Switching from Linux for main OS on Drupal development laptop

I have used Linux as my main OS on my laptop for the last ~5 years. At the time I got the laptop, using VMs didn't seem like a viable option (though maybe it really was). I used Windows XP + Cygwin prior to that and that was okay. I have never had a Mac and don't own any Apple products (shocking, I know).

I got a Toshiba laptop about a month ago (and a Dell prior to that that was returned). The current issue right now with running Linux as the main OS for the new laptops is that the touchpad drivers are HORRIBLE... really, really horrible...

I returned the Dell because I kept accidentally touching the asymmetrically placed touchpad since it was so big and so wide and so sensitive. I tried adjusting the sensitivity and tried bleeding edge drivers, etc. to no avail. The only option would have been to turn off the touchpad and use an external mouse which I didn't want to do. I like being very portable and use a treadmill desk that doesn't easily lend itself to an external mouse.

For the last month, I've been hobbling along with the Toshiba and it's having the same sort of issues as the Dell and it has other issues because the buttons are integrated into the touchpad. I turned off tapping via the touchpad so that I wouldn't trigger the mouse flying everywhere but it still is annoying. I've adjusted sensitivity, etc. As an experiment, I partitioned the Toshiba with Linux and Windows partitions and put VirtualBox+Linux on the Windows partition. The touchpad behaved much better on the Windows+LinuxVM side (not perfect, but probably something I could learn to live with).

Since the Toshiba is slightly defective (bottom isn't completely level) and I'm annoyed with the touchpad, I'm going to return it today. This means I'm back to square one and need to find a new laptop. At this point, I will not be using Linux as main OS due to the touchpad issues. My options are thus:

  • Windows with Linux VM(s)
  • Mac with Linux VM(s)

Programs I'd like to run on the main OS are:

  • MS Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint)
  • Wireframing tool... open to Visio, Omnigraffle (Mac only), Balsamiq, etc.
  • Photoshop and Illustrator
  • Photo management tool for my large and ever-increasing collection of photos (open to suggestions)
  • Linux VMs via VirtualBox, Parallels, or VMWare

I will do the Drupal development in the Linux VM(s) and/or on my Linode server.

So, all you Drupal developers out there!! What do you suggestion I use based on the software I'd like to run and that I do Drupal development on several projects at a time??? Please leave a comment and/or answer the poll.

Also, if you have a recommendation for a particular laptop, I'm open to suggestions on that too!

Thanks! :)



How's your Mac experience these many months later?

Hi Kristen,
First, I want to thank you for blogging about this, as I'm having a bit of an OS identity crisis myself. I know it's been a while, but I am wondering how you're feeling about your Mac and your OS switch these days.

I'm a front-end Drupal developer. I've been working on Windows laptops for the past 10 years (Mac before that), as I work with nonprofits whose users have historically been almost entirely on Windows (obviously, all of that is changing now with the dominance of Firefox/Chrome/mobile). I'm wondering if you're still liking your Mac. I have my eye on a 15" MacBook Pro (retina).

I've used Linux but am not sure that a Linux laptop is something I want to put time into maintaining. My usual setup is Win7 WAMP with a patchwork of things to approximate a command line (I use Ruby for SASS/Compass only). It's gotten increasingly tedious and I'm exploring my options since it's time for a new machine. For many of the reasons discussed here (expense, proprietary soldered-in components, etc.), I have hesitated to switch to Mac. But I went and checked out a MacBook last week... and wow... it did impress me.

So now I'm considering getting a new Win7 machine with a VM workflow instead of WAMP (so I can have a decent command line experience), vs spending the extra $1000 (!) for a similarly-powered MacBook Pro.

Any thoughts you have from your experience so far would be greatly appreciated!

Thank you!

Sorry for the delay!

Sorry for the delay... haven't been getting notifications for my comments :/

You have probably already made your decision but...

I'm loving my Mac. I ended up with Macbook Pro 15". It took me a few weeks to get used to the new keystrokes (e.g. there is no HOME/END/TOP/BOTTOM) but I'm pretty proficient in it these days after many months :)

All in all, I can see why people use Macs. The hardware *feels* really good... keyboard, case, touchpad, etc. So far I haven't had any "issues" that are major.

If I had to do it again, I'd definitely get the Mac.


Btw, I know folks who use Windows+VM and are happy. I know people who use VMs on Mac too. For me, the biggest thing was the touchpad and getting Linux to behave with the touchpad. If that had been solved well, I probably wouldn't have gotten a Mac. But... I am very happy with the Mac.

