Thursday, July 5, 2018

First impressions of PureOS

My new Librem 13 arrived yesterday, and it was my first opportunity to play around with PureOS. I thought I'd share a few thoughts here.

First, PureOS uses GNOME for the desktop. And not that it matters much to usability, but they picked a beautiful default desktop wallpaper:


Because it's GNOME, the desktop was immediately familiar to me. I've been a GNOME user for a long time, and I work with GNOME in testing usability of new features. So the GNOME desktop was a definite plus for me.

It's not a stock GNOME, however. PureOS uses a custom theme that doesn't use the same colors as a stock GNOME. GNOME doesn't use color very often, but I noticed this right away in the file manager. Clicking on a navigation item highlights it in a sort of rust color, instead of the usual blue.


Overall, I thought PureOS was okay. It doesn't really stand out in any particular way, and I didn't like a few choices they made. So in the end, it's just okay to me.

However, I did run into a few things that would seem odd to a new user.

What's that file icon?


When I clicked on Activities to bring up the overview, I was confused about what looked like a "file" icon in the dock.


I understood the other icons. The speaker icon is Rhythmbox, my favorite music application. The camera icon is clearly a photo application (GNOME Photos). The blue file cabinet is the GNOME file manager. And the life ring is GNOME's Help system (but I would argue the "ring buoy" icon is not a great association for "help" in 2018; better to use an international circle-"?" help symbol, but I digress).

Two icons seemed confusing. The "globe" icon was a little weird to me, but I quickly realized it probably meant the web browser. (It is.)

But the one that really confused me was the "file" icon, between the camera and the file manager icons. What was a "file" icon doing here? Was it a broken image, representing an icon that should exist but wasn't on the system? I didn't need to click on it right away, so I didn't discover until later that the "file" icon is LibreOffice. I hadn't seen that icon before, even though that's actually the LibreOffice icon. I guess I'm used to the LibreOffice Writer or LibreOffice Calc icons, which is what I launch most of the time anyway.

No updates?


I wanted to install some extra applications, so I launched GNOME Software. And from there, I realized that PureOS didn't have any updates.


Really? Linux gets updates all the time. Even if Purism updated the OS right before shipping my laptop to me, there should have been a few updates in the time FedEx took to deliver the laptop. But maybe Purism is slow to release updates, so this could be expected. It seemed odd to me, though.

Where's the extra software?


Once I was in GNOME Software, I realized the "store" was quite empty. There's not much to choose from.


If this were my first experiment with Linux, I'd probably think Linux didn't have very many applications. They don't even have the Chromium or Firefox web browsers available to install.



But really, there are a ton of applications out there for Linux. It's just the packages that PureOS makes available through GNOME Software seems pretty limited.

The terminal is broken?


Finally, I'll mention the terminal emulator. PureOS doesn't use the standard GNOME Terminal package, but rather the Tilix terminal emulator. It's a fine terminal, except for the error message you see immediately upon launching it:


I wondered why a pre-configured operating system, aimed at the Linux community, would ship with a broken configuration. I clicked on the link shown, and basically the fix is to set Tilix as a login shell, or to do some other setup steps.

Presenting an error message the first time the user runs a program is very poor usability. I haven't run it yet, so I assume the program should be using defaults. Everything should be okay the first time I run the program. I assume things will "just work." Instead, I get an error message. If I were a novice user, this would probably turn me off PureOS.

Overall


In the end, PureOS is a GNOME desktop that runs well. But with a few confusing issues or problems here and there, it doesn't exactly stand out. To me, PureOS is just "okay." It's not bad, but it's not great.

I think my biggest concern as a longtime Linux user is that the distribution doesn't seem to have updates. I'm curious to hear from any PureOS users how often updates are pushed out. I run Fedora Linux, and I get updates pretty regularly. What should I have expected on PureOS?

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Librem 13: Review

In May, I decided it was finally time to replace my old laptop. Technically, there wasn't anything wrong with my old laptop (Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon, first-gen) but after six years, I thought it was time to replace it.

Of course, I wanted my new laptop to only run Linux. After some searching, I decided on the Librem 13, from Purism. Purism laptops are designed and built for Linux, and I wanted to support a hardware vendor that aimed squarely at the Linux and Free/open source software market.

