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title: The year of my Linux desktop
date: 2017-02-25 09:00:00
updated: 2017-02-25 09:00:00
coordinates: 50.86505 4.70068
proofread: no
description: First experiences of switching to desktop Linux from macOS as a web developer
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<img src="../../assets/tux.jpg" alt="Drawing of Tux, a penguin" />
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<p>It's time.</p>
<p>After years of doubting I finally bit the bullet and ordered a 6th generation <a href="" title="The New XPS 13 Developer Edition Lands in Europe, United States and Canada @ Barton George">Dell XPS 13" Linux Developer</a> laptop, also known by Dell as the &ldquo;XPS13 MLK (9360), <span itemscope itemtype=""><a itemprop="url" href="" title="Ubuntu Desktop product page"><span itemprop="name">Ubuntu</span></a></span> Linux 16.04 SP1&rdquo; and I am switching to <a href="../switching-to-linux" title="Switching to Linux">Linux</a>!</p>
<p>It won't be my first experience with Linux. I currently maintain a few Ubuntu servers for work, but I never used Linux as my main driver. That's about to change. After 10+ years of Windows and 16 years of OS X (err, macOS) it's time to give that other contender a shot.</p>
<p>I have been called an Apple fanboy, waited in line for the first iPhone, pulled all-nighters to catch the keynote and anxiously followed the rumor sites for their &ldquo;one more thing&rdquo;. No longer. It's not the new <span itemscope itemtype=""><a itemprop="url" href="" title="MacBook Pro product page @ Apple"><span itemprop="name">MacBook Pro with Touchbar</span></a></span> that pulled me over, its something deeper&hellip; a lack of excitement? Take the macOS Sierra product page, for example, not a single feature they announced is something I am looking forward to. The Linux side is new, uncharted territory. Oh, there will be dragons, sure, but they are new dragons, challenging dragons.</p>
<p>Why now?</p>
<li>Dell is a few generations in with their XPS &ldquo;developer&rdquo; line. I want to give this a fair chance and don't want to blame Linux for some driver issue I have to track down.</li>
<li>It looks like the Linux side is finally taking Retina / <abbr title="High Dots Per Inch">HDPI</abbr> / 4K serious, something Apple users have been used to for years now.</li>
<li>I contributed some mini documentation fixes to elementaryOS and the community over there was helpful and responded fast. It looks like a nice place to hang out, a place an Apple fanboy would feel at home.</li>
<li>Years of listening to the <a href="" title="A great Linux related podcast">Linux Unplugged</a> podcast have slowly, but surely brainwashed me.</a>
<p>I expected a dull cardboard box with a computer, like the Lenovo ones I often order for work, but no, the XPS came in a slick black box ready to be pulled out, very Apple-esque. The battery was fully charged and getting started was as easy as it should be. I was greeted by a little video and followed the installation without any problems. Not once did it mention <a href="" title="Disk partition software"><code>fdisk</code></a>, not once did I wonder if I should or should not create a swap partition, not once did I see a <a href="" title="Library to design text-based user interfaces"><code>ncurses</code></a> screen, perfect.</p>
<p>The screen is gorgeous. The glossy <abbr title="Wide Quad Extended Graphics Array Plus">QHD+</abbr> screen is what I have come to expect from Apple's Retina screens and the XPS lives up to that expectation. I quickly hooked up a 27" 4K display over <abbr title="Universal Serial Bus">USB</abbr>-C and I only needed to fine-tune the scaling in the settings to make it look good. <abbr title="Universal Serial Bus">USB</abbr>, yes, you can drive a screen over <abbr title="Universal Serial Bus">USB</abbr> these days, crazy. Ubuntu looks great out of the box. I expected to need to fiddle with the settings but no, the <abbr title="High Dots Per Inch">HDPI</abbr> stuff just worked.</p>
<p>I don't actually have a 4K external display myself, I am still using my old
<span itemscope itemtype=""><a itemprop="url" href="" title="Cinema Display product page @ Wayback Machine"><span itemprop="name">Cinema Display</span></a></span>, and that's where it starts getting annoying. It looks like it's all <abbr title="High Dots Per Inch">HDPI</abbr> or all back to <abbr title="High Definition">HD</abbr>. The Apple hardware handles that just fine: <abbr title="High Dots Per Inch">HDPI</abbr> on the laptop with <abbr title="High Definition">HD</abbr> on the external screen. You can even have half of a window on one screen and half on another. Not so with the Dell: some applications are an ugly mess or completely unusable since it can't seem to figure out what resolution it needs to use.</p>
<h3>Trackpad &amp; mouse</h3>
