Linux as your Daily - A Guide and Journal

Discussion in 'Linux Compatibility and Software' started by Gumwars, Nov 15, 2021.

  1. Gumwars

    Gumwars Notebook Consultant

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    Howdy everyone.

    So, for those that follow the news, Microsoft launched Windows 11 this past October to the disappointment of many. The disappointment was loud enough for many that a proverbial line in the sand was drawn, with many now looking for the exits to find greener pastures. The telemetry, the advertising, the bugs, the endless hoop-jumping necessary to do something as simple as changing your internet browser are all valid reasons to make the switch. For me, I've been eyeballing this for a while and had done it in the past with limited success.

    What's up with Linux?

    Linux is, for all intents and purposes, superior to other commercialized operating systems in being customizable, free, and usually unencumbered with the bloat found in Windows, or the incessant spying found in both Windows and MacOS. However, Linux can be difficult in approachability for first time users, is notorious for having odd problems with Nvidia GPUs, and typically requires at least some familiarity with using Command Line Interfaces (CLI). For clarification, if you aren't familiar with the CLI, you will usually develop some skills with it once you dive into Linux.

    We can establish that Linux is better when it comes to telemetry, customization, and price, but what are the big problems? The biggest for most is compatibility with the established application ecosystems found in Windows and MacOS. Without a doubt, the MS Office and Adobe product lines and their lack of representation in the Linux world are probably the biggest reason more users don't jump ship. Many of us use some of either or both product lines almost daily in the office. Sure, there are competitors in the open-source world; Open Office, Libre, GIMP, and all the trouble in having to relearn workflows push back hard against years of muscle memory and compatibility with how many work centers operate. You can just show up one day, emailing a bunch of files that don't open, or open with everything garbled and expect your boss or subordinates to be cool with it. In other words, Microsoft, Adobe, and other developers are established in the offices of businesses around the world; switching to Linux requires that we have a suitable and competitive replacement ready when we arrive in that greener pasture.

    What's up with this Post?

    What I'm going to do here, over the next several days, weeks, months, and hopefully years is switch to Linux and stay there. I'm going to share with you all the whole experience, the ups and downs, in order to give the casual observer a frame of reference and potentially even a guide to how they can get there too.

    Background - Me and My Hardware

    I am not an expert. I can probably be described as knowing enough to get into serious trouble, but not enough to bail myself out. I am highly proficient with most MS Office products, with my crowning jewel being Excel. I'll honk my own horn there. As I pointed out earlier, I used Fedora as a daily driver for more than a year but because of my love of video games and upgrading to a newer laptop, I went back to Windows and have been in that ecosystem for quite some time. If it gives you an idea, I left when Fedora 24 was brand new.

    My laptop is the 2019 Alienware M17 R1. It has an Intel i7 9750H, Nvidia RTX 2070MQ, two 2TB NVMe SSDs (PNY is the brand) and an Intel AX200 Wifi/Bluetooth networking card.

    Target Distro

    I'm going to be using Endeavour OS; the combination of being able to choose from several desktop environments with Arch as the back bone would seem to be a winner in my book.

    I'm going to start this process later today and provide updates on a regular basis.
     
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  2. Gumwars

    Gumwars Notebook Consultant

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    As @etern4l pointed out, there are other distributions that aren't as obscure as Endeavour or as irksome to deal with as any of the Arch based systems (with Manjaro being the exception). Without further ado:

    What you'll need

    This is assuming you're starting from a Windows install to start. I downloaded the following:
    • Endeavour OS ISO (or distro of your choosing)
    • Rufus
    • A Windows 10 Pro ISO (more on this in a bit)
    In order to make sure you have all the luggage needed for the journey, I recommend backing up any important files you might have on your Windows install before proceeding. In my case, the goodies required for continuing my various projects once I crossed over were all found in my Documents folder. Once those were backed up, it was on to the next step.

    You'll need to use Rufus to make a bootable USB from the Linux ISO you downloaded. I'm going to largely assume you're aware of how to use this application, but if you aren't please let me know and I'll put together something more comprehensive. Once the USB is set up and ready, you'll need to configure your laptop in preparation for the new operating system.

