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A month with Dell's Project Sputnik (mattspitz.me)
47 points by mattspitz on Feb 28, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 53 comments

Reading this makes me want to keep developing on a MacBook. I love Linux, but when I'm reminded of all the wasted time and hacks spent on configuring hardware and researching problems, it makes me happy to stay trapped with OSX.

On a new Lenovo laptop, the configuration hackery was rather limited: - disable UEFI and use BIOS - install Debian (wireless didn't work during the installation, but worked without a hitch afterwards) - copy-paste a script for decent powersaving settings (might have worked out of the box with KDE or GNOME, but I don't use desktop environments)

The only thing which does not work at the moment is most of the special function keys, which is no big deal for me as I don't really use the functionalites anyway.

Here's my OS X configuration script:

I've done nothing to make sure all my hardware worked on my favorite flavor of linux. My special keys also worked out of the box.

In addition I've spent exactly 0 minutes in the last 5 years figuring out hardware issues. You may have less success if you want to game or need 4+ monitor support; However I've been very happy in recent years with hardware support. There is literally nothing I've encountered in popular hardware that caused me any issues.

tsk tsk there are quite a few infuriating time machine settings that need to be changed out of the box

1) Time machine really shouldn't be running every hour. To change the period:

    # defaults write /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/com.apple.backupd-auto StartInterval -int <number_of_seconds>
2) TM support for non-time-capsule NAS drives is shaky (even with those that claim to support time machine)

    # defaults write com.apple.systempreferences TMShowUnsupportedNetworkVolumes 1

That's the one you use to get focus follows mouse on MacOS X.

is that for UEFI or BIOS?

I feel like that when I use OSX. For example, like having to use a hack to show hidden files and the inverse scrolling idiocy. I have found my experience more glitchy than using Linux. I rather use Windows than OSX in that case. After a few system lockups, I gave up on my brand new macbook.

In the end, it does not matter. Use the best tool for the job. For me, I just work better in Linux.

I bought my laptop in September, popped out the HD and swapped in an SSD, and installed Linux Mint. No hassle, everything except my secondary videocard worked out of the box.

Following a few straightforward and well-documented steps, the second video card worked as well. Haven't had to change anything since, and I haven't experienced any breakage.

The wasted time and hacks that are required to get and keep a laptop running Linux have plummeted over the past 3 years, and your argument is rapidly losing its value. To me, it has reached the point of being irrelevant.

Can I ask what laptop you got? I'm seriously thinking of coming back to Linux if I can get something that "just works".

Sorry for the delayed reply, the laptop I got is a Sony Vaio S15.

And I did turn off EFI and enabled legacy BIOS in the menu, since I found EFI implementations to be severely bugged in a lot of cases, and I'd rather just avoid them until they become more reliable.

Hey, thanks for the reply! I'll check out the S15.

How much time is spent trying to install libraries on a Mac? Nothing beats aptitude/yum when it comes to installing software. Homebrew is nice, but if whatever you're looking for isn't in there (for me, pretty frequently), you're stuck either compiling stuff from source and digging through OS X's backwards filesystem layout or running a VM.

You can avoid those problems if you stick to certified hardware:


(I imagine the Red Hat ecosystem has something similar)

Not entirely true - my Dell E6420 is certified and yet had complications (poor Suspend support, touchpad had only basic support [now fixed 2 years later]). The NVIDIA GPU was supported as was sound/internet etc. I used the official Dell Ubuntu drivers and they didn't solve the original problems (much hacking did...).

"...Unity is horribly inefficient with screen space, and getting anything done requires a ton of mouse clicks and waiting for menus to load."

Screen space: The launcher can be set to auto-hide, giving you the same amount of space you'd have on OS X with an auto-hidden dock.

Mouse clicks: Unity actually impressed me with the amount of attention they paid to keyboard use. Hold down the Super key and you'll see all of the shortcuts. It also makes application menu items searchable without a mouse.

Waiting for menus to load: 12.10 and earlier have been terrible about that. I'm running 13.04 (the next version in development) and they've made it much better.

I have to take issue with your comment on keyboard use, because that single wart is dealbreaker keeping me from using Ubuntu.

