Moving from a Macbook Pro laptop to a Linux PC. The beggining of a journey.

George Stefanis
George Stefanis

I remember it was the early 2000s when I was reading on the web that this year is going to be the year of the linux on the desktop. Suffice to say that this year kept coming and coming time and again.

For me the first interaction with Linux was with Redhat Linux sometime in 1998. A person I was talking on IRC sent me a CD that I installed on my PC. It ruined my boot sector and I had to take it to a local handyman, to charge me a lot of money and reinstall windows. I regret nothing. Then it was at uni when I met this cool dude, Zois, who was (and still is) obsessed with Slackware. I spent a couple on years mucking about with Slack. It was fun. Since then though I didn't do much with Linux. I spent my late 20s on Windows and my early 30s on MacOS. I regret nothing.

The Macbook

Since 2016 I've been using a 15" Macbook Pro. It's the first generation of redesigned Macbooks with the touchbar and the new keyboard. I've changed the keyboard already once. It's still unusable. The touchbar is not the most useful thing ever. It took away from me the ESC physical key and the volume controls that I loved. Still I like this laptop. Lately though whenever I connect it with my external 27 inch screen the fans are going on and they are noisy. I can't deal with noise on laptops. I find it distracting. It's time for an update.

Originally I preordered an M1 Macbook Pro. Quickly though I cancelled it. It's too early for it and I'm glad I canceled it. Never jump in the first generation of a new platform. The performance looks promising and I'm sure Apple has stroke gold. But I am a developer and I need my tools (Docker, package installers, other utilities) to work out of the box. It's not the time yet for an M1. Also it's not pro enough. 2 ports are too little. 16gb is not future proof.

I still need a new machine though

The year of Linux on my desktop

In the beginning of the year I built a gaming PC. I had the forsight to buy 2 hard drives. One I used for Windows and games, the other I did install Manjaro. Why Manjaro? Because it's a rolling release, meaning it's always up to date, it's simpler to setup by comparison with Arch and finally it is very good for playing games on Linux. Yes, that's a thing. You can use steam on this!

After installing Manjaro I forgot about it on the hard drive for 4 months. I came back to it after cancelling the preorder of the M1 Macbook Pro. I decided to set it up and see if it works for me. Needless to say that things went a lot better that I'd expect.

Linux Desktop

Here is a list with everything I used in order to get to the above result.

  • I use KDE Plasma as my desktop of choice. I like it because it's really polished. In its original form it reminds me of windows. But with a little bit of customization (pin apps in the bar, make the bar taller and narrower, center align the icons, remove some widgets) it looks a lot like the MacOS bar. My aim wasn't to replicate MacOS. I just happen to like the minimalism and practicality of it.
  • Font rendeing on this is actually very pleasant. I don't know if Manjaro did something special but I miss nothing by comparison with MacOS. I do have a screenshot with some text below.
  • To Install apps like Slack, Spotify etc I use two amazing package managers. Flatpak (which I ended up prefering) and Snap. They are both amazing and they give Homebrew a run for its money. Some might say they are actually better.
  • For Emails I use Mailspring. It is indeed the best free email app. Hands down. It even has themes.
  • For Calendar I am using gnome-calendar (yes you can add it in KDE). Funny enough finding a good calendar app was more challenging than I though.
  • For Terminal Emulator I use Terminator after my friend George recommended it. It is as good, if not better, than iTerm.
  • For WhatsApp messaging I use Whatsdesk.
  • Special mention on flameshot. Flameshot is a utility for taking screenshots and it's actually mind blowingly good.
  • On Mac I was using GIT Tower for years as a git GUI. I regret nothing. On Linux I use GitKraken for now. I am not 100% sure I'll stick with it in the long run but I'll see. This is subject to change.
  • I also had to do some more functional changes that I wanted to do for a while. I moved from Google Drive to a self hosted Nextcloud. There I have my various files I need in the cloud and the calendar. I plan to move photos there too. The combination of a Digitalocean Droplet and their Spaces S3-compatible object storage provides a robust solution for a cloud replacement.

Text rendering on Linux

The last thing remaining is notes. I have some of my notes on Bear app and some on Notion I love them both but it's about time to consolidate everything in one. I admit the Bear iOS app is more polished that Notion but the Notion webapp is so much better (especially considering that Bear doesn't have one). So this will be the last change I will need to make.

Final remarks

I am surprised with how far Linux have been. All of the above was the labour of a weekend long experiment. I spend overall about 4-6 hours? And a lot of it was researching on apps to find and install. The install part was dead easy. Pacman, Flatpak and Snap made my life very simple. Sometimes I used Snap to install an app, found out it's broken, uninstall it, reinstall it with Flatpak and it would work.

Things like Slack, Spotify, Docker, Zoom and VSCode worked very very easily with minimal tinkering. I was up and running in no time. I'll keep working on this and I'll report back in the future. Who knows, maybe instead of a Macbook Pro with an M1/M2 chip I'll get one of those amazing Lenovo Carbon X1 and fully transition to Linux. I do still love the Apple ecosystem though. Simply put, iOS is too good by comparison with the competition.