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In my recent post about note taking, I talked about the issue I was having with an old MacBook Air (mid-2011) becoming obsolete as Apple had decided it should no longer be upgradable to newer operating systems. While this may not seem such a problem on the face of it with me just missing out on new features, the larger issue is installing applications - many will simply refuse to run on older operating systems. As such, unless I stick to applications which are themselves outdated receiving no new updates, a ticking time bomb looms over me, with newer updates to any existing software refusing to install, and if I wipe my devices and need to reinstall, many applications which worked on their older versions will not install anymore.
In this post, I will describe what I initially did to try and address these issues, where I went next with installing Linux Mint, and how the process went in trying to emulate my workflow now on Linux.
Initially, faced with this MacBook Air refusing to update past High Sierra, I forced an upgrade to Catalina via dosdude01’s installer. The process went smoothly, and I was initially impressed with now being able to use more applications.
However, there were issues with the performance of the MacBook Air. It was sluggish and slow, and sometimes hung and lagged. Furthermore, the battery drained quickly with charging being slow. Using it became a frustrating experience, especially since before receiving the MacBook Air, the previous owner had a new battery professionally put in, and I had made sure to not install anything too demanding. Nonetheless, the device struggled, and I became reluctant to use it.
Linux on Macs
The previous owner recently told me about a Reddit thread they came across insinuating the forced obsolescence of Apple products. In the comments, a Redditor spoke about installing Linux Mint on an old Apple laptop, and how it worked great. With the performance of my MacBook Air very poor, I thought it was worth a shot trying.
I had previous experience with Linux desktops, starting with Ubuntu in the mid-late 2000s, and also trying various operating systems on old desktops such as elementary OS, Zorin OS, Pop!_OS, and Solus throughout the years, so I wouldn’t be going into this as a complete novice. Though I saw no need to use these in the long-term, as I had a perfectly fine Mac desktop, installing Linux on a laptop may make the device hopefully usable again, and give me a real chance to experience Linux in a non-server environment and in every day use.
I grabbed an .ISO from the Linux Mint website and ‘burned’ it onto a USB stick via balenaEtcher, before sticking it into the laptop and holding down the ⌥ Option key as the device booted. After selecting the USB stick, and a few minutes of it loading, I was greeted to a live environment of Linux Mint. Although it was currently running off the USB stick, it ran so much faster and smoother with little to no lag. Hardware wise, there was no reason the MacBook Air was struggling as much as it was running macOS, so I was relived to see the device performing better on Linux. Installation was simple, and in under half an hour from starting the .ISO download, I now had a laptop booting into Linux Mint.
The operating system runs fast with minimal issues, and boots quickly too. Drivers were picked up straight away, there are controls for screen and keyboard brightness, and there are plenty of configurations to tweak the operating system to suit personal preferences, including adjusting how the touchpad works. Installing applications has come primarily via the Software Manager, though I’ve also installed via snap and through individual .deb files too. Thankfully, due to my gradual shift towards FOSS applications on my Mac, many applications I use daily can be found on Linux too, including Joplin, Filezilla, and Logseq, as well as those not open-source like Upnote, Typora, and Discord demonstrating a larger number of applications available to install and run than whenever I tried Linux in the past.
Although this selection becomes significantly vaster when you include the ever growing number of games compatible in Linux through the push of Steam, it’s not an area I will be considering as this laptop will be used primarily for writing, web browsing, and reviewing notes. As such, this narrows the scope of the laptop and means I also won’t be contending with ‘missing out’ on software only released on Windows and Macs, such as the Affinity range.
Linux Mint has great integration with Nextcloud, and once logged in, populated the native calendar applications with my entries (saving me from having to install a separate application), and created a ‘mounted’ drive of my files stored inside Nextcloud, enabling easy access from within the file system. Customisation is more advanced in Linux Mint than macsOS too, as I was able to change the theme of the entire operating system rather than be restricted to a mere light or dark option with a handful of accent options. Although I am running Linux Mint in the Cinnamon desktop environment, I was able to find, install, and set my theme to Dracula via the GTK theme here, allowing me to have my favourite colour scheme across the whole operating system rather than only within a few selected programmes.
Although my time with Linux Mint on my MacBook Air has been brief, I have enjoyed it immensely, stating the old and well worn narrative that I would probably make Linux my daily driver, if only it had all the applications I use. Not only are there performance improvements, but the higher level of customisation and better integration of Nextcloud are welcomed too. If you have an old Mac device lying around you wish you could use once again, and do not need access to applications exclusive to Windows/Macs, I highly recommend breathing new life into the device by installing Linux on it. I went with Linux Mint simply as it was the one recommended in that Reddit thread, so I knew it would likely work without much issue, but I am sure there are likely other distros which may be more suitable to whatever your circumstances are. However, if you’re like me and just wanted to give something relatively effortless a go on old hardware, I think Linux Mint has done a great job, and I was able to write this post on my laptop now running Linux Mint without a single problem!