2 years of Linux as my main OS

Around this time 2 years ago, I switched to GNU/Linux as my main OS and only kept a Windows machine around for games. We all know what happened to gaming with the GPU shortage...

But before we get into the article, I got something to tell you.

Why I haven't been very active in early 2021

Around November-December 2020, my eyes started giving me trouble: they were always tired, dry, it was hard to focus, and I had double or even triple vision. Eventually it got so bad that I could no longer use my computer for more than a few minutes without them hurting and turning everything into a blurry mess, let alone use a laptop with a high resolution screen. I guess this was to be expected, given how much time I've been spending in front of PCs since the pandemic started, but this has been a major problem for me: it literally handicapped me and brought all my projects to a temporary halt. Only now, almost 6 months later, the situation is slowly starting to get better, but not good enough to go back to my normal life.
I went to several doctors to get my eyes checked but they could find nothing wrong with them other than them being dry (with recoverable damage to the cornea caused by scratching against the dry eyelids), and a slight astigmatism (but not enough to justify that amount of sight loss). I've been keeping them well hydrated, I've been drinking more, and slowly but surely, they're getting better.

I also just got my first shot of Pfizer yesterday (May 14th), and if that doesn't kill me, you'll start seeing new content during the summer:

  • A new project is in the works, and it's my first piece of open hardware
  • The new and improved KOTOR machine
  • An old Bulldozer PC
  • My new home server
  • Some maps for Warzone 2100 that I made to play with my friends
  • Some improvements to this site
  • More...
New PC!

2021 setup

I used my Thinkpad T480 until December 2020, but thanks to covid I no longer need a laptop, thanks to miners I no longer "need" a gaming machine, and thanks to my eyes I can no longer use a laptop, so I moved my Manjaro install to my new desktop:

  • AMD Ryzen 7 5800x with Noctua D15 cooler
  • MSI B550 Tomahawk
  • 64GB DDR4 3600MHz C16 RAM (G.Skill Ripjaws V)
  • Samsung 980 Pro 1TB SSD
  • AMD Radeon RX550 2GB (I don't use this machine for games, I bought it months before the shortage)
  • Fractal Design Define 7 Compact case with steel side panel
  • Fractal Design Ion+ 860W PSU

To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this machine.
On one side, it's a very powerful system, the case looks gorgeous, and AMD hardware is very well supported by Linux without the need for proprietary drivers, what really bothers me though is the jankiness of the BIOS. There's no easy way to put it: OC settings are not always applied correctly, USB and network devices randomly disconnect, and every time I turn on the computer it automatically picks a random CPU voltage, sometimes going as high as 1.48v, which is genuinely scary on a 7nm processor. Yes, I know that the voltage drops when the system is under load, but that's not the point, I've been using the machine for only 6 months and I can already tell that the CPU is degrading: it no longer undervolts as much as it did when it was new, nor does it overclock nearly as much. This is to be expected after a few years, not after a few months. This is 100% AMD's fault and not MSI's because it's AGESA that controls this stuff and it comes as a binary blob to MSI. AMD really needs to improve their software. (And yes, this is with the latest BIOS from April 2021)

I'm not going to comment on the RX550, it's a piece of crap stopgap GPU that's good enough to run KDE, work on my projects, watch some videos, and play Warzone 2100. Anything more that that will run poorly. It overclocks like champ though.