<p>The trackpad feels good and tap-to-click is on by default, but&hellip; impossible to use. It misfires so often that I had to turn off the tap-to-click after the first few minutes of use. I have been using Apple's trackpads for years now and not once did it register a misfire. Dell or Ubuntu definitely have some catching up to do here.</p>
<p>Didn't think this through but should have expected the <span itemscope itemtype=""><a itemprop="url" href="" title="Magic accessories products page"><span itemprop="name">Magic Mouse</span></a></span> would not be a good fit on Linux. It isn't. Kernel modules you say? No thanks, I'll grab a &euro;2 <abbr title="Universal Serial Bus">USB</abbr> mouse. Too bad, I do like the Magic Mouse.</p>
<p>The keyboard feels good. Not exactly Apple quality, but good enough. The carbon fiber palm rest feels warm and the edges are not as sharp as the MacBook's. It is a palm grease magnet though. Switching from <kbd><abbr title="Command">CMD</abbr></kbd> to <kbd><abbr title="Control">CTRL</abbr></kbd> for most shortcuts was easier than expected.</p>
<p>The <abbr title="Wireless Fidelity">Wi-Fi</abbr> works out-of-the-box but the range is terrible. My MacBook Pro has no trouble picking up my <abbr title="Wireless Fidelity">Wi-Fi</abbr> signal on the other side of the house, full bars, but not the Dell XPS. One floor up and it starts dropping packages. Some quick research revealed it's likely a result of construction materials and antenna location, a general issue with the XPS line. Not ideal for a laptop.</p>
<h3>Ubuntu Software</h3>
<p>The first thing you do when you have a new laptop is to go looking for software so I gave <a href="" tile="GNOME Software @ Wikipedia">Ubuntu Software</a> a shot. I remember from earlier Ubuntu tries that it's a bit of a hit-and-miss and it seems not much has changed. Some installed applications are listed twice and none of the applications can be removed: clicked the remove button multiple times but the packages keep coming a few minutes later. I know about <code>apt</code> and I imagined the Ubuntu Software as a <abbr title="Graphical User Interface">GUI</abbr> for <code>apt</code> but that does not seem right, they don't show the same packages all. I expected a smoother experience here but guess <code>apt</code> it's where it's at.</p>
<p>On macOS, you close an application with <kbd><abbr title="Command">CMD</abbr>+q</kbd>. Ubuntu has a similar <kbd><abbr title="Command">CTRL</abbr>+q</kbd> shortcut but that's not an <abbr title="Operating System">OS</abbr>-wide thing. It depends per application and there might not even be a shortcut to close the application. This I did not expect. Another one? You can copy with <kbd><abbr title="Command">CTRL</abbr>+c</kbd> but in the terminal it's <kbd><abbr title="Command">CTRL</abbr>+SHIFT+C</kbd>. Consistency is hard.</p>
<p>I switched from <span itemscope itemtype=""><a itemprop="url" href="" title="1Password product page"><span itemprop="name">1Password</span></a></span> to <span itemscope itemtype=""><a itemprop="url" href="" title="Enpass product page"><span itemprop="name">Enpass</span></a></span> in preparation of the switch as 1Password doesn't support Linux. Enpass needed some <abbr title="High Dots Per Inch">HDPI</abbr> tweaks but works just fine. Having all your passwords at hand is an absolute must these days. I still prefer 1Password: it's a nicer and more polished application but without Linux support, it's out.</p>
<p>I grew addicted to <span itemscope itemtype=""><a itemprop="url" href="" title="MailMate product page"><span itemprop="name">MailMate</span></a></span> on macOS but switched back to <span itemscope itemtype=""><a itemprop="url" href="" title="Thunderbird product page"><span itemprop="name">Thunderbird</span></a></span> on Linux. It feels like a step back. MailMate's &ldquo;plain text only but switch on a per message basis&rdquo; is stellar, as is their <abbr title="Pretty Good Privacy">PGP</abbr> integration. I understand I have a specific mail preference but was surprised there are not more modern power tools for mail on Linux. The main mail application is not-so-recent software with an <a href="" title="Thunderbird @ Wikipedia">uncertain future</a>. Yes, I tried <a href="" title="The Geary email application">Geary</a>, <a href="" tile="Nylas email client homepage">Nylas</a> and even <a href="../mutt" title="The mutt email client">mutt</a> and thanks, but no thanks.</p>
<h2>First day</h2>
<p>I only used the XPS exclusively for a single day so far. The hardware looks good and Ubuntu seems to do the job: I can do my work on this machine. The main drawbacks after day one are the horrible wireless reception and messy <abbr title="High Dots Per Inch">HDPI</abbr> support with my older screen. Nothing that can't be fixed.</p>
<p>Hardware ready, software installed, ready to go. Let's start using this machine on a daily base and see where I stand in one month!</p>