About laptops and annoying touchpads

Hi Kristen,

I have a Samsung laptop that I'm very happy with. I'm running Windows 7 with VirtualBox and Quickstart Drupal Development Environment. Sometimes I find the touchpad annoying as well as I accidently touch it while typing. I recently covered the touchpad with a business card made of sturdy stock and it helped a lot. What did you end up buying for your laptop?

Congrats on your new company, Hook42. I'm a Drupal Developer/Themer and Site Architect. I'm available for contract work. Contact me at www.seascapewebdesign.com

Katy :-)


Hi Katy!

I ended up getting a Mac last week. So far I'm quite pleased :) But, it cost about 3 times what I would have spent on a Windows machine! Crazy. I did splurge though and got a 512GB SSD so it's very fast.

I haven't done much with it except install all sorts of apps and set up MAMP to try out Drupal sites that way. I'll likely do a VM with Linux as well.

You going to DrupalCon Portland? If so, let's meet up!


Toshiba P755-10X and Ubuntu

Ubuntu 12.04 runs perfectly on my Toshiba P755-10X

No driver issues and dual monitor works very well...


Do you use the touchpad? That is the issue for me. If you use an external mouse and turn off the touchpad, then I imagine it would work fine. That isn't an option for me as I like to move my computer to different places and the mouse isn't viable in some cases (like if my computer is actually on my lap).

Also, if you are using the touchpad but happen to type in such a way that you never accidentally touch the touchpad while typing, then maybe it wouldn't be annoying to you. My husband is using Ubuntu 12.04 with a new Toshiba laptop and he finds it somewhat annoying but not nearly as annoying as I do.

Linux on Laptops

I'm pretty sure Lenovo offer a choice of Linux distros as a dual boot OS.
If you know your way round the command line, you wont have any problems installing Linux as primary OS, or dual boot with windows.

Here is a really cool post about securing a laptop, and using Linux as an OS

Dell are making their XPS 13 ultrbook Ubuntu compatible for developers, looks very cool, but trying too much to be a macbook air!

For me, I still like VMWare, as I can mess things up big time, and not have to reinstall my whole OS. And have Photoshop, Ubuntu, Gnome, Mint, Cinnamon, Drupal Distros, all a click or two away.

So many toys! and no worries if I break them!

Hope that helps

The other Simon


Thanks, the other Simon!

Yes, too many toys, too little time :)

I'm still dubious that the linux-laptop vendors have figure out the touchpad to my satisfaction... I was playing with some Windows laptops at Best Buy yesterday and they are triggering when I pause in typing and my hand is touching the far side of the touchpad. I found that the Macbook Pro I tested did *not* do this (I could rest my hand on the touchpad while typing and it wouldn't do anything weird).

The Best Buy guy claims this is due to how the touchpads are manufactured... Mac is like a smartphone (glass and can deal with touch via biometrics) whereas the PCs just go by pressure... I haven't research it yet, but it seems like he might be correct.

Toshibas are not Linux-friendly

I dislike Toshiba computers immensely.. Even with Windows, they make things too hard. Sell it and get a Lenovo for Linux.


Another vote for Lenovo... they must be doing something right ;)

I returned the Toshiba as it was within the 30 day return window at Best Buy. I was impressed at how easy it was to return it, actually. I was expecting some fuss because my husband bought it and he was out of town so I didn't know if they would let me return it or not. My husband still has a Toshiba (same type I got) and does find it somewhat annoying but I think he's going to keep it since he thinks he'll get used to the quirkiness.

MacBook - for hardware at least

If there's one thing I love about my MacBook (late 2008 aluminium MacBook) it's the trackpad.
Back in 2008 it had the same lead over the field as Usain Bolt
In 2012 it has the same lead over the field as Usain Bolt ;)
(i.e. it used to be in a completely different league, but is still a very strong competitor).

Having said that, you're clearly fussy about trackpads, and your experiences will vary from everyone else's, so go to a computer store that has display models and try them out.

OS-wise I like Mac OS, but am perfectly happy with Windows too. It runs well on a Mac so even if you decide you want to run Windows, it's still worth buying a MacBook to do so (financial considerations aside).


Thanks for the details... yes, I agree that trying them in the store is the best option for now (unless I can borrow one for a few days to really give it a workout ;) I found the trackpad on the Macbook Pro I tried in Best Buy to be fine as far as I could tell... but I was standing up and not using it in a "real life" situation. I'll go back and try some more though.

I also ran linux as my

I also ran linux as my primary desktop environment for several years. (Fedora then Ubuntu), and was a die hard Windows guy before that. I was definitely anti-Apple.

