Revisiting my Linux box

My Mac Pro gave up the ghost last week, so while I wait for that thing to be repaired, I’ve been spending more time on my Lenovo X220 running Ubuntu. While I do use it for writing fairly often, that doesn’t even require me to start X. Using it a bit more full-time essentially means firing up a web browser alongside whatever else I’m doing, which has led to some additional mucking around. For starters, I went ahead and updated the system to 16.04, which (touch wood) went very smoothly as has every Linux upgrade I’ve performed in the past couple of years. This used to be a terrifying prospect.

Updating things meant that the package list in apt also got refreshed, and I was a wee bit shocked to find that Hugo, the platform I use to generate this very blog, was horribly out of date. Onward to their website, and they recommend installing via Snapcraft, which feels like a completely inexplicable reinventing of the package management wheel1. Snapcraft is supposedly installed with Ubuntu 16.04, but not on a minimal system apparently, so I went and did that myself. Of course it has its own bin/ to track down and add to the ol’ $PATH, but whatever – Hugo was up to date. I think I sudoed a bit recklessly at one point, since some stuff ended up owned by root that shouldn’t have been, but that was an easy enough fix.

I run uzbl as a minimalist web browser, and have Chromium installed for something a bit more full-featured. I decided to install Firefox, since it is far less miserable of a browser than ever, and its keyboard navigation is far better than Chromium’s. Firefox runs well, and definitely fits better into my keyboard-focused setup, but there is one snag: PulseAudio. At some point, the Firefox team decided not to support ALSA directly, and it now relies on PulseAudio exclusively for audio. I can see small projects using PulseAudio as a crutch, but for a major product like Firefox it just feels lazy. PulseAudio is too heavy and battery-hungry, and I will not install it, so for the time being I’m just not watching videos and the like in Firefox. I did stumble upon the apulse project, but so far haven’t had luck with it.

I use i3 as my window manager, and I love it so much – when I’m not using this laptop as a regular machine, I forget how wonderful tiling window managers are. When I move to my cluttered Windows workspace at the office, I miss i3. Of course, I tend to have far more tasks to manage at work, but there’s just something to be said for the minimalist, keyboard-centric approach.

I had some issues with uxterm reporting $TERM as xterm and not xterm-256color, which I sorted out. A nice reminder that fiddling with .Xresources is a colossal pain. I’m used to mounting and unmounting things on darwin, and it took me a while to remember that udisksctl was the utility I was looking for. Either I hadn’t hopped on wireless since upgrading my router2, or the Ubuntu upgrade wiped out some settings, but I had to reconnect. wicd-curses is really kind of an ideal manager for wireless, no regrets in having opted for that path. I never got around to getting bluetooth set up, and a cursory glance suggests that there isn’t a curses-based solution out there. What else… oh, SDL is still a miserable exercise.

All in all, this setup still suits a certain subset of my needs very well. Linux seems to be getting less fiddly over time, though I still can’t imagine that the ‘year of desktop Linux’ is any closer to the horizon. I wouldn’t mind living in this environment, though I would still need software that’s only available on Mac/Win (like CC), and the idea of my main computer being a dual-boot that largely keeps me stuck in Windows is a bit of a downer. Perhaps my next experiment will be virtualization under this minimal install.

  1. I get what Snapcraft is and why Canonical is doing it. It definitely feels like it’s trying to accomplish too much, and there is no world in which I want my package manager running a daemon. ↩︎
  2. A while back, I upgraded my aging TP-Link to a Peplink Balance One. It is a phenomenal router that I cannot recommend enough. It’s small-business grade, and Peplink takes security and firmware updates very seriously. With all the router exploits out in the wild over the past year or so, they’ve been very quick to release statements as they investigate potential threats to their devices. ↩︎