Microsoft is ever vigilant at trying to strong arm customers of 7 and 8.1 to upgrade to 10. So, I have vowed to use Linux on my laptop at least until the madness is over (as my laptop won’t upgrade). This past month I installed Xubuntu 16.04. How well does it work? Well, it may stay here until my machine is retired.
Xubuntu 16.04 LTS
In April Canonical released it’s latest version of Ubuntu to the world. Version 16.04 (Year/Month) is a LTS(long term support) release meaning it will have security and stability patches provided for 5 years. Aka, install now and don’t worry about the OS again until 5 years from now. At that point there may even be a simple way to upgrade(although clean installs are always better).
I had been using Mint previously as it had the best compatibility with my device, but as a new version of Ubuntu was out I thought I would give it another go. I do love Mint with it’s Cinnamon desktop environment (D.E.), but I am also fond of XFCE and thus Xubuntu is a distro I fire up often in a VM to work in. I found XFCE to be the best D.E. once Gnome 3 was released and I found it’s vision and direction no longer matched my usage patterns and needs, and later Cinnamon as a familiar yet responsive option. Knowing that Mint is based on Ubuntu I thought hey, maybe being a newer build I can actually get my keyboard to fully work(unlike in Mint where the function keys were not working). So I downloaded the latest Xubuntu, installed it and got everything configured. Only thing to note is that Xubuntu only has three years of support instead of 5 like the more popular variants.
This is based on the hardware experience of my Toshiba C55D-B5214 and it’s upgraded hardware. For the past two years I was very hard pressed to get the major Linux distro’s to play nice with this device. I had tried numerous versions of Ubuntu/Xubuntu/Lubuntu/SUSE/Mint with none of them every reaching full hardware support out of the box. This is kind of to be expected as my laptop was launched as a new model with a new AMD APU back in summer 2014. So being new hardware there were bound to be issues and there were ones that I had no idea of how to fully fix, which included some keyboard issues that caused kernel panics/immediate restarts.
I am excited to say I have finally found the distro that does just works out of the box with no compromises on my laptop. It may have taken two years to get it working but the track pad, keyboard, graphics drivers are all working fantastically with no additional changes needed after the main install. Mint was the one distro that came closest but no more(until Mint 18 release in the near future I am sure). Xubuntu just works with my hardware.
Using the OS
If you have used any of the Ubuntu’s, 16.04 doesn’t have any ground breaking noticeable changes. I also don’t want to turn this into a review, so I won’t go over the OS itself. However for this laptops specifics hardware, let’s talk about how it fares vs Linux of old.
The battery life is now almost on par with it’s Windows counterpart. When using Linux previously on the C55D I found that I could drain the battery in about 2 hours of light use and an hour of heavy use. This time around, I see that it has extended to about 3 hours of normal use. What is normal use? Browsing the web and writing articles for now. I also installed some programs and did some light Java programming although not for long. One caveat though is I haven’t used this too long so the timeframes may change. Battery estimates always change the longer you get to use the device, however my machine is not getting as hot or draining the percent as fast as it had previously. This is a welcome change as the very poor battery life was one reason I kept using Windows. So hooray for much needed power efficiency!
With improved battery performance I also found that general performance was better as well. In my previous attempts using Linux I found there were occasions when the machine would lock up or be sluggish while doing mundane file system tasks or light web browsing. These issues appear to be no more and I haven’t had any sluggishness even when compiling Java code in Netbeans. Everything is nice and responsive. This is great because it finally feels like its stable and able to withstand the tasks I throw at it. Which is good because I am reorganizing my office again and this thing will need to be my primary device until I get my desktop back up and running which will probably be about a month or so.
Ok, so not everything is on the up and up. There is one nasty bug I found when getting my machine set up. I discovered that the default Gnome software center has issues installing .deb files. This is kind of a big deal because third party installers effectively don’t work using the standard install method. As with many Linux distros, there is a crazy fast turn around time on these and it appears it is already fixed and released as per this bug report. I think I ran into the issue as I hadn’t performed all updates before trying to install my Epson printer via deb package.
Aside from this there isn’t anything else to really complain about. Things just work. The UI is responsive and I can do my work without the OS getting in the way. Life is good. Especially without intrusive upgrade notifications.
Overall I am very happy to finally have Linux work as well as Windows on my Satellite. It’s a great feeling to have this as an option for my hardware. I am still torn on converting completely to Linux(including my desktop) as I do feel most at home here with XFCE/Cinnamon. However some of my favorite hobbies still have ties to Windows (games and making them). Although my options for those on Linux are opening up as well. In the mean time I will keep Xubuntu running on this as I have no need for Windows on it anymore. I shouldn’t punish this poor machine with heavy graphics tasks so time to go all Linux at least with one machine.
“What about Mint?” you say. Well, glad you asked. I may update this to Mint 18 once it’s released, but I have found myself liking to keep things that aren’t broken. I will probably still spend a day swapping OS’s just to test it though. Mint 18 will also remove a number of preinstalled codecs making it more in line with it’s Ubuntu family, but it will carry the full 5 year LTS support timeframe. That is something I want, however I doubt this poor machine will last that long. It’s already got some broken plastic from use. The new Cinnamon would be a reason to upgrade along with additional stability/features. Mint always seems to find ways to make Ubuntu better, so I will have to see if those are worth it or not.
Bottom Line: If you have the Toshiba C55D-B5214 and are looking for Linux, check out the Ubuntu 16.04 family as it is working wonderfully on my hardware.