However, I recently started at a company that provided me with a MacBook pro, and I have been shocked at the smoothness of the experience. The hardware is great, the tools available for Mac just 'work better'. I run VMWare to run the actual Ubuntu drupal development environment.

Highly recommended.

Convert ;)

Here's another story of a Windows/Linux => Mac convert! I wonder if there is anyone out there that has used a Mac for awhile and went the other way (to Linux or Windows). Perhaps I need to do some research! The main reasons I see for *not* using a Mac are cost and fixability (for newer hardware). I'm not sure there are any other reasons though.

I'm one of those that

I'm one of those that "switched from Mac". I've been a multi-platform user since before Mac OS and Windows existed, but it has been several years since I've done any significant work on Mac. I use Win7 at work and mostly Linux at home.

There are a few Mac-only web design tools that make a Mac appealing but I stick to cross-platform apps so I don't have to be tied to any platform.

Apple makes great computers but all these gadgets are perishable. There seems to be little point in spending so much on a rose when a carnation will do fine.

Love it :)

Glad I finally have a Mac => Windows story! :) Thanks, Jim. I appreciate your input.

My Setup

I recently bought a Leneovo Thinkpad i-7 laptop with Windows 7 installed.

Using VM's in particular the drupal quickstart project, I can set up as many linux instances as I want.
I currently have quickstart/ubuntu set up for Drupal projects, which I sync to my linode servers using Git.
I also have a mint linux setup, which is for tinkering, nodeJs, Ruby, etc, safe in the knowledge that I wont bork up my development environment.

I can't speak for other makes of laptop, but the Thinkpad runs VM's at amazing speeds, allowing you to dedicate as many processing cores and Ram as you wish. The i-7 Ivy/bridge processor does not struggle at all, the battery last hours, and has a very high build quality.

Hope that helps you. Thanks for the post, was good to see your experiences. Let us know what you go for in a follow up post!


Another Simon

Thanks, Another Simon ;)

Awesome! Sounds like the Lenovo is a great machine :) I've heard this from several folks. Good to know it is so fast with the VMs... that is definitely a concern. Thanks for the details... I like the VM+git+linode syncing... I would likely do that as well.

Windows with virtual box and

Windows with virtual box and QuickStart Ubuntu image works nicely. Needs some RAM, though. 4gb for the VM minimum if you want to use net beans...


I recommend you to also check out http://drupal.org/project/drupalpro

From the project page:
DrupalPro Development Desktop started in May 2012 as the 7.x-2.x branch of the Quickstart project. However, after a lot of work and a beta release, the Quickstart founder decided Ubuntu 12.04 Unity was not the way forward for Quickstart. I believe Unity is a more productive workspace than Gnome 2. Regardless, more choice is good. :)

Thanks Ranx!

Wow, it's amazing how much different options are there for Drupal... but, since our community rocks, I guess I shouldn't be amazed :)


I figured I'd need at least 8GB RAM for the laptop and ~4GB for VM so this sounds like it would be inline with your suggestions. I hadn't heard of the Quickstart Ubuntu, so thanks for the tip :)


There is another version of quickstart as well, that runs ubuntu 12.04 called drupalpro, it has some extra things that quickstart doesn't have as more recent development has gone into it, but it uses the unity desktop.

Thanks Gareth :)

Cool, just learned about it above (see previous comments :) Thanks!

No one true answer anymore

At the time when I got my MacBook Pro 17" (Early 2011 model) I would've answered Mac. If you can find an early or late 2011 model, I'd say a used MacBook Pro in good condition might just do the trick.

Mac OS X the OS is fine, but hardware-wise the new ones have few or no user-replaceable parts...at least not the Retina ones. And they retired the 17" model (the one with 1920x1200 resolution...I'm a stickler for that, though maybe you aren't).

Now using Mac, I realize that Windows isn't terribly bad, especially when using VirtualBox VMs. And on that note, unless you need a GUI, you should get into using Vagrant and running your VMs headless. Either SSH into them and use Vim or use your normal tools and Vagrant's built-in shared folders.

One big advantage though of Mac OS X and Vagrant/VirtualBox is that you can share folders over NFS from Mac OS X (host) to Linux (guest). This isn't possible in Windows, and this will bite you on Drupal sites with a lot of files when VBox's shared folders get really slow.

Mac OS X is not the be-all end-all of OSes it may sometimes seem. Its memory management sucks. But as a tool for the Drupal developer, it's more versatile than Windows, at least at the current time.

An alternative to NFS is AFP

An alternative to NFS is AFP (via Netatalk and Avahi on Ubuntu). I've found AFP works a bit better.