Unfortunately, I had a few problems with the Librem laptop. The Intel on-board video card "flickered" when I used the internal display, and sometimes would go to "sleep" (not sure it was really in sleep mode or just shut itself off, but when the screen goes black and the laptop is still running, that feels like "sleep" to me). I contacted Purism, and they suggested this was a hardware fault they've seen on some laptops, and they gave me an RMA to return it for repair.

A tech later emailed me to say they couldn't repair the laptop, so they sent me a new one instead. My new Librem 13 arrived today, and it's great!

System information

I've highlighted the ordered specs and the system details so they are easier to compare: memorydisk, and CPU. Here's what I ordered: (copied from my order confirmation)

  • Keyboard: English (US)
  • TPM: Include
  • Memory: 16GB (1x16GB) (+$209.00) $209.00
  • Storage (M.2 SSD): 500GB (NVMe) (+$499.00) $499.00
  • Storage (2.5" SATA 3 SSD): None -$99.00
  • AC Adapter Power Plug: US
  • Wireless: Include Wireless
  • Operating System: PureOS
  • Warranty: 1 Year

I figured I'd max out the memory. I'd like this laptop to last a long time, and memory is a good investment there. Also, I swapped out the standard SATA SSD storage for a 500GB M.2 SSD storage. The prices here reflect those changes.

And the technical details:

$ free -h
              total        used        free      shared  buff/cache   available
Mem:            15G        2.5G        5.5G        616M        7.6G         12G
Swap:          7.9G        263M        7.6G

$ cat /proc/cpuinfo |egrep '^processor|^model name'
processor : 0
model name : Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-6500U CPU @ 2.50GHz
processor : 1
model name : Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-6500U CPU @ 2.50GHz
processor : 2
model name : Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-6500U CPU @ 2.50GHz
processor : 3
model name : Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-6500U CPU @ 2.50GHz

$ sudo fdisk -l /dev/nvme0n1
Disk /dev/nvme0n1: 465.8 GiB, 500107862016 bytes, 976773168 sectors
Units: sectors of 1 * 512 = 512 bytes
Sector size (logical/physical): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
I/O size (minimum/optimal): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
Disklabel type: dos
Disk identifier: 0x46f877a1

Device         Boot     Start       End   Sectors   Size Id Type
/dev/nvme0n1p1 *         2048   2099199   2097152     1G 83 Linux
/dev/nvme0n1p2        2099200 940814335 938715136 447.6G 83 Linux
/dev/nvme0n1p3      940815444 976768064  35952621  17.1G 83 Linux

Update (7/4/18): The numbers don't match exactly, and that's expected Note that free and fdisk display powers-of-ten Gibibytes (GiB), while the specs from Purism display powers-of-two Gigabytes (GB). So 500 GB = 466 GiB and 16 GB = 15 GiB. (see comment)

First impressions

Overall
I've been using the new laptop for a few hours now, and I'm happy so far. This is a great system.
Video flicker is fixed
I'm happy to report that the video "flicker" problem is not present on this model! So that seems to have been a hardware fault, and not a driver problem. Very pleased that ended up being a fixable hardware issue.
Wrong key code for backslash and pipe
The keyboard issue is still there. The Purism laptop uses a keyboard that sends the wrong key code for the backslash key (\). The "shift" on this key is the pipe symbol (|). Try running any commands at the Linux command line, and you'll quickly run into a problem where you can't send the output of one program into another program. You need the pipe for that. Or try escaping a character at the command line, or in program code. You need the backslash for that.

This is a known issue on the Librem, but it's easy to fix. You need to run setkeycodes 56 43 to reset the correct key codes for that key system-wide. To make the fix permanent, create a new /etc/rc.d/rc.local file that is executable (I used mode 750, but anything that's executable and owned by root should do) and has these lines:

#!/bin/bash
setkeycodes 56 43
exit 0

This fixes the problem each time the system boots. You don't need to do anything at the user level. Note that I have my Librem connected to an external display, and I'm using an external keyboard and mouse. This key code fix doesn't impact backslash or pipe on my external keyboard, so I'm good there.
Operating system
I did end up re-installing the operating system. When I first booted the Librem, it was using the pre-installed PureOS Linux distribution. I played with it for a while, and actually did some work online with it, then decided I'd rather run the Fedora Linux distribution that I'm used to. I'll post an article later with impressions about PureOS.