My Journey to Linux: New Horizons (Part 3)

Eric Londo
Jan 20 · 9 min read

Welcome back to the story of my journey to Linux! If you haven’t read Part 1 or Part 2, I encourage you to check them out here and here.

Having a bit of fun with my son, Vincent.

So, when I last left you, I had been using Ubuntu almost exclusively as my main development environment to learn how to program. However, as I started to become sucked into the wider world of Linux, I began wanting to test the waters outside of the comfort provided by Ubuntu and the surrounding community.

One reason for this was my interest in watching Linux dedicated YouTube content by so many incredibly knowledgeable and kind people out there. Many of them would review different distributions and some of them looked really cool and unique. Also, through this, I found an incredible and budding podcasting platform that started with my discovery of the Ubuntu Podcast. I would listen to this podcast and many others related to Linux on my commute to work, throughout the work day, and on the way home (and I still do!). It was via podcasting that I began connecting to the greater online Linux community, which I increasingly wanted to become more involved with. The people delivering this content were extremely passionate and it definitely rubbed off on me a lot (A list of my favorite Linux related podcasts is curated at the end of the article, check them out!).

Moreover, one of the main reasons for my desire to explore was that with the 18.04 LTS release, Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu) announced that it would no longer be actively developing the Unity8 shell and would revert to GNOME 3 as the default desktop environment. I was not and have never really been a huge fan of GNOME 3. Unity was my favorite desktop environment, though to be fair, it was one of the only ones that I had used extensively at the time.

Sure, I had used both KDE 3/4 and GNOME 2 (in fact GNOME 2 with Ubuntu is what truly got me to consider Linux in the first place!) and thought they were great. To me, however, there wasn’t a better looking desktop environment out there compared to the Unity7 shell. It was so uniquely Ubuntu, it is hard to describe. In fact, 14.04 might be my favorite Ubuntu release of the decade due to how well Unity had been ironed out at the time (though 19.10 might just have to take that title to the bank). But alas, it was gone and I began my search for new distributions and different desktop environments.

The default Ubuntu desktop using GNOME 3, version 18.04 LTS “Bionic Beaver”.

I ended up spinning up plenty of Virtual Machines via VirtualBox and worked my way through Debian/Ubuntu-based distributions first including (but not limited to) Linux Mint, Kubuntu, Ubuntu MATE, elementary OS, Zorin OS, BackBox, KDE neon, SparkyLinux, Netrunner, Bodhi Linux, Debian itself, and Pop!_OS and MX Linux later. KDE Plasma soon became my second favorite desktop behind Unity at the time, so my favorite’s out of this bunch included Kubuntu, KDE Neon, and Linux Mint. Linux Mint really got me to fall in love with the Cinnamon desktop environment, which is what I mainly run on my computers today. In fact, our family desktop has been running the Cinnamon desktop since Linux Mint 18.0, and my fiancée has finally conceded that she loves it even more than her precious MacBook Pro (a huge win in my book, since she is an unfortunate Apple freak…just teasing, Ashley, if you’re reading this).

Debian: The rock upon which so many great Linux distributions are built.

After going through these common and popular distributions, I decided to give some love to the other company backed distributions in the Linux sphere besides Canonical. From SuSE, I tried openSUSE Tumbleweed and Leap and really liked them, except that the out-of-the-box KDE setup required quite a bit of tweaking to get them the way I like. In addition, I gave CentOS and Fedora a try, though I have never been a Red Hat fanboy. I have to give credit where it is due, though, and Fedora is an incredibly polished distribution that I could see myself using sans GNOME 3. However, I do not think that it stands up to Debian or its derivatives and I never really liked RPM when compared with APT.

From here, I decided to go off the deep end and explore the family of distributions that were based on the fabled Arch Linux. Not wanting to get too crazy, I started with more user friendly Arch-based distributions like Antergos and Manjaro. Both had pretty simple installation experiences and Antergos was screaming fast in a VM. Finally, after using Antergos for a few months on real hardware, I decided to try vanilla Arch. The install failed on 3 separate occasions, but I finally got it on the fourth, and it was a wonderful feeling.

I have never felt so in touch with my computer as I did while running Arch, just total control and zero bloat and I can see why so many people are die-hard users. However, I started having problems with it in the coming weeks and found myself spending quite a bit of time troubleshooting problems on my system, which is when I decided that I needed something a bit more “stable”.

Would be remiss not to throw in an Arch meme at this point!

In 2018, Solus was all the rage, so I gave it a shot using KDE, which was still in a testing phase. I really liked Solus and especially the ease of the eopkg manager (I know, unpopular opinion here). I never had problems with stability, and the community was small, but faithful and growing day by day. I’m still running Solus on one of my older computers and it basically reverted it to “almost new” status. The thing is very fast, and beautifully themed. Solus is a complete joy to use and probably the best of the rolling release distributions for newer users/non-superusers in my opinion.