Thanks for the heads up :)

Good stuff :)

Wow, thanks for the detailed response... this is good stuff. I was at a Drupal user group meeting tonight (thus, the delayed responses to all the comments!) and there were 5 Macs, 1 Windows, and 1 Linux machine. One Mac user bought her Mac refurbished (it is a 2011 machine) and suggested doing that. I do like the NFS file sharing... that is very handy. I am definitely not interested in the retina models for the reason you give... I had read an article about how those machines aren't easily fixed if there are issues (unlike older Macs). I wish there was an easy answer!

I will definitely look into Vagrant if I'm using VMs! It sounds like the way to go... (I use vim and like the command line :)

I have had great success

I have had great success using virtualbox to stand up ubuntu VMs for local dev.

While I sometimes actually use ubuntu desktop VM and work in there, I tend to just run ubuntu server VMs and putty via windows into it for a terminal, and use my fav windows IDEs (Sublime Text, Eclipse, Notepad++, take your pick)

Good luck!

Windows tools

My guess is that I'd prefer being in the Ubuntu VM to do my stuff and not use Windows tools as I mainly use the command line when possible ;) But, nice to know those options are available, thanks!

Mac all the way baby!

Dude, you're asking the Drupal community... lol :)

Seriously though, I found myself in a similar situation around a year ago and decided to go Mac (and in the process acquire my first Apple product apart from my old ipod).

I gotta say it's been a great run and I haven't looked back ever since! The Linux VM option is there in case you want it, but I really enjoy developing using a hybrid standard OSX/Homebrew-based setup.

MS Office and Adobe products run natively which is a big plus and regardless of what anyone says I kinda like iPhoto :)

Do it, everything *just works* (TM)! :)

Good luck and be sure to post back once you've made a decision!

- Alex

Thanks Alex!

It's funny that you said:

...I haven't looked back ever since.

as that is the exact phase used at the Santa Cruz Drupal user group meeting tonight by someone who switched from Windows to Mac. :)

I did try out the Mac keyboard at Best Buy after I returned the Toshiba and, I must say, that the keyboard felt very nice. Also, the touchpad didn't seem to be bothered when my hand was touching it while typing.

I did try the "right click" at the user group meeting (using 2 fingers) and that didn't work very well for me... but I guess you just have to train yourself for some of it.


No prob!

Have you decided yet? I personally hate trackpads in any shape or form so I use the Magic Mouse and its got right clicking, which is really nice!
The keyboard is awesome and I love the backlight when working in a not-so-bright environment.

- Alex


Well, I suppose I could get used to not using the trackpad/touchpad but I prefer using it because I like to move my computer various places throughout the house (including a treadmill desk) and it isn't convenient to be dragging along a mouse everywhere. Plus, I'd have to remember it when taking my computer other places.

Currently, I'm leaning towards getting a Macbook Pro. After testing several laptops in the store, the trackpad/touchpad seems to behave well on the Mac and not-so-well on Windows. And, although there are Linux laptop vendors out there, I'm not sure they have really dialed in the trackpad/touchpad drivers.

Just one thing. This post is

Just one thing. This post is not appropriate for Drupal Planet.

Good point

You're right... I just retagged it. (Though, to be honest, I've seen a fair number of "marketing" type posts going to Drupal Planet that probably aren't appropriate as well.) I do hope that the comments will be useful for the general Drupal audience :)

I vote that it is appropriate

I vote that it is appropriate for Drupal Planet.


Well, since it was just an appeal for feedback, I would say it shouldn't have been posted to Drupal Planet. But, now that there are all these amazing comments, it is certainly Drupal Planet worthy ;)

I will try to consolidate all this awesome feedback into a coherent post and then that will be fine on Drupal Planet... but there may be some multilingual Drupal posts first.

Why are you using MS Office?

Why are you using MS Office? Have you tried Open Office and Google Docs?


Yes, I use (and have used) both Open/Libre Office and Google Docs extensively... they are fine for simple stuff, but if you want things to look "just right" or want to open a docx, xlsx, etc. file, these options don't often work well. In particular, I found that Libre Office would crash some times when open the "x" version of MS Office files (e.g. docx).

For example, my business partner and I were going to give back-to-back Drupal talks at a local Drupal user group meeting. My partner created a Powerpoint presentation and sent it to me so I could use it as a template for my talk (same colors, header, template slides, etc.) and Libre Office kind of mangled it. I could read the slides but the colors/text/formatting/etc were not very nice. I've found the same issues with Word docs.

So, I agree that these free tools are great for general communication, but if you want something polished, then unfortunately they just don't cut it.


Lenovo if you want to spend money or a laptop from a Linux laptop vendor. While Apple's hardware is nice, they are over priced and Apple has no qualms about not supporting them with updates in the future. My kids $300 Acer laptop under Ubuntu runs rings around my wifes mac book.

