2015, The Year of Linux on My Laptop

I’ve written a bit about this before[1], so I won’t rehash too much, but reading Andre’s piece on how his new Chromebook Pixel has replaced his Macbook Pro, made me a bit nostalgic and wanting to write some of my own thoughts about switching off of the Mac this year.

Like Andre, this a somewhat notable event for me. I’ve always used a mix of Macs and PCs growing up, but throughout most of the 90s, I built my own PCs for personal use (running DOS/Windows, and then poking around w/ Slackware releases pretty early on). In college, I spent more of my time on Sun workstations, and ended up managing a Mac computer lab (with some NT and SGI workstations in the back), which simultaneously generated a still-to-this-day disdain for the piece-of-crap System 9, but also a growing excitement for OS X. In 2001, I installed OS X 10.0 on a brand new G3 Snow iBook – it was almost unusably slow, but I didn’t look back, and while I continued to maintain a healthy menagerie of gaming PCs and Linux boxen, OS X was my daily driver, and just about every year I’d upgrade to the latest PowerBook, MacBook Pro, and finally, for the past few years, the 11″ MBAs. It was a bit of a sad and slow realization over the past few years that each version of OS X was getting worse for me than the last, and also, that the MBA wasn’t cutting it either, especially as I started traveling full time again. I waited for the 12″ MacBook to see if it were any better, but in the end, that was the final confirmation that Apple was no longer designing laptops for me.

I’d previous tested out a bunch of Chromebooks (including traveling with one on a month-long trip in China), but even with a Crouton setup, it just never worked for me. On the X side, I’d also tried just about every single tiling manager out there (Awesome was probably the best, QTile I had a soft spot for as a Python geek), but they never clicked. This time around, I’ve been using Openbox, and it’s been great – does everything I want, gets out of the way, and its behavior is completely customizable. I spent a month or so yak-shaving (fixing about one thing a day), and in the end, I have a setup that is bespoke in a way that feels fitting considering how much time I spend on my computers.  It’s not perfect – I had to write my own site-specific browser library (works but still needs some polishing), and my 1Password situation is passable, but honestly a huge pain. Also, I’m booting into Windows a lot more than I’d like – a pure necessity to run Adobe Creative Cloud, Unity3D, and the rest of my VR development, although I will admit that Windows 10 is… not that bad.


Since no laptops are powerful enough to currently drive PC VR experiences, I also started carrying around a very powerful PC in a Pelican case with me (my VR bucket). Since I can also use this for my photo editing, that changes the calculus a bit for my portable computing needs. I will probably end up with something a bit slimmer/lighter than my X250 next. Since I also carry a separate mechanical keyboard, this may even end up being a 2-in-1 or tablet. As long is it runs Linux well and has 8h+ battery life, I’ll be alright I think.

We’ll see what 2016 brings, but it’s a bit sad that for me, it probably won’t ever be a Mac again.

[1] For all the details: