In Valid Logic

Endlessly expanding technology

Linux Desktop Coming to an End

It has been almost a year since I moved to using Linux as my fulltime desktop, however it looks like that period may be coming to an end. Yesterday I ordered a new 13” MacBook Pro and it should be here early next week.

In June was my hardware refresh and I decided to abandon Apple’s hardware and its vendor choices that were not very Linux friendly. This was mainly Broadcom, since I had regular wifi issues, and Nvidia, where I was plagued with a driver bug breaking X for a while. So, I decided to get a Thinkpad X240. I’ve had a number of Thinkpads before and always loved them. The X240 really is a great laptop. The FHD (1920x1080) screen is amazing on a 12” laptop. The battery life is absolutely amazing. The keyboard is great, even though some people hate it. And its Linux compatibility is far better than Apple’s. The install was relatively pain free. But it isn’t without its faults.

The impetus for moving back is really two things:

First, some Arch update nearly 2 months ago completely broke my ability to use my 4K monitors. This affects the one I use at home and in the office. I can get below 4K, but cannot get actual 4K. And yes, 2 months ago. I’ve been too busy to really dive in deep and get it fixed, and when I have tried to dive in, I’ve some up empty. I miss full resolution.

Second, I simply cannot survive on 8gb of RAM. Using virtual machines is simply a necessity, and it just plain sucks to try and use a VM with a decent memory allocation on 8gb.

My hardware wish list was 3 things: 13” form factor, 1920x1080 base resolution, and 16gb of RAM. Most manifacturers only hit 2/3. Apple is the only one that hits all 3 with the 13” MBP. Lenovo and Dell have missed the mark with this one. There are a growing number of thin+light+power users, in my opinion.

So recently with my two issues and trying to find ways to resolve those 2, I decided to sit down and make a list of my current pain points:

Hardware

  1. Limited to only 8gb RAM
  2. 4K resolution no longer working
  3. Frequent bluetooth connectivity issues (mouse losing connectivity for 5 seconds)
  4. Touchscreen layer on the FHD screen has ghosting issues
  5. I can’t say I haven’t had wifi issues still on this machine
  6. Keyboard shortcuts for volume, backlight, etc don’t work. They’re too new for the Linux driver.

So in the end I had 6 issues directly related to this system.

But then I found I was also noting general system issues annoyances:

General

  1. Printing and scanning issues. My Canon printer at home used to work, but now I try to print and CUPS says “printing…done” and the printer doesn’t even more. And it can sort of scan. Sort of. Currently going though the mortgage process and I’ve been using my wife’s MacBook Air to print/scan and using Dropbox to transfer.
  2. Sometimes the clipboard in X or something just decides to brick any app I tried to copy/paste and end up needing to reboot.
  3. My terminal (urxvt) seems to have issues sometimes and just crash.
  4. Photo processing in RAW is rather weak compared to OS X and even just iPhoto. It can be done, but the apps leave much to be desired.
  5. Chrome crashes all the time if I have to bring up a file dialog to upload a file. This sucks with #1, where frequently doing email attachments of even uploading to Slack.
  6. Scrolling in Chrome is unintuitive. It is some interaction between X and Chrome, but scrolling has the acceleration and what not (very used to it on OS X), but if I scroll some, then hit Control to use Page Up/Page Down to switch tabs, I will not have my had on the trackpad, but the scroll motion is continuing and hitting Control causes the page to been zoomed.
  7. I have never gotten it to disable the trackpad while typing and have it re-enable as a smooth process.
  8. Even though this isn’t all that terrible, cannot use WebEx to hope on a sales call and be able to help out. WebEx on Linux needs a 32bit environment.
  9. Presenting on Linux is full of “please work, please work”. Plugging in the external display, trying to configure the resolution and layouts, and doing the presentation isn’t a process that has confidence. LibreOffice and Google Present are options. Keynote compatiblility isn’t there. PowerPoint will open, but not always correct.

And can keep finding more if I keep trying to think.

But to sum up a Linux desktop: stuff just doesn’t work out of the box, and you are limited with external support. Who can I actually go to for help getting 4K after an update? For printing issues? For Chrome crashing?

As I was typing up the list, it started to click that all of these issues we ones I was choosing to live with. I’d use workarounds like needing my wife’s laptop, or I’d just hide behind, like sitting at my desk with a big ass monitor in front of me and using just my laptop.

On the positive side though, I have really become acustom to using a tiling window manager. I find it is just so much more productive to see everything you have open. It forces being less cluttered and more concise. And from what I have tried before, OS X options just pale in comparison to a true tiling window manager. Emacs is definitely now my home. I am not busting out any Lisp, but I know my way around and it is entirely natural now.

So when my new MacBook Pro arrives, I will more than likely not be installing Linux on it. However I may see what I can do to bring back some of what I liked to OS X, whether through Xquartz and trying to go full UNIX, or trying some of the OS X and tricks to make it feel more like a tiled system.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

 
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