My Experience with Linux on the Desktop

The company I work for encouraged me to use a top of the line Linux laptop — one of the latest ThinkPads — as my daily driver. Here’s what I’ve found in the first few days of using it, with Ubuntu 20.04.1:

  • Coming from a MacBook with its butter-smooth trackpad, the touchpad is painful. It’s not smooth at all, even with the default Synaptics drivers. It’s almost impossible to precisely focus your cursor on small areas. It’s really astonishing how bad it is.
  • Don’t expect to have external monitors work right away. I plugged my LG 4K monitor with a USB-C cable that works fine with several MacBooks into the ThinkPad. All I got was a cursor on the external monitor screen. That’s it, a cursor. Changing resolutions and refresh rates hasn’t helped. A colleague spent half a week futzing with settings until he finally got it to work. Another colleague recommended an unstable open source Nvidia driver instead of their proprietary driver, but I haven’t gotten that installed yet.
  • After I haven’t been able to get a single Bluetooth peripheral connected. Not a wireless keyboard, wireless trackpad, or wireless headphones. The Ubuntu Bluetooth settings app either hangs, crashes, or just displays a spinning cursor on the device you try to connect. After updating the ControllerMode to bredr in /etc/bluetooth/main.conf , I was able to get my AirPods to connect. To get the wireless keyboard or trackpad to connect, I had to unpair them from another laptop.
  • You’ll need a couple utilities to get most keyboard shortcuts to behave like a Mac, including spacebar for QuickLook, and Cmd-H to quickly move an app out of the way. I still haven’t figured out how to change the keyboard shortcut for going back in my browser. Alt-Left-Arrow just scrolls to the top of the page. Update: The author of Kinto, the keyboard shortcuts utility, is going to make Alt-Left-Arrow/Alt-Right-Arrow work in browsers in an upcoming release.
  • Scrolling web pages (in any browser) is slow and choppy. Supposedly you can fix this in a config file somewhere, but I haven’t found where yet.
  • 10% of the time, the laptop doesn’t wake from sleep properly, requiring a long press on the power button to power off and reboot.
  • The fan spins up for no good reason when I plug the power cord in. Thankfully, they aren’t too loud.

So what’s good about it?

  • The fingerprint scanner is actually pretty good. It’s not quite as reliable as the MacBook’s, but it’s 80% of the way there. It’s nice to unlock the machine and use sudo with a fingerprint.
  • Gnome’s Activity view (Alt-Space), a hybrid of the Mac’s Spotlight and Expose, is very nice. It’s fast and accurate.
  • The ThinkPad itself is fast and battery life is excellent. The plastic body isn’t as solid feeling as an aluminum MacBook, but it’s better than your average creaky PC laptop.
  • WiFi works without a problem.

The janky touchpad and choppy scrolling are the hardest to deal with. If I figure out how to fix these, I’ll update this post.

2020 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL Experience

I recently rented a 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL and drove it for a week. It was in the “Intermediate SUV” car class. Here’s what I thought of it:

Pros:

  • Very roomy – enough for 7 passengers + plenty of bags
  • Large infotainment screen
  • SEL model includes Apple CarPlay
  • Blind spot monitoring

Cons:

  • Doors feel chintzy. Way worse than recent Kias (which are quite solid) or even older Ford econoboxes. It’s a bit weird closing the door of such a large vehicle and hearing a tinny sound.
  • No radar adaptive cruise control.
  • Hatch is really poorly designed. Three out of four times, it was impossible to open. It just kept beeping at us. No matter how many times you push the button on the key fob or the trunk lid, the trunk wouldn’t open by itself. So annoying. Eventually we found it was open much of the time, but wouldn’t auto-raise like it was designed to, so we had to manually lift it.
  • Dim rear camera view, especially at night. Turning the brightness up works for maps but has almost no effect on the rear camera. You can barely see out of it.
  • Engine sounds like it’s straining most of the time. Loud. Fuel economy only ~23MPG.

Overall, I’d still rent it again, as it was worth it for the amount of space and Apple CarPlay, but I’d try to find a better competitor (such as a Ford Edge) first. I definitely wouldn’t buy one, given all the trouble with the hatch.