Then, in 2018, I was looking for a very powerful laptop that I could count on to run Linux smoothly. After looking through Thinkpads, Dell XPS, Razer, and ORIGIN, I was brought to the attention of a small company out of Colorado called System76. After much debate, I decided that I wanted to order one of their machines, which was tweaked specifically for the Linux kernel. So, I purchased an Oryx Pro 5th generation. This has now become my main development computer that runs Pop!_OS 19.10 with Cinnamon, of course. It has been a wonderful experience so far, with only minor issues that caused it to go in for repair one time.

system76 Oryx Pro 5th Generation (Credit: system76)

In late 2019, I had five computers that were all running Linux: the family desktop running Linux Mint 19.3, my System 76 Oryx Pro laptop running Pop!_OS 19.10 (with Cinnamon), a cheap Dell Inspiron running Solus 4 KDE Testing edition, an old Dell Latitude running Umix 18.04.3, and a refurbished Lenovo Thinkpad Edge E531 running Debian 10 “Sid”, aka Unstable, with Cinnamon.

My Umix OS 18.04.3 installation on my Dell Latitude.

Then, I visited my parents at their house in Knoxville at the beginning of December 2019 and my dad offered me an Intel NUC as an early Christmas present. Shortly after bringing this home and wiping CentOS off of it in favor of Ubuntu MATE, it was announced that the first release of a brand new Ubuntu flavored distribution was making its way into the public, and I couldn’t have been happier. It is currently known as Ubuntu Cinnamon Remix, as it will take some time and multiple release cycles before it can be elevated to an officially supported Ubuntu flavor.

My Intel NUC running Ubuntu Cinnamon Remix 19.10 “Eoan Ermine”.

I had always wanted to work on an open-source project, but hadn’t found one that I was extremely passionate about to give up my free time until this was released. I immediately joined the Telegram group and signed up to be an internal tester for the distribution. I installed it on my Intel NUC and was amazed with how fast it ran, even compared to Ubuntu MATE. Then to test out graphics cards, I installed Ubuntu Cinnamon Remix on my desktop computer in place of Linux Mint 19.3. I’m not sure that my fiancée has even noticed, except for the fact that the icon themes changed from minty green to cinnamon orange.

Many people ask, “Why not just use Linux Mint”? Well, there are several differences between the two. First of all, Linux Mint only runs on the LTS cycle of Ubuntu, which means you only get new versions of some software every two years. In comparison, Ubuntu Cinnamon Remix runs on the same 6 month release cycle as all the other official Ubuntu flavors, so you only have to wait 6 months to get the latest and greatest software available. In my opinion, this is a major plus. There are also minor differences between how Ubuntu and Mint maintain the architecture of their distributions, which makes a Cinnamon Ubuntu variant welcome news in my book.

I have been learning about the intricate process of Debian packaging in hopes that one day I may be able to contribute to the project as a full-on developer. Additionally, I have been working with the amazing Mentor team at The Debian Project to expedite my quest for knowledge and volunteer my spare time to help with the core technology of my favorite GNU/Linux distribution family. I have set a new year’s resolution to become an official member of the Debian Project, either as a Debian Maintainer or Debian Developer by the end of the year in 2021. Consequently, you should see many more articles documenting my journey from user/volunteer to full-fledged member with Debian as well as updates on the development of the Ubuntu Cinnamon Remix project. I’ll put out a full overview of the state of that project when the 20.04 LTS is released in April 2020.

My Debian 11 “Bullseye” Unstable (“Sid”) desktop.

Another activity that I love doing is getting use out of my old computers with Linux. Often times when a machine is somewhere over 7–8 years old, the proprietary operating system (be it Windows or macOS) just breaks down to the point of being nearly unusable in my experience (and I have plenty of it in this area!).

It’s just amazing to see the transformation when loading new Linux distributions on old hardware, especially distributions that are specifically targeted at this problem, such as Peppermint OS, Xubuntu, Lubuntu, Ubuntu MATE, and Zorin OS Lite.

Ubuntu MATE giving my 2010 MacBook new life a decade later!

My most recent foray into this realm happened just this week when I found my old 2010 MacBook stuffed away in our basement after rearranging the storage area for holiday decorations. I excitedly brought it upstairs and plugged it in to see if I could get it to work.

However, after trying to get the operating system to boot, it kept failing over and over. So, I decided it was time to give the computer new life. I knew that I had already transferred all the data to my digital archive many years ago, so I grabbed a USB out of my drawer with Ubuntu MATE 19.10 burned on it and plugged it in. I powered on the machine while holding the “option” button and was able to boot into the install media.

Installing Ubuntu MATE was a breeze and upon doing a full system upgrade and rebooting, it was amazing to see just how fast this operating system ran on decade old hardware. Absolutely incredible!

If you would like to find out more about my adventures with Ubuntu MATE, you can check out an article I wrote about it entitled Why I’m Heavily Considering Joining Team Green: Ubuntu MATE.

So, there you have it. I’ve just completed my journey to Linux and beyond up to this very week in my life. I’m excited to keep writing about this and other topics as the days roll past and hope that I can come up with some engaging content for everyone out there!

Thanks for reading and if you have any experiences with Linux or related topics that you would like to share, please direct them to the comment section below. I would love to hear from you!

As promised, my favorite Linux related podcasts in no particular order:

Destination Linux

Official Ubuntu Podcast

LINUX Unplugged

Linux Spotlight

Linux For Everyone

Big Daddy Linux Live (BDLL)

This Week in Linux

Ask Noah Show

DLN Xtend

Linux++

A weekly article that dives into the topics, events, and…

Eric Londo

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Environmental engineer with a passion in software development, the open source software community, and especially the GNU/Linux OS. Writer at GNOME.

Linux++

Linux++

A weekly article that dives into the topics, events, and headlines throughout the GNU/Linux and open-source world as well as highlighting the passionate community that surrounds it.

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