My computing history goes something like this: during high school, my family had an Apple IIGS. During collect, I had a Mac LC. After college, I’ve owned a Bondi blue iMac G3, a Mac G4, two different iBooks, and a PowerBook. At a certain point, my last Mac – the PowerBook – died, and since work needed me to use a Windows PC (and was willing to buy it), I switched, grudgingly (more accurately: kicking and screaming), to the world of Windows. It didn’t last too long. I didn’t care for how Windows looked or behaved, and since the job didn’t last long, I didn’t “have” to run Windows any longer. But I got a good deal on the computer (the PowerBook was still, and is still, dead), so the first thing I did was install Ubuntu. This was back in 2005/2006, and I’ve been a Linux user ever since.
Of course, I still longed for those halcyon days of Mac OS X, so for a while, every time I looked at gnome-look.org, I’d search out themes that would make my Ubuntu installation look like Mac OS X. It was never entirely successful, because just like Windows and Mac, Linux and Mac don’t behave the same way. Still, I wanted the look, so I’d try it out every once in a while. Over the years, I’ve stopped doing that, but today I saw a link to something called Macbuntu, which isn’t a new Ubuntu-based distribution (thank goodness!), but is a script that downloads and installs all sorts of GUI goodness designed at making your Ubuntu installation look very similar to Mac OS X. As I said, this isn’t something I’ll probably keep installed, since I’m no longer looking for a pixel-for-pixel clone of Mac OS X, but there are people who are, so I took a look at Macbuntu.
There are currently two different versions of Macbuntu available. The 2.2 version for Ubuntu 10.04 users, and the beta of 2.3, for people (like me), using the pre-release versions of Ubuntu 10.10. Because the 2.3 series is still considered pre-release, I expected some glitches (that’s just the way of things), but was overall quite impressed with the final result.
To start using Macbuntu, head over to the project’s Sourceforge page and download the appropriate archive. Once downloaded, extract the folder within. Make sure the install script is executable and launch it, either by double-clicking (as shown in the screenshot), or by typing the following into a Terminal, once you have cd’d into the correct directory:
The installer will then warn you that Macbutu will not work with Ubuntu Netbook Edition and checks to make sure the installer version matches the version of Ubuntu you are running. It then warns that you must have root access in order to install Macbuntu, and asks if you want to continue. I’m not going to go through the installation process step by step, but the Macbuntu installer asks a series of questions regarding what you want installed. Once those are complete, the installer does its thing. A new repository is set up, and packages downloaded and installed from it. (One word of warning: don’t walk away during this process, as the Macbuntu installer goes through multiple installation steps and you’ll need to accept each of them manually.)
Macbuntu does one thing I really like, beyond even the standard theme elements. In standard Linux distributions, each window has its own menu, while in Mac OS X, the menu bar is at the very top of the screen, and changes as you change windows. This was one of the harder things to get used to when first switching from Mac to Windows and then to Ubuntu. Macbuntu, however, installs a universal menu to change windows and menus to how Mac OS X does things. So for me, now, it’s weird to switch “back” but it would be great for people switching from Mac to Ubuntu.
Another nice thing Macbuntu does is change around things like sounds, cursor themes and even how navigating through windows is done. On Mac (and Linux), you can switch between windows by clicking Alt-Tab, but Macbuntu has changed some of the the effects used to make things more Mac-like. It also, immediately following installation, took me to a couple different websites in order to show off a couple web browser themes for Google Chrome and Firefox. It didn’t install these by default, but gave me the option, which was a nice touch.
So, how did Macbuntu do in duplicating the look of Mac OS X? Pretty good. It seems like it relies too much on the older Mac OS X aqua, and not enough on the sleeker, metallic look of newer OS X versions. And frankly, because Linux applications aren’t designed quite the same way as Mac applications, even with the new coat of paint, so to speak, they don’t quite look like the same application would appear if it had been written for Mac OS X.
But I have to give the Macbuntu creators credit. The basic themes (Metacity and GTK) are great, and the sounds are accurate as well, from what I remember. The change done to Docky to make it look like the Mac OS X Dock is excellent, and the top panel really does look Mac-like (aside from a couple of strange placement quirks, such as putting the clock on the far left instead of the far right). Again, Linux doesn’t behave the same way as Mac OS X, and no amount of themes, tweaks and adjustments will change that. But for someone longing for their Mac, and wanting a touch of familiarity, Macbuntu is a really good option.
Edit: After finishing the article, I decided I wanted to go back to my “old” look. I uninstalled Macbuntu, and was a little disappointed at the results. One of the programs installed during installation (Cheese Webcam Booth), was left behind, as were some of the configuration utilities. As well, instead of returning my Desktop to how it had been before installing Macbuntu, it was returned to how it was immediately after being installed, meaning that the theme I’d been using before installing Macbuntu was not returned to use, and panel applets I’d deleted or installed were returned to “factory” settings. In addition, a lot of the configuration settings Macbuntu changed at installation (sounds, 3D effects), were left in place. A small thing, but I’d prefer if Macbuntu – especially as it claimed to be making a backup – actually returned things to the way they’d been before. Now, it could be that this is the result of using the 10.10 unstable version, and if so, then there’s still time to improve things. But if this is how the stable 10.04 version is, then be warned that “going back” takes more effort than you might expect.