The Dell XPS 13 Developers edition is a laptop designed for Linux, it’s built from the ground up to support most if not all of the Linux major distributions which makes it straight off the bat the right laptop for me.
Remember when reading this, these are my personal opinions which mainly come from 20 years of hands on Linux experience not suggestion, here say or third party input. I’m not asking you to agree with me in any shape or form, I'm writing this as a personal journey not as an effort to start a flame war over which distro, desktop or package management tool is the best. This is just one guys journey not a personal a affront against your beliefs
Having needed to find a replacement for a broken MBP 15 inch from 2015 I wanted to spend a bit of money on something I could use, had enough ram and CPU to last a few years and do some heavy lifting.
Having been a Linux user for a few years I’m a terrible Distro hopper. I jump almost weekly to see if someone else is doing a better “thing”. This usually has me flitting betwen Ubuntu, Suse, Fedora, Sabayon, Mint and some off the wall distro.
Having purchased a laptop ready for the OS, which comes with Ubuntu 18.04 installed I wanted to stick with a single distro for a year, and this is the start of that journey.
Working through the usual suspects was an interesting activity in itself, considering how much each of the various (lets call them top 10 distros) distros share at a base level running them on a laptop its fascinating just how different each of the various distrous are.
Ubuntu for example was always going to have amazing hardware support the laptop was built for OS however the Ubuntu implementation of gnome irks me, its not that i’m a hater, i’m not, I just don’t personally like what they are doing with the Ubuntu Desktop. However I do love snap as a package system.
Linux Mint is a beautiful desktop by comparison however at time of writing I was having issues with HiDPI screen on some applications and for whatever reason the fan would not shut up on the laptop
Sabayon Linux is a distro i live ironically for its simplicity and out of the box install however as a daily driver doing updates and installing the applications I need was always going to be a time suck with this distro.
Fedora, Inearly went with Fedora on the laptop. we use RHEL at work, I can utilise some of the same tools for learning and its battery management is one of the best out there as far as i can tell. However at some point it seems that someone decieded Flatpak not Snap was the future of application package management.
CentOS a distro I love running on servers is just not there for a day to day workhorse linux laptop for my needs. Its a great OS, well supported, maintained properly however if you want a RH based desktop drop back a gear and use Fedora. Life will be easier.
I didn’t look at Debian, Arch, Slackware essentially as I know they are a pain to get working because of choices and reasons beyond the scope of this post. Great distros however I had a set of requirements.
I needed a distro that
- Was maintained and patched
- Supported Snap
- Worked well with KDE
- Had a generally good support forum or googleable support.
- Wasn’t Ubuntu
Now before I go on, that last line, that’s NOT me hating on Ubuntu i’ve been using it since I got a CD while teaching in Bangkok back in the early 2000’s. Its an amazing distro which saved me hours on the slow dial up not needing to compile (./configure, make, make install) hardware drivers or applications. download .ko modules and end up in installation hell or spending days updating. It worked out of the box and still does today.
I have a personal belief rightly or wrongly that the Ubuntu Desktop has lost its awy a little bit after ditching Unity (which I liked) and seems to be floundering a bit. There is no wow factor any more for the Distro. That for Canonical is a great thing, for me, i’m still looking to be wow’ed occasionally.
After all this I went for Opensuse Tumbleweed using KDE as a Desktop
Why, well OpenSuse is a distro i’ve toyed around with for years, and I've had a love hate relationship with it. For a while i couldn’t grasp why they had so many package management tools for example. This has however diluted into zypper and Yast.
The Distro is a rolling release so I’m (hopefully) not going to need to suffer the indignity of needing to reinstall my OS post upgrade going wrong which unfortunately I've had to do so many times with Ubuntu or Fedora.
I’ve also chosen to use KDE Plasma Desktop instead of Gnome, i always feel that I get more Desktop to play with on KDE and i’m a tinkerer at the best of times so being able to deep dive into themes, desktop widgets and the like during down time is a good thing. I was a HUGE KDE3 fan back in the day and am hoping this is stable, polished platform (which it seems to be)
I’m not going to run step by step through the installation for you, there are plenty of YouTube videos which will do that for you. Just about every distro out there has a pretty slick installation system however I will say the OpenSuse installer does seem to have many more options than most so I was able to Password protect both grub and the disk (and encrypt them) which was a nice touch. It is worth having a dig around on the installer as there is a lot you can get installed
Have a watch of this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHJQQcKdFrw
Suffices to say that the install went smoothly and after about 10 minutes I had OpenSuse Tumbleweed with KDE desktop running on the laptop. a sudo zypper dup later and I was ready to go. The USB Hub I use (read about it here) plugged in and the HDMI and VGA monitors which were plugged into it showed up with correct resolutions. I had my HP Officejet running for printing over WiFi and scanning over WiFi setup within a few minutes and was linked to my Nextcloud server and running backups of the disk to the SD card in seconds.
I’ve got snaps installed of most of the major apps I use and zypper happily installed the rest for me. Following a well written guide i was able to get the Packman repo up and working for OpenSuse Tumbleweed to.
So in less than 20 minutes I’d gone from blank hard disk to fully installed Home Office distro with no issues, not hassle and just working.
I’ve been running like this for about 6 weeks and have even used the distro while travelling in Thailand, where I did some video editing using Kdenlive and am managing photos and files in general happily.
Its safe to say if you are not afraid of stepping out of the norm the Opensource offers great alternatives to things like Photoshop, After effects and office etc however if you do need to use them through the browser much of what you know is supported for an average user.
So where am I going with all this?
I’m going every 2 months to update this blog with my experiences using OpenSuse on the Dell XPS13 Developer edition. And hopefully spread some love for this often ignored distribution.
Are there spelling and grammar errors in this text, probably. Do I care? yes, but not enough to get all heated up about it. I’m about content not perfection.