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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Thu, 23 Mar 2017

Coming over to the dark side

I recently received a too-expensive birthday present: a new laptop.

For the women in my life, seeing all those keys pop off was too much I guess.

The HP Pavilion g6-2210us is still kicking as it nears the 4-year mark. That's a modern record for me. My previous laptop, the Lenovo G555, died just after its second year of service. I still have a second replacement keyboard still on the way from China for the HP Pavilion.

Once I get this new laptop fully set up, at some point I'll pop a new hard drive into the old HP. The current drive has a lot of bad sectors. A lot. Then I'll run it as a full Linux system with no Windows partition.

So what about the new laptop?

It's an HP Envy 15-as133cl 15t with Intel Core i7, 1080p resolution, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB spinning hard drive.

The case is all metal, which is quite an upgrade from my previous all-plastic laptops.

It has Windows 10. The first thing I did was install the Windows Subsystem for Linux so I could have Bash in the terminal and access to thousands of console-based applications from the Ubuntu archive.


That way I can run all of my Bash scripts, and install things like Perl, Ruby, Node, etc. without the trouble of Windows installers.

It strikes me that one of the Apple Macintosh's big advantages for developers is the Unix command line available in the terminal. Now that Microsoft has this Bash-running terminal and all of the Ubuntu console applications you might need (or at least I hope it has all of them), Windows appears to be narrowing the gap when it comes to making developers feel at home in an operating system that has been more than a little hostile to programmers who work on things that aren't C#, .NET, VBScript, Visual C++ and whatever else goes into Windows desktop and web applications.

So how soon before I install a dual-booted Linux? I might wait longer this time.

Having a Ubuntu-backed Linux terminal environment goes a long way toward giving me what I need and want for development, backups (I use rsync) and the Byzantine way I update this blog, either using Unison from the Ubuntu archive or the binaries built for Windows. A lot of the applications I use either have Windows versions, or can be run via the Ubuntu Linux terminal. Or both. Key to making the Ubuntu Linux side more attractive is the package management via apt, though apps like Unison are updated very infrequently (plus Unison is a special case in that both computers, be they server or client, need to be running the same version in order for things to work in a reliable fashion.

I'm still installing applications. I have Notepad++ (with which I'm writing this entry), Geany (which looks like absolute hell in Windows 10 -- could it be GTK2?), IrfanView (the native Windows photo editor I even use in Linux via Wine), LibreOffice (I don't really need "real" MS Office, and there's always the Web version in the unlikely event), FileZilla (I'll miss gFTP, which I started using when Fedora's FileZilla build went south at one point), GIMP and -- of course -- the Google Chrome browser. For one thing, I load up Google Chrome and sign in, and all of my bookmarks and settings flow right in.

I would prefer to use Firefox, but the reality is that in my day job, I end up opening about 20 tabs at once, and Firefox doesn't handle it anywhere near as well as Chrome. I'll probably get Firefox on here soon and will test that assumption again. But even if performance in Firefox was good enough, having so many tabs open in Firefox means they end up scrolling off the screen, whereas Chrome makes the tabs increasingly smaller so they can all appear in the same window. (How's that for a tangent?)

I am open to installing the Netbeans IDE, which I have been using off and on in Linux, and I'm still getting over Geany looking so horrible. Geany is my go-to Linux editor, especially because it can compile and run Java and run most scripting languages while you are coding in them. I could never get it to run Node, but maybe I didn't have the right foo. I've been experimenting with Microsoft's Visual Studio Code and the Atom editor on other machines, and I might give them a try, but there's nothing that beats a native-coded application when you are working with text, be it "journalism," or other writing; or code, even the kind of coding I do. Yes, I did use the full Visual Studio when I had my C++ class, but there's not a whole lot of love for that from me. I already like Visual Studio Code better, though I would miss the many little things that Geany and Notepad++ can do (like change the line endings). I'm sure both Visual Studio Code and Atom can do these things, I just don't know how.

The laptop came preinstalled with Dropbox, and I got 25GB of storage free for a year. I already have 100GB of Microsoft's OneDrive cloud storage (thanks to my Samsung tablet), not that I need it ...

Given the trouble with Geany, I might take this as a sign to start getting better at Vim, which I'm sure is available in Windows-native formats as well as in the Ubuntu Linux subsystem.

Other things I'm installing:

  • ClipX (though I'd like to find something that's been updated since 2008 -- essential tools that are abandoned are a problem in Windows; I have a scary reliance on clipboard management)
  • Firefox
  • 7-Zip (Must-have archiving/unarchiving utility) Java (JDK) Netbeans (possibly)

Back to the hardware. The 1920-by-1080 screen is AMAZING, which you tend to think after years on a 1366-by-768-pixel display.

The laptop is so thin that it doesn't have a wired Ethernet jack. Or HP didn't feel like including one. To compensate, I ordered an Ethernet-to-USB adapter for about from Amazon (gigabit Ethernet to USB3, to be more precise), and that works out of the box.

The "weakest link" on this laptop is the 1TB spinning hard drive. I'm sure an SSD would really boost performance, but I still like to have a lot of storage on board. And it's hard to get a TB in solid-state storage without spending a whole lot of money.

But it's all working, I love the keyboard, It's backlit -- something I can really use when I start working at home at 5 a.m. and it's hella dark.

The Bang & Olufsen sound is great. I don't have any problems with the touchpad, though I've been using my old wireless Logitech mouse.

I'm not happy that aside from removing screws on the top and bottom of the laptop's underbelly, there's also a rubber strip (which the laptop generally sits on) that must be removed so even more screws can be removed to get at the guts of the computer. I don't know how hard it is to get that rubber strip out, or how hard it is to put back. Or do you need a new one every time you pull it?

So I won't be fiddling with the innards all that soon. With 16GB RAM, I won't be needing to do an upgrade there, but the 5200 RPM 1TB hard drive? How could I not want an SSD in the future? Other models in this HP Envy line have solid-state storage modules that plug into non-hard-drive ports inside the machine. I don't know enough about how that works to determine if there are off-the-shelf modules I can plug in for potentially faster I/O than via a SATA hard drive interface. That's research for the future.

Getting all of my files that aren't in Dropbox moved over is something I haven't thought about yet. The old HP Pavilion has a 640GB hard drive, with 500GB or so devoted to the Linux partition. That's a lot of files.

For now I'm enjoying a new laptop clad in metal with a sweet keyboard, super-clear and detailed screen and an OS that isn't getting in my way (yet). My experience with Windows 8 on my other HP laptop was less than stellar, especially when installing Fedora as a dual-boot made it impossible to upgrade to Win 8.1 and therefore also Win 10. But my office desktop (a surprisingly good Lenovo) has run Win 7 since the beginning, and I really have very few complaints.

Am I betraying the open-source world by considering Windows 10 as my daily OS (even though I've been splitting my time for years due to having a Windows 7 work desktop)? Probably. I should be worried about Microsoft spying on me, but if I was really worried, I'd give up all Android devices first. I'm already on the road to hell, so I might as well keep on truckin'. How's that for tortured metaphors?

tl;dr Get a new laptop every four years. You'll be amazed at how much better the new one is. You'll know the signs when it's time: mainly things are falling apart. In theory, the Windows Subsystem for Linux with the Ubuntu-delivered Bash-driven command line should mean that Linux/Unix people feel a lot more at home in Windows 10.