I give Ubuntu another shot every X.10 release just to see if they've finally made the desktop environment satisfactory, and I must say they are getting really, really close. The Menu system is getting close to making sense in Unity, Pulseaudio throws fewer temper tantrums, significantly less hardware issues, and everything is much snappier (especially compared to memories of Unity from its Ubuntu Netbook Remix days).

But I can't customize my keybindings for crap.

And you're probably thinking "That's BS, of course you can! It's under [submenu] of [menu] of [option] of [settings application name]." And you'd be right. It's just that some subset of keybindings will reset to their defaults every time you do a full power-down of the computer. Rinse and repeat until they're all back to their defaults.

It varies which hotkeys will be reset. Sometimes Metacity ones will reset. Sometimes GNOME bindings will reset. Sometimes opening the Unity configuration will reset the Metacity keys. Sometimes it doesn't! I even wrote a shell script to run all the proper `gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.interface [blah]` incantations upon login, but when that didn't work reliably (again: Metacity keybindings vs. Unity appeared to be the problem) I gave up.

This has been my experience in Ubuntu 11.10, some mid-2012 version of Mint (with Cinnamon) and Ubuntu 12.10, so it's not strictly Canonical's fault. However they haven't seen fit to address it in their user experience, and so I portion out a slice of the blame for them.

Great bug report :) Hopefully someone from Canonical will see this, and can send it to the appropriate people!

It is not a great bug report. In fact, as qznc states, it's not a bug report at all. However, in my weeklong attempts to deal with the issue, I came across a few formal bug reports submitted to various projects.

If I recall correctly, and since the issue is a fight between two different application components that wish to manage keybindings, the bug reports had responses of the "It's not our fault, it's the other package!" variety.

It is not a great bug report. The response will probably be "works for me".

A great bug report specifies exactly how to reproduce a certain behavior and also specifies the expected behavior, what should have happened.

I've been using Unity straight for about a month.

Some of it is OK but a lot of the time, it feels like being tied up in a pit somewhere while my computer floats elsewhere. Just I can't explore my own machine in any easy way - the "search" function is basically terribly broken.

I'm pretty sure you could search application menus via keyboard in Gnome2 and it was a whole lot easier when they were always visible.

Sorry I wasn't more clear. I wasn't trying to make this a Unity debate, and I'm sorry I started one by making that point.

Thanks for the tips, but that wasn't really meant to be the point of the post. I just wanted to point out gnome-settings-daemon if you want to run something other than Unity.

In 13.04, you can size the icons to whatever you want (currently there is a hard limit of 32px). They also added a window switching quicklist feature.

Dell Laptops are really very confusing with the fn key. My inspiron required me to press fn key and f4 so it works as if you just pressed f4. If I simply press f4, the screen brightness reduces. Very inconvenient!

Is it similar to how the function keys in Macbooks work? If so, I would consider it a feature. I have to tweak screen brightness more often than I need to press F4.

edit: I forgot that in Windows, F4 is a very important key (Alt+F4).

There is actually a BIOS setting that changes that, or if your computer has quickset (it's called something like the Dell Management Utility) then you can change the main action of the fn keys from there

  Just find a way to run `synclient MaxTapTime=0` when your X session starts up, and you should be golden.  This just disables tapping the trackpad to click, similar to how a MacBook’s trackpad behaves.
I want his babies for this - I have just "lived with it" on every laptop for years simply because I was too lazy to dig into the hell of X and drivers and docs. But now I see the light

Fortunately I have no babies for you to take.

It's nice not having your fingers perched on the keyboard like a bird, right?

recent gnome3/unity and gnome2 since forever: settings > mouse (or "mouse and touchpad" in unity/gnome3) > touchpad tab > [ ] enable click on touchpad.

Yeah but I hate GUI settings and control panels - its not possible to script them so next time I blow up my laptiop or move machines I have to do it all again

But thanks.

gconf editors are pretty scriptables

> Unity is horribly inefficient with screen space

WUT? Unity needs LESS screen space then AWESOME WM or something similar because of it's global menu. Look! http://screencloud.net/v/zB84 How much more vertical space would you have in awesome?

And, as someone mentioned, left panel can be hidden, but I prefer to use it.

AwesomeWM can be configured to make the statusbar vertical. I have seen a few people on the mailinglist who prefer it that way.