    Alienware laptops, in particular, are usually set up from the factory with AHCI disabled and RAID enabled as default. In my case, I have 2, 2 TB PNY SSDs in RAID0, which Linux can't make sense of out of the box. Because this is a BIOS level RAID configuration, using an Intel RAID controller baked onto the motherboard, you'll need to break it in the BIOS before trying to install Linux. If you don't, your install will fail, every time. After breaking the RAID, you'll need to set your SATA to AHCI. If you don't, the installer won't see the SSDs, and you'll be wondering why your primary drive is only as big as the USB you're booting from.

    Once all this is done, you're ready to install. This guide is all about not turning back, so we aren't dual booting. This is all or nothing. I deleted everything and installed Endeavour as the only show in town.

    Installation of this OS was mostly simple with only three issues that I'm currently working through. The installer was easy to navigate, installed the correct Nvidia drivers right off the bat (and did most of the configuration too). The first issue that I ran into was Bluetooth was disabled and I couldn't figure out how to get it turned on. Arch, apparently, disables it by default on a fresh install due to potential security vulnerabilities. A visit to the Terminal got that sorted. The second issue is my Alienware Graphics Amplifier. Currently, the OS recognizes the hardware, but I can't seem to get it going. I'll be dealing with this over the next few days; I'm pretty confident I'll get it figured out. Lastly, Alienware Command Center. Sigh. AWCC is another Alienware centric bit of software that allows users to configure our RGB features. I'm aware of direct commands via Terminal to adjust these lighting tidbits, but I'm also aware of a Gnome extension that is supposed to provide a GUI for that as well. Last I had checked, it wasn't being maintained but that seems to have changed recently. The Github page shows the last version was uploaded this past April, which is encouraging.

    So, where things stand right now:
    • Linux is installed and running
    • Steam, Lutris both installed
    • Thunderbird up and running
    • Bluetooth is working
    • AGA is not working
    Things left to do:
    • Install Crossover
    • Install some form of Virtual Machine
    • Get Windows 10 up and running in VM (for office related tasks)
    • Start figuring out what games in my library run with Proton or Lutris
    • Get my AGA working
     
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2021
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  3. etern4l

    etern4l Notebook Virtuoso

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    Good stuff, although the choice of a somewhat less known distro might limit usefulness to people who might benefit from such a guide (if not throw extra hurdles your way). Why not start off with Pop!_OS?
     
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  4. Tech Junky

    Tech Junky Notebook Deity

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    i use both daily between laptop / server. Laptop for MS and server is LX.

    If you want raw power w/o all of the bloat then LX is the way to go. If you want convenience for apps then it's MS. Most software that is main stream tends to be Windows based since it's "dummy proof" and like a cell phone most can use it somewhat intuitively. Along with ease of use comes the hassle of a variety of things from space on the drive to exploits to steal your data.

    Personally I use deb based kernel / packages on the server. I can do things like configure a PC to be a router / switch / DVR and so on within LX that can't be done in Windows easily or securely. Being able to do more network focused design for me at least bypasses the need for extraneous and expensive off the shelf equipment. If someone wanted to build their own router using easily adaptable parts it can be done for about the same price as an off the shelf solution but, more powerful and secure. I haven't run the numbers on a basic router / firewall / wifi though since I'm more performance geared but, just about any sidelined PC or even a Arduino / rasp pi or the likes of either. It can be relatively cheap to do with a little cheekiness. Things the mass producers don't want you to know so they can snag another couple hundred bucks out of your pocket each time you need a new one. With the latest round of routers / wifi being released these "consumer" prices have risen to $600+. Taken the project into your own hands though can result in a better solution.

    CPU / PC - $100 (RPI 4) ./ $45 (cheapest / buy it now - ebay)

    Go from there. PI has a build option for OpenWRT which feels more like an off the shelf router OS you'd be familiar with. LX take s a little more in depth approach though w/o the fancy GUI to bog things down. Either works better than relying on OEM's to keep their OS updated and secure. The versatility of LX and an old PC though as you can expand to the sky is the limits in configuration and function.

    In the networking field though all of the major players use LX as the underlying source to make their HW work. Everything from Cisco / Juniper / etc. basically take LX and put their own wrapper on it to be their brand. If you break the device OS you get access to the raw LX commands to perform god like commands.

