Installing Ubuntu on a laptop - or why Linux will not be mainstream even in 2019

Posted on | ~6 mins
linux software-development

Having worked the past five years a good bit on the command line, the time was ripe to go back to what I failed to do in high school: use and get comfortable with Linux as my laptop OS. And I even took Linux classes back then. Now, I was ready to try again.

In short, once everything is set up it runs super fast and smooth. But the way there is very tedious. I even damaged the BIOS of the laptop during setup. The googling part hasn’t changed either, but I got more used to it during my work as a software developer.

Ubuntu Performance

First, let me show why it was worth to go through all this pain on my six or more years old Fujitsu LH532 (courtesy of my girlfriend, who replaced it with a MacBook Air) with 16GB Ram, an i7-3612QM and an SSD drive now.

Windows 10 became completely slow with all the things that run at system startup and in the background. Even Chrome took at least a minute to open.

Not anymore. Boot takes some 25 seconds to the login screen and 5 more seconds after entering my password. Chrome opens in 2 seconds (!), Firefox even faster. Surfing is very smooth. Streaming 1080p? No problem. PyCharm’s project selection window comes up after 15 seconds. Visual Studio Code can be used after 3 seconds and the icon appears in the task bar after 15 (think this is due to me using the snap version).

In general, very impressive and awesome results. This is all way faster even than on my 2013 model MacBook Pro with 16 GB Ram and an i5 Cpu. However, to get there was quite challenging.

Installing Ubuntu

The installation itself was the most painful part. I created a boot USB and started the laptop from it. Ran the installer, partitioned the hard drive to keep Windows and made a normal setup.

Bam, in the end, got an error that grub-efi-amd64-signed cannot be installed. Googling this with the laptop model leads to the fact that Ubuntu seems to destroy the BIOS access on the particular model when used the default setup. I will revisit this fact later.

Happy that the setup did not go through and destroy my BIOS, I booted again into the USB stick and tried to manually set up grub in the MBR mode instead (because the setup somehow also messed up the booting and no OS was starting now).

Having spent several hours on installing grub, mounting the right drives, configuring grub at bootup with commands such as insmod linux /vmlinuz, I was able to get the boot menu back. Ubuntu booted and even my Windows installation started again.

I was annoyed but happy, so I left everything for some time and came back with an SSD drive to replace the HDD. Took exactly same steps as for the last successful setup. Bam, BIOS didn’t see any operating system to boot from. Booted again into USB stick chose the setup option instead of the live Linux option. There, I was offered the choice to reinstall Ubuntu on the same partitions that I had selected before. Opted for that.

Big mistake (and I was facepalming myself during the setup). It did manage to finally format all in the EFI format and install everything the “right” way.

Yes, I cannot access my BIOS since. And yes, to get the boot menu back, I had to open my laptop, find the CL1 and CL2 pins, and shorten them with tin foil. Do I have to live with it forever now? Yes, I do because I cannot download (and tech support didn’t give me) a BIOS to flash for the Hong-Kong model of the LH532. Is this a new bug? It’s basically known since at least 2014.

Quite a frustrating experience, but in the end Ubuntu was installed and booted.

Configuring Ubuntu

On Ubuntu, it was very nice that I did not have to install any extra drivers (apart from the optional Nvidia one). However, some basic things that one does not even think about in other OS don’t come out of the box. Some examples:

Want to hibernate or suspend your laptop? Enlarge your swap partition to fit all ram and more, edit /etc/fstab, play around with swapon and try different packages such as uswsusp to get it finally going. And if you want buttons in the menu next to the shutdown icon, install some more packages and configure the gnome-shell-extensions through the browser.

Want to install extension package because you need it for something else? Get pestered at boot up that the ttf-mscorefonts-installer cannot be installed. Let’s see if manually installing the package solved it once and for all or whether I will have to revisit the issue.

Want to install VisualStudio Code? After I added the repo to install it through apt, I get the notification that I have some duplicate packages every time I run apt update. Being annoyed by that and having found no easy fix, I decided to install it through snap instead. Snap seems to me a quite nice and user-friendly concept to install software such as VLC, PyCharm or VSCode. However, in the current version of VSCode is a bug that pesters me quite often that a directory cannot be found for the update. Also it might be a gut feeling, but it felt like the apt version was faster at startup.


Having done all that, I think it is quite clear that even in 2019 Linux will not become mainstream for users who just want to just have a computer that is easy to use. Even with the installer UI and everything that was done to make it user friendly, you have to heavily rely on the command line, trial and error, edititing configuration files and googling.

When my girlfriend hears about what I was doing to get the laptop going, she just rolls her eyes, stops me in mid-sentence and says that she hasn’t been thinking about the laptop at all since she got her MacBook Air.

As a software developer, I am of course happy to learn cool new things. And due to its open-source nature, you can find solutions to most problems if you are willing to put in the time.

Another motivation for me, I have to return my 2013 MacBook Pro soon and stand between spending some 2500 Euros on a new Mac with the right specs and design flaws or to try if Linux will be my friend on an old laptop for free.

As Ubuntu performs awesomely on this six or more year old laptop, it will get a new life and use the saved money for some other cool stuff.