David Heinemeier Hansson

April 26, 2024

I could have been happy with Windows

After more than twenty years on the mac, it was always going to be difficult for me to leave Apple. I've simply not been in the market for another computing platform in decades. Sure, I've dabbled a bit here and there, but never with true commitment. It wasn't until Cupertino broke my camel's back this year that I suddenly had the motivation needed to uproot everything. And when I did, I learned that Windows has turned into a wonderful web developer's platform thanks to the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL).

I'm not going to lie and say I loved everything about Windows. But after the question of font rendering was settled, and I came to terms with giving up TextMate, it felt perfectly adequate. Better than adequate, actually. It felt nice. Nice knowing that there was a real, realistic, and compelling alternative to the mac, and that most of my aversion to Windows was based on outdated facts or misconceptions.

So I made the commitment. Only to fall in love with a quirky piece of hardware from a small company called Framework shortly thereafter. That in turn lead to taking another look at running Linux outright, as the AMD chip inside the Framework simply punched harder with the penguin in charge.

This coincided with a month-long trip away from home where all I brought was the Framework 13 running Ubuntu. And that taught me two things: Most of the jokes about Linux are true! There are more rabbit holes, more gotchas, and less polish. But I also learned, and this was the real surprise, that I scarcely minded at all! That in fact running Linux, and running into many of the little issues that often entails, was a surprisingly delightful and educational experience.

As an example, I've been trying for a while to get my desktop PC, which has an Nvidia 4090 GPU, to work with my Apple XDR 6K monitor, which only accepts Thunderbolt 3. This involved sourcing an exotic Huawei DisplayPort + 2 USB-A => USB C cable. Then learning everything about monitor EDIDs, xorg.conf, kernel parameters, Nvidia driver versions, and about a million other topics that are very close to the metal and very far from the Apple experience (and I still haven't cracked the nut!).

But rather than being frustrated with things not just working out of the box, I embraced the adventure. There's a certain nostalgia here, I'm sure. I grew up with computers that needed far more tender, love, and care to work well. Where IRQ conflicts had to be resolved before the SoundBlaster card would work for Wing Commander. Computers required some assembly, and as IKEA knows, it made us love them more. 

So here I am. I still have Windows available as a dual-boot option on the desktop, but the Framework 13 has been running Ubuntu exclusively the whole time, it's my daily driver at the moment, and now that I've acclimated, Linux just feels right. I love the Tactile windows manager for Gnome. I've figured out how to easily fill out my PDFs using Xournal++. Typora is giving me that iA Writer-like distraction-free typing experience I've come to love. And, for now, I've come to terms with VSCode. (See my current setup script).

Would I recommend this expedition to everyone? No. I think if the idea of having to occasionally tinker with kernel parameters or display drivers give you nightmares, you probably shouldn't run Linux on your primary computer. But I'd also say that it's hard to know whether you'll find some zen of motorcycle maintenance in knowing how to tighten the timing chain of Ubuntu before you try. Especially if you've been cocooned inside the Apple bubble forever.

For a lot of people, Windows is probably the better alternative to the mac. And that's great! We ought to have AT LEAST three good options for personal computing in the modern age, and now I've come to realize that we do.

I'm just happy this exodus happened. I learned something new about myself. I tried a million combinations. And I discovered a real affinity for Framework and Ubuntu. I'd invite you to give it a go, if you're in the mood for a trek. Do it not because it is easy, but because it is hard. See what kind of computing stuff you're made of. Oh, and have fun!

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.