A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Some Thoughts After Moving from macOS to Linux

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It has been two weeks and change since I moved from my MacBook Pro to a ThinkPad P52s running Linux. Now that I have some real use time under my belt I thought it would be appropriate to give some of my thoughts.

The first thing I’d like to note is that I have no regrets moving to Linux. My normal routine is to use my laptop at work and whenever I’m away at home and use another computer at home (because I’m too lazy to pull my laptop out of my laptop bag every night). The computer I was using at home was a 2010 Mac Mini. I replaced it with my old MacBook Pro when I got my ThinkPad. I realized the other day that I haven’t once booted up my MacBook Pro since I got my ThinkPad. Instead I have been pulling my ThinkPad out of its bag and using it when I get home. At no point have I felt that I need macOS to get something done. That’s the best testament to the transition that I can give. That’s not to say Linux can do anything that macOS can. I’m merely fortune in that the tools I need are either available on Linux or have a viable alternative.

I’m still impressed with the ThinkPad’s keyboard. One of my biggest gripes about the new MacBooks is the ultra slim keyboards. I am admittedly a bit of a barbarian when it comes to typing. I don’t so much type as bombard my keyboard from orbit. Because of this I like keys with a decent amount of resistance and depth. The keyboard on my 2012 MacBook Pro was good but I’m finding the keyboard on this ThinkPad to be a step up. The keys offer enough resistance that I’m not accidentally pressing them (a problem I have with keyboards offering little resistance) and enough depth to feel comfortable.

With that said the trackpad is still garbage when compared to the trackpad on any MacBook. My external trackball has enough buttons where I can replicate the gestures I actually used on the MacBook though and I still like the TrackPoint enough to use it when I don’t have an external mouse connected.

Linux has proven to be a solid choice on this ThinkPad as well. I bought it with Linux in mind, which means I didn’t get features that weren’t supported in Linux such as the fingerprint reader or the infrared camera for facial recognition (which is technically supported in Linux but tends to show up as the first camera so apps default to it rather than the 720p webcam). My only gripe is the Nidia graphics card. The P52s includes both an integrated Intel graphics card and an Nvidia Quadro P500 discrete graphics card, which isn’t supported by the open source Nouveau driver. In order to make it work properly, you need to install Nvidia’s proprietary drivers. Once that’s installed, everything works… except secure boot. In order to make the P52s boot after installing the Nvidia driver, you need to go into the BIOS and disable secure boot. I really wish there was a laptop with an discrete AMD graphics card that fit my needs on the market.

One thing I’ve learned from my move from macOS to Linux is just how well macOS handled external monitors. My P52s has a 4k display but all of the external monitors I work with are 1080p. Having different resolution screens was never a problem with macOS. On Linux it can lead to some rather funky scaling issues. If I leave the built-in monitors resolution at 4k, any app that opens on that display looks friggin’ huge when moved to an external 1080p display. This is because Linux scales up apps on 4k displays by a factor of two by default. Unfortunately, scaling isn’t done per monitor by default so when the app is moved to the 1080p display, it’s still scaled by two. Fortunately, a 4k display is exactly twice the resolution as a 1080p display so changing the built-in monitor’s resolution to 1080p when using an external display is an easy fix that doesn’t necessitate everything on the built-in display looking blurry.

I’ve been using Gnome for my graphical environment. KDE seems to be the generally accepted “best” desktop environment amongst much of the Linux community these days. While I do like KDE in general, I find that application interfaces are inconsistent whereas Gnome applications tend to have fairly consistent interfaces. I like consistency. I also like that Gnome applications tend to avoid burying features in menus. The choice of desktop environment is entirely subjective but so far my experience using Gnome has been positive (although knowing that I have a ship to which I can jump if that changes is reassuring).

As far as applications go, I used Firefox and Visual Studio Code on macOS and they’re both available on Linux so I didn’t have to make a change in either case. I was using Mail.app on macOS so I had to find a replacement e-mail client. I settled on Geary. My experience with Geary has been mostly positive although I really hate that there is no way, at least that I’ve found, to quickly mark all e-mails as read. I used iCal on macOS for calendaring and Gnome’s Calendar application has been a viable replacement for it. My luck at finding a replacement for my macOS task manager, 2Do, on Linux hasn’t been a positive experience. I’m primarily using Gnome’s ToDo application but it lacks a feature that is very important to me, repeating tasks. I use my task manager to remind me to pay bills. When I mark a bill as paid, I want my task manager to automatically create as task for next month. 2Do does this beautifully. I haven’t found a Linux task manager that can do this though (and in all fairness, Apple’s Reminder.app doesn’t do this well either). I was using Reeder on macOS to read my RSS feeds. On Linux I’m using FeedReader. Both work with Feedbin and both crash at about the same rate. I probably shouldn’t qualify that as a win but at least it isn’t a loss.

The biggest change for me has probably been moving from VMWare Fusion to Virtual Machine Manager, which utilized libvirt (and thus KVM and QEMU). Virtualizing Linux with libvirt is straight forward. Virtualizing Windows 10 wasn’t straight forward until I found SPICE Windows guest tools. Once I installed that guest tool package, the niceties that I came to love about VMWare Fusion such as shared pasteboards and automatically changing the resolution of the guest machine when the virtual machine window is resized worked. libvirt also makes it dead simple to set a virtual machine to automatically start when the system boots.

One major win for Linux over macOS is software installation. Installing software from the Mac App Store is dead simple but installing software from other sources isn’t as nice of an experience. Applications installed from other sources have to include their own update mechanism. Most have have taken the road of including their own embedded update capabilities. While these work, they can usually only run when the application is running so if you haven’t used the application for some time, the first thing you end up having to do is update it. Lots of packages still don’t include automatic update capabilities so you have to manually check for new releases. Oftentimes these applications are available via MacPorts or Homebrew. On the Linux side of things almost every software package is available via a distro’s package manager, which means installation and updates are handled automatically. I prefer this over the hodgepodge of update mechanisms available on macOS.

So in closing I’m happy with this switch, especially since I didn’t have to drop over $3,000 on a laptop to get what I wanted.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 21st, 2018 at 11:00 am

Posted in Side Notes

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