My current selection of applications
Text editorNotepad++KateVSCodium also a really good option
File managerWindows ExplorerDolphinSearch kinda sucks in Dolphin
Media playerMPC-HCMPVSwitched to MPV exclusively
Image viewerJPEGViewnomacsSwitched from Gwenview
Office suiteLibreofficeLibreoffice
Email and calendarThunderbirdThunderbird
Web browserFirefoxLibrewolf and Ungoogled ChromiumSwitched from debotnetted Firefox
Archive manager7-ZipArk and 7-Zip with wineI really miss 7-Zip
File, contacts, calendar synchronizationSyncthing, NextcloudSyncthing, Nextcloud
PDF and ebook readerSumatraPDFOkular and qcomicbook
Screenshot toolGreenshotFlameshotBoth are excellent
NotesNotebotKNotesSwitched from Notebot
VirtualizationVirtualBoxVirtualBox and libvirtlibvirt supports GPU passthrough on Linux, can run games at full speed
CalculatorSpeedCrunchKCalc and SpeedCrunch
GraphicsGIMPGIMPIt's getting better
FirewallSimplewallunshare -nr and/or FirejailIt's not the same thing, but there's nothing similar on Linux that doesn't require manual configuration
Disc burning softwareInfrarecorderK3bI need it like once a year but ok
FTP clientWinSCPFileZilla
Image mountingWinCDEmugcdemu
YouTube clientBrowserFreeTubeA very promising application, somewhat similar to NewPipe on Android

Thanks to the pandemic, I've been forced to use proprietary botnets like zoom, like everyone else. To isolate them, I made a virtual machine with libvirt to which I can pass some USB devices like the microphone and the occasional webcam. This VM is connected to a separate, isolated network thanks to my motherboard's second network card, and it's configured to hide pretty much everything that can be hidden: MAC addresses, cpuid stuff, hard drive serial numbers, even the fact that it's a VM. Inside the VM, I run Windows 10 LTSC. I use a separate VM for each of these botnets, so that they don't know what other botnets I use. Ideally, I would also use a VPN to hide my external IP address, but it seems a bit excessive and I don't want to waste money on those honeypots anyway.

What's been improved

I'm happy to report that some of the issues from last year have been fixed.

  • The super+space key binding can now be reassigned properly even when KRunner is installed
  • VSync usually works, even with nouveau
  • DPI scaling is surprisingly decent for most applications on both Qt and GTK, less applications break compared to Windows
  • Wine has improved a lot
  • USB passthrough works much more reliably now, but it could be because of AMD
  • GPU passthrough is now incredibly easy to set up compared to a few years ago, I tried passing a GTX 1080 to a VM and games ran really smoothly
  • No more memory leaks when plasmashell lags
What still sucks

Some of the problems I mentioned last year are still here unfortunately, along with some new ones.

  • Sometimes applications are started twice when logging in
  • When an application changes the screen resolution, it doesn't restore it if it crashes or is manually killed. When the resolution is changed (even temporarily), the desktop icons are rearranged permanently. This is a very annoying KDE "feature"
  • Write cache is still enabled by default on removable devices
  • Still no way to disable Trash (New: sometimes it fails to empty the trash!)
  • No easy way to disable file history. I don't see why the start menu needs to prominently show the last porn videos I've watched by default
  • Games don't always disable the desktop compositor, which causes performance and stuttering issues. This can be done manually by pressing Alt+Shift+F12
  • Wine still has trouble capturing mouse movement in some games. Seems to be a X.org issue
  • Random Arch-style complications. For instance, when installing the Arduino IDE, it doesn't automatically add udev rules to allow your user access to Arduino devices connected via USB. Ubuntu did this automatically
  • KDE needs a "Run as administrator" option. Things like Wireshark cannot be started from the icon in the start menu thing and need to be started with sudo from the terminal. This is not user friendly
  • UI is still inconsistent as hell, with multiple versions of GTK and Qt coexisting. This problem also exists in Windows 10, with several different UI styles for both Win32 and UWP
  • Pulseaudio sometimes shits the bed when VirtualBox is running
  • Wayland is still not ready to replace X.org

I think my transition to Linux is pretty much complete at this point, and overall it's been a positive experience: I've learned a lot, tried a lot of new stuff, got rid of some bad habits, and I no longer feel like I'm being spied on as much as I was just 2 years ago. I'm excited to see what the future brings to this platform.

I wish I had more to say but things really are going quite smoothly.

Share this article