Having used Linux desktop for several years and at the back of a more recent journey trying to find the distro for my brand new HP Probook - I think it’s time to document the highs & lows of the journey almost as a self reflection. If this helps you in any way I shall consider that as additional wins!
Distros tried: Linux Mint Cinnamon, Pop_OS, Fedora 35, Manjaro KDE, Manjaro Gnome, Kubuntu. All over a period of 1 year.
No dual-booting. Replaced Windows with Linux. Encrypted installs.
So you can relate to the perspective this article is coming from - I am NOT a typical target end-user of the Linux community in that I am not a fully technical person or a Developer/Coder. In my 40s I am a Management guy with limited technical skills,. Almost all in my close circle (friends, family et all) just use a Macbook and still can’t understand why I insist on using a thing that doesn’t come installed with my laptop.
In addition I am not a gamer and never installed any games on my laptop.
From a hardware sense the things that must work for a Management guy’s laptop are firstly it must be a laptop not a desktop, can hook up with the hardware on my various travels (bluetooth keyboard, mouse, projectors, external monitors, and wireless speakers). Integrated webcam must work, and because my laptop has a finger print reader which obviously works like a charm in windows it would be a great bonus if this could work in Linux (though I never held too much hope).
My laptop is AMD Ryzen 7 with integrated GPU. Though Mint booted fine but it painfully sluggish and just did not feel right. Now I have been a long time Mint user and regard it as a well put together distro so in this case with things not working well on a fairly modern laptop I suspect the old kernel (5.4) that came with Mint was at fault. I did not attempt to update the kernel. So Mint was out of the race pretty much straight away.
Pop, Manjaro KDE & Gnome, Fedora, and Pop all booted OK and ran OK as well. So we continue the journey with each of these…
Next to go out of the race was KDE based distros (Manjaro KDE and Kubuntu).
And this was linked to my couple of use-cases not being addressed properly and/or easily by what became apparent as KDE specific challenges. To name -
I need, probably as most management guys, a reliable Outlook like suite that helps bring together my emails and diary management via Calendar and Tasks.
I have a slight complexity in my case in that couple of my email accounts use encryption.
Evolution comes closest to addressing these use cases. And it is a great Gnome application however has quirks when used on KDE.
The first quirk using Evolution is encountered in KDE with the lack of Online Accounts which are much better implemented in Gnome. Typically you just add your accounts via the Online Accounts in Settings, open Evolution and voila all your emails are there waiting for you!
For my specialized use case of encrypted emails - I just add the keys to the Gnome keyring - and again voila all the encrypted emails appear unencrypted in Evolution. This happens automatically every time as upon login the Gnome keyring is unlocked and seamlessly interacts with the Evolution client.
In KDE none of this was possible due to the lack of integration between Evolution and the KDE framework, and some missing services in the online accounts section.
KDE (and Cinnamon) also lost in the touch department. With my laptop being a touchscreen I really started enjoying the way touch is implemented in Gnome. It’s the closest you can get to Windows touch capabilities in Linux I now believe. And when your wrists are tired it really is a life saver to use touchscreen to carry out repetitive functions via touch like move windows, scrolling, etc.
KDE (and Cinnamon) also lost in the touchpad gestures department. And once you get used to these there is probably no going back.
By this time we are pretty much left with Gnome as the sole contender.
Before moving on with Gnome and leaving KDE behind; I would like to mention my frustration with few things in Gnome that just don’t make any sense. The need to use extensions in order to carry key functions is just unbelievable. Image not seeing icons in the status bar. Really beyond me. In this department KDE is leaps ahead in providing the user a wholesome desktop UI/UX with key usability delivered by the OOB desktop.
Right now in the world of Gnome I had Manjaro, Pop, and Fedora on my list. Each I spent a few weeks with so that each distro gets proper exposure to my use cases.
Manjaro won in battery management - quite a must for laptops. Cpu activity was quietest in Manjaro, followed by Fedora and then Pop.
Manjaro won in availability of applications and the fact that those applications worked seamlessly. Example here would be SM Tube that just wouldn’t play in Fedora. Or Video downloader that just stopped working on Pop_OS. In Manjaro never faced such issues. I am guessing this is due to up to date nature of applications in Manjaro - both as new updates or bug fixes?
This experience continued with a key software required for me to WFH - Microsoft Teams. With a personal account only AUR build in Manjaro for Teams has worked for me. Couldn’t get it to work in either Fedora or Pop. I am not technical enough to troubleshoot what’s going on, all I know is the build of MS Teams in Manjaro worked and didn’t in the other two (including the Flatpak version).
The responsiveness of Manjaro Gnome was visibly better than other two though I would say Fedora 35 came a close second.
Other delights I found in my use of Manjaro Gnome. Fingerprint reader on my laptop that’s typically useless in Linux works like a charm. Just head to the User account settings and you have Fingerprint set up there, all in it’s noob friendly glory.
Kernel change utility is so handy when you’re using a latest laptop. With Manjaro I got 5.15 was sooner I would on other distros, and 5.15 came with excellent goodness for AMD chips which is used in my laptop. Even the tiny lights on the Function keys work now which only ever worked in Windows.
I also cannot live without a proper Backup set up. Well none of us should. Manjaro has given me an excellent btrfs backup solution using Timeshift. It reminded me of the Windows Restore point feature which I consider essential. I have solutions in place to backup my personal files as well.
I have now been running Manjaro gnome for the past few months. Rolling release is fast becoming my favorite as I have the latest version of applications. Updates go through smoothly without a need for troubleshooting, how I expect it for a general user.
Overall I am just happy that I am successful in my resolve of not going back to Windows…well tbh I would just buy a Macbook M1 the day Linux stops working for me. However with the way things are going and improvements are being made in the Linux world I do believe most of us are here to stay even though some of us may not be the typical Linux user one may have in their mind.