Making My Linux Move

Why I decided to mostly move to Linux in 2024, and what I’ve learned in the process of that move.

By Ernie Smith

The year of Linux on the desktop is probably never going to happen. But the year of Linux on my desktop recently kicked off in earnest.

The journey started last fall when, after getting sick of the small screen size on my 13-inch M1 MacBook Air and deciding my friction tunnel was perhaps too old and weird to be a long-term solution, I decided to pull out my old HackBook for a spin and try it with Linux. Obviously, the M1 beats a laptop with an 8550u any day of the week, but the machine, a 2017 HP Spectre 15, had a better and larger screen, despite having massive bezels, especially on the bottom.

But rather than upgrading the fairly ancient MacOS install I had on the machine, I decided to use Debian instead. It turned out to be a fairly solid device for that use case. I had to look around for alternatives to my common tools, and with the exception of image editing and print design, most use cases are properly covered.

I’d like to find an alternative to Photoshop, but nothing really excels with the frame-based GIF editing like it does, so I’m kind of stuck with it. I’m likely going to use it through WINE or a VM until I get an alternative I like.

(And, please, don’t suggest GIMP.)

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But I was in the need for an upgrade for my business rig, and honestly, Apple’s decision to cost-ladder its RAM and SSD does not deserve any of my money, even if it’s the OS I’ve used for the past 20 years.

Looking around a bit and balancing considerations like size, cost, and build quality, I decided on a HP Envy 16 with a 120hz IPS display, a 12th-generation H-series i7, and Intel ARC dedicated graphics. (I know, ARC graphics? Hey, at least I’m not dealing with NVIDIA driver weirdness.) This machine has a few things going for it and against it. I had considered going all-AMD and gave a ThinkPad more than a passing glance, and even toyed with the idea of a gaming laptop that could look stealthy in an office. But the Envy to me struck a nice balance of what was important to me, while feeling similar to what I had been using previously.

HP Envy

I know, you must be aghast. How could you give up the unified memory?!

Now, to be clear, the Envy is not a perfect machine—for one thing, silver keys on a silver build was kind of a weird aesthetic choice, especially if you forget to turn off backlights on the keyboard during the day—but for what I paid for it, it is great. And it has one of my most important, yet increasingly rare, factors for a laptop in 2024—user upgradeability. On this front, it beats out the Spectre significantly, which had an upgradeable SSD and upgradeable RAM, because of a choice the designers made to make the machine significantly more accessible to tweaks: just five screws, none of which are covered by the rubber feet. My Spectre, near the end of its regular use, had lost its feet multiple times, in large part because I had opened up the machine to upgrade the RAM or SSD. The Envy, beyond having upgradeable RAM, has two SSD slots, meaning I can muck around with Linux to my heart’s content while still having a Windows drive as a backup.

(No, it’s not a Framework, but it was also cheaper than a Framework, so I’m not complaining.)

So how does it run in Linux? Mostly well, with a couple of exceptions. First off, the ARC graphics are totally functional at this point and I’ve been able to play games in Steam at decent frame rates. That’s great. The not-so-great news is that the GPU can’t be easily turned off at this time, cutting into its battery life. At this time, Windows gets twice as many hours of battery life, but with new ARC-friendly Intel drivers forthcoming, that might change soon.

That’s an inconvenience, but the sound was nearly a show-stopper. The speakers (which are nice and boom-y in Windows) did not work out of the box, but I could plug in headphones or a monitor and listen that way. I have done a bit of tweaking and got at least some of the speakers working, but it loses something in translation at the moment. (Good news is that we’ll probably have working sound in another Linux kernel version or two.)

So, what Linux distro did I go with? Right now, I’m using Nobara Linux, which is based off of Fedora. I had only messed with Fedora in bits and pieces in the past, but I found the experience fairly polished, so that’s what I jumped to. Nobara, which is primarily developed by GloriousEggroll, a well-known developer of WINE optimizations for PC games, is essentially a doctored-up version of Fedora with a number of quality-of-life optimizations for workstation users and gamers.

My window manager is GNOME, and I use PaperWM to manage my windows.

Am I done with Mac? Not at this time. At this point, I’m keeping the M1 MacBook Air as a backup machine when maximum battery life or portability is a necessity, or when I need a silent machine (read: audio recording or video conferencing, two things it excels at). But for most daily-driving use cases, the Envy is it, at least for now.

(To Apple, I will be straight up: You lost me as a customer, at least for this round, because you decided your profit margins mattered more than user upgradeability. Get rid of the stair-step pricing model. Please.)

So yeah, Ernie Smith, longtime Apple complainer, is now a Linux daily-driver. I know, right?

Upgraded Links

What is Condé Nast doing to my favorite publication? Stop it! Leave Pitchfork alone!

I’m a signatory on Fight for the Future’s latest push to support Net Neutrality, joining names of artists I deeply respect, like Jeff Rosenstock, Kimya Dawson, Chuck Wendig, and Eve6. I consider it an essential part of a healthy internet.

I disagree with John Stossel on basically everything except his decision to use his sizeable platform to highlight the challenges of stuttering, which I deeply respect. I really enjoyed this interview he just did with Emily Blunt, a fellow stutterer, on the subject.


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Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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