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Best operating system for developers - macOS vs Ubuntu vs nixOS

Best operating system for developers - macOS vs Ubuntu vs nixOS
OS as a fictional characters banner

As a developer, the choice of which operating system (OS) to use can have a major impact on productivity and efficiency. The OS manages software and hardware resources, so it's important to consider factors like stability, security, customization options and available developer tools when deciding which to use. In one of our weekly Developers Roundtable, we gathered views from our community on this topic to help assess the options from a developer's perspective. Here’s a comparison of some of the top options for developers - macOS, Ubuntu, nixOS and Windows - along with the pros and cons of each.

In one of the weekly Developers Roundtable, we discussed about which Operating System (OS) to choose and for what purpose. Let's understand the latest state of OS via this anonymous group discussion among developers.

We had an insightful and interactive discussion on the pros and cons of three major operating systems in the developer world: Ubuntu, NixOS, and MacOS. This event is a unique opportunity for developers from various backgrounds to explore these platforms in-depth, share experiences, and broaden their understanding of each system's capabilities and limitations.

Overview of Ubuntu

Ubuntu is one of the most widely used Linux distributions for developers. Some of its key advantages are:

  1. Cost and Open Source: It's free, open-source, and breaks down financial barriers.
  2. Community Hub: With the largest community, Ubuntu ensures you're never alone when coding challenges arise.
  3. Linux Mastery: Unleash the full potential of Linux with Ubuntu's customizable environment.
  4. Package Management Pro: APT, the package manager, simplifies software installation with access to 10,000+ applications.
  5. Language Support: Ubuntu is a polyglot powerhouse, supporting a plethora of programming languages.
  6. Bash Terminal Bliss: For Unix/macOS users, Ubuntu's Bash terminal offers a familiar and comforting coding space.

Overview of macOS

Apple's macOS has long been a popular development environment. Some of the advantages of using macOS include:

  • Sleek UI Charm: The user-friendly interface of macOS isn't just a pretty face—it's a developer's dream, blending aesthetics with functionality seamlessly.
  • Hardware Excellence: Apple's commitment to stellar hardware is evident in the exceptional build quality of Mac laptops and desktops, providing a reliable foundation for development endeavors.
  • Harmony of Software and Hardware: The synergy between macOS software and Apple hardware is unparalleled. With Apple overseeing both aspects, the integration is tight, resulting in a cohesive development experience.
  • Homebrew Magic: Enter Homebrew, the package manager that adds a touch of magic to command line installations. It effortlessly brings a plethora of developer tools and libraries to your fingertips.
  • Swift and Xcode Symphony: macOS opens the door to iOS and macOS-specific development with Swift and the powerful Xcode IDE. This duo equips developers to create seamlessly for the Apple ecosystem.
  • Unix Roots, Linux Vibes: Beneath the surface, macOS operates on a Unix-based foundation. This not only provides a familiar environment for Linux enthusiasts but also ensures robust terminal support for efficient coding workflows.

Overview of nixOS

For developers who value customizability and reproducibility, nixOS offers some interesting capabilities:

  • Declarative Mastery: NixOS embraces a declarative configuration model, enabling developers to model the entire OS configuration within a single, concise file. It's a canvas where preferences are expressed with clarity.
  • Atomic Ballet of Upgrades: Witness the ballet of upgrades and rollbacks. NixOS ensures the reliability of updates with atomic precision. If an update pirouettes out of step, a seamless rollback gracefully restores the performance.
  • Everything's a Package: In the realm of NixOS, everything transforms into a package. This granularity offers developers a fine-grained control, allowing them to sculpt their development environment with meticulous precision.
  • Reproducibility Assurance: NixOS guarantees reproducibility, offering developers the power to replicate builds across machines effortlessly. Consistency becomes a hallmark, ensuring that what works on one system pirouettes the same on another.

OS Showdown: A Detailed Point-by-Point Comparison





Open Source







Very High

Learning Curve








Community Support




# of Available Applications




User Experience


Rough Edges




Very Good



Expensive Hardware



Great For

General & iOS/Mac Development

General Development

Advanced Custom Systems

So what does our community think?

We gathered additional perspectives on operating systems from members of our developer community. Here are some of their insights:

Ubuntu Update/Upgrade Process: Ubuntu's update and upgrade process through apt is seen as straightforward:

  • Trusted Personal Package Archives (PPAs) centralize where updates are fetched from
  • sudo apt update clearly checks for any available updates
  • The GUI Software Updater also shows pending updates
  • sudo apt upgrade provides a simple command line upgrade option

The transparent repositories and standard apt commands are appreciated compared to other distros.

Snap Containerization Tradeoffs: Ubuntu's Snap apps received more mixed reviews:

  • Snaps sandbox apps for improved security but limit access to key system areas
  • This was seen as an impediment for some development workflows
  • May work better for personal computing rather than development needs
  • For example, Snaps restrict ffmpeg access to hidden folders which blocks some server use cases

There seems to be a tradeoff between Snap's additional security versus reduced flexibility for developers.

macOS Update Challenges: Upgrading macOS drew some criticism in comparison:

  • Better than Windows but still not as simple as Ubuntu/apt
  • Choosing between Homebrew, MacPorts and the App Store creates confusion
  • The upgrade process remains less transparent than the Debian/Ubuntu standard

So macOS updates may present more challenges than Linux environments for developers.

Pulling together these first-hand experiences helps better understand the differences operating systems pose for real-world development. We'll continue gathering feedback in upcoming roundtable discussions.


There is no definitively "best" OS across the board – a developer's specific language/platform needs should determine priorities. That said Linux and macOS lead for web and mobile development flexibility and customization. For developers not needing specialized Windows tie-ins, Ubuntu delivers great open source infrastructure at zero cost. And nixOS innovation promises improved reproducibility and reliability for developers valuing those attributes.

The good news is developers have never had more freedom and flexibility when it comes to tailoring their environment. Whether you land on macOS, Ubuntu, nixOS or another option entirely - enjoy the journey of finding your just right fit.

Happy Coding!

These are the highlights from our developers' roundtable in the Invide public community channel. Join the next discussion on Discord.
RSVP for free or chat about the topic on discord