Setting Up (and Quickly Reverting) a Hackintosh

The screenshot at the top of this post doesn’t make a lot of sense. Look as hard as you like, but you will not find an iMac with those specs. The reason for this is that I tried to “Hackintosh” a PC yesterday to see how that whole process works. I successfully created a Hackintosh boot media, installed macOS High Sierra on an HP machine, and had many things working, but ultimately reverted back to Linux. Let’s explore what happened.

Getting a PC

Many people in the Hackintosh community will build their own PC from scratch. They do this so that they maximize hardware compatibility. Drivers are not something we ever really have to think about in the Mac community, but they certainly are when you’re installing macOS on something not made by Apple. Things like CPUs and graphics cards may not work if macOS doesn;t know how to talk to them.

I did not build my own PC for this, and am instead using a 2 year old HP desktop that I got for free1. The machine has an Intel Core i5 3.2GHz (4 core, Haswell) as well as 12GB RAM on board. There is space for a graphics card, but I don’t have one installed at the moment. It also has a 1TB spinning disk, which is not ideal for 2018, but cost me $50 and seemed right for a “maybe I’ll keep this, maybe I won’t” computer.

Why macOS?

It was stupid easy to install Linux on this machine, and everything works as you would expect, so why do the extra work to use macOS? Well, outside of me liking macOS a hell of a lot more than any flavor of Linux, I was tempted by the quad core processor, which has more bandwidth than my dual core 2015 MacBook Pro. Geekbench showed 18% better single core and 80% faster multi-core performance and I thought this might be useful as an Xcode/Final Cut rig. The MacBook Pro is good at both of those, but I’ll take anything that gets my compile times down in Xcode or my render times down in Final Cut Pro X.

Installing macOS

This went surprisingly smoothly. I used Lifehacker’s Always Up-to-Date Guide to Building a Hackintosh guide to create a bootable USB drive in about 20 minutes. You should read their guide, but essentially I had to download macOS High Sierra from the Mac App Store on my Mac and then run the UniBeast app on that Mac to flash the macOS installer onto the flash drive.

The guide says you need a 16GB or larger drive to use as the install media, but I was able to do it with an 8GB one.

After that, the process will be shockingly similar to anyone who has installed macOS on a Mac from a USB drive. You essentially boot the computer with the drive plugged in, select the macOS installer, use Disk Utility to wipe the internal hard drive, and then walk through the installer like normal. It was incredibly easy!

Once the installer was done, I walked through the macOS setup process, and there it was, the macOS desktop running on this HP workstation.

Using macOS

This is truly a mixed bag, and thus was the reason I had to revert my machine back to Ubuntu.

First, the good. I was able to install the current version of macOS on my computer. Not an old version, and not some hacky version I had to torrent from somewhere, but the real deal.

Also, things mostly worked on first boot. Apps seemed to launch fine, my iCloud account knew what was going on and started syncing my files, and even iMessage worked just fine. As far as I could tell, this was the full Masc experience just as it should be.

Sadly, there were some quirks. First, there were noticeable graphical errors in numerous places in the OS. Transparencies seemed to be an issue, as many icons and images on the web displayed with black, flickering backgrounds. This was clearly a GPU driver issue, but none of the provided drivers (or ones I could find online) fixed this. For a computer to be used for video editing, this was not good. Additionally, when I tried rebooting, it booted successfully, but I lost internet and my settings said the ethernet cable was unplugged when it certainly was not. Numerous reboots, reinstalling drivers, and re-p[lugging in the cable did not fix the issue. No internet is a deal-breaker.

I could have spent more time looking for solutions to these problems, and maybe I will one day, but it really hit me that what I want from this computer is not something that's hanging on by a thread. A faster editing/coding rig would be nice, but I'd rather have a reliable computer that's a little slower than one that's faster, but can't be trusted.

And thus, here I am, back on Linux (Ubuntu 17.10). And while I don't like using Linux for anything full time, it seems like the best option for a computer like this. I've moved my Plex library onto it and plan to do some more server-style things with it in the near future. I'm glad I tried this, and I may try it again one day, but for now it's not the right thing for me.

  1. DM me on Twitter if you want details, but it’s not very exciting. 

Life with Linux: No Easy Path (Day 5)

I voiced my issues with a lot of the software on Linux a few pieces ago. I wasn’t too charitable to many apps, including the image editor, Gimp. I struggled with the interface and was generally unimpressed with the features compared to Mac apps like Photoshop and Pixelmator.

Since then I’ve been tipped off to an app called Gimpshop, which is an app that is built on Gimp, but has adjusted the user interface to be more similar to Photoshop so it’s easier to get used to for PS veterans like myself.

I’d love to tell you if it’s any better than standard Gimp, but I have yet to get it installed on my Linux setup. Why? Well, here’s a link to the installation instructions. There are 42 terminal commands you need to enter to make sure you have all the pre-requisites and app installed.

