ve been a software tester (unofficial/unpaid) for decades; I just love trying out free trials and different programs of all kinds. Anyhow, here are two sources I haven’t seen mentioned yet and I like, fwiw.

    I had a friend in Europe who worked for Serif, which became Affinity after he left. They have Affinity Photo, Affinity Designer, and Affinity Publisher for MacOS and Windows, and are currently offering a free 90-day trial of all three, plus a 50% off deal, meaning $25 for each. All 3 are designed to work with each other.

    Same friend now works for Softmaker and they offer a nice Office Suite has a free version and a paid version that can either be a subscription or a one-time purchase. It’s UI is Microsoft Office-y, but you can switch out of the ribbon and customize just about everything. The nice thing is it works on all three systems (mac/win/linux) and you can buy license that allows you to use all three. I haven’t played with the Presentation app, but I do like the Word Processor and Spreadsheet.

    Also, Softmaker website says the software is free for schools and teachers.

  23. blf says

    @25, “Audio editing: Audacity.” Good point! I’d forgotten about it, as I don’t (normally) do any such things, but on the (admittedly rare) handful of occasions I’ve had to sort out an audio problem, that has fairly consistently done the trick.

    Also, second VLC (both Linux and as an Android app), excepting, perhaps, the record functionality, which seems to be rather goofy (possibly an unfriendly intersection of my hardware and the VLC version?).

  24. Just an Organic Regular Expression says

    Hate to be obvious, but have you tried duck-duck-going the phrases “best linux whatever software”? Because I get current top-10 lists with details and links for whatevers of “photo editor”, “video editor” and “presentation”. Maybe you’ve done that and want commenters to help narrow them down.

  25. petesh says

    Tangential, but maybe I too can get some advice. I am buried in Apple, have been since the old Mac Plus, but I have finally reached my limit … with Music. The latest upgrade eliminated the old, clunky iTunes (which served my needs fine) and replaced it with a program that is clearly and specifically designed to sell streaming, which I Do. Not. Want. I have a huge music library on an external disk (>3TB) which iTunes played, a little sluggishly on the search function but otherwise fine. I lost it in the transfer — not the files, I still have them, but the library, which I am gradually rebuilding and (to be honest) purging, I had a lot of crap in there. But the new software is buggy as hell when it comes to shifting tunes onto my iPhone, which I used to do very frequently. However, I’m not going to replace either the iMac or the iPhone in the foreseeable future.

    So … is there a better app for Mac, for playing music & coordinating with phone?

  26. acroyear says

    VLC is the most reliable video and audio player, in terms of format support. It is, however, somewhat ugly…but once you full-screen a movie, who cares?

  27. nomaduk says

    This probably won’t be appreciated by PZ, but I’ll just also mention that it’s still pretty easy and relatively inexpensive to get a refurbished or used 13″ early 2015 MacBook Pro with an i7 processor and plenty of (upgradeable) RAM. Slap an SSD into that thing and it screams. All the ports you could want are there (though you need adapters for Ethernet and FireWire). It’s straightforward to get Mojave installed on it — and it runs Catalina if you must (and can deal with the abomination that iTunes transformed into).

    That’s what I have, and it’ll last me for a few years yet. And maybe by then the horse will learn to sing.

  28. wzrd1 says

    @blf and Paul Durrant, I concur with dust. I’ve also had loud fans due to bearing failures, which could generate all manner of entertaining noises, from rumbling like something ten times their size to something that sounded much like the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park (I’m not kidding, intermittant as hell, but it’d suddenly come to life with that noise and stop, took me three months to localize it!).
    As for the amount of dust removed from computers, where others reported dust bunnies, I found dust blue whales. I’ve pulled heat pipes loose and blew out the radiator fins, blew out fans and if they were noisy when blowing them out, they got replaced (don’t get me started on the difficulties in finding a specific size and type of fan, these days I just order the OEM and save ulcer time for better pursuits).

