System76 Thelio First Impressions
System76 Thelio Desktop

I was due for a new desktop machine at work and was the last person holding on to a Windows 7 machine.  I was still clinging to that tower because I didn’t like the options as I surveyed the field:

Windows 10 – I have a Windows 10 laptop for work.  I’ll keep this short: no.

Mac – I like Apple better than MS, but I think the hardware is overpriced and is becoming lower quality as the years continue.

Linux – I’m set on using Linux going forward for a multitude of reasons.  Finding the right flavor came down to what I needed in the office.  Most everything can be done from a browser or SSH with a few RDP sessions when needed.  Ubuntu was my first thought: I’m somewhat familiar and it is the most popular for compatibility’s sake.

I saw the Thelio announcement from System76 about a year ago.  I appreciate their philosophy regarding open source.  It is optimized for their homegrown Pop_OS! (that’s the last time I’m typing that out) which comes installed or can run Ubuntu.

The basic Thelio tower appeared sufficient for my needs.  There’s quite a price jump from the basic to Major model.  I choose the walnut finish with an extra 1TB drive inside.

Pop is installed by default, so I gave it a spin.  First impressions were positive.  Everything behaved the way you’d expect a desktop environment to behave. The store is a bit limited when compared to all of the apps available for Ubuntu.

I spent some time to see if I could get Box to work outside of using a browser.  I tried using davfs2 and was able to connect and browse the folders but couldn’t open documents.  I tried a few other things but further research suggested that WebDAV is deprecated as of January 2019.

I was typing my notes on the davfs2 situation and the first draft of this document in Libre Writer.  Everything with my new dream machine was going well despite the issues with Box – I expected some of that along the way.  But I noticed that the default behavior of the “Activities Bar” (“dock” for those in the real world) was to auto-hide.  Should be simple enough…

And this is where I started to see the limitations of Pop.  This should have been the easiest thing in the world to do on any desktop, but not Pop!! (extra punctuation for mockery). After clicking through all the menus where the option would normally be located, I turned to the Pop website.  The apparent solution is to install Dash to Dock, which is, and I quote, “included by default in Ubuntu 18.04 and can be added to Pop!_OS.”  I knew right then I had chosen the wrong distro.

We finally have Dash to Dock installed!  Sure, it took an unreasonable amount of time to get to the point where we can simply lock the dock and I expected a little bit less of this – the tedious things that make me still hesitate to suggest Linux to typical users.  I issued the UI refresh command, searched around for the Dash to Dock settings,.. still not present.  OK, maybe a system restart, maybe need to take a break…

I returned to a locked computer.  Pressing the escape key slid the lock screen only halfway up the screen.  I could see the password field but couldn’t type.  I thought that it might be frozen and may recover, so I waited for a few minutes.  Still frozen.  I clicked the menu bar in the top right corner and had the option to restart.  I pressed escape again and the lock screen cleared 2/3 of the screen, but I still couldn’t type in the password field.  It was obvious at this point that beyond losing my half page unsaved document, I had also lost patience with Pop.

I reloaded the machine with Ubuntu the next day. Added the System76 driver packages, set up Thunderbird, put Box on a browser tab for the time being, and adjusted the dock to a fixed position and icon size.  Smooth sailing so far up to writing this a day later.

I can highly recommend the System76 Thelio PC with Ubuntu.  A part of me wants to try Pop again, but I can’t find a good reason right now. 

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