So that you can fully appreciate the madness of this, I’ve taken a screenshot of the page so you can really get a feel for it. For comparison’s sake, if I told someone they really should check out Pixelmator for the Mac, I would direct them to or just give them a link directly to the Mac App Store to download it right away.

Life with Linux: Getting a Fresh Perspective (Day 4)

So I've been away for a few days, but I have still been using Linux from time to time and am getting a little better hand on doing things in the system. I'm still not happy with Linux (Ubuntu) overall, but I am getting a little more perspective on what people like about Linux and why it's just not clicking with me.

Why "Normal People" Can Enjoy Linux

I talked at length with someone at work about why he likes Linux and why he has had success getting some of his family members on Xubuntu as well. His explanation for why Linux worked for his family was pretty simple:

  1. Linux runs better on their old hardware than Windows ever would
  2. He does all the setup for them, so they don't have to do the frustrating setup things I've dealt with
  3. Xubuntu is able to be customized so its interface is very similar to Windows XP

I totally get the speed thing. My last piece was all about how zippy Ubuntu is on my Mac, and I'm not surprised that it runs better than the abomination slower Windows versions they were using before.

It's easier for me to legitimize saving $1,000+ for a new computer when I need one because I love computers and will prioritize them over things other people wouldn't. But if someone who doesn't care as much, the prospect of making you current computer faster for free is much more appealing than dropping a few hundred dollars on new hardware.

As far as doing the setup for them, I give him an A+ for that. Once things are up and running and all hardware and software is set up, Linux isn't much different from older versions of Windows. Click the icon of the app you want to launch... Navigate the file system like you used to... If you need your computer to do a finite number of things and you'll never install much more than that, the maintaining of a Linux system can be much easier.

Some People Don't Care About "the Future of Computers"

This is something I didn't consider enough to this point. I spend a lot of time thinking about where computers are going and how young people's entire concept of what a computer should be is changing. I look at iOS and Android and see the future being in our pockets and being on tablet-like devices with operating systems that reject fundamental things about how computers have traditionally behaved.

I think it's great, but there are plenty of people who simply don't care enough about this stuff to be interested. These people grew up with computers being a certain way and they're just fine continuing to use them that way now. Maybe they don't want to learn a new interaction model or maybe they just prefer the way computers have always been to where they're going. Whatever the reason, it's clear that there are people out there who are looking for something very different from me in their computer, and it was good to be reminded of this.

Life with Linux: Let's Talk About Speed (Day 3)

One of the things you always hear about Linux distributions is that they are super fast and can breath new life into older computers. This isn't something I've been able to test as my late-2012 Mac Mini is holing up just fine for most everything. Still, I wanted to see how Ubuntu feels compared to OS X.

I'm happy to say that Ubuntu flies on this machine. I never feel like I'm waiting for apps to launch, files move around quickly, and every action I've performed happens as soon as I ask it to. I can't say I've yet to notice anything slow me down.

But I could say the same about OS X running on this same computer. Apple has done really good work making their desktop OS run well on computers with even modest specs, so the difference isn't noticeable for me on my low-end 3.5 year old Mac.

There is one thing that's slower

The one thing that does seem to be a bit slower on Ubuntu than OS X is web browsing. I'm using the same version of Chrome as I am on my Mac, and yet the web just feels slower. It's not that anything is broken, but there is simply a noticeable difference in how quickly pages load.

To make sure I wasn't imagining things, I ran a couple browser benchmarking tests on both Ubuntu and OS X. Now I know that benchmarking tools aren't a totally fair way to measure performance, but it's the closest thing to an objective test I could do. If you know of any better benchmarking tools, I'd love to hear and add them to the data.

The difference isn't as big as the graphs make it look and it's not a deal-breaker, but it does make the web feel a little less enjoyable. And considering how few things have native apps for Linux, that's been a constant frustration for me.

Moving Forward

This series is proving to be a lot of fun to write and surprisingly popular for a typically Apple-centric audience. But I worry that I'm being too down on Linux overall. It's just more fun to write bad reviews, and I have a lot of things to nit-pick to death, but I'm going to try and find something more positive to write about tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Life with Linux: Getting Help and Settling for Less (Day 2)

This is part 3 in an ongoing series called Life with Linux.

A little help from your friends

Well, yesterday's pieces got quite the reaction! It turns out the Linux community is quite passionate about their platform! Thankfully, they're also generally quite helpful when you come in with an open attitude. Yesterday's piece was quite negative on the software, but I got some tips from some of my friends who use Linux that should help me understand the best way to use this new operating system.

I should note that all of the people I know who actually use Linux are developers. Their needs are quite different than mine for this series, so the thing they love about Linux typically aren't things that are great for me.

I do have someone who has actually gotten a lot of his non-computer savvy relatives on Ubuntu, so I'm going to ask him what their set ups look like and how they like it.

