Recently, I read that a kernel update in Fedora 32 had resolved a problem with HDMI audio and Nouveau video drivers (https://bugzilla.kernel.org/show_bug.cgi?id=207223). My plan was to use the “live” distribution of Fedora 33 to test HDMI audio. I burned a USB stick, and tried to boot. “Selected boot image did not authenticate.” Worse still, the UEFI order in my motherboard was changed: the system booted to Windows. I had to use a UEFI utility to change my UEFI boot device order to restore the multiple-boot menu offering a choice between Linux and Windows.
Live distributions should be safer than this
Live distributions are supposed to be a safe way to evaluate an operating system. Now I cannot recommend that somebody try a Fedora USB stick until I have tested that version.
UEFI is important
I use UEFI/Secure Boot on my laptops because it enables multiple-boot menus with grub2. This allows me to see a menu at boot time offering a choice between Linux and Windows. UEFI is also important because some modern system like NVMe drives require UEFI.
and rejected as a blocker more or less on the grounds that the majority of voters didn’t think enough people would run into it before Fedora 34 release, and that we can potentially release a subset or full set of rebuilt/updated images at some point during the 33 cycle if it is considered necessary.
Our current best understanding is that Ubuntu was shipping the DBX update to users (whether all or some subset) at some point but has now stopped doing that, and Microsoft will not ship the DBX update until Q2 2021.”
Linux can provide a fast, secure, and modern desktop computing experience. However, Bluetooth audio on Linux sucks.
Bluetooth audio cuts out intermittently
If you experience 1 second gaps of silence approximately every 300 seconds of Bluetooth audio playback, this post may help you.
Try adding this line to the /etc/modprobe.d/alsa-base.conf file
sudo su cd /etc/modprobe.d nano alsa-base.conf
add this line:
options snd-hda-intel model=generic
save and exit reboot
Can you use a wire instead?
A dear friend, of the same generation that refers to “Walkman jacks,” first helped solve this problem for audio at work from my personal laptop: by gifting a sound bar that can plug into an actual 1/8″ analog audio headphone jack.
(My friend also sent a USB-C plug to 1/8″ analog audio jack adapter, which I do not yet need, but have packed into my accessories bag, for use in the near future, when my next laptop will have even fewer ports.)
No Bluetooth microphone support for Linux
There are technical and historical reasons for why there is no Linux driver support for Bluetooth microphones. My suggestion is to invest in a wired USB headset. Logitech is a safe choice.
There are several ways to experiment with Linux as a desktop operating system without making a full commitment to re-formatting your laptop, or giving up access to Windows. This post aims to provide ideas and a roadmap for a current Windows consumer considering a switch to desktop Linux, but unsure how or where to start.
There are many distributions of desktop Linux. I suggest you start with Ubuntu or Fedora.
Running Linux as a live desktop boot on a USB stick
The live version of Linux on a USB stick is useful to test the hardware on your laptop, and to get an idea of how a Linux distribution feels hands-on. The interface on Mint, for example, is quite different from the Gnome 3 desktop experience on Fedora and Ubuntu.
An example: the boot screen of a “live” distribution of Ubuntu. If you click “Try Ubuntu” the operating system will run using the USB stick as its storage.
The live version of Linux on a USB stick is impractical for day-to-day use.
(If your laptop’s SATA controller is configured for RAID mode, you will still be able to boot the live operating system from the Linux installer on a USB stick. However, you will not be able to read files on the Windows hard drive, or install Linux to the hard drive. See below for more details regarding SATA drive controllers, RAID mode, and AHCI mode.)
Running Linux as a virtual machine (VM) guest under VMware Workstation Player Free for Windows
VMware Workstation Player Free for Windows is proprietary software, but is available free of charge for personal, non-commercial use. This software offers good performance and a smooth experience.
On average, people upgrade their personal laptop every 5 years. If you buy a new laptop, consider backing up your old laptop, then reformatting the old laptop with Linux. The old machine will get a new lease on life: Linux will run faster than Windows on the same hardware. This approach allows you to experiment with Linux without committing yourself.
Checking the SATA drive controller mode in BIOS: RAID vs AHCI
(Warning: Windows partition will be unusable after changing SATA mode to AHCI, do your backup first!)
