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[Part I] Switching from Linux to Mac

MarcusZ
A self-taught full-stack web developer working with Ruby on Rails + React.
・3 min read

Intro

In this article, I am sharing my personal experience on switching over from Linux to Mac. I will compare both of them in terms of the 3 aspects below, and for each section, I will share what apps or software I am using for both Linux and Mac.

  1. Window manager
  2. Daily usage
  3. Development machine

Some of you might ask, but why the switch? To be honest, the switch is mainly personal. I have always wanted to own a Macbook, but couldn't afford one before this. Kudos to Linux and the community, as an open-source operating system, I have benefited a lot from it for free. I have used it to learn to program and landed myself a web developer job, which I continue to use as my working machine until late 2020. Again, this switch is mainly personal, and I still love Linux very much.

Window Manager

A little background before diving in, I have been using a Linux machine since 2018 until I bought myself a MacBook Pro in November 2020. The reason why I am comparing window managers here is that I am deeply in love with working on my Linux machine using i3, a tiling window manager. I will say that this is the most important factor affecting my buying decision on a laptop. Therefore, I did quite some research on whether the Mac environment offers anything similar. After some intense study, I found yabai, a tiling window manager for macOS. I thought of trying it first on a virtual machine, but unfortunately, I couldn't get it to work. So, I made the buying decision solely based on studying through the GitHub repository, Reddit discussions, and YouTube videos.

Of course, yabai is the first thing I installed when my Macbook arrived. The installation is pretty straightforward and well documented. Differ from i3, I need to install a hotkey daemon, I am using skhd, to set all the key bindings. All these key bindings are used to interact with the tiling window manager.

To give you guys a better picture of my setup and my working flow. I am using 2 displays with 5 desktops on each of them. Very frequently I will have 2 apps opening on the same desktop which are tilled properly thanks to yabai. Another thing I want to clarify here is that I am a VIM addict so I don't really use my mouse or touchpad much (although the touchpad on Mac is really great). Therefore, I am really looking for a tiling window manager that allows me to do all of these below using only the keyboard:

  1. Switch focus to the desired desktop on multiple displays
  2. Switch focus to different windows (opened apps) in the same desktop
  3. Toggle fullscreen on a tilled window
  4. Moving window from one desktop to another

I am very happy that yabai + skhd is able to do everything above and it is so customizable that I have customized all the key bindings to match what I was using in i3. Although yabai is still missing some features that are available in i3, I find it good enough to mimic my working flow in i3. The only thing that has been annoying me is that sometimes the focus of a window is switched wrongly (at least not what I am expecting) after killing another window. I have found related issues on yabai GitHub repo, tried editing the config file using the suggestions, but it still happens sometimes. Probably I should give it another look since I have last updated my config file a few months ago. I appreciate comments if anyone reading this has a similar problem and is managed to fix it.

Overall, yabai is a really good alternative to i3. I managed to set it up to reproduce almost 90% of my working flow on a Linux machine with i3. This is getting a little too long, so I will break them down into 3 parts. I will follow up with another 2 parts talking about the experience of using both Mac and Linux for day to day usage and as a development machine some days later. Thank you for reading this far!

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