A Week With Solus
Can Solus shine where Pop!_OS failed?
Solus is a Linux distribution built from scratch. It uses a forked version of the PiSi package manager, maintained as “eopkg” within Solus, and a custom desktop environment called “Budgie”, developed in-house. The Budgie desktop, which can be set to emulate the look and feel of the GNOME 2 desktop, is tightly integrated with the GNOME stack.
My first impression of Solus on my seven year old Dell XPS 12 9Q23 was petty much the same as with Pop!_OS. It looked gorgeous, was smooth as silk, and all my hardware seemed to be working as it should. And to my great surprise, both suspend and hibernate worked out of the box on Solus!
Solus ships with its own package manager, eopkg. This means that you can’t take a software package prepared for Ubuntu or Fedora and install it on Solus. Instead you have to compile everything you can’t find in eopkg yourself, which is usually a major pain in the butt. I was very happy to realize that the most recent versions of everything I use daily was available through eopkg. Firefox, Visual Studio Code, Hugo, KeePassXC, Dropbox, and Nextcloud, all conveniently installed with the click of a few buttons.
This Feels Familiar
As with Pop!_OS, I started to run into problems after a while. For some weird reason, hibernate just stopped working out of the blue. It turned out Solus didn’t create a swap partition large enough to hibernate properly during the installation process. I was able to that fixed later with a little fiddling around with GParted, but it feels like a rookie mistake to not create a big enough swap partition when the OS was installed.
Then I realized that Solus also defaults to configuring the F-keys on my Apple keyboard to be used as media keys and other useless actions, which I can’t fathom is a good idea. The F-keys are supposed to be used for all kinds of useful keyboard shortcuts, not controlling the volume and the keyboard backlight! Configuring Solus so that the keyboard defaults to using the keys as actual F-keys has turned out to be quite the adventure that I’ve yet to finish. Right now I have a systemd script that I’m trying to run when Solus discovers the Apple keyboard. But I just can’t get the damn thing to work!
The biggest annoyance is something I also experienced on Pop!_OS: If the laptop has been suspended or hibernated for a while, the WiFi card simply refuses to work. The only way to fix it is to reboot the computer.
Close, but Still no Cigar
Playing around with a Linux distribution to get everything to work is fun. For a while. But then I’ve been through my fourth article about systemd to try to understand how I can get my damn script to run whenever it discovers the Apple keyboard, and all articles have different ways of solving it that don’t work, my patience simply runs out.
As an aside, I want to mention this: When wrestling with both Solus and Pop!_OS I realized that my favorite search engine, the privacy focused DuckDuckGo, sucks pretty bad when it comes to finding information about these not-so-mainstream Linux distributions. More often than not, I found myself consulting Google because DuckDuckGo mostly returned surprisingly irrelevant results. And that’s a shame.
Solus is the closest I’ve been so far to a Linux distribution that just works. But the keyboard thing, and that the god damn wireless card just dies suggests that Solus, too, requires more work to become a worry free daily driver than I’m mentally prepared for.
That said, the fact that the wireless card fails in exactly the same way in Solus as it did in Pop!_OS indicates that the issue isn’t with any of the distributions, but rather the driver Linux provided for the wireless card. But just the thought of digging around the internet for the correct driver, and getting it to work with Solus, is pretty exhausting.
I think my days of endless tinkering is over.
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