Thursday, March 14, 2013

Dell XPS 12, OS Rant, and Questions.

First things first. Haven't posted in a while. Only really posting because I felt this was way to long for a Google+ Status. Will I post more in the future? Maybe! Anyway posting time!

New Computer Setup?

I'm getting a new computer! A Dell XPS 12 to be exact! In case you don't know already, the XPS 12 is Dell's (quite good IMO) idea of an Ultrabook convertible. It can be used as a standard touch screen laptop, but can also pivot 180° over the horizontal axis for use as a pretty sweet tablet. It's a great computer, but it ships with Windows 8, which can be seen as good or bad.

Windows 8

Say what you will about Windows 8, its actually isn't that bad of an OS, if you have a touch screen. The "metro" interface is awkward on a traditional desktop environment, but with a touchscreen or a tablet it actually starts to click. I plan on using Windows 8 on this computer for about a month, so I can really use Windows 8 the way it was meant to be used. Besides I help people with computers all the time; the more I know about Windows 8, the easier it will be to help. However, Windows 8 isn't open source software and I don't want to run it on my computer forever, which brings me to my next question:

What OS Should I use?

Clearly I want this to be open source. I'm talking good old GNU/Linux. But I don't really know what distro I should use. What desktop environment will work best with a touchscreen? Being a creature of habit, I go right to two distros, Ubuntu and Arch Linux.

Ubuntu (TL;DR I don't like Mir)

Probably one of the best known Linux distros made, Ubuntu (and its parent company Canonical) aim to be the ones to put Linux in the limelight; to really get the word out and get people using Linux. It's one of the easier distros to install and use. With the addition of things like Ubuntu touch going to coming out at the end of the year, Ubuntu may be a good choice just for the ecosystem it will create with its sibling Ubuntu Phablets.

But I don't like the choices Canonical is making. One of the things I like the most about Linux is the way open source technology spreads around. The whole Linux community gets together and improvements made on one distro are often moved upstream and everybody benefits. This is how it should have been with Wayland. For some reason Ubuntu went its own way by creating Mir. Now Ubuntu can make its own choices of course, but I can't see why Ubuntu wouldn't use the progress already made with Wayland. Wayland isn't new, but it can still be improved upon. Instead of working with current Wayland developers to adapt  and improve Wayland to fit their needs, they assumed it would have all the problems X has and started from scratch. So with two standards, and with no clear "better" standard, compatibility issues start to arise at support and driver levels. If Ubuntu is successful with talking to hardware vendors to get good Mir support, it is possible that these hardware vendors won't work with the rest of the Linux community to get Wayland support. And I don't blame them; who can? If I was a hardware vendor, I wouldn't want to publish tons of different drivers for Linux.  The problem is there was no reason for them to choose at all before Mir entered the picture. With Canonical and the whole Linux community supporting Wayland, there wouldn't be any fragmentation and hardware vendors would be more willing to write one driver to support most all of the Linux community  If Ubuntu found something with Wayland that was a problem, they should have fixed it not thrown it out the window.

Anyway besides all of that, Ubuntu is easy to set up and use. Installation wouldn't take long, things like Encryption would be set up no problem, and there would be a how to guide for EVERYTHING I could want to know how to do. Ubuntu PPA's can be found for most all Linux software, and if not a ppa, a guide for installing it on Ubuntu. It's supported.

Arch Linux

I'm gonna start with this: I LOVE Arch Linux. I just love taking a basic shell running on a live cd (usb) and building Linux the way I want it from the ground up. But why I love it is also why I might not want to use it. To set up an eCrytpfs on Ubuntu I just select "encrypt home directory" when I'm installing it. To do it on Arch Linux I have to do a lot more sets, like how it is outlined here.

Now I consider myself an advanced Linux user. No part of the eCryptfs set up looks to difficult or complicated to me, and I feel I could set it up and have it running just as well, if not better, than Ubuntu. But do I want to do this for every part of the system? What about systemd vs upstart boot times? What about encrypted swap? Hibernation? Touch-Screen driver support? Touch-screen drivers are included in the Ubuntu 13.04 kernel, but I don't know if they have been ported upstream. If not I would have to patch the kernel myself; I'm not using an Ultrabook convertible without touchscreen support.

Arch Linux is by far a better OS to me, but it is worth the extra work to set up? Is it worth the work setting up Arch Linux because I don't like Mir? And then there is the Desktop Environment.

Unity? Gnome 3?

Regardless of what distro I use, I need a good Desktop Environment based for touchscreens. If I'm gonna use my computer as a tablet, I should be able to do almost everything by touch in a natural way. Basis aide, both are actually make for good usable shells. Unity had its problems at first but after using it for a while, it's fast and has some neat integration, even it wasn't the best looking. Gnome Shell, on the other hand, has always looked great to me; I'm a big fan on minimal interfaces. But I don't know how well it would work with only touch, and I think I would miss the HUD Unity has. (When you press alt and type print or save and you access that command as if you went File -> Whatever) I've grown to love that feature because of how fast I can access menus. Unity will (read: should) also tie in well with Ubuntu Touch devices when Unity Next is released. Even if Gnome shell is better, using the same shell setup on my Nexus devices and on my XPS would great. Having one gesture and app work across all form factors? That's hard to beat.

Wrapping it up*

I was gonna post about more concerns I have with encryption and things like Intel Rapid Start, but this is a long blog post as it is, so I'll think I'll save that for another day. 

So if you made it this far in the post, what do think? Is Arch Linux worth the extra effort? Is Unity the best touch based shell? Gnome 3? Something I haven't even thought or heard of?

Whatever I decide though, I think I'm gonna document my experience with my XPS on this blog. I've always liked blogging, just always been to busy (read: lazy) to post more. I hope this post or future ones will help somebody out someday.

*Oh and side note, should headings be capitalized like titles? I like grammar but I'm far from a NAZI.

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