Feb 24, 2018 -- add a seflfie
This post details my Debian Stretch setup on my Lenovo ThinkPad T470p. I got this machine in early August 2017, so I now have almost 6 months worth of experience on Debian and I thought it was a good time to 1- document the rationale behind my move from MacOS to Debian 2- explain how I set my computer up and 3- how I rate my appreciation of working on Debian. Any comments/questions about what follows? Please, feel free to use the Disqus section at the end of the post.
I have been a MacOS user for a long time mainly because my father was himself a MacOS user. I remember back to 2005 how weird it sounded to be a Mac aficionado compared to how trendy it is nowadays. According to me, Apple still makes good computers and the money spent on their products if generally worth the performance. However, given the trend of making computers as thin as possible, a Mac user has less and less control over his hardware and given the costs associated with having a Mac (adapters, repair costs, etc.), owning a Mac progressively became much less appealing to me. Even less so since suspicions of planned obsolescence. surfaced. Moreover, since I started doing more and more coding, I realized how rarely I was using Apple’s softwares in favor of many freewares. The list of softwares I used on my MacOS is actually very similar to the one I use on Debian and that I present below. It therefore occured to me that I really had no valid reason to keep using MacOS and I decided to go Linux. So far soooooo good 😄.
The choice of Linux distribution is huge, as you can see on the dedicated wikipedia page. As I had only a little experience with Linux, mainly Ubuntu on university computers and Raspbian on my Raspberry Pi, I had no strong opinion or inclination to any particular distribution. After spending some time reading comparisons of Linux distributions I concluded that what matters the most was my motivation to learn more and I decided to go Debian, a.k.a. the mother of many Linux distributions.
I do not want to go into much details about Debian. First, because I am still very much a beginner and I do not want to make any glaring mistake and offend anyone! Second because you will learn way more by searching on the web, especially on the official website and reading exhaustive manuals such as Debian Developer’s Reference and The Debian Administrator’s Handbook.
It is nonetheless useful to have a broad understanding of Debian’s development. Basically there are four different kinds of Debian releases named after Toy Story’s characters:
As explained in this post by J.A. Watson, all new Debian packages, including new versions of existing packages, first enter the Debian testing process through the unstable release. After a couple of tests, a new package goes to the testing release where it stays for a longer period. Depending on the kind of package, it may or may not spread to stable and old stable releases (see https://wiki.debian.org/StableUpdates). In reality, the majority of new package versions do not spread further and are instead accumulated as testing releases.
When developing the next stable Debian release, the latest version of packages are frozen, softly at first and then permanently, meaning that new developments for the next stable Debian release are gradually stopped. This frozen period is the time to perform tests and address bugs, necessary developments in order to release a stable version. Essentially, all this means is that package versions included in a new stable Debian release are slightly outdated at the time of the stable version release, which does not preclude packages from being further developed or render new development inaccessible. One simply has to install the testing version of Debian to access up-to-date packages.
Debian packages I said? Well they basically are softwares for Debian. Let’s say
that they are non-random sets of files that Debian can install using
Many packages are available online and you can readily install them using a
single line of command to the package manager
apt-get. If you are interested, I invite
you to have a look at the list of mirrors forming
the main Debian package repository available online. To illustrate this, in the
video below I navigate to a mirror and show where Pandoc is stored.
There is an upcoming collaborative development server named Salsa based on .
Unfortunately, I do not have strong knowledge of hardware and the choice that I made was based on discussions with other non-experts and research on the web Several brands of computer have a high reputation and constantly make good computers. One of them is Lenovo, which is supposed to have a good Linux compatibility. I guess that was enough for me, so there my adventure with a Lenovo computer began!
Once I chose which brand I would buy, I spent
some time thinking about my general expectations: a laptop, medium-sized
screen (13”-15”), a good i7 processor, no less than 8Go of RAM, and at least
500Go SSD storage for less than 3000$CAN, warranty included. I finally zeroed in on
a customized Lenovo ThinkPad T470p.
Below are a couple of details about my computer that I can display using the command
inxi. Note that
inxi is one of the freeware I installed to retrieve
information about my hardware using command lines; if you are
interested in free command line tools that return information about your
hardware I recommend this post on binarytides.
inxi -SGCADP entered in my terminal returns the following:
System: Host: debian Kernel: 4.9.0-5-amd64 x86_64 (64 bit) Desktop: Gnome 3.22.3 Distro: Debian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch) CPU: Quad core Intel Core i7-7820HQ (-HT-MCP-) cache: 8192 KB clock speeds: max: 3900 MHz 1: 899 MHz 2: 899 MHz 3: 899 MHz 4: 913 MHz 5: 951 MHz 6: 899 MHz 7: 899 MHz 8: 1080 MHz Graphics: Card-1: Intel Device 591b Card-2: NVIDIA GM108M [GeForce 940MX] Display Server: X.Org 1.19.2 driver: N/A Resolution: firstname.lastname@example.org GLX Renderer: Mesa DRI Intel Kabylake GT2 GLX Version: 3.0 Mesa 13.0.6 Audio: Card Intel Device a171 driver: snd_hda_intel Sound: ALSA v: k4.9.0-5-amd64 Drives: HDD Total Size: 1000.2GB (40.1% used) ID-1: /dev/nvme0n1 model: N/A size: 1024.2GB ID-2: USB /dev/sda model: Rikiki_USB_3.0 size: 1000.2GB Partition: ID-1: / size: 922G used: 80G (10%) fs: ext4 dev: /dev/nvme0n1p2 ID-2: swap-1 size: 17.03GB used: 0.22GB (1%) fs: swap dev: /dev/nvme0n1p3
The factory settings of my new Lenovo ThinkPad T470p was running on Windows 10 and I did not have the choice of the OS, sadly 😞. Well, I am no Windows user and do not intend to become one, so I got rid of Windows ASAP (I obviously took a selfie 😈) and installed Debian Stretch. Let me now explain how!
I decided to go with the stable release of Debian so, in August, 2017, that meant installing Stretch (actually released on June 17th, 2017). To get the Debian installer, you should simply know your architecture and visit the official website. On a recent laptop using an intel processor, it must be amd64. So, I downloaded the debian-installer for amd64 architecture. I was quite familiar with installing Ubuntu or MacOS with USB stick but I was unable to remember the command lines required, so I googled something like “bootable USB stick Debian Stretch” and got an answer similar to this conversation on stackexchange. Keep in mind that I was on MacOS before!
BIOS ([…] an acronym for Basic Input/Output System and also known as the System BIOS, ROM BIOS or PC BIOS) is non-volatile firmware used to perform hardware initialization during the booting process (power-on startup), and to provide runtime services for operating systems and programs. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BIOS)
Before you can install a new OS on your new computer, you may have to change some settings in the BIOS. In my case, I certainly did! When booting a Lenovo ThinkPad, the first image that pops up is the Lenovo logo and the following message:
To interrupt normal startup press Enter
So I pressed
Enter and then
F1 to access the BIOS. I opened the Security table and
disabled the Secure Boot option to be able to boot on the USB stick. As I needed
a non-free firmware to use the Wi-Fi I plugged my device on an Ethernet Cable
and seamlessly followed the different steps to successfully install Debian
Stretch. Unfortunately, I did not record everything I did, but it is essentially what is
described in The Debian Administrator’s Handbook.
I chose an installation that includes Gnome
and a collection of very useful freewares such as LibreOffice,
Inkscape and Octave.
I made three short videos to show you:
How to get the gnome version you are using with the GUI;
where to find and add keyboard bindings (for instance to record the screencasts
I use a fair number of softwares and using a package manager is extremely useful
to install them properly (e.g. the package manager takes care of all dependencies)
and to keep track of what is installed. Once Debian was installed, I proceeded to
install my collection of softwares, which is recorded as a list in a bash script
and provided below as a gist.