In regrads to vms. Why bother adding another layer of configuration. Just make good use of the /etc/hosts file and all the ips in the 127.x.x.x range that you have locally.

Photo management software, shotwell works great and you don't have that insane impossible to navigate directory structure like you get the the macs, it is just /home//Pictures/year/month/day

Photoshop and illustrator? Why bother, unless you are a professiona and are doing cymkl the Gimp works just as well, as does ink scape and xara xtreme.

Wireframe, pencil for the most part here. Also use Dia and Libre Office for connectors.

Unless you really need to work with big business, Libre Office is great.

Thanks for the advice

You make some good points, thanks!

I'm only recently finding that their are vendors who specifically sell Linux laptops. I haven't done research on them so don't know if this is a good way to go or not. Any vendors you suggest?

I've heard that Lenovo makes good laptops. The Best Buy geek squad guys also recommended Samsung and Asus. I've read that Asus has good reliability but I don't know much about Lenovo and Samsung for laptops.

I agree that Macs are pricey. If they were the same price as a PC, then I guess I'd have one already... ??

I must admit, though, when typing on the one at Best Buy tonight, the keyboard felt pretty darn nice. I don't know why, but it did.

But, I am worried about the vendor lock-in and the hardware not being supported down the road. That is a very valid point and something to strongly consider.

The only way I'd consider staying on Linux for my main OS at this point would be to get a laptop from a Linux laptop vendor (due to the touchpad driver issues mentioned in my post). If the touchpad had been working well in Linux on the new Dell or new Toshiba, I wouldn't have been looking at possibly going to Windows or Mac. I would imagine that the Linux laptop vendors have sorted this out (how, I don't know... their own drivers?). But, I imagine the vendors are all online and I wouldn't be able to go down to a store and try it out. I'll have to do some research on that.

I used F-Spot for photos on my old Dell laptop. I'd like a better way to tag photos and share them with Picasa and Flickr with the tags.

I like Gimp and Inkscape okay. I've used Photoshop and Illustrator in the past. I only do photo processing and graphics stuff occasionally now but would like to do it more.

As for Open/Libre Office vs MS Office, I have another comment above about that... agree that the free versions are fine for basic stuff.

I had not heard of Pencil... I'll check it out.

Note that part of my quest is to have tools that are highly compatible with my new business partner's tools and she's on Mac and uses MS Office.

Linux laptop vendors

Here are some I found:

System 76: http://www.system76.com

Ohava: http://www.ohava.com/

Zareason: http://zareason.com

and more at:


Windowns andLinux

Checkout andLinux... issue is only works on 32bit boxes.


Wow, never heard of it before! That's pretty awesome... my boys have a Windows box with not much on it so maybe we can test it there to see how it works. Thanks for the comment :)

My experience: Win7 + Linux VBox

Hi Kristen,

I have very positive experiences with using Windows 7 as the host system for Photoshop stuff & some gaming while running Virtualbox with Linux for all work stuff and Drupal development. It works just perfectly this way if your notebook has sufficient RAM (8GB) and a good CPU (Core i7 or similar).
To have a really fluent experience, I would definitely recommend an SSD drive. This really boosts the host and client performance enormously.
Or you could consider to put your Virtualbox machines on an external USB3.0 SSD, if you like using your machines on different host machines from time to time.
I guess a Mac + Linux VMs would also do it, but it's just more expensive than Asus, Samsung, Dell & Co with a similar strong hardware setup. But if you need Mac-only software often, maybe it is the better choice than running a second VBox with MacOS...


Thanks Simon

Running the VMs from an external SSD sounds interesting... hadn't even thought of that as an option. I guess there are pros and cons to that but certainly worth thinking about :)

I know Mac users who love their SSD for fast boot times... definitely worth considering as well.

I agree that Macs are expensive... though the people I know who have "converted" from Windows to Mac are all very happy and never want to go back... why is that? I never hear of people going the other way (Mac => Windows). Once you drink the Koolaid, then you are hooked for life, I guess ;) I guess this is actually one reason I am hesitant to get a Mac!

I'd vote Mac + VM

Because OS X is basically UNIX, I found the transition to Mac to be pretty easy. VirtualBox is nice and sturdy on OS X (So are VMWare and Parallels).

For Drupal development, I've found using VirtualBox + Vagrant + DrupalVagrant to be a nice way to get a full Drupal VM running and integrated with the host OS.


Thanks! I've heard that Vagrant is very nice for development but I haven't researched it yet. So many tools, too little time ;)


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