A month with Linux on the Desktop

It’s been a bit over a month since I installed Linux as my main desktop OS on a PC I built to replace OS X on a (cylinder) Mac Pro. I installed Ubuntu MATE 16.04.

Here are my general thoughts:

  • Linux has come a far way in 6 years (last time I used it full-time on the desktop).
  • There are Linux versions of popular software that is vital to my workflows — Firefox, Chrome, Dropbox, Slack, Sublime Text, etc.
    • When there isn’t a direct equivalent, there is usually a clone that gets the job done. Zeal, Meld, for example.
  • It still is definitely not for the casual user.
  • Btrfs.
  • Lacks the behavioral consistency of OS X.
  • Some keyboard shortcuts get some getting used to (but most of the time, they’re completely configurable).
  • Steam is available for Linux! (10 of the 11 titles in my library run on Linux. Does that say something about the games I play, or are Linux ports popular these days?)
  • If something is broken, it can be fixed*.

(*) maybe, probably. Sometimes. It depends.

Some thoughts specific to the development work I do:

  • Docker is as easy to use as it is on a Linux server. Because the kernel is exactly the same. 🙂
  • I can quickly reproduce server environments locally with minimal effort.
  • Configuration files are in the same place as any Ubuntu 16.04 server.

Some things really surprised me. For example, I plugged my iPhone in to the USB to charge it, and it automatically launched the photo importer and started the tethering connection. I did not expect that on a clean install.

It hasn’t been all peaches and roses, though — there are some specific complaints I have about the file browser (Caja, a Nautilus fork) and the MATE Terminal — so much so that I have replaced the MATE Terminal with GNOME 3’s terminal emulator. I haven’t gotten around to trying other file browser because most of the time I’m browsing files, I’m in the terminal.

Other nice-to-have things that don’t relate to the OS itself, but rather to building your own PC (I’m aware of Hackintosh-ing, but my issues were mainly with software, not hardware):

  • The particular case I’m using has space for 2 large (optical drive-sized) bays and 8 3.5 inch hard drive bays. That’s a lot of storage. It currently holds 2 SATA SSDs (and one M.2 SSD, but that doesn’t take up any room in the case).
  • Access to equipment that is much newer / faster than anything you can get via the Apple Store. (I’m planning on getting the Nvidia GTX 1080 at some point in the future, and I’m currently using the i7-6700K quad-core CPU at 4.0GHz now)

Conclusion: I’m enjoying it. I realize that I’m a special case, and I strongly discourage anyone from using Linux on the Desktop unless they really know what they’re doing. In my case, I regularly manage Linux servers professionally, so I know how to fix something when it’s gone wrong (most of the time). I still use a MacBook Pro with OS X installed on it when I’m on the go or need something specifically for Mac, but it usually stays asleep for most of the time.

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