Using Clear Linux As A Desktop Linux Distribution - It Works Well But With Some "Papercuts"
While I am a big fan of Intel's Clear Linux distribution for its raw performance on x86_64 hardware that for most workloads goes unsurpassed by any other Linux platform out-of-the-box, there has been a lot of Phoronix readers wondering how well it could function as a standard desktop Linux distribution. With upgrading my main production system earlier this month, I decided to try out Clear Linux and now with 200+ hours into using it as the OS on my main production system, I figured it'd be good to share my initial thoughts.
While we've been benchmarking with Clear Linux for years, only over the past year or two have they really beefed up their bundles around the desktop and make it more appealing for desktop use along with support for Flatpaks, supporting the other DRM/Mesa drivers besides just Intel graphics, delivering a great GNOME Shell experience where as originally they defaulted to Xfce, and overall improving the experience for more use-cases. And, yes, it's even possible to run Steam on Clear Linux.
The last blocker for me personally was supporting full-disk encryption as part of their installer. While previously it could be setup manually, with their new installer rolled out over the past few months, there is support for setting up full-disk encryption using LUKS as part of the installation process. For my main production system especially with traveling with it for any events, I wouldn't consider anything but using full-disk encryption. So with that resolved, when it came time to upgrading my main production system earlier this month, I decided to jump into trying Clear Linux in place of Fedora Workstation. Fedora Workstation has served me well for years as my main Linux distribution of choice for my most critical system after years of Ubuntu, Fedora Core, openSUSE, and Mandrake. But curiosity got the best of me in trying Clear Linux to see how usable it is as a desktop platform and also the appeal of being a rolling-release yet stable architecture.
Getting started with Clear Linux as a desktop is actually very simple; while there is their (default) text-based installer option, a new option as part of their recent installer revamp is the "live desktop" option that is just like any other Live USB/DVD distribution out there for easily booting to a graphical desktop environment and being straight off to the races.
Clear Linux does have available all of my needed packages/bundles for my production workflow including GNOME Shell and its programs like GNOME Terminal and Gedit, gFTP, Mozilla Firefox, Mozilla Thunderbird, GIMP, Pidgin, and LibreOffice. On the developer toolchain front, Clear Linux certainly has effectively all use-cases covered from traditional C/C++ development to quickly deploying LAMP stacks to Nodejs to all the other modern programming language support and countless cloud/container options. Personally I use a GNOME Shell environment very close to the stock configuration without any extensions, so Clear Linux's defaults were all in good standing and GNOME Tweaks is available for the little bit of tweaking I do to the configuration.
For those preferring Google Chrome to Firefox, that is one of the current shortcomings. Clear Linux follows a similar stance to Fedora when it comes to packaging (or rather, not) of proprietary codecs and other non-free-software / patent encumbered software for multimedia handling. But fortunately, it's quite easy to get Google Chrome working on Clear Linux albeit manually. When downloading the latest x86_64 RPM for Google Chrome, it can simply be extracted and then running the google-chrome binary. It works but lacks some integration around preferred font handling and other elements, though all core functionality is working and that includes video playback.
Initially I was a bit nervous when upgrading my main production system manually with swupd to the latest and greatest packages on this rolling release, but fortunately those concerns have subsided that with the two weeks worth of upgrading, the package manager hasn't given any issues and all updates have rolled out smoothly.