Using a tiling window manager with no real desktop environment seems like Linux at its most weird and fascinating and it’s why I’m here. What a blast.
After spending a few days with Ubuntu and Gnome (see My Linux Experience Day Two) I wanted a chance to finally try a “tiling” window manager. I’ve heard that they’re difficult at first but awesome once you’ve gotten the hang of it. Sounds right up my alley, so I installed xmonad, rebooted, logged in, and…
Nothing. The login area faded away and the screen stayed exactly the same, but empty. I had expected a blank screen because that’s what xmonad starts with, so thought maybe this was it. I tried a few of the magic key combinations and again, nothing. Frustrated, I thought I’d look for alternatives to xmonad, just to get a feel for that type of window manager and see if I liked working that way.
i3wm seemed popular and well-liked and a decent alternative to xmonad so I decided to install it. While poking around I ran into Manjaro i3 Community Edition. What’s that? It’s a Manjaro Linux derivative that uses i3 and a sane configuration by default. I’d never even heard of Manjaro Linux before. It’s based on Arch, which everyone told me was difficult, but it was highly ranked on DistroWatch.com, so throwing caution to the wind, I wiped the ThinkPad and installed Manjaro i3.
I’m so glad I did. i3 is terrifying and I’m still swearing a lot, but I can see the future and it looks efficient, lightweight, keyboard-driven, and cool.
Another welcome side effect is that the trackpad is now behaving properly. Not sure what the deal with was with Ubuntu but this is way better.
I have a long way to go before being remotely efficient on Linux but I’m having so much fun that it’s totally worth it.
Let me start by saying that I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to desktop Linux. I’ve been running Ubuntu on this new ThinkPad for less than a week, and Ubuntu 17.10 for maybe two days.
One of the first unpleasant discoveries after upgrading from 16.04 to 17.10 was that two-finger scrolling on the trackpad stopped working. This took a bad situation and made it completely unbearable. I found the following workaround somewhere (I’ve misplaced the reference):
$ sudo modprobe -r psmouse $ sudo modprobe psmouse
This works, but must repeated with each reboot. Looking forward to a more permanent fix.
~ lsb_release -a No LSB modules are available. Distributor ID: Ubuntu Description: Ubuntu 17.10 Release: 17.10 Codename: artful
So that worked I guess.
So here I sit in front of a new-to-me Thinkpad X1 Carbon from 2015. It’s running Linux. I spent yesterday wiping it of Windows 10 and installing Ubuntu 16.04.
The installation process wasn’t too bad. It was much better than I remember. I opted for Ubuntu because it seems like the easiest path to actually using Linux. I’m sure there are other options that I’ll want to try later. First things first.
I like the hardware. It’s just sort of solid and businesslike. It feels like something I can use and toss around without too much worry. This is partly due to only paying $300 for it, but it’s mostly because the thing feels like it could take a beating. The screen is nice. Not Retina MBP nice, but nice.
I have to admit that I don’t mind not feeling like Jony Ive is whispering in my ear every time I open it.
The ThinkPad’s keyboard took a minute to adapt to, but only a minute. I’ll tell you right now it’s miles more enjoyable to type on than my 2016 MBP. The keys have a lot of travel, and they inspire confidence. Oh, and there’s an actual Escape key, which I’ve missed.
Let’s talk about the trackpad. Something is wrong with the trackpad. Something must be wrong with it. Using the trackpad is the most frustrating, inaccurate, unpredictable thing. I’ll leave final judgment for later, because I assume there’s a fix out there. There has to be a fix or the whole machine is going to go sailing out a window soon.
I haven’t explored software much. I’ve got Emacs (Spacemacs) all set up. That took some finagling, as the bundled package was 24.3 or something and I needed 25.x. The package system and software installs are going to take some getting used to. I expected that. My email is all local via mbsync and viewed in Mu4e. At first I thought managing email in Emacs was a gimmick but it turns out to be pretty great.
Other than Emacs, right now it’s mostly just Firefox and a terminal. This machine isn’t intended to replace my Macs. It’s more of an experiment to see how far I can get. I’ll keep you posted.
There goes my Sunday.