    Expanding beyond networking though you can do many more functions as I eluded to above. I have my server setup for many different things to consolidate several different devices I was already using in the past into a single PC / plug. Taking on different useful devices and rolling them into a single box makes managing things easier as well as saving space. Just looking at NAS's for example sets you back ~$200 fir a basic 2 x drive setup w/o the drive prices included. Routers same thing another $100 on the cheap side. Firewall.... if you're relying on something off the shelf in your "router" then you're risking quite a bit of security if you look on the internet for news about bugs causing info to be leaked. DVR's typically come with subscriptions attached to them. I used to have a Tivo instead of paying the provider for their set top box @ $20-$25/mo in addition to the content monthly charge ~$100/mo. Taking a $100 card and sticking it in the PC and a lifetime Plex subscription for $100 means the monthly costs are gone forever other than your broadband costs. Plex has been releasing more "features" that allow live streaming of curated content similar to PlutoTV IMO. As you can see this adds up quickly to cover the cost of making your own "device" vs paying the "system" for their product.

    I put together a higher end PC for all of this using an 8700K CPU / 16GB RAM to start off with. If you keep the costs down like the $45 PC + a couple of PCI cards w/o storage it's maybe $100 for a dual gigabit setup for WAN/LAN to function on the box. Going higher spec though allows for ease of use without stuttering when you put a load on the system. Plex has a feature that allows for the stripping of commercials when a recording completes and that needs some beefier CPU power if you want the server to do the handwork and not your laptop with something like MCEBuddy. ($30 lifetime). The server in my instance with OTA programming can comskip in a matter of seconds while processing the video file. Running it through another program though takes considerably longer even with a high end CPU. MCE allows for batch processing, folder monitoring, etc. to cleanse your videos of commercials and/or convert them to MP4 to save space and ease playing from remote devices without engaging transcoding on the server (high CPU). Most off the shelf NAS's though say they can transcode but, they really suck at doing so and need a buffer period from hitting play to actually playing the files.

    With a PC though w/ LX you can open the door to do much more. If you're using it for daily use as a desktop / laptop if you have enough specs under the hood you can always run a "VM" on top of it for special programs that only work in a windows environment. There's a free tool to do so called https://www.virtualbox.org/ I've used this for years when I want to escape Windows and only need a couple of programs that require using windows. I'll usually make an image for Office and then make a copy of that image and store it somewhere else as a "backup" if I run into issues and need to roll back. Installing everything + updates and then locking away a copy of that VHD makes for a quick recovery if needed and only takes up ~100GB of space. Sure it's not quite as fast as running a native off the disk session of Office but, it's nice to kill it off and go back to LX performance when you're done working on a project.

    Running in both worlds in tandem can be a struggle for some. It does take a bit of learning to be agile in both systems if you're doing anything more than a simple setup. Digging deeper into LX if you're coming from Windows only and never touched it can be daunting until you figure out how the underlying systems come together and function. There's been many of times when I first started with LX that I would break something and wouldn't' be able to figure it out. Over time you figure out what's "needed" and what's just fluff and can be ripped out to streamline the system. While the issues I was causing didn't completely kill the system from being recoverable in hindsight they did cause productivity issues on occasion and I found it faster to just reinstall it than to try to figure it out back then. Now though I've got the skills to break and fix it quite quickly. Lately I've been running into an issue with newer kernel releases not supporting my 5gbps NIC for some reason and hanging at boot / disabling functions when booted to the GUI. I opened a ticket for that w/ the powers that be and they're working on it since it's been an issue for almost 2 full releases on the kernel now. Anyway in the past I would have probably reinstalled the OS but, have it down to a ~5 minute recovery process.

    Running this system mostly in a headless configuration (no monitor) lends to getting familiar with the CLI for most functions / monitoring. Seeing as though working in a networking capacity being familiar with CLI commands became second nature For system / processes I use Glances which gives an overview of processes / networking / load / etc from a SSH window. Its' useful for finding resource hogs and being able to kill them off in another window. Alternatively I also use Webmin to do similar functions from a browser. It's not as sleek as the CLI but, it does work and I use it mainly for letting me know updates are available for the OS and sometimes for a broader view of CPU/network stats. I use//d Netwatch form CLI to build some FW rules based on observed network traffic but, instead decided to put Norddvpn onto the server and use it for a whole house VPN and tweak IPtables as such to FW the connection even further. Netwatch though is a nice option for viewing the inbound connections that are being blocked that are unsolicited traffic i.e. intrusion attempts. You might be surprised how many hits you're getting from the outside world in a given day. I've clocked over 1000 hosts trying to come in any given day from innocuous "probes" / "surveys" to the RU / CN "hackes" probing around for hosts to take over. I added PIHole to the mix to nix the ADS / Telemetry / Tracking from websites as it's basically just another app to install and there are preformed adlists you can just paste the URL in and hit update to import them. NTOPNG is a nice web gui for monitoring statistics / traffic flows similar to the info you might see from an IPS.