To be able to fully reproduce this you need to change a few lines in the
sources list. I edited
in the super user mode
su with the text editor nano.
to enter the super user mode (require the adequate password) and then
to change the file as follows:
deb http://debian.mirror.rafal.ca/debian/ stretch main contrib non-free deb-src http://debian.mirror.rafal.ca/debian/ stretch main deb http://security.debian.org/debian-security stretch/updates main deb-src http://security.debian.org/debian-security stretch/updates main # stretch-updates, previously known as 'volatile' https://wiki.debian.org/StableUpdates deb http://debian.mirror.rafal.ca/debian/ stretch-updates main deb-src http://debian.mirror.rafal.ca/debian/ stretch-updates main # R version 3.4.x repositories deb http://cran.utstat.utoronto.ca/bin/linux/debian stretch-cran34/ # Qgis repositories deb http://qgis.org/debian stretch main deb-src http://qgis.org/debian stretch main # Papirus icons repositories deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/papirus/papirus/ubuntu xenial main deb-src http://ppa.launchpad.net/papirus/papirus/ubuntu xenial main
The first line indicates that I subscribe to a non-free repository (I needed this
for the Wi-Fi). The six following lines indicate the official repository I
use and the rest of the changes are made so that I subscribe to other repositories
(R, Qgis and papirus icons). Note that if you are a Homebrew user,
having different repositories in your source list is like using different taps.
For further information about non-free softwares I installed, have a look at the official
website on unofficial repositories,
Skype and Dropbox.
Also, if you wonder what is the difference between
deb-src, go on
Once you are aware of this, have a look at my gist below (as version
I first shared this post and version
146 after review).
For some of the softwares listed, I do not use
sudo apt-get package and
I rather use the following strategy:
wget and save the
.deb file in the temporary folder
install them with
sudo dpkg -i xxxx.deb
This allows me to retrieve a newer version of the software than the one available for the stable release. I do so for Pandoc, Atom and Hugo.
For some of the above-mentioned packages, I added a relevant link in the table below:
Also, for all the atom packages I install using the
apm command, the
package documentation is online and the URL is formed as follows:
pkgname. For instance, the URL for the
pigments package is https://atom.io/packages/pigments.
Did I face a couple of issues? Of course I did, but I have learned a lot through solving them. Do I still encounter issues? Yes I do: (1) a couple of error messages on startup and (2) an issue with the back light of my screen! BUT regarding (1), everything works fine so I do not complain, especially since some of the message I get might be kernel issues that may be solved when I use a more recent release, and regarding (2), I found a work around 😸!
As you can see below I have a couple of error messages on log (command line
sudo dmesg -l err):
Well from what I understood this is nothing too bad. For instance,
kvm: disabled by bios
is more of a warning message than an error message. My Wi-fi works great despite
firmware: failed to load iwlwifi-8265-26.ucode message. The ACIP errors
are triggered because of firmware errors.
Well so far everything works well and fixing such errors sounds far beyond my
expertise (for the moment 😄) and motivation level.
After the fresh install, I was able to change the brightness of my screen using
F6 but I am no longer able to do so. I guess at some point my
computer hibernated and this caused the issue. Many posts address this issue
and I have tried in vain to follow the procedures described to fix this
(note that it is likely that I misinterpreted the procedure). However, I took some
time to read thorough posts
and bug reports
reporting the same issue and I have learned a lot. That’s something I really
enjoy with Debian: it forces me to understand how things works, and even
if my problem is not solved and I can no longer use
F6, I still found
a workaround. I have appended a bash alias in my .zprofile:
alias mybl='sudo tee /sys/class/backlight/intel_backlight/brightness <<<'
so now if
mybl 500 (mine is between 0 and 1060, that I’ve leaned too!)
my backlight is changed accordingly! .zprofile I said? Well, let’s keep
this for another post!
I am very satisfied with my actual setup. My guess is that I would have been happy on many Linux distribution. I acknowledge that it requires some time to get used to Linux and how it works. That being said, the time spent to make your laptop working is really rewarding and I have already learned tons of tips. I am now considering switching to Debian testing and reading The Debian Administrator’s Handbook very carefully!