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Leaving the Apple Ecosystem - part 3
The day-to-day apps
In my previous articles, I provided a step-by-step guide for installing Ubuntu on a MacBook Pro that can dual-boot into macOS. I also discussed some ways to personalize the desktop. But, an operating system is only useful if it has applications to run. So, in this article, I’d like to talk a little more about my journey from macOS to Ubuntu and the day-to-day apps that I chose.
Brave and Enpass
I also prefer to use the Enpass password manager because it syncs securely across different platforms. However, I faced challenges getting Brave and Enpass to work together. It required some fine-tuning. I suspect this is because of the firewalling in the various Ubuntu packaging methods. But here is what I discovered worked. Install Enpass and Brave using the Advance Packaging Tool (apt-get) method (click on my links) above. (do not load it from the Snap store.)
Once installed, I could add the Enpass browser extension (chrome-compatible) to Brave and get the two apps working together. I also was able to sync it with my Apple devices using iCloud.
Note: If you intend to sync any of your Ubuntu apps with iCloud you will need to generate an app-specific password.
Signal and Zoom
Next on my list is Signal Desktop, private messenger app. Signal must first be installed on your phone; the desktop app will ask you to scan a code into your phone app to link up. If you haven’t started using Signal yet, I highly encourage you to do so. Signal is a secure platform, and unlike WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, they don’t monitor and sell content about your conversations. And most of all, Signal does not hold your keys. As a long-time crypto developer, I absolutely distrust these platforms.
Even though it is not my preferred communications platform, I also installed Zoom using FlatHub. Zoom is not a secure communications platform controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. But I have at least one of two training that uses Zoom, and I am willing to use it while it runs on the Ubuntu FlatPak sandbox.
Joplin - a great place to store your notes.
Given the number of projects I work on, I would be lost without the assistance of a good note-taking system. Although I have used various tools over the years, my transition to Ubuntu introduced me to an outstanding note-taking and to-do application called Joplin. The code is open-source and is also available on macOS and Windows. Among Joplin’s impressive list of features is the ability to do encrypted syncing of notes across multiple platforms.
Laurent Cozic created Joplin; if you end up installing and using it, please consider donating to support their development effort.
E-mail - I’m not quite happy here.
I am not happy with my choices of email clients on Ubuntu. I guess I can say that I am spoiled by the user experience of Apple Mail. I really want the email presented in a three-pane vertical view: mailbox, message summary, and message details.
If you Google email clients for Ubuntu, you will get the usual suspects. These are my personal choices and are entirely based on my subjective opinion. Here are my top four picks:
But none of them are quite what I want. There were some bugs, but for the most part, they were usable. It’s just not as pretty or mature as Apple Mail.
With full installation, Ubuntu 23.04 ships with apps from LibreOffice suite: Calc, Writer, Draw, and Impress. They are perfectly fine; I found that OnlyOffice worked better for me when opening files I exported from Apple Numbers and Pages. I am pretty sure this is going to be a personal preference issue.
For the calendar and to-do list app, I was impressed by Morgen Calendar. It was packed with features and easy to figure out.
Morgen worked flawlessly the first time and integrated well with the Apple iCloud CalDAV server. Remember, as with most Apple integrations, you must generate an app-specific password on iCloud. Morgen can also connect to Google and Microsoft systems, although I didn’t try.
Some email apps provided contact integration, but I wanted something more stand-alone. The contact app from gnome.org had a pretty good UI. I could import a .vcf file I exported from the Apple Contacts app. However, gnome contacts didn’t seem to support groups or contact photos. Integrating with iCloud requires you to use the evolution-data-server and the Evolution app to set things up.
Photos and Multi-Media
Shotwell would be my choice as a replacement for Apple Photos. I have some 50K photos I have built up over the years and would like to host them on a local NAS server instead of my laptop. After some trial and error, I could successfully export from Photos to an external drive and then copy them to a system running openmediavault. I initially planned to create a shared folder on the NAS for Shotwell, but I realized it would require some experimentation. Fortunately, Shotwell is open-source, and the code is available.
