NixOS for non-technical folks

My parents have an old mac on its last legs, which they use for web browsing and very little else. I’m considering setting them up with a replacement machine running NixOS, but I’m unsure about the feasibility/practicality.

On the one hand, they’ve never used Linux before and I’d likely need to handle most of the maintenance/updates.

On the other hand, the use-case is very simple (ability to log in, run a web-browser, get audio working), and it’s likely the only maintenance would be an occasional update.

If it’s feasible to perform maintenance remotely, that would be nice. That’s an area I’m not familiar with, but would be interested in learning about.

The main priorities for this machine would be:

  • security
  • reliability
  • simplicity

I’m curious what people think. Am I crazy to consider NixOS for this? Should I set them up with a more conventional Linux distro? Should I just get them a Chromebook?


I’m not sure I’d consider NixOS to meet the simplicity goal.

I bought my in-laws a Chromebook years ago and it was a great purchase. It has required little of my time, while providing everything they need. I have my complaints about them, but for just needing a web browser it checks all your requirements.


I mean, I think I’ve seen a few people claim to be managing NixOS deployments like this.

What kind of mac, and define “last legs”?

If my parents were already familiar with a mac, TBH I think I’d be entertaining a mac mini if their needs are ~stationary or maybe a used macbook if not.

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I do this. It works well

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I suppose I was thinking of simplicity in terms of having a declarative system config, so things are well-defined and reproducible. It would be pretty simple for me, but only because I’m already used to configuring things on NixOS. Probably “reproducibility” would’ve been the more appropriate word to use.

Good to know about the Chromebook, though. I’m definitely keeping that option on the table.

I think it’s a 2013 macbook air. It’s on its last legs in that it randomly reboots itself and seems to have frequent network connectivity problems. I suspect it’s no longer well-supported in terms of Apple software updates, but I haven’t confirmed that yet.

Any advice/tips? Are you able to manage it remotely, or do you have to make house calls?

Fair. :slight_smile:

I think the last macos it can use is big sur.

If you can imagine them being able to use a kiosk for all of their needs I guess managed nixos could provide something equivalent?


You might also want to look into something like openSUSE MicroOS if a chromebook is a bit too limiting for your/their tastes, as this is about as close as you can get to an install-and-forget system. The only work required by you or your parents would be (should be) to reboot sometimes.

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I don’t actually manage it remotely, because I have easy access to it physically, but I manage a server remotely that has a similar simple configuration. It’s all very easy. I can’t think of any tips. Nothing ever goes wrong (unlike on my own computer, on which I’m always doing crazy configuration experiments and then regretting it)

By the way, it’s a 2012 MacBook Pro, so similar to yours


I maintain a Kubuntu system for a relative in his 60s who is not very technical but is generally pretty cool and would probably be down to experiment. This post has temped me to put him on NixOS (maybe with Flatpak enabled for easy app installation) and see what he has to say about it.

I think he would find the rollbacks feature impressive, but I don’t see him ever editing configuration.nix himself.

I do like the idea that a bad update would never leave him stuck, and how easy it would be to diagnose issues on his system. On the other hand, he doesn’t generally have issues as-is anyway.


Def get them a Chromebook for its ease of use. However, this says something important about NixOS. If we want more average users to adopt it, we need a non-technical edition/configuration.

Something like a gnome extension would be fantastic for this. So that if you change the disk or account settings it writes to the config and the gnome app store gets the system upgrades and then flatpak can manage the rest.

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