Scott's Weblog The weblog of an IT pro specializing in virtualization, networking, open source, and cloud computing

The Linux Migration: April 2017 Progress Report

In December 2016, I kicked off a migration to Linux (from OS X) as my primary laptop OS. In the nearly 4 months since the initial progress report, I’ve published a series of articles providing updates on things like which Linux distribution I selected, how I’m handling running VMs on my Linux laptop, and integration with corporate collaboration systems (here, here, and here). I thought that these “along the way” posts would be sufficient to keep readers informed, but I’ve had a couple of requests in the last week about how the migration is going. This post will help answer that question by summarizing what’s happened so far.

Let me start by saying that I am actively using a Linux-powered laptop as my primary laptop right now, and I have been doing so since early February. All the posts I’ve published so far have been updates of how things are going “in production,” so to speak. The following sections describe my current, active environment.

Linux Distribution

In my initial progress report, I’d tentatively chosen to use Ubuntu 16.04 LTS (“Xenial Xerus”). However, a short while later I switched to Fedora 25, and have settled on Fedora as my primary laptop OS. (See this post for more details.)

The only issue with the Fedora installation so far has been that I didn’t set up full disk encryption when I installed; it looks like I’ll need to reinstall Fedora in order to enable full disk encryption.

Hardware

The laptop on which I’m running Fedora 25 is a Dell Latitude E7370 (see my review) with 16GB RAM, 512GB NVMe SSD, and a 3200x1800 touch screen. Every piece of hardware worked perfectly out of the box—wireless, touchpad, touch screen, USB-C/Thunderbolt docking station, etc. I currently use an external 27” monitor, external keyboard, and external mouse all connected via a USB-C/Thunderbolt docking station when I’m in the office, and docking/undocking the laptop works almost flawlessly. I say “almost” only because I’ve had a couple instances (out of the dozens of times I’ve docked or undocked) that it didn’t work as expected. To be fair, though, I’ve seen the same behavior with OS X.

Applications

For the most part, things are where they were at the time of my initial progress report:

  • Markdown: A great deal of my content was already being generated in Markdown, and I was already using Sublime Text 3 on OS X. On Linux, I still generate most everything in Markdown, and I still use Sublime Text 3 as my preferred text editor.
  • Internet applications: Firefox handles my web browsing, but I also have Google Chrome installed for cross-browser testing. I use HexChat for IRC, the Linux Slack client, and Pidgin for instant messaging.
  • Cloud storage/sync: Dropbox works fine, although the UI integration could be much better. I’m also using a tool called ODrive to get connectivity to OneDrive for Business.
  • Basic office productivity: I’m using LibreOffice (included with most Linux distributions these days). I have run into a few compatibility issues with Office 2016/Office 365, particularly regarding presentations. For my own presentations, I’ve moved to a Markdown-based solution (more details here).
  • Graphics: The combination of Inkscape and GIMP take care of my graphics needs. I was able to create SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) versions of some of my OmniGraffle files (but not all), which I can edit/modify in Inkscape as needed.
  • Mind mapping: XMind fills the need here. There’s nothing I can do about my old MindNode maps, but all new maps are created in XMind. So far, the free edition has met my needs, but it may be necessary to upgrade at some point (mostly for improved import/export functionality).
  • E-mail: I’m using Thunderbird with a small collection of add-ons to handle both corporate and personal e-mail (refer to this post for more details). I did not import the 10+ years of archived mail stored in Apple Mail, keeping that on my Mac Pro instead (more on that later).
  • Task management: I switched to a task management system that is completely based on plain text files using a variant of the TaskPaper format (it’s not 100% TaskPaper compatible). This allows me to handle task management via Sublime Text, Dropbox, and Meld (a file differencing tool). See this post for more details.
  • Time management: Time management (calendaring/scheduling) is difficult, due to issues described here. I’m currently using the Lightning add-on in Thunderbird, as well as GNOME Calendar. Thunderbird handles my corporate calendar, and GNOME Calendar shows corporate and personal calendars. On the personal calendar side, I’ve had to switch back to Google from a third-party CalDAV provider; thus, GNOME Calendar syncs with Google Calendar and with my corporate calendar.
  • Password management: I switched from 1Password to Enpass. I’ve heard that 1Password may be offering a Linux version this year; I’ll evaluate switching back if that happens. I’m using Enpass on my OS X, Linux, and iOS devices.
  • Corporate connectivity: I have the Linux client for VMware Horizon installed (to access my hosted corporate desktop), and I use vpnc to connect to our corporate VPN. I also maintain a Windows 10 VM with corporate VPN connectivity for other issues I can’t resolve using Linux.
  • Social media: I use Corebird for Twitter access from Linux when I’m traveling.

Where I Still Use OS X

OS X hasn’t completely disappeared from my computing landscape; I have a well-equipped Mac Pro in my office that I still use for some things. (When I’m traveling, though, it’s pretty much 100% Linux—the exception is the occasional need to boot the corporate Windows 10 VM.) Here are the areas where I’m still using OS X:

  • Podcast recording (I haven’t found a Linux replacement for Audio Hijack, and Skype on Linux is a bit iffy)
  • Viewing archived e-mail (still sits in Apple Mail on my Mac Pro)
  • Viewing OmniGraffle documents that I couldn’t convert to SVG
  • Working with any old MindNode mind maps (I wrote a script to extract the JPEG preview from the MindNode file bundle, so I can view the preview on Linux)
  • Social media when I’m in the office (Tweetbot is far more powerful than Corebird)
  • Any virtualization testing specific to VMware Fusion (like testing a VMware-formatted Vagrant box, for example)

I also use my OS X system for general web browsing when I’m in the office, since there’s no sense in letting its 27” Thunderbolt Display go to waste. By and large, though, most everything is done from my Linux laptop.

Summary

As I mentioned in my last post on corporate collaboration, whether or not Linux on the desktop will work for you will depend a lot on your employer and the systems your employer uses. I’ve been able to make this work, but not everyone will be able to do the same.

I’ll keep posting “in progress” updates as well as summary updates like this one when there is useful information to share. In the meantime, if you have questions, feedback, or suggestions, feel free to connect with me on Twitter.

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