We’re going down to Eugene today to help Ben move in, but it’s a slow morning so I finally grabbed Darktable for the Mint Air to see what that’s about. ngl, I had no expectations, and that was me being charitably Zen about the whole thing.

First order of business was figuring out how it would handle Fujifilm raw files, and especially whether it understands Fujifilm film simulations. I found a blog post that explains how to find that stuff, and it worked fine. I ended up finding a few more features as a result.

I don’t think it’s fair to say much at this point: Lightroom on an 11" MacBook Air with a ca. 2015 non-Retina display wouldn’t look or perform any better. But what I’ve seen so far tells me Darktable is up there with a few other non-Lightroom tools you can use on Mac or iPad, and may even exceed them given one of the dynamics of proprietary software in the Apple ecosystem.

By that I mean, if you’re not using one of the big ones, e.g. Lightroom, then the contenders are all scrapping for what’s left of the space. The documentation is whatever it is — sometimes good, sometimes bad — but the third-party ecosystem (meaning not just add-ons, plugins, etc. but also user-generated documentation) is just gonna be poor. Lightroom seems to be in a place where that third party ecosystem is more robust than most second-tier Apple ecosystem things.

The other thing I’d not be getting with Darkroom would be Lightroom’s full DAM functionality, or the Adobe sync backend, anyhow. I think that’s fine: The main question I was trying to answer was “if I took this Linux laptop on a road trip, could I do some light editing?” Answer seems to be “sure,” though the underlying reality of the matter is that just bringing along my iPad mini and the SD reader would probably be faster, less clunky, and integrated with Lightroom for sync and all the presets I use.

Which, you know … that’s fine.

Years ago I briefly left Puppet and worked for a Major Open Source Institution on the content side. I got my first scolding from management when I edited an interview with a Hollywood creative who used Linux for a bunch of stuff, but mentioned tangentially that the one part of their workload they couldn’t move was one of Adobe’s tools. I was informed that I didn’t understand the open source community and that leaving that piece of information in would be very, very inflammatory.

Well, okay, fine … so I wrote a book about Linux, managed one of the biggest Linux news sites for years, wrote chapters of other books about Linux, did masters-level work on open source licensing, had helped Puppet develop programs to mature its open source licensing practices, and had contributed to GNOME at one point, but fine — the open source users of 2017 were too fragile to see mention of one commercial app in an otherwise glowing interview. So I pulled the mention before anyone could notice and learned that a PR director was “concerned” about my editorial leadership.

Anyhow, point being, there’s no point in me moving away from Lightroom so I’m not going to sit here and try to figure out how. It truly does meet a bunch of needs. It’s cool to know that there’s a way out of the Adobe ecosystem if I ever want to try to figure that out, and that if I decided I’d be more comfortable with Linux for some part of my computing life there’d be a legit path forward for my most important hobby, but the realities I’m dealing with right now are that I have very, very good Apple hardware sitting here in the house that has years of useful life in it running the OS it was built for, and that the move to Apple Silicon has reset the clock on Linux running on Apple hardware. There are a few ARM distros available for running in VMs, but not too many distros you can install natively on Apple hardware.

One of the reasons I wanted to give this old 11" MacBook Air a spin was because I liked the idea of extending its life now that these things are well into their vintage years. I’ve proved to my satisfaction that’s not a bad proposition. I’d recommend going this route over buying a Chromebook for anyone who’s tolerant of the idea of running Linux to begin with. But that Mac Studio sitting upstairs has years more life in it. By the time it flips EoL/Vintage, I bet there’ll be a credible Linux answer for it, and we’ll cross that bridge again.