Going to Linux Full-Time

Last month, I wrote a blog post about my thoughts on purchasing a new laptop for myself. I thought this was going to take me a few weeks to ponder over whether I should keep going with the familiarity of Apple and buy a Macbook Pro, or decide to support open-source and buy a laptop with Linux installed.

Thankfully, I didn't have to wait too long, thanks to an opportunity that presented itself a few days after I published that blog post. Out of sheer curiosity, I decided to scour craigslist and look for people selling relatively-new laptops, and I found a great laptop for sale - the Dell XPS 15.

Now, having grown up in the '90s, whenever I hear the name 'Dell', I immediately conjure up images of the "Dude, You're Getting a Dell!" guy who was so prominent on TV back in those days. My perception of Dell systems was that while they seem to be decent machines, they're not really up to snuff with my line of work.

Dell introduced the XPS line of computers to be their high-end offerings, usually marketed towards gamers. Later on, they introduced a "developer edition" with Linux pre-installed. They looked pretty good, and I was very tempted to get one of these systems, but I just couldn't get over my perceptions with Dell, so I didn't give it much thought after that.

Going back to my craigslist search, I spotted the Dell XPS 15 and saw its specs - a Haswell Intel Quad-Core i7, 16 GB of RAM, a 512 GB solid state drive, and a 15-inch QHD+ resolution screen (3200 x 1800 - higher than the Macbook Pro's Retina display). For those who don't know much about computer specs, those are some really beefy specs. Being the computer geek that I am, I was almost salivating at those specs alone.

Then my jaw dropped when I saw the price - $1500. This laptop, brand-new, retails for over $2400. This laptop had been purchased two months ago, yet the person was selling it at over $800 less than retail? Count the fact that I also would be saving on almost 10% sales tax and possible shipping costs, and I would be saving over $1000 on this purchase. This sounded too good to be true. Thankfully, it was true. I met the seller that same day - a UC Berkeley student who needed a smaller laptop ASAP and wanted to unload the Dell XPS quickly. I tested the laptop pretty thoroughly, and everything checked out, so I bought it from him on the spot.

The laptop comes pre-installed with Windows 8.1, so the first thing I did was wipe the hard drive and install Linux. Since Dell already offers laptops with Ubuntu installed, I figured that Ubuntu would be supported almost out of the box, and I was correct. All the hardware worked perfectly upon installation. I didn't have to tinker with getting the wireless network connection to work, or figuring out which display drivers would run this gorgeous screen.

I've been working on this for a few weeks and have really been able to do just about everything I've thrown at this laptop. But even though everything runs well, there are two things that I've had to learn to live with:

  • Linux has poor support for High-Definition screens - That's not a typo - the high-definition screen is actually a problem. The problem is that screens with these very high resolutions are not very common and are fairly new. While the latest versions of Ubuntu have some support for these screens by scaling the text and images to be bigger, many apps don't support this automatic scaling, thus everything on the app appears super-tiny. Some apps have ugly workarounds, but it's an annoyance I'll have to deal with for now.
  • I miss my old apps - While I can access a lot of my data through the Internet nowadays, I realized I took for granted a few things while on the Mac. I use Gmail's web interface for emails, but I really miss using Airmail for multiple accounts. I also miss Evernote's Mac client. The web interface is okay but it seems clunky to navigate through notes, tags, notebooks, etc. The other apps I can't even use on the laptop, like 1Password and Day One are sorely missed. I was planning on selling my old Mac, but I'm keeping it around now solely because I use those apps on occasion and want them around when I need them.

Just about as I expected, Linux by far is not a 100% perfect replacement for a Mac. But outside of these annoyances, I feel as comfortable on this laptop as I expected when it comes to getting work done. Its speed, reliability and awesome screen (when apps support it properly) provide the breath of fresh air I needed for myself. I'm looking forward to using this laptop for a long time.

Written by

Dennis Martinez

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