If you intend to format a computer with Linux, you need to go into the BIOS and change the SATA drive controller from RAID mode to AHCI mode.
Go into the BIOS of the laptop by pressing F2 during bootup, and change the SATA controller mode from RAID to AHCI.
Many howtos on creating multiple-boot between Windows and Linux are now obsolete
Many of the existing howtos describing how to create a multiple-boot between Windows and Linux are now obsolete. In the past 3 years, laptop motherboards have been shipping with the SATA hard drive controller set by default to RAID instead of AHCI. Changing the SATA controller mode from RAID to AHCI renders an existing Windows installation unusable. These howtos rely on resizing an existing Windows partition to create unallocated space for a Linux install. There is, however, little point in preserving a broken Windows installation.
Formatting a computer with Windows and Linux in dual-boot mode
It is possible to install Windows and Linux in a multiple-boot configuration. However this requires backing up the unique data (documents and other unique files) from the existing Windows installation, changing the SATA controller mode, doing a fresh baremetal Windows install on part of the drive space, and doing a fresh baremetal install of Linux on another part of the drive space.
Checking whether a system is set for UEFI or Legacy/BIOS mode
Check the laptop’s BIOS to determine whether the system is set for UEFI or Legacy/BIOS mode. If the system is in Legacy/BIOS mode, change the setting to UEFI mode. This will be needed later, when the Linux installer creates a multiple-boot menu using grub2.
My brother hosts his personal website and blog malak.ca on a baremetal DSL server. My brother uses Fedora on his laptop and server.
A perfectly good pre-fork mod_php MPM-ITK PHP handler was in place, and serving web pages.
Upon reboot after the major version upgrade, the web server was showing error 503 for PHP requests on the blog. The config files were a mismatched mess, so we ended up having to do a baremetal format. My brother keeps his data on a separate drive so the baremetal evac only involved a mysql dump file and a few config files, but still.
Note this post about Fedora 33: “Several relatively controversial changes are currently under discussion on the project’s mailing lists…”
doesn’t matter, there’s absolutely no reason to take away the
sysadmin’s choice here. There are at least 40 servers I personally am
responsible for where I see no reason to move from mod_php to
php-fpm, for example.” John M. Harris Jr.
I was a CentOS web server admin for many years, and used Fedora on my personal laptop until last year. My brother ran CentOS in the past, but towards the end of the Long Term Support (LTS) cycle, CentOS had absurdly outdated but security-patched versions of libraries. My brother started using Fedora on his web server, and we have been able to do several major version upgrades without incident. The reliability of this upgrade process is what made Fedora suitable for a web server.
Ubuntu has trouble
with major version upgrades. On some Ubuntu version upgrades, the
installer freezes, requiring that a rescue kernel be entered, apt-get
update –fix-missing, dpkg –repair, and other exotic interventions
take place before the upgrade process can be resumed and completed.
By comparison, Fedora version upgrading has a better track record, and is usually smooth. A technical error or unforeseen incompatibility would be understandable. A deliberate policy choice to break production web servers to enforce a policy opinion: not cool.
The Dell XPS 13 (9300) is a high-end laptop designed for Windows, which can be reformatted to run Linux.
You can pay as much as you want, or you can be patient
My patience was rewarded with a chance to buy a full spec system at a good price on a factory refurb with full warranty. So the lesson is: you can pay as much as you want. In addition to being a factory refurb, this model is now technically obsolete: a refreshed model Dell XPS 13 (9310) with a slightly newer CPU was announced in October 2020. See my blog post about the eBay Global Shipping Program run by Pitney Bowes:
The best computer is the one you have with you
Before this purchase, my main personal laptop was a 15.6” i7-4712HQ laptop 16GB RAM 1TB SSD, which is usually connected to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse on a desk at home.
However, when leaving the house, I have usually reached for my 11.6” netbook – a single-core Celeron (essentially a 64 bit Atom) with 4GB RAM and a 64GB MMC.
The golf cart of computers
This system is the golf cart of computers, but with enough performance tuning, can provide acceptable performance under Linux.
So I knew that my next personal computer purchase had to be small.
For this new purchase, I needed the horsepower of a server: lots of CPU cores, lots of RAM, lots of SSD drive space.