    For video editing, I’m useless, never had need to do more than any command line butchery. LibreOffice is good for general office documents, Thunderbird for e-mail, GIMP for graphics (not a master of GIMP, despite being adept at analog darkroom techniques). For DICOM images, Aeskulap. Xsane for driving my MFD printer/scanner/fax, plus the vendor’s shitty proprietary drivers that are never updated. Handbrake if I need to rip and be lazy or convert to a different format.
    If one goes for home theater, I prefer MythTV, which is a bit daunting to set up initially, but excellent for playing captured television and movies (I have a network tuner (HD Homerun Pro) for live TV and capturing TV programs and movies).
    If you’re really masochistic, there are also distributed computing compilers that one can use, but I’m not limited on computing power since three mile island shut down. ;)

  29. Lyn M: Totally Knows What This Nym Means says

    I have been on on some version of Linux since 2005 and have settled on Mint. One thing I find great about Linux is availability of forums. Search as usual, but go to a result that is based in a Linux forum. There are always several answers, from a page of code you can copy/paste, to recommendations for various apps that would fill a given hole. I have never been steered wrong either, which is something you don’t meet with a whole lot in the general world. If code is recommended, it does what they said, from tweaking the size of your paint brush to adding a feature to your system. Friendly and patient help. In return, I beta test software and provide extensive error reports back to the community, when the opportunity arises.
    All my machines are Linux, although some are dual boot because gaming. Hope your experience is at least as good!

  30. mrshinyandnew says

    I concur with what most people are saying:
    1. LibreOffice and Google Docs/Sheets/Slides are good enough for most tasks
    2. Kdenlive is powerful but annoying… somehow I managed to edit together a decent video on my first try with it, but the UI needs getting used to.
    3. Try replacing an HDD with an SSD. That breathed tons of new life into my $400 refurbished AMD Acer notebook I bought when I needed something portable that could run node.js and talk to bluetooth. It’s now fast enough for regular use and can even play some light games (I managed to get Steam and Half-life 2 working on it… not exactly cutting edge, but still fun).

  31. says

    Re: Linux: Unless you’re willing to learn it properly (command line) or have a support animal :Run, don’t walk away.
    I have tried it numerous times over the years, usually when some asshat claims that it can finally replace Windows (or MacOS). It can’t, and never will.
    Sure, even your grandma can install it nowadays, and if all you do is write mail and surf the web it’s going to work just fine. But sooner or later something goes wrong or you’ll need to install some odd hardware or software (odd as in supported by windows for decades). And that usually end up with someone saying “That’s easy. You just have to [Insert half a page of commands that make no sense]” that never work because you don’t have the right distro, kernel or underwear. And every fix will require another page full of command line.

  32. Hj Hornbeck says

    Nice to have you on this side of the OS tracks!

    Alas, I haven’t had to do much video editing, so I can’t give you much help here. The programs I’ve used have ranged from “I can concatenate two videos together” to “let’s make a series of fancy TV shows”, with little middle-ground inbetween.

    As for presentations, I’ve been really digging Reveal.js-based ones. I can fire up a Jupyter notebook, start typing some Markdown, and out pops an elegant presentation. Think of a virtual 2D canvas that you navigate around via the arrow keys; major topics can be grouped into columns, and slides extend vertically down from them. It makes jumping to specific slides very easy and really helps organize the presentation. The output is plain and requires an internet connection, but that’s due more to the slide editor than the underlying framework; apparently Slides.com offers PDF conversion and much more customization options.

  33. Elladan says

    When I went looking for a video editor, kdenlive seemed like the best bet. There were several other options, but many were abandoned.

    However, the packaged version with Linux Mint / Ubuntu was broken and out of date. I had vastly better luck with the AppImage version from the tool’s web site. This goes somewhat for many tools: you’ll be better off with a Gimp PPA or AppImage of some sort, since the latest version is much improved.