    If you don't mind getting your hands dirty and being a little bit of a nerd LX opens a lot of possibilities. It's free and there's a whole lot more guides these days out there if you're just starting out with it or seasoned and need to lookup something peculiar.
     
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  5. Gumwars

    Gumwars Notebook Consultant

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    Good operating systems should be a combination of complexity and simplicity. I know, this is a paradoxical statement, but hear me out.

    Most users here want something that just works, and works well. I mean, no crashes, applications install and work as they should, hardware is identified and either works or a clear reason provided why it isn't along with what action you need to take in order to get everything going. That's the simplicity we want. As far as complexity, we want rich options to tweak or tinker with in order to squeeze any and all available performance out of the equipment we've purchased. We don't want complexity in doing simple things. We want the option to peel back the layers of our systems and see the fine machining, like looking at the internals of a Hamilton 992B.

    Which brings me to Nvidia, and Arch, and JFC. I installed the proprietary driver, as an option, when I installed the OS. Painless, right? Well, it appears the driver recognized my laptop is Optimus equipped and turned that feature on. My GPU is identified, is working correctly, and is turned completely off. Nvidia-settings won't open and I can't seem to get the GPU to power on. I'm getting crazy good battery life, but no gaming yet. I'm sure there is something I've overlooked. I will soldier on.

    In other news, I've come across a Throttlestop Linux alternative; intel-undervolt. It isn't pretty, doesn't have any of the extended features @unclewebb has labored to create for us, but it works. It's all done from the Terminal, along with a config file that you tinker with, and that's it.

    I'm currently setting up both VMWare Workstation Player and Crossover. I'm going to give both a spin to see which one works better - using MS Office with a WINE compatibility layer or just running WIndows in a VM for my office needs. I think the former would be the more elegant solution, but we'll see.
     
  6. Tech Junky

    Tech Junky Notebook Deity

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    Nvidia and Linux has always been a war to work smoothly.

    Wine blows chunks still.

    Crossover has been tempting but, still hasn't gotten me to bother with it. Office Communicator is popular and I found Pidgin with a plug in of sorts to work just fine if you grab the certificate to connect. A web based Office like Google docs would solve that issue or using web Outlook offers an alternative to the full install.

    Maybe in the next 5 years it will become more native as users revolt and develope other options. Just about every server runs Linux and it's a bit surprising there aren't solutions for this in 2021.
     
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  7. Gumwars

    Gumwars Notebook Consultant

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    Crossover appears to be a bust on Arch for Office 365. The application won't install as Crossover is trying to run it as a 32-bit application when it is a 64-bit installer. I suspected there might be drama in this corner. I use VBA extensively in several of my spreadsheets so any of the MS Office alternatives can't cut it and/or I don't really want to spend the time to relearn another ecosystem. Plan B, VM.

    I agree, WINE is still lacking. The whole Nvidia vs. Linux war sucks. I've been keeping my eye on an Asus laptop that's 100% AMD almost specifically because of these problems.
     
  8. etern4l

    etern4l Notebook Virtuoso

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    Out of the box Optimus support was the main reason behind my Pop_os suggestion.
     
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  9. Gumwars

    Gumwars Notebook Consultant

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    I'm rethinking my selection. Never too late to make another go at it.
     
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  10. Gumwars

    Gumwars Notebook Consultant

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    UPDATE: Following the advice of @etern4l , I attempted to install Pop_OS! I was greeted with utter failure. I've installed this distro in the past, without issue, but ran into some catastrophe right off the bat. The USB boot drive gave me the option to "Try Pop_OS!" and then went to a black screen. This was with the version that has the Nvidia driver installed. So, I'm moving on to Mint.

    As info, this particular problem has been around for a bit with Pop and while it is solvable, the whole point of this move is to find a distro that works and works well. So far, Endeavour did install easily, was somewhat easy to use, the hoop jumping with Nvidia and the somewhat arcane nature of Arch (in general) puts both of these distros in a category of moderate to advance user territory. Not something a newbie can reasonably hope to figure out.
     
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2021
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