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Regolith Linux review — Balancing Ease of Use and Productivity

Regolith Linux

I’m relatively new to the Linux world. As a lifelong user of Windows, I had switched to Linux out of curiosity with a small hope of a cleaner operating system that played well with web development. I certainty didn’t expect to stay. Yet, one month later, here I am.

Through this short period of time, I have used Linux Mint, Pop!_OS, Ubuntu MATE and Regolith Linux. (I tried but failed to use Arch and Endeavour OS. Maybe another time!)

I kept coming back to Regolith Linux, and I think I’m ready to share why.

Regolith is Beginner-Friendly

Based on Ubuntu

Ubuntu Logo

Regolith Linux is an Ubuntu-based distribution, which is known for its solid out-of-the-box experience. This means that the ease of setup to get to a usable system is practically zero, similar to the complete experience you get on Windows and macOS when you first boot it up. To a beginner like me, it is a plus as it saves me worry and time.

Thoughtful Installation Format

In fact, Regolith Linux can be installed as a standalone operating system or a desktop environment to an existing Ubuntu-based distribution. The first option is great, but the latter is particularly interesting. If like me, you come from Windows or macOS, you have been operating the desktop predominantly using the mouse. One of Regolith Linux’s key features is a keyboard-centric workflow that promises to make you more productive. While the mouse pointer is still present, the switch in workflow could be daunting and unfamiliar.

Screenshot of Download Page of https://regolith-linux.org/

This is where installing Regolith Linux on top of an Ubuntu-based distribution helps. On the login screen, you always have the option to choose between the more familiar mouse-centric “Gnome” layout, or choose to use Regolith. For me, the presence of going back to a familiar desktop environment acts a safety net. I don’t have to install a new operating system and transfer my files back and forth every time! In fact, I am currently running Regolith Linux on top of Pop!_OS, which is itself a great Ubuntu-based distribution, and what got me into Linux in the first place.

Example Desktop Environment Switcher in Pop!_OS, image courtesy of https://support.system76.com/articles/desktop-environment

Presence of Familiar Apps

Regolith Linux also includes some Gnome apps like the all-important settings app. There’s no need to learn a new settings app or use the terminal for it.

Mouse-centric Graphical User Interface apps in Regolith Linux, image courtesy of https://regolith-linux.org/

Overall, Regolith Linux is probably the most beginner-friendly Linux distribution that uses a tiling window manager and keyboard-centric workflow, which we will talk about next!

Regolith has Smart Window Management

This is the other killer-feature found in Regolith Linux. Regolith Linux uses a tiling window manager called i3-gaps which helps you organise your open app windows for you.

Floating Window Managers

Floating Window Manager, image courtesy of https://www.techrepublic.com/article/how-to-juggle-multiple-apps-in-windows/

In the traditional user experience found in Windows, macOS and many Linux desktop environments, windows “float” in the desktop and can be moved around freely using the mouse. This is an okay user interface if we only have a few apps open, but do you have those days where you open many apps (eg. multiple Google Chrome windows , File Explorer, Terminal, Visual Studio Code, and a Word document)? These windows open on top of one another, covering those beneath. After a while, we would be Alt-Tabbing through our way to get back to a specific window, sometimes not even to use it, but just to view it.

One way we can mitigate the problem is to use the window snapping feature and snap our windows to the left and right of the screen. However, we have to spend additional effort to do it. Overall, I find this a bearable experience, but there’s definitely room for improvement.

Tiling Window Managers

In a Tiling Window Manager, windows are by default, “tiled” alongside each other, meaning they don’t overlap

A tiling window manager allows you to view all the information from at once while focusing and doing work on one window. It does so by automatically dividing the screen into smaller parts for every other app you open, such that windows do not overlap and obscure information beneath.

Tiling Window Manager automatically resizes other windows to allow the new app (right) to tile on the screen

If you open too many apps, you can easily move them to another virtual desktop using the shortcut Windows Key + Shift + x (where x is the number associated with the virtual desktop). Alternatively, you can switch to another virtual desktop using Windows Key + x.

Of course, you can still make a specific window float if you want to. You can also choose whether you want the new window to be tiled vertically or horizontally. You can also resize windows easily.

Regolith encourages Ergonomic Workflow

With the use of a tiling window manager, Regolith Linux encourages a keyboard-centric workflow instead of a mouse-centric one. It takes some time to get used to, but you will find it more ergonomic compared to reaching for your mouse between typing sessions, or to organise windows. Personally, I find that it makes it easier to get into the flow too.

A Keyboard that I use. Review is here https://medium.com/evergreen-reviews/microsoft-ergonomic-keyboard-10-months-later-2d3f671cf03a

I can explain how I predominantly use a keyboard to browse the web, reaching for my mouse or touchpad sometimes, instead of constantly alternating between both.

Browsing the Web Example

Press Windows + Shift + Enter to launch the browser (eg. Firefox). Start typing to search. When presented with google’s search results, I make use of a browser extension called Web Search Navigator to jump between links. If you think about it, we just want to click links. Using a mouse to scroll and having a free-movement mouse pointer (and needing to position it to click a link) is overkill and less efficient.

See the tiny black arrow beside each search result link? You can use your keyboard’s arrow keys or k and j to jump between links

To open a link, I can simply hit Enter. To open a link in a background tab, I can use Ctrl + Space. This is about how I use Web Search Navigator. The following can be done without any extensions.

To switch tabs, I use Ctrl + Tab to go right, and Ctrl + Shift + Tab to go left. To go back a page or forward a page, I use Alt + left/right Arrow. To focus on the search bar to search again, Ctrl + L is available. To close tabs, I use Ctrl + W.

Within a web page, I can use the arrow keys to scroll. Of course, finer interactions like clicking the buttons within a webpage still requires the mouse pointer. Personally, I think that the mouse pointer is a single, powerful and general navigation device. It is a free-movement pointer, and combined with buttons, it can do any type of navigation. However, it is overkill most of the time as many parts of browsing is structured and does not require the free-movement. Knowing this, we can minimise context-switching and improve ergonomics by picking up the mouse less, and better get into the flow.

Conclusion

Regolith Linux’s advantages — ease of use, smart window management and keyboard-centric workflow — can be found separately in many other Linux distributions. It’s killer feature, in my opinion, is its excellent balance in all 3 areas. It is what makes Regolith Linux so well designed such that I keep coming back to it. Sure, there are some cons. Personally, I still wish that Regolith Linux is even lighter and use less RAM. There is still a tiny delay between pressing the keys and opening the terminal, which I think can be improved. Overall though, for a newcomer to Linux and keyboard-centric workflows, the pros vastly outweigh the cons, and I can’t recommend it enough.

This article is also written to thank the developers and community of Regolith Linux who made my many happy hours of using the computer possible. Thank you.

For anyone who is reading this article, what kind of workflow is productive to you? Are there any other interesting workflows you use on Windows, macOS and Linux? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks for reading!

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