    I just use Google Docs for most office stuff, but I probably wouldn’t trust the presentation software to be reliable if I was at a conference and might have dodgy wifi.

    I never have a good time with Libre Office, but it does work. Microsoft also has a web version of Powerpoint (and the other office tools) as well, which is a good option if you need to open someone’s windows presentation accurately.

    Some windows office software may run reliably under wine if you need it, though it will always run more reliably in a VM. Wine is mostly for video games.

  34. laugengebaeck says

    Also longtime Linux user here, both private and at work (since 2000). Some years ago I’ve settled on Ubuntu (usually the current long-time support version) at home and CentOS at work. No complaints about either ;-)

    For any “more complicated” (i.e. anything beyond a shopping list) text processing I usually go for LaTeX. I like the fact that with LaTeX on the one hand you don’t have to worry too much about formatting (starting with chapter/section headings, formula numbering, table of contents, bibliographies, the works) while also still having the ultimate freedom to change the layout if I desire to do so. Back when I still gave scientific talks, I even used the LaTeX (more precisely, its “beamer” class) for slides, as it was much less painful than having to cope with Powerpoint’s formula editor. And for any kind of vector graphics there is tikz. So much for LaTeX.

    As other people have already pointed out: GIMP for bitmap images and photo editing, inkscape for vector graphics, VLC for movie playback. Add to that shotwell as photo manager, keepassXC as password store, rhythmbox as music player, thunderbird for mail, python for any kind of programming….

  35. charlesanthony says

    Find the IT people at your school; they are constantly upgrading people’s Windows machine and tossing H/W that won’t hack whatever new release of Windows. Those machines that they are tossing will handle UNIX OSes just fine; you may well be able to snag a great machine for free or terribly cheap.

  36. whheydt says

    Also keep in mind that laptops almost invariably have a video output port. You can connect an external monitor and have a much better display than any laptop has. Likewise you can use external keyboard and pointing device of your choice. Do those things and the only time you have to use the crappy built in display, keyboard and trackpad (or other device) is when you’re away from home. The fancy way to do all that is with a port replicator or docking station. Do that and you can leave the good peripherals permanently in place and just move the laptop at need.

    As for the comment about fleeing Linux if you can’t/won’t use a CLI…on modern Linux distros it is almost never required to use a CLI. It’s just that there are things that are easier to do with a CLI than with a GUI.

  37. wzrd1 says

    @Erlend Meyer, after due consideration of the issues that you’ve related, I’ve arrived at only one conclusion.
    You do indeed have the wrong underwear.
    Going through a bit of that myself trying to get my laptop fingerprint readers to work, but that’s a very low priority thing anyway.
    You omitted one confounder for all *nix users – that damned library. We all know the one, that one weird one that takes a power Google search to find the name of, compile it using arcane incantations in mirror Yelpeptian, while playing a brisk tune on an instrument constructed from the horn of a long, long extinct animal, all while hopping on one foot on a pyre of fossilized velocitraptor dung (and it has to be a very specific species, of which only two fossilized bones exist).
    Which is annoying, as I really hate reading shit music.

    I’ll just get my hat…

  38. nomadiq says

    I’ve seen others suggest it so I will too. If you have and HDD in your laptop now, then the current crop of Mac OSX versions will run awfully. You need an SSD. I ‘fixed’ an 8 year old MacBook Pro by putting a $300 SSD in it. It runs great. And installation (for my model) was very easy. Bought drive off amazon and followed detailed instructions on YouTube.

    I’m a bit of an electronics nerd so this is not scary for me at all, but hey, you’ve played with raspberry pis now, you can handle a little screw turning. Do some research, this is a relatively cheap and easy fix.