I also am using the standard EyeOfGnome Image Viewer as a substitute for Apple’s Preview app.
You will own nothing!
At the start of this series, I stated that part of my motivation to leave the Apple ecosystem was related to Apple’s imposition of its political views on my software choices through the app store. The same thing can be said of the iTunes/Apple TV store. I have noticed that more than a few TV shows or movies I purchased from the iTunes/Apple TV store have been removed. This can be due to various reasons, such as Apple’s agreements with film studios or a decision made by someone at Apple to no longer host the content.
The bottom line is that you don’t truly own what you purchased and won’t receive a refund if Apple changes its mind.
It took me a while to understand, but I realized I was better off buying the DVD and transcoding them to my own NAS. Yes, it requires more effort, but you get what you pay for.
Handbrake is the defacto tool to trancode videos. It is available as a Flatpak from the developer. There are also several plugins available that help process DRM schemes. Yes, this is legal and considered fair use in the US.
I realized after writing this that it is a prelude to an entire article of its own, describing how I host and playback the videos using Jellyfin. Stay tuned!
Security Camera Apps
As I mentioned earlier, writing this article has inspired me to write a few more that delve deeper into specific side topics. One of those involves how to use Linux with security cameras. I live in a rural area and frequently have to provide my own security, especially when it comes to four-legged threats. One of my tools is the network-based security camera. ( I wanted to say CCTV, but I’m unsure if that is semantically correct anymore.)
On the Ubuntu desktop, I was impressed by cctv-viewer. It worked the first time and didn’t overload my system, even while monitoring a dozen cameras.
My favorite recording and motion detection server is, without question, Security Spy. But it only runs on macOS. It’s not cheap, but it does the job well. It would almost be worth dedicating a Mac to run it if it weren’t for the extra Apple bloat. I still feel that I can get more of a bang for the buck with a Linux box. Right now, the top three choices are:
Zoneminder - This has been around for a while, but my experience has been that it’s flakey, takes a lot to set up, and locks up my machine. Maybe someone out there has had more luck.
Xeoma - I ran this on a Raspberry Pi for a while with three cameras. It seems to have a lot of features, and I should revisit it on a more powerful machine.
Bluecherry - I haven’t checked them out yet, but they looked promising.
Other cool stuff
It won’t take you long to find a whole bunch of great Ubuntu-compatible apps. The open-source community has been busy. To list a few gems that I had good luck with.
balena-Etcher - The goto app for building bootable USB drives and SIM cards.
Raspberry Pi Imager - easy to use, works perfectly.
Arduino IDE v2 - Quick note: The Flatpak build of Arduino IDE 2 requires the user to have USB permissions to upload a sketch; preferably, the user has to be part of the dialout group.
Gnome Calculator - there are a bunch of calculators out there; this was simple and worked well.
Usage - an excellent tool for displaying information about the use of system resources, like memory and disk space
Disk Usage Analyzer - great graphical view of where you are spending storage.
SDR++ - aka. sdrpp. If you haven’t discovered the world of software-defined radio, you don’t know what you are missing. Please visit my previous article on how I was experimenting with SDR as part of my car radio project.
gocryptfs - This is my replacement for Apple’s encrypted sparse bundles. It uses the FUSE overlay file system and requires a little fussing in the command line, but the cryptography is sound for most uses.
Sublime-Text - this looks like it will be my replacement for BBedit and XCode. It is not a free app, but they have done a great job. There are some plug-ins as well as tricks, and even a theme that makes the transition from XCode a bit easier.
What I haven’t figured out yet
I still need to find a replacement for a banking/checkbook app. I used Banktivity on macOS and haven’t found a replacement yet. However, I was able to export my data in QIF format, and I will have to do the research here.
Overall, I have been delighted with Ubuntu. It serves as my primary computer for everyday tasks, and I continue to discover more features that I appreciate each day. However, I occasionally need to reboot into macOS for specific applications like Banktivity or exporting something from an Apple propriety format.