Quick Thoughts on the ThinkPad T495

Recently I was handed a new Lenovo ThinkPad T495 as my new “sysadmin” notebook to use for the work I do around campus. I asked for this device because I was curious about how openSUSE would work with the newer AMD Ryzen Pro mobile chips and the current notebook I was using was starting to buckle under its age.

This ThinkPad is now setup with openSUSE Tumbleweed and here are some generic thoughts about how things are working out so far.

ThinkPad T495 on desk
  • This is the nicest traditional, non-Apple laptop I have ever used. It feels sturdy and the hinge is quite nice.
  • The screen is matte and full HD, and is quite nice. It isn’t the best screen I’ve seen, and I didn’t want a touchscreen for this device, but it is quite capable.
  • The AMD Ryzen 5 3500U processor is quite capable and more than fast enough for what I need to do. I haven’t bothered checking for benchmarks, but openSUSE Tumbleweed is a dream on it.
  • The keyboard is … OK. I don’t hate the keyboard on my MacBook, and there are definitely some things to like about this keyboard over Apple’s current designs, but I have had problems typing accurately that I am chalking up to being more used to the shallow typing distance of my MacBook.
  • It is thin and light enough, but I am finding that the bags that I have been using most are now too small for this laptop even though I didn’t think the difference between Apple’s 13″ lineup and this 14″ Lenovo machine would be that big of a deal.
  • If you are going to run Linux on it, aim for as current of a kernel as possible. It runs with openSUSE Leap 15.1 decently, but the switch to openSUSE Tumbleweed was a revelation. The newer the kernel, the better, and I am hoping for continued improvements for AMD’s chips in the future.
  • I will need to get more RAM (8 GB is not enough).
  • There really is a difference between Apple’s Retina screens and something like this (what is being used in business-class notebooks across the rest of the industry). Part of this is going to be software and part of it is going to be hardware.
  • Everything should have USB-C.
  • I think I quite like it.

Apple doesn’t really offer a notebook like this at the moment and the ThinkPad is not trying to compete with Apple’s offerings. When I am using it, I do miss macOS, but part of that may just be familiarity.

At some point I am going to be forced to make a decision around replacing my MacBook, but I will keep seeing if I can wedge this ThinkPad into other parts of my work. One of the first things I did was get Zotero installed and hooked up to LibreOffice to see if I could continue working with my citations there and it works just fine.

If you are looking for a very good, competent, thin-enough and light-enough Linux laptop … I have no issues recommending the Lenovo ThinkPad T495.

HP is Splitting Up

HP is splitting up. HP as we know it today will be split into Hewlett-Packard Enterprise and HP Inc.

HP Inc. will handle the personal computers and printers and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise will take care of servers, storage, software, and services. For me, I’m imagining I will have more to do with Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (and I’m hoping their ProCurve line of networking gear will continue to be excellent).

Definitely interesting times when Microsoft and Oracle change CEOs, Dell goes private, IBM sells their X86 server business, and HP is splitting into two. The tech industry is getting shaken up and who knows what it will look like in a short time.

Best Setup?

What would my ideal setup look like at the moment?

I have no idea.

I like having a desktop because I worry less about things breaking and can just set things up and forget about it. I have a keyboard, mouse, and speakers ready to go whenever I might need them without having to fuss around with either cables or a docking station.

On the other hand, I like being able to take everything that I am working on with me wherever I am going. Even those things I don’t want to toss into a cloud storage provider’s folder … which can be a few things. I also can set up my development environment and not worry about syncing any changes around. I’m lazy, setting things up take time and settings things up to sync takes time too.

I’ll admit that I also like to have one machine follow me around because I can get attached to technology quite easily. Is that a good thing? Probably not, but it does affect the decisions I make on what to purchase.

Using my Lenovo ThinkPad X220 with a docking station, even just a little bit, has opened my eyes to what is possible when you can have a simple plug-and-work situation with a portable computer. A docking station makes getting started super simple and allows me to not even worry about hooking up additional items. I just set the ThinkPad in the dock and begin working once openSUSE has worked out the settings. It is extremely slick.

While I do not expect Apple to adopt a docking station port like the ThinkPad has, Thunderbolt provides some of the benefits with a single cable to either a Thunderbolt Display or a Thunderbolt dock. Eliminating the need to connect a USB cable, Ethernet cable, Thunderbolt cable, and audio cable and instead just hooking up power and a Thunderbolt cable is a definite win.