  39. cheerfulcharlie says

    Another possibility. I am not an Apple user, but there is Hackentosh. A fairly decent PC can be loaded with Mac OS software. Any such PC would have to be a pretty decent system to do this. It has been some years since I looked into the possibility of doing this myself, but I never did so. There are lots of tutorials on doing this on the net. and a number of youtube tutorials if you want to take a peek at that project. But this might be more than you want to deal with now. Unfortunately, there is no Linux equivalent to Wine that allows Mac SW to run under Linux. Apparently one can also run Mac OS as a VM under Linux, though I have not really paid much attention to this. But that seems to be illegal so you probably want to pass that by.

    Or, just break down and run a go fund me campaign.

  40. ffakr says

    I understand that Higher-Ed IT Support varies greatly in each org’s ability to provide support for any given platform. If you’ve already exhausted your local support options, I’d be willing to help through email.
    As a rule, we avoid the temptation of advocating for platform change because there’s a productivity hit incurred when you do that. If you want help with you Mac.. or with replacement options, shoot me an email at sbandyk@uchicago.edu. I’ve been supporting Macs in higher-Ed for 20 years.

  41. Hatchetfish says

    Keynote: you’re SOL and likely to remain so. There is nothing remotely like it in the ways that it is good, for any platform.

    That said, Keynote is my second favorite presentation software, after static PDF slides from whatever PDF creation mechanism is handy, displayed with whatever PDF viewer works, on whatever system I’m presenting on. I don’t ask for much in slides though, just clear text and figures, so ymmv if you think you need more than that.

  42. says

    You can do presentations in WordPress or any semi-wysiwyg editor if you understand it well enough and don’t need fancy wipes or animations. I used to work with a graphic artist who did his presentations in Illustrator (free replacement Inkscape is pretty good!) they looked amazing.

  43. Timothy Hamilton says

    After using a couple of different varieties of Linux (Mandrake, Kubuntu, a couple of now defunct varieties of Arch Linux) but I am using Manjaro Linux with the KDE desktop environment. I have found Linuxes based on Arch Linux to be easier to maintain than Debian-based distributions l(ike Ubuntu and its derivatives) and RPM-based distributions like RedHat or SUSE.

    I haven’t seen anyone mention DigiKam for photo and video management & editing. If you only need to touch up RAW and JPG files, you’ll be more than happy with it. I’m just starting to get into editing RAW files, but there are plenty of options and features with which I am not completely familiar.

    FWIW, default installations of Manjaro Linux include MS Office 365, but like other posters, I strongly prefer to use LibreOffice for word processing and for the occasional spreadsheet or PowerPoint presentation that comes my way.

  44. John Morales says

    Wish I could help, but everything I need to do, I can do in Windows, so I never bothered to install linux.

    (Also, I can play games on it without running an emulator)

  45. hemidactylus says

    Sad to say “It’s dead Jim!”:


    Though I wasn’t into video editing so not sure how good it was.

    People have mentioned Impress in Open(Libre)Office suite as ersatz Powerpoint (vomit). Can’t recall anything similar to MS Publisher which I really like.

    I got into Linux around 11 years ago and it worked mostly for my basic home needs. I tried a shitload of distros including Subgenius Slackware for the hell of it. The Puppy RAMdisk and USB booted Knoppix were nifty. Crunchbang (#!) was really neat while it lasted. I messed with RedHat bleedingedge Fedora, but wound up gravitating toward Ubuntu. LXDE and Lubuntu were pretty minimal on RAM for netbooks. What was the four faced rotating cube desktop thingie called? Oh and who could forget Bodhi and Enlightenment environment. That rocked!!!! Might have been the ultimate Linux based concept.

    Messed with PC-BSD for a while. Not sure where user friendly BSD is at now outside MacOS and iOS (Darwin spins).

    I wound up sticking with Mint before being corrupted by the ease of my iPhone. Have usenet newsreader NewsTap, various browsers, an office suite, bookreading apps, weather and news apps. I’m set.

    When I read an ebook looking up an unfamiliar word is easier than flipping through a paper bound dictionary. MW app sounds pronunciation. I can quickly flit between Youtube, text, email, and multiple books…desktops in 2020?