The Dell XPS 13 (9300) has a 13.4” screen, but fits into the Amazon Basics 11.6” Laptop Sleeve:
This machine has
some serious horsepower. I waited till i could get 32GB of
low-powered DDR RAM in this small a laptop, only available as of the
10th generation Intel Ice Lake processor.
Intel i7-1065G7 CPU
(4 dual-thread cores)
docking stations, dongles, and the BIOS compatibility issue
There are discussions on Reddit and other places that allude to compatibility problems between the Dell XPS 13 (9300) and certain USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 docking stations. My first USB-C dongle purchase, which worked with a Dell XPS 15 (9550), was not compatible with the Dell XPS 13 (9300). Several posts on Reddit said this was a known issue and spoke of rumors of a Dell XPS 13 BIOS update in November 2020. However, I was able to find a part that is compatible:
Dell support for Linux hardware drivers
Dell offers support for Ubuntu 20.04LTS hardware drivers for this model. There are apt repositories offered by Dell. However, i found that Ubuntu 20.04LTS detected all of the hardware, aside from the fingerprint reader, which required an apt repo:
Dell deserves credit for building a system which is so Linux-friendly.
Dell is still Windows-centric for utilities like Dell Update and BIOS firmware updates
Dell has done a great job in supporting desktop Linux on the Dell XPS 13 (9300). However, some things are still Windows-centric: the Dell Update utility, and the BIOS and firmware updates provided by Dell, assume you are running Windows. For this reason alone, you should consider formatting your system as dual-boot between Windows and Linux baremetal partitions.
Formatting the Dell XPS 13 for dual boot between Windows and Linux
This Dell XPS 13 came with a “digital license” for Windows 10 Pro. If you buy a new laptop, it is almost certainly associated with a license for Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Pro that will activate as soon as you reformat.
Run the factory-installed Windows to test the hardware
The Dell XPS 13 (9300) shipped with a factory-installed copy of Windows 10 Pro.
If you buy the Dell XPS 13 (9300) for use with Linux, I suggest that you run it on the factory-installed Windows first. Test the hardware: connect to the Internet, play a video. Then run the Dell Update utility to see if there are any updates, especially firmware or BIOS updates, you will need.
RAID vs AHCI setting in BIOS for Linux
If you intend to reformat this computer with Linux, you need to go into the BIOS and change the SATA drive controller from RAID mode to AHCI mode.
Change the SATA controller from RAID to AHCI in BIOS
Go into the BIOS of the laptop by pressing F2 during bootup, and change the SATA controller mode from RAID to AHCI.
Stay in UEFI mode
It may be tempting to switch to Legacy BIOS mode, but stay in UEFI mode: it will help Linux to create a multiple-boot menu later on during the build.
Creating a bootable USB-C memory stick installer (I used a USB-C micro-SD card reader)
I found that even with a USB-C male to USB-A female adapter, i was unable to boot from a USB-A memory stick. I was almost able to boot from a micro-SD card (after enabling the option in BIOS). However, I received a device driver error from the Windows 10 installer. I succeeded with a micro-SD card in a USB-C adapter:
(I assume there is such a thing as a USB-C memory stick, but they are not yet common.)
US-based merchants on eBay are sometimes cheaper than other sources. Many of these merchants use the eBay Global Shipping Program (GSP) run by Pitney Bowes. The GSP is cheap, slow, frustrating, but effective. I ordered a laptop from a reseller based in North Carolina. The reseller did their part promptly, shipping to the GSP warehouse in Erlanger KY within 2 days. However, after that, the package spent 11 days in limbo, without even a status update. Then it spent 12 days in a bonded warehouse in Canada before being released and shipped to me.
The brotherhood of wealthy middle powers
There is a strange brotherhood of buyers from wealthy middle powers like Canada, the UK, and Australia trading horror stories about the delays in the Global Shipping Program. There are stories about lost packages but for the most part the packages finally arrive. I am grateful to the posters for sharing tracking numbers that reassured that it is possible to not see an update for 2 weeks, then get a parcel delivered with 4 status updates all uploaded to the system at once:
(Power tip: a friend pointed out that some tracking numbers, such as those provided by Canada Post, offer options that can change shipping choices before delivery. So if you do plan to share a tracking number on the Internet, better to wait until your package arrives.)
