What the hell is he about again?
This is something that has been in my head for some time now, we are all surrounded by various computing devices, all running different operating systems, supporting different programs and working differently. And frankly that is not a very good way to work, at least for me, because it involves a lot of setting things up, maintaining them and that means a lot of time wasted on keeping things running instead of using the time to live life.
So let us take a look at what I am talking about. On a daily basis these are the devices I use: A smartphone, a tablet with a pen, a laptop and a desktop PC (not daily) as well as a server as a back-end and a set-top box for my TV. Operating systems involved? Ubuntu, Mac OS, iOS and Android (Lineage).
Compatibility? Yeah, not so great…
As a matter of fact, it is a real mess and I am about done with it. So I decided to fix this mess.
First step: Set the goal
Please let me warn you, this is not going to be a thing that is covered in one post, it will take some time to figure out how to get this all down to an easier experience. But setting a goal should always be the first step in a tech project. So here we go.
1.) Number of devices
The goal is to get the number down to about three. The server will not be touched, it runs on ubuntu 20.04 and does about everything I need perfectly. I might do a separate post on it if someone is interested, so please let me know.
The other devices: one phone and one device that will be tablet, laptop, desktop and TV set-top box.
And since it has to do all this, I guess what we are looking at here will have to be a powerful tablet, with pen-support and a keyboard and mouse.
And that tablet will be my first focus.
2.) Number of operating systems
Ideally I am aiming for one, but realistically two and since I am focusing on the tablet first lets start with that.
As I am going to use this device in various use cases and need to able to adapt the OS in whatever way I want to. There is only one OS to go by and that would be GNU/Linux.
But this is a blog about Linux and free software so I guess you saw that one coming…
My first idea was to go with Ubuntu, I was a bit disappointed with 20.04, but its followup release 20.10 was just as fine as I am used to. It has great hardware support and in general is very very very very stable (enough verys?)
But that stability comes at a price and its name is bleeding edge. And with a device that is going to need touchscreen drivers, the latest gnome DE (oh yeah, forgot to mention that, going with Gnome here) etc. to work fine with the hardware.
My first thought was to go with Arch as that basically is the bleeding edge distribution. But given that I have exactly 0 experience with that and that I remembered running into issues with Manjaro a couple of months back that wasn’t an option either.
Remember? The goal is to make my life easier 😉
So my mind drifted about and I remembered one distribution I am very fond of and that always is very up to date. Fedora.
3.) Programs and functionality I need
Well, let us start with the classics shall we?
A web browser, a mailing client, terminal, remote software: Microsoft remote desktop protocol, nx protocol, ssh, vnc, teamviewer and anydesk.
Then something a little more fancy, ability to connect to my phone for sms and stuff, signal messenger, threema, matrix client…
Also, the ability to take notes, with pictures on the file and a pen to write onto the pictures.
Then, of course, password manager, music, gimp, raw-thereapee for my photography hobby, etc etc etc.
Second step: getting started
Now prior to spending hours on online shops searching for the perfect tablet for the job I figured it would be better to give the project a test run on existing hardware.
What I have: A Surface go, Gen 1 with keyboard and pen and also in the weakest possible configuration.
I flashed fedora 33 ws on a usb drive and I didn’t boot…
Checking Bios, set everything correctly, retry, nothing….
Reading on the internet: I have to go through Windows 10 recovery to do this. (A little warning here, if you mess up, you need to reinstall Windows 10 to reinstall your linux distribution. According to the WWW that is a surface go only problem)
Any way, got fedora booted and installed. So far, so good.
I went by this nice guide here btw.: https://github.com/linux-surface/linux-surface/wiki/Installation-and-Setup
After installing the Wifi Driver and rebooting, everything except for the cameras is working. I won’t be wasting time on them for now…
Now Gnome has had touchscreen gestures for some time and they are all working more or less:
Differences I found: swiping up from the bottom of the screen brings up the keyboard and not the notifications, but that is more practical anyway.
Swiping in from the left opens the applications list not overview just like the 3 finger pinch. But I can live with that.
Best thing, two finger pinch and Firefox zooms. Perfect. Although it seems to be the only program I cant move around with my finger in windowed mode….
After installing most of my software I went and looked for a note program and ended up using xournal++ for now.
Palm rejection and pen support are outstanding and I am very happy with it.
Third: Use it
I will be using the little surface as my main tablet and laptop for the next couple of days checking out how it does and if I am happy buy a usb-c hub to connect it to my office monitor so I can check out its ability to run as my desktop as well.
But with an Intel Pentium 4415Y at 1.6 GHz (although Quad Core, but not hyper threading) and only 4 GB of RAM I guess we will reach the end of the line rather soon.
Also battery life will be an issue I guess, as far as I have read it is pretty bad under Linux and sadly that seems to be going for the entire Surface lineup.
I will get back to this after my initial test this week and let you all know how things are going