I have been seriously considering buying Librem for privacy reasons. The killswitches are the biggest selling point. But…
I have zero experience or knowledge of linux or programming. I’m just a Windows user who can troubleshoot Windows through your basic mechanisms but not much else.
Having read through the forums here, it appears you need to know quite a bit to troubleshoot things. For instance:
For me, that is pretty much a foreign language.
So while I’d like to get a Librem, am I mistaken in that this laptop (as well as PureOS or Qubes) isn’t for the regular Joe? Is the learning curve steep? Is this laptop/OS user friendly for people like me?
I’d say the answer is yes.
Like probably most people, I use windows for corporate work at the office and I’ve always used Mac at home. I had zero Linux experience.
I was pretty serious about this, so here’s what I did. I watched hours of YouTube videos, I lurked in user forums, picked up a few beginner books and magazines on Linux, listened to a bunch of Linux podcasts, and then I picked up a cheap Lenovo Flexbook, and I went to Distrowatch and checked out the most popular distros. I downloaded a few and played around. Yeah, “may” have bricked the laptop a few times screwing with the bios but I learned how to get out of those jams thanks to helpful folks. When I was ready, I bought a Librem, for all the reasons that Purism makes them.
What I learned was that the Linux community is amazing. Super helpful folks who are always challenging the status quo, always innovating and pushing the envelope, and always giving back.
If you want to feel like your computer and your data belongs to YOU, then yeah, it’s worth it.
I was a Windows tinkerer as well and few months ago while searching for how to “disable x on Windows”, “how to make Windows collect less data”, “can Windows log xyz info” I then realized that I’m fighting the air and I decided to do a manual backup on an external hard disk (not using any windows software, because I don’t trust any, but copy pasting what I needed. Also search how to do a backup of all of your browsers’ logins and passwords) I then went ahead and erased all the data on my computer’s hard disks and I started playing with my PC, installing different distros, assigning myself different tasks, like installing Steam on PureOS, this one should be your first one
(Usually the less strict the distro is e.g. Ubuntu, Mint etc… - the less you’ll need to tinker, and the more freedom oriented the distro is - the more work you’ll have to do IF you want to do something extra which was not designed by default).
Few puzzles were always missing at the beginning, I didn’t know how everything works, but as the time passed I started to be like “ahha, this is what it really means” more often, now I feel like I could talk for hours about GNU/Linux with anyone
I suggest you do the same thing, learn GNU/Linux on your PC and then go ahead and buy a Librem. As long as you know how to search, copy paste and ask questions on forums, and that you’d like to do that - you are good to go.
p.s. While testing, you can feel free to do any mistakes inside your OS, no matter how stupid ones or how “severe” they may be because you can always reinstall any distro in a matter of 7-15 minutes (or longer depending on your hardware). You could also play with proprietary apps/games on your testing machine, just because you can erase everything later and start from scratch.
You can also consider familiarizing yourself with Linux by first creating a Linux virtual machine on your Windows computer. This way, you can get accustomed to the interface of whatever distro you choose, get used to some of the software options, and have no risk of bricking your machine. It won’t be a perfect substitute for actually installing Linux, because the virtual machine doesn’t really have to interact with the hardware in the same way that actually installing it does, but you can at least begin learning about how things work in a controlled virtual environment.
You’ll be happier if the apps you need are in the Purism repository that comes pre-configured in all of their laptops:
Thunderbird for email client and local storage of messages
PureBrowser variant of Firefox that comes with only two extensions, Cliqz (w/o ad blocking) and LastPass. (There is a config switch that will allow you to install any Mozilla extension.)
LibreOffice for your office application suite.
KMyMoney as a quite usable substitute for GnuCash or other personal finance.
Gnome extensions to give your desktop familiar Windows features like a taskbar.
That said, troubleshooting will be like entering a huge, dark cave. Ask a question and often get crickets responding. PureOS is a tiny community and it is close to Debian, but Debian is a large and varied distro and you need the PureOS wiki and forums to learn the differences.
Do you need an application that isn’t in the PureOS repository? You will find ample conflicting advice on how to do that and many, many forum messages from users who have borked their installation by not carefully compiling/porting or copying from the wrong non-Debian repository. Even a Debian repository can be dangerous if it isn’t “testing” or “Buster”.
My own personal experience moving from Windows to PureOS involved trying to install and use Gnucash. GnuCash has to be one of the most difficult apps to install if you don’t have a repository. I finally did get it installed, but the online banking didn’t work. I migrated to KMyMoney and expected the worst, but it installed, online banking worked and it imported everything from my .gnucash transaction file. The only other thing I did was throw the switch (documented in the wiki) that allows PureBrowser to install non-Purism vetted extensions so I could get an ad-blocker, which I feel is essential today. I ended up with a pretty vanilla setup in a very roundabout way. OTOH, my boot process isn’t quite working right anymore. I posted a note and got crickets, so I have to wait to see if an update will restore my crypt UI. Fortunately I found that simply entering the encryption password into a void is accepted even though the UI box no longer appears.
The hardware is excellent quality but Purism downplays the lack of Bluetooth. The hardware is there, but there is no open and free driver. You can install one but I decided to use a dongle for the meantime. You might prefer a Microsoft proprietary wireless mouse which should work fine, but I would prefer no dongle sticking out. We have to wait.
Current laptops have the TPM and coreboot and deactivated Intel ME, so there is no reason to wait to buy to get essential hardware.
I love not having Google everywhere and am hopeful about the phone. I have come to hate Android because it isn’t updated by the carriers and Google is all through it, spying on me and wasting tons of memory on apps I refuse to use.
Adding a program or an adjustment to the way a program or app works is not too hard. What bothers me is the firmware. When that had to be fixed, it required something more like jumping through hoops when compared to the program level. The system has to be adjusted at a very low level. There does not appear to be an automaticc update for that. It is up to me the user to change it. That requires what looks, from the instructions other provide, something different from installing a printer. Even my printer was tough going. Not all printers have installation instructions that are easy to follow. If anyone can walk me through the firmware fix, please do. My Librem 15 seems to be missing the required firmware. I keep getting a warning at boot that something is wrong with the firmware and I should go to a site that has the instructions. I go there and it is hard to understand. I don’t know how to do the steps provided. The steps are too different from the kind of steps an app requires. The steps required seem to be of a rare type that one rarely has to understand or rarely needs to be done. Too different. To understand it requires digging into variuos steps in rewriting what that requires in some file that needs to be opened and code to be added. Don’t know anything how to do that as in where to find that file how to get to it, where to write the new code. A long ordeal for a newbie.
Thanks, everyone, for your awesome and thoughtful replies! I do appreciate the honesty as these laptops are new, in their way, and expensive. It looks like these laptops require quite a bit of effort for a novice so they’re not for me at the moment given serious time-constraints. I needed something that would basically work with everything I need almost right out of the box.