Re-estimating shipping times based on tracking numbers
Learn to use the eBay, Pitney Bowes, USPS, and your local post office tracking sites. Learn how to pull apart your status number and get statuses on local legs of the trip. Suggestion, use:
Apple has announced that it will be moving its line of MacBook laptops from Intel-based CPUs to ARM-based CPUs. While this does not have any immediate impact on the Windows or Linux desktop computing markets, Apple’s move validates the platform and may give Microsoft an incentive to again experiment with Windows on ARM (RIP Windows RT 2012-2015).
This has implications for Linux desktop computing, which relies upon the availability of Windows-on-Intel “Wintel” hardware. The transition to ARM CPUs on Mac and Windows hardware may be accompanied by bootloader lockdown and the inability to install unsigned binaries or other operating systems.
Since a Mac person may have found this blog post by searching for “Mac” and “ARM” I should address their concerns first
the 80% of consumers using 20% of software features, the Mac
experience will not change.
No doubt, Adobe’s Creative Suite applications like Photoshop, and Document Cloud applications like Acrobat, will be ported and available on the first day the MacBook on ARM goes on sale. I would expect that the open source movement will embrace the platform and have applications like VLC and Tunnelblick ready as well. Some specialized applications will not be available right away.
There will be disappointing performance using Rosetta 2 or other Intel-to-ARM CPU emulators.
Mac consumers will likely keep at least 1 Intel-based Mac for power
and compatibility for the first year or 2 of the transition, to run
the Mac applications that are not yet available for the native ARM.
Mac consumers will find that Parallels is less effective in
virtualizing Windows, as it will be emulating the Intel CPU at the
same time as it hosts the guest operating
system. Boot Camp,
which allowed multiple-boot to Windows in the past, will not be
available, even when Windows on ARM is again available.
Mac consumers will likely keep at least 1 Intel-based Windows
computer for compatibility as they lose the ability to run Windows in
emulation or multiple-boot.
piracy is likely to be more difficult, due to a lack of Mac-on-ARM
software available to pirate, and may be blocked altogether by App
store controls and binary signing.
conditions are different from 2015
Market conditions and customer expectations are different from 2015. The inability to install 3rd-party software directly without using an app store intermediary was a deal-breaker in 2015. Now, 12 years after the introduction of the iPhone, customers are comfortable using app stores to access software. It may not be a coincidence that Windows 10 now has a relatively usable App store with free-as-in-beer and sometime even free-as-in-Libre apps like VLC.
App store can be used to stop piracy
will have profound effects on the Mac desktop ecosystem going
forward, and may validate a similar path to
be taken by Microsoft going forward. If Apple is able to transition
half of its unit shipments to ARM (I predict that Mac will retain
Intel models at the high end for performance and binary compatibility
for a few years), then Microsoft will follow.
source communities like Linux and BSD rely upon hardware from the
Wintel hardware ecosystem.
Linux needs Wintel hardware. There are hobbyist solutions based on
ARM, like the Raspberry Pi and the Pinebook, and these platforms get
better with every release. The software is there: both Red Hat
(Fedora) and Canonical (Ubuntu) now support AARCH64 ARM CPUs. However
the performance is not there, the hardware tuning is not there. We
need to encourage Pi and Pine, because they may be all we have in 10
Linux was almost blocked from Wintel hardware in 2008 with the UEFI bootloader
In 2008, there was concern about viruses that would infect the master boot record (MBR). A solution called unified extensible firmware interface (UEFI) essentially locked the computer so that it could only be formatted by an installer that had a certificate issued to a software publisher for a fee. Whether intentional or not, this had the potential to prevent open operating systems like Linux from installing on this new generation of Wintel hardware. A technical and political solution was found, and the UEFI threat to open source software was neutralized.
Android hardware is a vision of this possible future
telephones are essentially Linux-on-ARM computers. Most of them have
bootloaders that are “locked” and will only allow software with a
specific digital signature to be installed on the phone’s hardware.
There are some phones that are easier to “unlock” than others.
