More Elementary

A few weeks before the pandemic started I fixed the touchpad on the ancient Acer ES1-111M we had lying around, upgraded its RAM and turned it into a moderately useful “couch computer”. For good measure, I also installed Elementary OS 5.1.4 Hera on it, and I’ve been using it ever since on a near-daily basis.

So this post is a sort of follow-up to the last time I did a similar thing, but on a C720. And it was also the latest step in a long string of attempts at making this particular laptop somewhat useful.

It had originally run Windows 8 moderately well (soon converging on miserably as the kids tried to do more and more on it), and I had already installed Elementary on it once, but the tiny 32GB EMMC storage it shipped with and the wonky touchpad precluded any extended use.

So I decided to fix what I could. Sadly, there is no way to drop an M2 SSD inside it–the PCB layout has tracks but no connector, and I couldn’t figure out if there was supporting silicon either, but grounding the touchpad and adding 8GB of RAM was enough to turn it into a great little laptop.

The CPU is a Dual-Core Intel Celeron N2840 clocked 2.16GHz, and as such more than good enough to do all the routine sysadmin stuff required to keep my pet projects running (even if some of them haven’t seen any new releases in many months), run VS Code, take notes, and remote desktop to my work machines.

It is even able to do Zoom and Teams calls in a pinch (although I suspect it will handle multiple video streams quite poorly), and can drive an external 2560x1080 display just fine:

My LG 29WK500-B 29" UWHDs seem to share the EDID of the 34" model

So yes, Elementary OS is still great, and smooth, and (for me at least) completely trouble-free.

Everything works, and it is probably telling that I use it more than I do my MacBook (although that can also probably be attributed to it being a lot lighter and less of a distraction).

There are a few things I never do on Elementary, though, and that are essential for me on a personal level:

  • E-mail (I might be in the minority here, but nothing can really replace Mail.app for me yet, and Elementary’s mail client can’t seem to deal with my huge folder trees).
  • Calendaring (I can probably get away with the built-in CalDAV client, but last time I tried I just couldn’t get it to work, and I need a To-Do/Calendar app that can sync with my phone somehow).
  • Password management (1Password does not work in Linux without hacks I’m not willing to maintain, and I can’t stuff everything into Firefox).
  • Photography (the Photos app on Elementary is very simple, and does seem to handle some RAW formats, but lacks the sort of color adjustments I have on Apple plarforms and doesn’t sync with anything).

The good news is that all of these seem fixable, even without resorting to third-party stuff.

And considering the mess that Catalina has turned into, running a full Elementary desktop on a permanent basis seems more and more likely by the day…