My Linux challenge: Part 1 Headwinds

Chris Rosser
3 min readApr 3, 2024
Photo by Linus Mimietz on Unsplash

On Good Friday, after a solid day of coding my passion project, my 2020 MacBook Pro crashed with a spectacular kernel panic. Fortunately, it was an irritation rather than a disaster since I regularly save and commit my work to GitHub. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time, but it might be the proverbial straw.

To give context, I’m a technical writing writer and full-stack web developer by trade. I spend most of my day writing markdown, Python and JavaScript in VS Code. I write scripts, build Docker images, wrangle databases, and bang on APIs with Postman — bread and butter stuff for the modern web dev.

Until now, my ‘workstation’ has been the 2020 MacBook Pro, Apple’s last Intel model with 16 GB and a quad-core 10th-gen i5 CPU. I dock mine to two 4K displays 99% of the time, scaling the resolution to the Retina equivalent of 1440p.

For several months, I’ve felt friction growing in my workflow. Intel is now a second-class citizen on macOS, and the iGPU struggles to push all those pixels. The UI feels sluggish with noticeable lag. Every day, I exceed the (soldered) 16 GB of RAM and write gigabytes of data to swap (accelerating the soldered SSD chip’s inevitable demise).

I know an Apple Silicon Mac would serve me better. Either the Mac Studio or 16-inch MacBook Pro would be a considerable upgrade. But while I love macOS, Apple’s practices and prices are an increasingly bitter pill to swallow.

In all likelihood, I will swallow titl, but I feel I owe it to the competition (and my wallet) to explore the alternatives. So, following Friday’s kernel panic, I set about rebuilding my development environment on a desktop PC I half-heartedly built during a COVID lockdown to play games.

The system’s heart is a 12th-gen i5 CPU (6 cores/12 threads) on a Gigabyte motherboard with 16 GB of RAM. I added a GTX 1050 TI from my son’s defunct gaming computer. I clean-installed Windows 10 to an NVME drive and added a 1TB HDD for my Steam and games.

For development, I’ll use Linux. Now, I’m no stranger to Linux, having used it since 2004 in various capacities, but it’s been a while, and the desktop landscape has changed a lot since I last used it. So, I spent a day testing Ubuntu, Mint, Fedora, and Pop OS. I expected to land on Ubuntu or Fedora, but my favourite was Pop OS.

Pop OS surprised me. It’s based on Ubuntu and Gnome but refined to the point that it feels incredibly efficient, productive, and made to get work done. It’s the only system I tried that gets fractional scaling right out of the box (without blurry-looking fonts in Electron apps). Its tiling window mode and virtual workspaces are helpful (and intuitive). I like how running open . in the terminal opens the directory in Nautilus, just like in macOS.

Yes, I know this level of refinement is possible in your favourite Linux desktop. Yes, I know Pop is based on an old Ubuntu LTS. Yes, I appreciate the arguments for choosing Cinnamon, Gnome 46 or Plasma 6. No, I’m not going to change my mind. Frankly, I don’t have the time or inclination to tweak my workstation, not when someone’s already done the work for me. Pop OS is honestly the first Linux distro I could switch to and not want to claw my eyes in the process.

One day isn’t enough, so I’ll give it a month — a month of using Pop OS exclusively to code on. The biggest hurdle, I think, will be the keyboard shortcuts, which are second nature to me on macOS. Then it will be the rude ejection from Apple’s seamless ecosystem — no more iMessages or FaceTimes calls routed directly to my workstation, no more iCloud-based copy-paste from my iPhone, no iCloud Keychain to access my passwords in Firefox, and lots more besides.

But maybe that’s okay. Maybe Pop OS can live alongside my Apple devices as the beefy, dedicated workstation I use to offload the tasks it can do better in the same way I treat Windows or PlayStation as gaming utilities. Hopefully, the next 30 days help to clarify my thoughts.



Chris Rosser

Technical writer and occasional author sharing thoughts on creativity, productivity and technology. Works at Canva.