One more note on the app selection for Linux

Okay, so yesterday I lamented on the quality of consumer and professional1 applications available on Linux. That became even more painfully obvious when I had to make a few quick edits to a graphic I'm using on a little project I'm working on. I used Gimp, which is the widely-agreed best Photoshop clone for Linux and it was a huge pain in the ass. First off, the app is plain hideous. That's not the biggest deal in the world, but once again this UI looks like it's from 20 years ago. Nothing is easy or intuitive, and the tools available are pretty simple compared to all other image editing apps I've used on the Mac.

For comparison's sake, here are my options on the Mac:

  • Adobe Photoshop: The best, most powerful editing software out there. A little slow, but constantly evolving and just a fantastic tool.
  • Pixelmator: Photoshop for the rest of us. Fewer features than Photoshop, but has the most commonly used ones and takes advantage of OS X's low level performance features to be super fast.
  • Affinity Photo: Named Apple's best app of 2015, this editor is very customizeable and has some innovative editing tools built in.
  • Acorn: Great for photos or graphics, Acorn excels at shape manipulation, vectors, and general workflow speed.

I would rather use any of those apps than Gimp, and it really frustrates me that this is my only option. I'm sure there are people who are wizards with it, and I know that I could spend more time with it to get more familiar. But I didn't have these fist impressions or issues with the 4 Mac apps mentioned above.

The story is the same for finding replacements for Lightroom, Final Cut Pro, RSS readers, writing apps, and email. There are some options, but there tends to be one just one and it's generally terrible.

  1. I'm talking about professional apps for people who aren't developers. 

Life with Linux: Installation and Setup (Day 1)

Well today has been a ride.


The installation process of getting Ubuntu on my Mac mini was a breeze. Download the installer, create a bootable USB flash drive, boot into the installer and let it run. About 30 minutes later I was in a fresh install of Ubuntu Wily Werewolf (Ubuntu has the best code names).

Hardware Compatibility

To my surprise, a lot of hardware drivers worked right out of the box. My Wifi, Xbox controller, and Ethernet connections were working fine, and surprisingly even my Bluetooth devices are working! The Magic Keyboard works great, and the Magic Mouse works, but Ubuntu doesn't understand the swipe gestures on it, so I'm using a simple Microsoft mouse instead.

There is essentially nothing wrong with my computer's hardware right out of the box, and that's a huge improvement over the last time I used Ubuntu many years ago. Kudos to them for getting the drivers in the initial install instead of having me venture all around the web looking for drivers.

Installing a Few Apps

My experience had been relatively positive up until this point, but things started to crumble pretty quick once I starting looking to get my first few apps installed.

My first step was to go to the Ubuntu Software Center, essentially the Mac App Store for Ubuntu. I knew things were off to a bad start when I saw how ugly the USC looks, but the content is even more concerning. There's simply tons of garbage apps featured, and finding anything compelling was next to impossible.

For reference, the #1 featured app is currently Radio Tray, an internet radio streaming app. Yay, 2002 me is so excited for this! But never fear if that's not your style, the next app is hocr-gtk, which is described as "Hocr-gtk is a GTK+ based graphical interface to the libhocr library. It can open multiple image formats and uses aspell for internal spell chacking." Hot damn, won't someone get me a drink, I'm overwhelmed with excitement!

The story continues for all the apps in the store. Even the more customer-friendly apps have names and descriptions that are clearly written for developers by developers. They use technical jargon in their descriptions and profive terrible screenshots of their apps. These are not marketing masters at work.

But then the adventure gets weirder if you want to install something that's not in the store (including little apps like Google Chrome, Transmission, and Skype). These apps can be downloaded at the same sites you would have gone to for the Mac/Windows version, and they download a .deb file that acts like any other installed you've used before. These are still okay, but there is another type of install you're going to have to do, and it drives me crazy.

For a lot of apps, the preferred (and sometimes only) way to install them is via the command line. Themes are a particular headache. Here's how you can easily install the Moka theme I'm using:

  1. Open the terminal
  2. Type sudo add-apt-repository ppa:noobslab/themes
  3. Type sudo apt-get update
  4. Type sudo apt-get install orchis3

That's all there is to it! The problem, of course is that the Terminal should never need to be used by normal users. But themes and customizations are some of the things that are supposed to be the best parts of Linux, so you'd think they want everyone to be able to use them.

I have much more to say about themes and installing apps, but that will have to wait for another day.

Life with Linux: A Mac User Tries Ubuntu (and tries not to hate it)

I'm trying something new here, and it feels really weird. I installed Ubuntu 15.10 on my Mac mini. I last tried Linux back in 2008 and tried out Ubuntu back then as well, although it was only on version 7.10 back then. It was a miserable experience back then, and I wanted to see what had changed. Maybe Ubuntu has evolved into a nice user-friendly operating system that normal people can use.

I'm going to explore Ubuntu over the next week or two and see if things have gotten any better. I want to know if there is a compelling reason for average people to use Linux1. I'll be writing a few follow up pieces coming up, but first impressions are not great:

This should be fun!

  1. And yes, I know there are thousands of distributions of Linux out there and Ubuntu isn't the only one, but it's one of the most commonly used by people who are coming from Windows or Macs.