    Shuttleworth (that other South African entrepreneur) was exploring Ubuntu mobile (tablets/smartphones) but not sure where that went. Yellow Dog Linux used to be a PowerPC option. Wish old iOS devices had something similar.

  46. Sean Boyd says

    @55 hemidactylus,

    Ubuntu dropped support about 3 years ago, due to lack of interest. I thought their idea was interesting…they wanted to build the phone OS in such a fashion that one could (in principle) dock it and use it like a desktop.

  47. waydude says

    Hey, I can help with the new computer situation. I was thinking about getting a new Macbook pro but mine still works fine so I don’t know why I was thinking that, but I see this and I have been too lazy to donate and yet have enjoyed your blogposts forever so if someone can get me his email address if he doesn’t see this I can help out with the computer situation. Maybe I’m stupid but I don’t see it here on the site, and yet there’s always those ‘I get email’ posts

  48. wzrd1 says

    @56 Sean Boyd, laughably, while Ubuntu dropped phone support, tablet support continues to this day. It is a pity that they abandoned phone OS support so early, as that essentially leaves us with Apple or Google, with incremental intentional sabotage slow downs automagically installed to ensure people buy a functional hell phone earlier than they’d like to.

    I noticed a few mentions of Powerpoint, being retired military, I have an extreme aversion to anything resembling death by powerpoint (think Command and Staff meetings and planning meetings).
    Self-immolation is preferred to experiencing those torture sessions!
    Although, I was known to introduce my slide reversed and pretend it was facing correctly, which awakened the Command Sergeant Major briefly… Better a reversed “slide” than when I embedded The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy!

  49. chrislawson says


    I always suspected Powerpoint was developed as a military-grade weapon.

  50. Steve Caldwell says

    Kevin Karplus wrote:

    LibreOffice does a poor job of opening other people’s docx files (that is, it can read most of them, but has to do font substitutions for all the Windows fonts, resulting in everything getting a little messed up). Microsoft deliberately defaults to Windows-only fonts like Calibri, to try to lock in customers.

    There are ways to get the Windows fonts like Calibri on your non-Windows computer:


    I did this the easy way by getting the fonts on an older Windows XP machine many years ago by installing the PowerPoint viewer software described in the above link. From that machine, I was able to install them on the various Linux machines I used or set up for others over the years since 2007.

    There are also Linux tools for extracting files from Microsoft .cab archives like the fonts you’re looking for.

  51. Dean Pentcheff says

    For Photoshop type work I strongly recommend Affinity Photo. They also have a parallel for Illustrator (Affinity Designer) and for inDesign (Affinity Publisher). As Forrest Phelps mentioned above, they’re selling for US$25 each. These are real licenses, not subscriptions. They have MacOS, Windows, and iPad versions. These aren’t direct clones of the Adobe packages, but they have much the same scope and much of the functionality (given that you’re not embedded in a creative services production workflow). I’ve found the software to be high quality and featureful. They also offer companion books for the software.

    That implies trying to rescue the Mac laptop (or get an equivalent). I second the suggestion of several people: if you rescue the Mac laptop, install an SSD hard drive. Starting at iFixit.com, you can get a model-specific tutorial on how to open up the laptop. That will get you into it to blow away the dust. Look for appropriate SSD drives/kits from OWC at: https://eshop.macsales.com — they sell almost exclusively for Macs, and have excellent compatibility information and installation tutorials.

    Yeah, replacing Keynote is hard. Google Slides isn’t horrible. The key thing is to be very picky about what fonts you use. You may want to just mimic what you like about your Keynote presentations. Be aware that there are lots of fonts available in Google Slides. Click “More Fonts” in the font selection box and you have access to Google Fonts. Hunt the web first, and find the closest Google Fonts equivalent to whatever font you’re trying to mimic (one place to do that is on WhatFontIs: https://www.whatfontis.com/similar-alternative-fonts.html ). There are some fine fonts on Google Fonts, but they’re buried in a lot of crap.

