How to run Linux on Retina MacBook Pro without dual-booting

Linux tends to be a bit flaky on brand-new models, and dual-booting is tough (impossible?) if you want to use FileVault on your Mac OS X partition. But some of us want to peek into the future, and maybe help Linux-based software prepare for the world of high-resolution displays…

Luckily, you can use standard virtualization tools. Unluckily, for now you’ll have to manually change the Mac’s screen resolution.

  1. Get a tool like SwitchResX that lets you set the desktop to 2880×1800 unscaled. You don’t need to switch resolutions yet; install will be easier at a sane res!
  2. Install Ubuntu or whatever into VirtualBox or other virtualization software
  3. Within Linux, install the ‘gnome-tweak’ (“Advanced settings”) tool
  4. Open up ‘Advanced settings’ and bump ‘Text Scaling’ up to 2.0
  5. Switch to 2880×1800 and go fullscreen!
  6. After leaving, switch resolution back to sane 1440×900 (HiDPI)

This trick works with games like Portal 2 as well. :)

This may also be a good way to run things like Gimp and Inkscape at high-resolution, since X11.app/XQuartz doesn’t yet support HiDPI mode.

Unfortunately, today things are a nasty mix of font-dependent good sizing and pixel-dependent horrible scaling. Boo hoo :( GNOME Shell seems to fare better than Ubuntu’s Unity interface, but it still not perfect. Firefox has UI mostly sized to text, but then you get tiny icons and actual web pages default to tiny scale.

Possibly adjusting screen DPI could help some of these, but not sure…

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