The titlebar that you see for firefox, in the link you provided, AwesomeWM does not waste space on that: you'll find the title in the statusbar/taskbar. These bars can be hidden in AwesomeWM too. How big are your window borders in Gnome/KDE? With one line of configuration, I set my borders to 1 pixel.

No, I'm talking about menu like "File, Edit, View ...". It's just not visible because you have to put your mouse on that panel to see it.

It's not that it's "unity thing", it's just that I'm not sure if you can do that in Awesome WM.

"Did you just get used to OS X Lion’s inverse scrolling? Me, too! "

I initially thought the author was being sarcastic, but the next few lines suggest he was serious. There's a really easy way to change the OSX setting (and I do this on every mac I use):

System Preferences -> Mouse -> Scroll & Zoom -> uncheck "Scroll direction"

Yeah, I barely use OS X (all home computers are W7/8 and my Uni has a very limited number of macs,

in fact I only ever used them because of the novelty but when I found everything ten times harder to do because I couldn't use my shortcuts and the UI was totally different from what I was used to I avoided them)

but the first thing I did after realizing that OS X messes with scrolling was change it so it made sense. no googling was required, I just checked out the Sys Preferences like you suggest.

Yeah same here, only replace "OS X" with "Windows".

I also prefer OS X Lion's scrolling, and tried to get it to work in Ubuntu. The solution I tried was xmodmap, but it turned out that this isn't respected everywhere (notably, a bunch of GTK programs ignore this), which means that scrolling direction then depends on which window you're in, which is worse than nothing. :(

For now, I've given up on Linux on the desktop. I even liked Unity, except for how slow it was, but after trying Windows 8 (first Windows since W95!), I've switched for desktop use. Maybe I'll swap out my Air for a Chromebook Pixel. ;)

I've never even used OSX Lion, but I still prefer "natural" scrolling. I just run a script on login that contains "xinput set-prop 13 303 -111 -111". Obviously, you'll have to find the numbers in your current xinput as to obtain the device and preserve your optimal scroll speed (My example was for a Lenovo W510). This reverses the scroll direction on my trackpad, but not on the scroll wheel of my physical mouse or my lenovo nipple mouse.

This also changes the behavior of swiping (it reverses the swiping direction). Try it.

Dell has gone on and off with their Linux support during previous releases. But, I am not particularly concerned because in the Linux community, if there are drivers for your hardware today, they will likely exist forever. As for Unity, I can't agree anymore with your observation that it requires many mouse clicks to get something done. Compared to OSX and even to Windows, Unity has wasted tons of screen estate and made it much harder to get things done. GNOME2 is definitely legendary especially because of it's simplicity and versatility.

Are there any decent tiling window managers for OSX? A quick google doesn't seem to reveal anything as awesome as AwesomeWM (or its counterparts).

Spectacle - http://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/41147/spectacle

Very basic and easy to get used to, fixed options for screen estate.

+1 for Spectacle, I only use like 3 simple configurations, and Spectacle is simple and free.

I've tried a couple of these but I always find I have too many special case layouts for them to be useful. What I really want is something with a grid like divvy where I can then adjust the size and position of a window on the grid using keys. The commands would be something like: add 1 to the top of the window(1 grid unit), move window to the left side of the screen(without resizing), move window up one grid line etc.

Thanks! I was hoping there weren't any good ones - it would have made my next hardware purchase decision easier. It might sound a bit ridiculous, but I really enjoy the workflow, automatic layout of windows and keyboard centricity offered by AwesomeWM.

Am I the only one that doesnt really mater overlapping windows ??

I have tried some of those though, and i like like Divvy even though i rarely use it.

Unity is inefficient with screen space - does he mean this serious?

And Unity is totally optimized for keyboard usage, the whole Dash concept is based on keyboard usage.

I liked the idea for the trackpad, reducing the clicking time to 0.

As a Colemak user, I would suggest remapping Caps Lock to backspace instead of Ctrl.

But with Ctrl, you have access to ^H, ^W, and ^U. It's 3 backspaces in one!


paragraph 1, i don't like gnome3/unity

paragraph 2-n, how to change settings, in the worst way, so it behaves like a mac

only thing I agree is the trigger to gnome-settings-daemon. that is really trick.

Thanks for the summary. I probably should have just written that instead.

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