Up until a month ago I was convinced that only the Hacker Bois use Linux. I believed it’s hard to install, hard to maintain and requires a good level of technical knowledge just to do basic tasks. I disregarded the fact that I had seen many government offices use Ubuntu because they probably have a skilled IT department to maintain the Linux systems. So far, all my computers had run some version of Windows. My office PC runs Windows 7 (yeah, you read that right), one personal laptop (Lenovo) ran Windows 10, permanently connected to my TV for media streaming since the display went bad; and another personal laptop (Acer) running Win10 for all my computing needs: browsing, writing, emails: simple computing. No gaming, no editing photos/videos/music.
Both my laptops were excruciatingly slow to run. I tried to speed it up by software fixes, following long tutorials to disable and remove all the small stuff that slowed it down like clearing temporary cache files, disabling startup applications, deleting unused applications and so on. But it never got good enough. I was permanently using hibernate mode on both devices to ensure I can start working sooner, instead of the long wait of starting from a shutdown PC which could take more than a minute and half. Still, I faced severe performance issues: apps would take more than ten-twenty seconds to start, app switching was slow and the overall performance made me not want to use it at all. Mind you, both these laptops are more than capable hardware wise to suit my basic needs of browsing the web and writing documents. Both are less than 5 years old with decent processors: one with Intel i5 (Acer) and the other AMD A8 (Lenovo). Heck, even YouTube videos would stutter, Firefox tab switching was sluggish and even simple programs like Word would take half a minute to open.
I was fascinated by the Macbook Air M1 and really really wanted to buy it on sale. Eventually I came to my senses and told myself I have absolutely no need to buy a ₹ 93,000 laptop, no matter how awesome it looks or performs. It’s overkill to get a laptop that expensive; when I would have to invent ways to use high end applications to justify the purchase and eventually I would go back to using it just for browsing the web and typing documents. Which my current laptop is perfectly capable of, albeit very slowly. Besides, I dislike the locked down nature of Apple products (my iPhone and iPad are so frustratingly restrictive) and question their technology choices. But that’s a topic for another day.
Looking at help online and talking to my tech-inclined friends, the one good solution was to buy an SSD. I considered it, I could afford it and it would surely boost my laptop’s performance by a long shot. Weirdly, I did not want to spend anything at all to run my current laptops when I was totally sure that the hardware in them is more than enough.
Perhaps, just maybe, the operating system is to blame?
It started with memes
I stumbled across the subreddit r/linuxmemes and enjoyed some of the posts that I could understand. Yeah, memes rekindled my interest in Linux. I recalled watching a few videos about a new Linux distro called Pop!_OS. People claim that it runs smoothly and you need little to no technical know-how to run it. I hadn’t had a good experience with Linux so far. A few years ago, with great difficulty I had managed to install Ubuntu, dual booting beside Win10 and had found the experience sub-par so I wiped it. The second time I installed Ubuntu, the WiFi card didn’t show up. With no intention to use an offline PC and not bothering to look up solutions, I deleted that partition and went back to Win10, again.
Linux Mint, Ubuntu, Pop!_OS and Elementary OS are the general recommendations for Linux beginners online. I disliked the stock interface of Mint, past trauma stopped me from considering Ubuntu and I just liked the overall look of Pop!_OS over Elementary OS. So I did my research and continued to find that people do praise it a lot for being very beginner friendly. With plenty of tutorials, I got ready to make my laptop great again. I decided to test on my media streaming laptop (Lenovo) first, since I don’t depend on it for daily tasks so it’s perfect for experimentation.
Going all in
I decided to first dual boot my media PC (Lenovo) by keeping Win10 and Pop!_OS. This is where it got frustratingly bad. After countless tutorials, I just could not find a way to have both operating systems coexist peacefully on my laptop. Turns out, Windows does not like to be on the same drive as another OS and I had just one HDD on these laptops. So I nuked it and did a fresh install of Pop.
Meanwhile I tried my luck again to dual-boot on Acer laptop. Didn’t work, again. So I nuked it as well with a fresh install of Pop!_OS. I was ready to go all-in on Linux by now. I love the default theme and wallpapers of Pop!_OS.
This time, again, I ran into the problem of the OS not detecting my internal WiFi card. On both Lenovo and Acer. I had to connect an Android phone to connect to the internet via usb tethering (damn you, useless iPhone). Once online, I was able to run a command from the terminal which downloaded the appropriate WiFi driver. Yes! Just using the terminal makes me feel like a programmer so that’s cool.
The settings, app drawer and file manager have this really cool minimalist look. I did tweak a few settings and installed a couple of GNOME plugins to customize my desktop. I didn’t like that the taskbar was located on the top of the screen so I brought it down to the bottom by installing “dash to panel” extension. One particular user on the forums wrote: “Yes, you can customize it in any way you like because it’s not Mac or Windows”. Sick burn.
My transition to Linux went very well and I still use Pop on both devices after more than a month. The UI is clean and robust, containing everything I need. I was already using FOSS apps on Win10 anyway so I was not new to VLC, Firefox and LibreOffice. The inbuilt Pop Shop is the place to get all apps and system updates. Other apps that I used on Win10 are available here as well: Signal, Discord, MegaSync, Standard Notes and so on.
Now my laptops boot up faster from full shut down than Win10 did when waking from hibernation! Sure it took a good deal of time to get both systems up and running, configured the way I wanted (about 3-4 days of my free time after work). I am perfectly happy with the result. Unless I am forced to introduce Windows-only apps into my workflow anytime in the future, I surely plan to keep using Pop or maybe switch to other Linux distro.
If you are in the same boat as me (old slow laptop, casual user) then I would suggest you give it a try. Plenty of online guides are available for all Linux distros. I would suggest you try Pop!_OS because it has a lot of inbuilt stuff, great UI, clean interface and you can solve all issues by a simple search because Pop is based on Ubuntu and Ubuntu has the largest user base, hence the largest amount of troubleshooting guides.