Improvements to my Linux Desktop

I’ve gotten a bunch of comments and feedback about my Linux switch, so I thought I’ll write a followup post about how it’s been about 2 months in. Just a disclaimer that this is from the PoV of a long-time Mac user, and most of my irritants are about going back to my familiar defaults for which I almost have muscle memory. Luckily, Linux is configurable, and I’ve got it pretty well configured right now.

Look & Feel and Aesthetics

This is one of those things that is very important to me. The default configuration on any Linux is pretty terrible when you compare it to a Mac, but there’s a lot you can do to make it better. Here’s how my current desktop looks like.

Yup, that is indeed Pop!_OS

What did I do to make it look like this? Well, I pretty much followed this guide exactly. This does mean replacing the default Gnome desktop with XFCE, but that’s pretty much required if you want a Global menu like on the Mac. It does feel a bit too much aping the Mac tbh, but that’s much better than most distro defaults.

Here’s two other things I did in addition to that guide:

I made a workspace switcher panel with this configuration, that provides me some nice icons on the bar, and lets me move between virtual desktops much easier.

I put 4 Emoji icons, largely picked at random to differentiate between the desktops.
You need to pad the name like this otherwise there isn’t sufficient padding in the panel.
Finally, here’s the panel configuration. Nothing special, I just disabled Show miniature view.

Frankly, this is one feature I’ve always liked on Linux deskops. There is of course Spaces on the Mac, but it feels too overwhelming sometimes, and you lose touch of where you are.

I also copied over the SF Pro fonts from my Mac, and made that the default UI font. Even then, the font rendering on Linux can still use some work.

Honestly the aliasing doesn’t seem to matter much.

Keyboard Shortcuts

So I really tried to get used to the Linux shortcuts. But honestly they are just terrible. I mean why use your pinky-finger Control as the primary modifier key? You are just setting yourself up to get carpel tunnel. And if you are going to have a keyboard shorcut, at least make it uniform across apps. Ctrl + V to paste everywhere, except the terminal, where it’s Ctrl + Shift + V 😠. So I found Autokey, and set it up to port over my favourite macOS shortcuts:

This is just a bit of work to set up at first, but then works really well.
If you use the terminal in VS Code, you need to remap Copy and Paste to this, coz that’s the only way to make Super+C/V work in the VS Code editor and its inbuilt terminal.

This works awesome! Except in a few cases when it doesn’t. Autokey seems to sometimes stop working when you have 2 shortcuts configured differently based on window scope. So at times my Super + C stops working in the Terminal. I’m yet to figure out a solid solution for this.

Emojis

The state of emojis on Linux is… terrible. There are many half-complete solutions and none really work well. The sort of best I’ve found is this onscreen keyboard called Onboard & an emoji layout for that:

Yes, compared to what’s available on macOS, this is just terrible emojis all around. Sigh.

I’ve also mapped it to the same Ctrl + Super + Space shortcut on the Mac:

You can also see my other shortcuts, Ctrl + Super + Q and Shift +Super + 4 for e.g.

Apps

Here are a few native apps I’ve found interesting!

Wonderwall to download wallpapers:

LibreOffice which is quite nice right now!

The inbuilt Gnome Calendar app which is… serviceable, but the Mac equivalent isn’t too much better.

A native Spotify client!

A free VMWare Player that pretty much serves as the Fusion-equivalent on the Mac.

Suffice to say, I don’t miss apps much. I do get a bit envious about the design aspect though. Mac apps culturally are much better groomed.

Well that’s it! Ping me on Twitter for any questions, and I’ll be happy to answer them.

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