Living with Linux: one month report


It’s been over a month since I first installed Linux on my sister’s old laptop and I haven’t regretted it yet. In fact, I think it’s probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I always had an interest in the operating system. Back in highschool, I even bought ‘The complete idiot’s guide to Linux’ (which I’m sure is completely outdated today) which came with a free Linux installation CD.

However, back then I wasn’t brave enough to completely wipe out my family’s computer operating system just to give it a shot (I didn’t have a spare computer lying around back then and I wasn’t extremely well versed in formatting computers). Fortunately this also meant I saved myself the trouble of teaching my family how to relearn using the computer.

Anyway, the installation process was super smooth, there were no hiccups and I even made some upgrades to the laptop itself (changing the hard disk, adding more RAM, replaced the fan) which taught me a thing or two about opening up the machine (it’s not as scary/hard as I thought it would be!). However, the laptop I’m using now feels like a brand new machine and if this was something I bought off the shelf, I would have been extremely pleased.

Since I don’t have any other laptop for work/leisure, I’ve been using this machine as a daily driver for over a month and coming from someone who only used Windows PCs in the past, I felt that the process has been smooth-sailing. However, not everything has been rainbows and unicorns so I’ll break down my experience using Linux for the past month.

To start off, I’m running on Lubuntu 15.10 (the latest version of the distribution). It’s a Ubuntu-based distribution, so a lot of apps are supported/available and there is a plethora of resources available online to help me when I’m stuck. While Ubuntu ran smoothly on my machine, there were lag spikes every now and then, especially with the Unity interface. I tried various other lightweight distributions based on Ubuntu (Kubuntu, Xubuntu, MATE etc) but settled on Lubuntu due to it being the lightest of the lot, its standard UI and its customizability.

Initially I ran the Lubuntu UI over my Unity installation, and I got occasional error messages especially when I started uninstalling Ubuntu apps because I had no use for them. This prompted me to get a clean installation of Lubuntu which I did when 15.10 was released a few weeks ago. So far it’s been great, though I do miss certain features from Ubuntu.

On a daily basis, I use Libre Office (Writer and Calc) for work, Google Chrome for internet activities, Krita/GIMP/My Paint for visual work and Audacious for listening to music. While they are sufficient for work, I do miss Microsoft Office (formatting when opening MS documents is slightly messed up sometimes) and Adobe Photoshop (GIMP shortcuts and UI are quite unintuitive). Probably because I’m not completely used to them yet but I’m sure I’ll get there one day. Audacious is no Foobar 2000 but it does 99% of what I want it to do (come on, how hard is it to implement a directory music player?). Chrome is the same everywhere so I have no issues with it.

I’m also running Conky – a great little customizable widget-like app for monitoring my system (the little black box in the screenshot above).

My computer runs extremely well and it cold boots in under 20 seconds, so I have nothing to complain about when it comes to performance. There’s nothing I need it to do that it can’t do.

What are my problems with the operating system?
While Lubuntu is extremely customizable (and I mean it when I say extremely), a lot of its options are buried within its menus or only accessible by editing config text files. For example, I had an issue with my multimedia keys not working as expected – instead of using an app to edit my shortcuts, I had to dig up a config file and edit it manually. This extends to the rest of the operating system – additional mouse speed settings, program settings and more required me to edit config files. Sometimes you even have to create config from scratch! At least Ubuntu had graphical apps for tweaking. While this isn’t a big deal for some people, I can see the majority of Windows PC users getting turned off by the idea.

Heck, you can’t even edit the LXMenu (think of it as the ‘Start’ menu) without editing config files or installing the Main Menu Editor (which should have been included by default)! It’s small little things like these which cripple a newcomer’s experience for no good reason. I guess Ubuntu makes some of that stuff easier, but the learning curve is pretty steep for anybody who wants to become a competent Linux user.

Not every app would run on my machine. While most apps ran fine (especially if you installed them via the command line), there were quite a number of apps (especially games) that I had trouble running. It was usually due to the fact that I had a 64-bit machine and was missing 32-bit libraries. And despite me installing those additional libraries, some of those games/apps still refused to run on my machine.

I don’t know why those app developers didn’t just bundle all the dependencies together with them – it would save users a lot of trouble. I guess it might be to reduce file sizes and for the benefit of users who want to compile the apps themselves from the source. But based on this experience, I wouldn’t recommend Linux to people who want a gaming operating system. Maybe this will change in the future.

While the terminal is excellent at what it does, it’s not for everybody. There’s no built-in guide telling you what to do or what to use it for. I had to learn everything by reading guides/forums online. Initially, I didn’t even bother learning about what the commands did, I just copied and pasted them into the terminal (I still do, but at least I know what they do now).

Lastly, I’m not ashamed to admit that the Linux file structure confuses me. Unlike Windows where 90% of the apps you installed are where you choose for them to be, apps installed on Linux are all over the place (especially when you install them via apt-get install and don’t get to choose where to put them). It’s not strange to see a single app have its files placed in six different directories after installation. While this doesn’t make a difference to most users, for people like me who need to know where things are, especially if I need to edit config files, it becomes quite challenging to do (when you don’t know what to look for or where to find it).

And those are the only issues I have with the operating system so far. In fact you could consider them as non-issues if you don’t care about customization or gaming at all. Hopefully this post doesn’t seem like I’m ranting about Lubuntu/Linux because I’m not. It’s a great operating system and I’m happy to continue using it for the foreseeable future. It breathed new life into this aging laptop and I wouldn’t hesitate installing it on a future (non-gaming) device.

And for those interested in my customizations for my desktop, I’m using Ambiance Blackout Flat for my widgets (default colors), Numix Circle for my icons, default mouse cursor (DMZ White), Ultra Flat (slightly edited) for my window borders and Ubuntu Light for my default fonts. My LXMenu button was created using the dashboard icon from Google’s Material Icons Library. My panel features the menu, application shortcuts, iconify/show windows, task bar, volume, battery indicator, wifi, clock, temperature and power button. Wallpaper is from some random wallpaper collection I found online.

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