Year of Linux on my desktop. Again.
I think at this point we can all agree that “the year of Linux on the desktop” is a well received running gag. Will it ever happen? Sure, this year. As every year since 1998. And yet here I am writing this blog post on my Lenovo X1 Carbon Gen 9 running Linux. Overall I have to say things look a lot better than I remember them from the last time I ran Linux on a desktop - so between 1999 and 2008. But some of the problems are still exactly the same.
Let me give some context how I ended up in this situation. Before I used Stage Manager I actually still believed in the iPad. Multitasking was the one missing piece for me to be able to use it as my only mobile device while traveling. Which does not happen very often, but when I travel I still need to get some work done. With code-server and Neovim I can work on projects, all my documentation and diagrams are plain text and the iPad handling all other things exceptionally well (and more often than not better than a MacBook. When my dad told me he needs a MacBook I gave him my M1 MacBook Air and went all in on the iPad. It was a bit annoying, but Stage Manager. At least that is what I thought. Having used the beta I can say for sure I am done believing in the iPad. Apple does not want me to use it as a productivity device. So be it.
But this also left me with no mobile device I did not dislike. I still had the Lenovo X1 Carbon Gen9 sitting on my desk in case I needed to test something on a Windows machine. When I ordered it Lenovo had some promotion running with a free upgrade to a 1TB drive. So there is more than enough disk space to dual boot Windows and Linux. I do not dislike Windows 11. I approached it with the “it is a new OS I have to learn from the ground up” approach and this served me well. But Windows 11 also gets in my way a bit more often than I appreciate.
All work I do on the road should be easily doable on Linux as well. At the end of the day I need working VPN, a browser, a terminal and preferably JetBrains Gateway. Bonus points for an email client that does not suck. (cough Apple Mail in dark mode cough.) Linux has all of this - let us not argue about the mail client. If all fails there is still mutt. And Lenovo actually sells the X1CGen9 with Fedora or Ubuntu, so I expected compatibility to be really good.
Let me get the big distro flame war out of the way: In my opinion they all suck. Arch Linux was my preferred one for desktops back in the day. I had time to mess and toy with the system. Keep an eye on the website when a system upgrade breaks something - CUPS update killing X is still my favourite one. These days I care less about the getting the absolute most performance out of the system or not having a single service running I might not absolutely need all the time. I want to install an OS, update it regularly and not have to think about it. While Arch supports the X1CGen9 really well according to the wiki I decided to go with an officially Lenovo sanctioned one. Ubuntu never was my favourite. Starting with the early community that formed (surely not true today anymore) or the number one issue they kept in LaunchPad. But the distribution was dead for me when they integrated Amazon spyware. So here I am, running Fedora and having flashbacks of RPM being horrible garbage on SuSE 5.2.
The desktop environment was also something I had struggled with a bit before getting started. My gut feeling was to install Mate. Gnome 2 was peak desktop experience for me and Mate carries the spirit on pretty well. Gnome 3 is a strange thing to look at, appears to try to mix a tablet design in and usually gets lots of critique. But same as Windows 11 I decided to go with all the standards of the distribution and see where it takes me. “It is a new OS I have to learn from the ground up.” And three days later I can say it works and does not get in my way. I can move windows around, maximise and minimise them. Network and power settings are easily accessible. Checks off all boxes.
I am running stock Fedora 35. I resisted the urge to try the Mate spin and Silver Blue, even though they look really interesting to me. I just wanted to point this out in case someone is reading this article and has a vastly different experience using one of the spins.
I resized the Windows 11 partition in Windows and was actually impressed it can do this without problems. After writing a USB drive to boot from it took roughly 25 minutes to install Fedora and have a working desktop with disk encryption and Grub being able to booth both operating systems. And I mean working desktop when I say it. All hardware was recognized except for the IR emitter for facial recognition, which was easily fixed by installing Howdy. The finger print reader worked out of the box. Functions keys for audio and display control worked, power profiles worked, standby worked. Battery life is roughly equivalent to Windows 11 for the same tasks. System update installed a few firmware updates Lenovos updater did not seem to find.
I honestly have nothing to complain about three days in. But I also did not do any of the things I remember Linux struggling with such as plugging in external screens, using a Bluetooth keyboard or doing any form if video conferencing. So there will be an update in a few weeks as those are most likely the things people who consider switching are interested in.
While it is easy to talk about replacing services you are used to, it is a different thing relying on them on a day to day basis. This experiment essentially forces me out of Apples ecosystem. No more access to iCloud files or Keychain which integrate really well with Windows. Not having my phone with me when visiting my parents to watch Formula 1 also means I had to message my wife on Matrix as I left my phone at home. Turns out she has push notifications disabled and the app hidden in a folder where she does not have to see it. Talk about OSS adoption in our household.
It has only been three days. So it is way too early to decide if it would be feasible for me to fully switch to Linux or if Linux finally stepped up and became usable as desktop operating system for people who are not tech savvy or simply want their OS to get out of their way. But what I can already say is that the experience is way better than it was over a decade ago and did not require any terminal commands or knowledge beside what the UI let me click on - except Howdy which I would not expect anyone not tech-savvy to figure out. So far, I’m pleasantly surprised!