    If you do bail from Mac, OpenOffice can work OK. I find it annoying for a host of hard-to-define subtle interface reasons. I also find that I have to do a lot of configuration-setting. But it does more or less get the job done. Writing and documents, that is, not presentations. I’ve given up on their Powerpoint equivalent.

    Best of luck — keep us posted. But of course you will…

  52. says

    @wzrd1 #47:
    What really ticks me off isn’t the fact that I have the wrong underwear, it’s the fact that nobody can tell me how to choose the correct ones.

    I can get most things done under Windows, I’ll even do some light pruning in the registry if I have to. Under *nix I am just lost. So I have come to the conclusion that *nix isn’t an OS, it’s a life choice.

  53. Dean Pentcheff says

    Followup to my own comment — prefer LibreOffice, not OpenOffice (I just dated myself there). See prior posts about the religious schism between the two.

  54. Kagehi says

    Only comment I can make on the subject, since I still do use Windows (I am a gamer, and, sorry, but Linux still just can’t support all of them I play), but I ended up installing LibreOffice on my system, then had a need to be able to upload something for someone to a cloud based file server and discovered that.. whoops, the “inbuilt” option I think it had it in just flat out doesn’t f-ing work, no matter how many times I tried, and it flat out will not install (due to incompatibilities between the programs), the OpenOffice cloud addon.

    I don’t need it badly enough to have uninstalled Libre yet, since it was a one off thing, but.. I got tired of that BS when trying to use the “mostly” compatible PaintShop Pro, and finding that some plugins won’t work with it, due to quirks in some missing features, or differences, from Photoshop, which they where originally designed for. This sort of plugin incompatibility drives me nuts, especially when either their is no alternative, or the alternative suggested/provided doesn’t work right. I have no idea what schism exists between them, but.. I don’t like wasting my time trying to “fix” shit that gets broken because someone has a philosophical difference in how software should work. And, by comparison to most people, I actually “have” the time to deal with these things. I just can’t stand wasting the time to do so.

  55. Jakob Steixner says

    If you’re familiar with LaTeX, the beamer class can produce decent presentations (there are other tools but this is the one I’m most familiar with). It’s cross-platform so no re- learning if you ever switch again. Without any LaTeX background or independent need for it it’s probably not worth it, it does have a somewhat steeper learning curve than pure gui applications.

  56. wzrd1 says

    @chrislawson #59, the laugh is, military grade simply means that the crap works under really shitty conditions and puts up with soldiers abusing it.
    Powerpoint most certainly fails to qualify under any of those points!

    @Erlend Meyer #62, well underwear selection, as near as I can tell depends upon wind direction, barometric pressure and which type of swallow is lugging around a coconut, as well as the Julian date.
    Of course, I could regale you on the joys with older Windows versions in getting a SCSI card to talk to a scanner, while keeping the modem and serial port working – whoops, the DMA channel for the IDE drive is glitching… ;)
    I’m well known to get into serious general surgery on the Windows registry. I’ve also manually exterminated some rather clever malware in my day, just for fun. Still wiped the HD, of course these days, malware can even hide in the UEFI firmware…

    @Dean Pentcheff #63, well, it all did start with Star Office. Boy, did I just date myself! ;)

  57. blf says

    it all did start with Star Office. Boy, did I just date myself! ;)

    Good grief, I not only recall Star Office, I (briefly) “used” it in some context which now slips the mind. From (now swapped-in memory, quickly checked against Ye Pffft! of All Knowledge), Star Office originated with Starwriter.

  58. wzrd1 says

    Heh, Star Office, Microsoft Office 97, around the same time as I recall. Right around when Sun bought it from that school kid and paid for his college tuition.
    Bright kid! Making me feel really old… Used several of his products since, including PaaS.

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