A few days ago I got a message from @biapalmeiro about writing a post covering my usage and impressions of Clear Linux* OS. It’s cool to be involved and I hope this post will help the developers.
My everyday device is a Chuwi LapBook 12.3, with the following hardware:
- Intel Celeron N3450 CPU
- Intel HD Graphics 500 GPU
- 6GB of DDR3 RAM
- 64GB eMMC
- 128GB M.2 SATA SSD
- 12.3" 2736×1824 display
More info can be found in this NotebookCheck review.
Clear is installed on the SSD while on the slower internal eMMC there is Windows 10.
My main OS is Clear and I boot on Windows if I need to run Office or watch Netflix, which does not have a native GNU/Linux app. I select the boot drive via UEFI as needed.
This laptop is a low power device, so I opted for Clear to squeeze it as much as possible and not waste the already limited hardware potential. I understand Clear is targeted towards developers, so — given my desktop usage — this post may have little significance for professionals. Despite that, I find it awesome for everyday computing.
My usage as a student is quite standard and it’s closer to a desktop than a developer one. It consists of web browsing, chat, PDF reading, some writing, and text formatting. Sometimes I do relatively simple coding in Fortran or C, and I will start a machine learning class in the next semester, in which I’ll presumably use Python.
On the download and installation process
The graphical installer improved a lot recently, now it’s almost on par with other distributions install managers.
Few things I may find useful are:
- A torrent link on the main download page. I find torrents faster than direct downloads (tried on Ubuntu and elementaryOS web pages) and — as far as I know — they automatically verify the integrity of the download without the need to manually run a
- The support for installing multiple operating systems on the same drive, as I’d like to have both Windows and Clear on the SSD.
- The possibility to choose the default desktop environment on the first install.
If I have to only install without trying, I prefer the server image because it has a smaller size, and selecting the
desktop-autostart additional bundle from there basically gives the same system.
A great thing about Clear is that the installation is plug-and-play in comparison with Windows. On the latter — with the same Intel hardware — I have to search, install and update each driver manually on first boot and periodically. Swupd is an awesome tool for that, as it does everything silently in the background. It is my favorite Clear feature by far.
My current daily setup consists of the i3 window manager with a slightly customized
.Xresources files. I don’t boot often into Gnome and rarely run the apps that come with its bundle.
I made this choice mainly because of its lightness and simplicity. Once learned and customized it can be really efficient while remaining minimal and fast. In fact, despite I really like Gnome’s intuitive interface — and also wrote a post about that — the 3.32 version has some issues with low power devices and high resolutions, so it stutters enough to be completely unusable on my laptop. The 3.34 release, tested on Fedora 31 Beta fixes those issues, and I’m waiting to try it on Clear.
Currently, i3 idles at ~240MB of RAM, running also
/usr/libexec/gsd-xsettings to import Gnome preferences and GTK themes. In comparison, Gnome defaults to ~1GB, Windows and KDE Plasma stay respectively on ~1.5GB and ~580MB. I cannot say if it’s a good or bad thing, as I don’t know the technical reasons for those amounts.
The tools I’m lacking on i3 at the moment concern color management for ICC profiles (as
xcalib) and backlight (
brillo or maybe
clight, which I didn’t try yet but seems interesting). My laptop would benefit from loading a custom profile, since the default white temperature is too high.
A common issue with both i3 and Gnome on Xorg is diagonal tearing, I already wrote a post about that. It could be solved by bundling the Compton compositor, but I would love to switch to Sway, which is a Wayland tiling compositor. It seems to be slightly more performant even in comparison with i3wm without compositing. However, I didn’t investigate on the method used for the benchmarks. I may try to compile and bundle it as soon as I have some free time. At the moment I only tried it on Ubuntu and I was pleasantly surprised by its plug-and-play compatibility with i3wm config files, hi-DPI screen support and smoothness, while still being faster on opening programs than Gnome 3.34.
A great thing about Clear: now I have the longest battery life I ever experienced both with other GNU/Linux distributions (Ubuntu and elementaryOS) and Windows. My impressions on this are purely anecdotical, I didn’t benchmark the power usage.
Apps I use
- I constantly run DNSCrypt-Proxy with blacklisting to block ads, malware sites, fake news blogs, and trackers at the DNS level, and use DNS-over-HTTPS. I installed it following the standard procedure on their GitHub wiki. I don’t think there is a bundle for it.
- The app I use the most is Brave Browser, as a “debloated” Chromium version, with some further adblocking extensions (Nano Adblocker and Nano Defender), mainly to remove the empty boxes in webpages left by DNSCrypt-Proxy.
- Sometimes I use Firefox, but I prefer Brave for the capability of playing videos and GIFs out of the box, without having to compile FFmpeg.
- Telegram’s flatpak for chatting.
- I mainly write — usually lab reports — with markdown in Neovim on UXTerm, because of the reduced typing latency (I hope it’s not just placebo).
- I typeset the reports in LaTeX on Overleaf, as I didn’t try using the LaTeX bundle yet.
- I code in Neovim on UXTerm too for the already mentioned reasons, I use
gccas compilers and will use
cythonfor machine learning. I may also consider using Google Colaboratory in Brave as a browser based Jupyter notebooks environment.
- I also use
redshiftto automatically change display color temperature at night.
Given my usage, I would love to see some natively optimized bundles for Brave and Telegram, but I’m of course not aware of third party support or legal obstacles. Telegram would not benefit particularly from performance optimizations, but it’s the only flatpak app I use, and a native bundle would save me several MBs of runtimes to download.
I also tried different distros in the past, and the following two are the ones I used the most over time. It may be interesting to compare them to Clear.
+ There is a huge amount of existing documentation, blog posts, tutorials, and software packages.
– It doesn’t have all the specific optimizations turned on, and I didn’t find it as energy efficient as Clear. It uses
apt and has a slower release cycle.
+ It has a better design consistency for everyday usage and for desktop users who are approaching GNU/Linux for the first time. It runs its custom Pantheon desktop environment, apps, and software store. Ubuntu’s advantages also apply here.
– It’s based on Ubuntu so it shares the same problems, also, it’s updated even more slowly.
Of course, for any clarification or question, I’ll be happy to elaborate in the comments.