Too Many Tools


A couple of months back I decided to replace macOS with Linux on my personal computer. This was based around two things. The idea that I was using too many different tools on a daily basis and I wanted to thin out the list. For some unknown reason I was using multiple text editors (Ulysses, iA Writer, FoldingText, and nvALT). The second was the frustration I’ve experienced with the changes in macOS from the influence of iOS, quality issues, and Apple’s history with shedding one adapter for another in it’s hardware.

I spent a fair amount of time debating if this was really necessary and was I just looking for another thing to tinker with. And then on the question would I just install Linux on my MacBook Air or go looking for a new laptop. In the end I decided that I wanted to use the same OS I use for work on a new laptop that would have the best support for Linux. So I started looking for a replacement of the MacBook Air and Mac Mini I was using for personal use.

The first laptop I bought for myself was a Titanium Powerbook with Mac OS X and OS 9. At the time I was working as a contractor at IBM Global Services doing Unix support for SAP systems. There was plenty of different operating systems being used including a mix of mainframe, HP-UX, SunOS, Solaris, IRIX, Tru64, AIX, NT4, and OS/2 Warp. There was also a number of us running personal systems with BeOS, NeXTSTEP, NetBSD, SuSE, Slackware, or Red Hat. The point being there was a lot of different ideas and approaches on what an operating system could be.

This was when the operating system you used was generally decided by what you needed to do with it. The majority of uses could be satisfied with Windows, many creative and print (design and layout) needs were handled with Mac OS, and a smaller number could be addressed with an Unix-like operating system.

For people who where building and supporting things for the web, OS X delivered something that was missing. It brought mix of a Unix-like OS, a polished GUI, and support from a single-source vendor. The core pieces were released and open-sourced as Darwin, Jordan Hubbard (a co-founder of FreeBSD) joined Apple , and there was at least three different efforts around building or porting package management tools for it. This new direction from Apple created a lot of excitement. Ever since that TiBook I’ve owned four different Macs and it’s only been during the last year that I’ve considered something else.

Today the OS doesn’t matter as much.

Apple seems to be losing it’s place as the OS of choice for development work. Microsoft has added a Linux subsystem and a builtin SSH client to Windows, contributed research and work around containers and unikernels, released a version of Linux (Azure Sphere), and runs one of the top three public clouds. Linux now looks to be the leading OS for servers and mobile. You have Android, Chrome OS, IoT devices, support for ARM based devices, and Linux is pulling it’s weight in iron in the private and public clouds. Extending the computer to mobile and having the cloud as a way to pass messages between devices has opened up our options.

Now, as to which distro would replace macOS I thought about and tried Arch, but it just ended up reminding me of Gentoo. I’m not wanting to have installing and configuring Linux to be the equivalent of re-rolling the dice for the best D&D character sheet. The majority of the machines I work with our using one of the Ubuntu LTS releases. Because of this it became the obvious pick for the OS, but it was the choice of hardware that took the most time.

Originally I was looking at System 76, Lenovo, and Dell. At the time there was a bit of a debate between System 76 and GNOME over firmware updates from LVFS and some of the comments from System 76 left me with an impression of this is a company I’ll avoid for now. It was a review from Linux Journal that introduced me to the Librem laptops from Purism. Their focus on the privacy and security delivered in a product with a simple aesthetic is what sold me.

I settled on buying a Librem 15v3 and planned to install Ubuntu 18.04 LTS. I did give thought to sticking with Purism’s own OS (PureOS) and I may try it at a later time, but for now I want to be using the same tools at work and at home.

The thing that was the most intimidating was the idea of using Linux as a desktop replacement again. It’s been almost two decades since I’ve last used a GUI in Linux. That’s a long time to catch up changes in GNOME and KDE and then I came across AppImage , Flatpak, and Snaps.

Deliver Update Publish Execute System (DUPES)

My first thought was great another set of package tools to navigate, but I think that was a short-sighted view of what they provide. They’re more than just package and dependency managers. They’re closer to the architecture of an app store paired with the process to execute an app. To make it easier for myself I just started thinking of them as “dupes” instead of a package management tool.

Delivery — how the application is delivered to the user.

Update – how the application updates (e.g., auto, delta).

Publish — the process of building the app with dependencies for delivery.

Execute — how the application is run and the level of isolation provided.

System — tooling to provide the previous four points.

The Browser, Editor, and Terminal

Most of the time I’m using one of three different types of applications. Either a browser, text editor, or a terminal. The other native applications are tools for specific purposes. In some cases I use the iOS version, because it’s either easier to hold a tablet while reading, streaming something, or playing music.

Before I placed the order I started listing out the applications I use on a regular basis. A number of these apps were macOS / iOS only, but the ones I really cared about keeping either had a native Linux or iOS version available. The idea became to use Linux on the laptop and continue with the pairing of iOS and WatchOS on the phone, tablet, and watch. All I needed to add was a stand for the iPad Pro, reuse the keyboard from the Mac Mini and use the cloud to transfer files and I was set.

Any development, personal projects, or anything technical would be done on the Librem. Things like budgeting, health / fitness tracking, reading, writing, and streaming would be on the iPad Pro, iPhone, or Apple Watch.

Note: The lack of an IM client that supports Messages has been the most difficult hurdle. My wife and I both have iPhones and she has a Mac. By giving up macOS I’m forced to rely on my phone or tablet when chatting with her. And if one of us wants to send the other a link there’s a bit of a shell game needed if I want it on or send it from Linux.

Impressions after a Month

So far I’ve been happy with my choice. The only issue I’ve had is after an update for Ubuntu the firmware needed for the Bluetooth module was uninstalled and the wireless seems to require I use wicd network manager instead of managing the wireless through settings or the GNOME shell.

The configuration I ordered for the Librem included a 500GB NVMe drive that’s used for the OS and a second 120GB SSD drive. I run Gitlab and Nextcloud locally as containers that are both mounted on the second drive. This gives me some flexibility in how to transfer files between devices and I’ve enjoyed having a local set of tools I control.

There are a few things that are on the list to consider. Replacing 1Password with Bitwarden and deciding how I’ll do backups. Right now I’m thinking of something like Restic with B2 as the remote repository.

Overall the change feels like I made the right choice.