Windows RT came out in 2012, it did not allow “unsigned binaries.”
the only software you could install was via the RT app store. When
the Mac introduced an app store, it initially set the default to off,
allowing the installation of unsigned binaries. Later versions set
this value to on by default, requiring consumers to find the option
and disable it before “unsigned” software was permitted on the
have been trained by the app stores on iOS and Android
that consumers have been trained to accept app stores as the
intermediary between their computer and the software they wish to
install, it is not hard to imagine a future where the app store is
all that is left. To protect consumers from security threats, Apple
(and later Windows) may use app-store-on-ARM to eliminate piracy,
while carefully cultivating the sense of openness by allowing open
source apps into the app stores, as is the case with iOS and Android.
happens if the Windows-on-ARM hardware has a locked bootloader?
Losing the ability to install desktop Linux on Mac hardware is not a big deal, in numerical terms. From a Linux hacker’s point of view, the issue will be Wintel and its eventual replacement Windows-on-ARM (“WinARM.”)
server hardware market will accommodate Linux-on-ARM. But what about
the desktop and tablet hardware markets?
imagine the following hypothetical timeline:
Macbook-on-ARM released to market, does not suck. Software available
via app store only, no sideload of unsigned binaries, locked
bootloader, like an iPhone or most Android phones.
Windows-on-ARM released to market, does not suck. Software available
via app store only, no sideload of unsigned binaries, locked
bootloader, like an iPhone or most Android phones.
hackers will be able to use Windows-on-Intel junk for 5 years
the first 5 years, this will not be a problem in practical terms.
Linux hackers will be able to find and reformat used Windows-on-Intel
hardware. But after that?
to the Raspberry Pi and Pinebook
brings us back to the Raspberry Pi, and the Pinebook. We have to hope
that these projects succeed. They may be the only hardware platform
we will have left, on which to install free-as-in-Libre software.
I know of a professional firm that uses a Linux
server to store documents for a network of Mac users. The server has
keyboard, and mouse at a desk in the photocopier room.
is a weird kind of Mac
office manager was asked to sit at console, enter a password, and
check connectivity using the web browser. When the office manager saw
a desktop with Chrome and TeamViewer, she seemed to relax: “oh,
it’s a weird kind of Mac.”
computer market share 2013 vs 2020
take a look at the desktop computer market 2013 vs 2020:
12% of the desktop computer market has moved away from Windows
Desktop computing has not fundamentally changed for the past 7 years. But due to problems with system stability and security challenges, 12% of the desktop computer market has moved away from Windows. 9% of the market switched to MacOS. 1% of the market switched to Linux.
on Intel, UNIX on Intel
the time of this writing, Windows, MacOS, and Linux desktop computers
mostly use Intel-compatible CPUs. MacOS and
Linux are both essentially UNIX-on-Intel computers, with roughly the
same performance and security advantages relative to Windows running
on similar hardware. As our friend the office manager put it, “Linux
is a weird kind of Mac.”
are brand names
friend the office manager recognized a few brand names: Chrome and
TeamViewer. Their presence validated the platform. They allowed her
to consider the Linux desktop as a viable alternative to her Mac.
Some standard applications are already present on the Linux desktop
On the Linux desktop on which I am writing this post, I have Chrome, Filezilla, VNC, VLC, TeamViewer, Zoom, and Teams. These same applications can be installed on Windows and MacOS computers.
Linux desktop does
not have Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop
time of this writing, Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop are not
available for the Linux desktop.
replacements are not valid in the eyes of consumers
This post is being written in LibreOffice Writer, which is open source software that tries to reproduce the Microsoft Office suite. Like Pages for the Mac, it does a competent job of reading and writing word processing files. But it is not Microsoft Office 365. Same for Photoshop: there are many image editing programs, but they are not the brand name, and really not the same thing. Word processing might be one thing, but aside from the simplest spreadsheets and presentations, Excel and PowerPoint are not really replaceable.
have Office and Photoshop
are relevant to consumers because they can run Microsoft Office 365
and Adobe Photoshop. They may not be able to run every accounting or
engineering program available for Windows, but having Office and
Photoshop covers most needs. That is why when Windows lost 12% of of
the entire market, MacOS was able to capitalize on the opportunity to
capture the consumers making a change, but Linux
Linux had Microsoft Office 365 and Adobe Photoshop
If Linux had Microsoft Office 365 and Adobe Photoshop, we would see the emergence of a second strong UNIX on Intel desktop computer platform. Linux, the “weird kind of Mac,” would get more interest, more relevance, and more market share.