I like openSUSE a lot (I think I can safely say that it is currently my favorite distro), but my heart still belongs to OS X, even if my head tries to convince me otherwise. It is cemented even more by the fact that Apple still makes the best overall computers for me. I’m the most comfortable with them, and the mental loops I can work myself into trying to decide on new hardware + software is not worth switching to anything else full-time.

The decision is made easier by the dearth of excellent native software available for desktop Linux. Server Linux is left out here because Linux is the king of the server (as far as I am concerned). OS X has a ton of high-quality native software and many of them with companion apps on iOS. It makes the experience of moving between mobile and desktop a lot easier. With what was announced at WWDC, I think we are going to see even more moving in that direction.

When the rubber hits the road, this is what my mind has settled on for the moment:

  • An 11″ MacBook Air or (PLEASE APPLE PLEASE) 12″ MacBook Air, not even maxed out or anything, but adequate to handle the computing needs of me from day-to-day. With Apple moving all of my photos to iCloud in Fall 2014 and iTunes Match already keeping my music safe for me, it will mean I have a lesser need for large amounts of storage with me at all times.
  • A Thunderbolt dock of some sort both at home and at work. It will also entail a power adapter so that I would hook up the two cables and then get to work. It would allow me to keep my mouse and keyboard, Ethernet cable, external hard drives, and sound hooked up without needing to worry about hooking up an individual cable for each thing.
  • A single 27″ monitor in each location. I’d give up my multi-screen layout for a single large monitor. ASUS has some models I might look at to accomplish this.

I have no idea what my iOS load out is going to look like after the Fall since the inclusion of larger-screen iPhones might make me rethink the iPad’s role for me. This change to a MacBook Air would also move the current Mac mini to a server role since I am looking forward to sinking my teeth into OS X Server 4.

Of course, this will all change tomorrow so feel free to ignore it.

What Happened to the Month with Linux

If you want the short version here it is:

I lasted about five days before I gave in and decided that I’m just going to give up with trying to do anything like this and continue to use the best tool for the job for me, or (as my friend Aaron Spike has said), the tool most familiar to me.

The longer answer starts here:

It is the same thing that always happens. When I need to get work done, I reach for my Apple products. If I need to do something quickly, I’ll reach for my iPad and/or iPhone and/or MacBook Air/mini because, frankly, they just work. They also work well together.

I also gave in because WWDC happened.

Why is that important? BECAUSE APPLE ANNOUNCED A LOT OF REALLY COOL STUFF!

So basically, I’m just really weak.

I’m still going to keep my Lenovo ThinkPad X220 with openSUSE around at work for doing the odd thing here and there (and for testing), but I think that I’m even more-firmly in Apple’s camp now than I was at the end of last month.

openSUSE still would serve my needs quite ably, but I enjoy using Apple’s devices and OS (on both desktop/notebooks and mobile devices) more than I enjoy using the laptop that I currently have openSUSE installed on.

The benefits still stand, as always. I really like having a dock available so that I can bounce between work and home with the same machine and have identical setups available to me with little-to-no fuss at all. I’m hoping that Apple can come up with something similar for their notebooks (a Thunderbolt dock with a power adapter comes about as close as possible right now … but that is still two cables).

The sheer amount of available hardware is great but it is impossible to find a great laptop anymore. Most of what is available does not entice me in the slightest. Apple’s hardware still, to and for me, is the best available. I’m hoping that rumored 12″ MacBook Air will actually happen one day.

Linux is still firmly with me every day, and that is not going to change. As for this challenge, I completely failed.

WSJ, HP, and Me

This is a pseudo follow-up to yesterday’s post on HP’s new firmware support policy, and has the benefit of also including a quote from me on a Wall Street Journal Digits post titled H-P Says It Will Clarify Controversial Server Software Policy by Spencer E. Ante.

Mr. Ante reached out to me over Facebook and asked for some comments. Shockingly (to me, at least), he included one of them in the linked post.

Besides the fact that I don’t think I’ve ever seen it abbreviated H-P before and my positions as “webmaster” really is an old position (but still the official one), I think it is kind of cool.

However, as to the remarks made by the HP executives, I’m not assuaged at all. The fact that they announced the change at all is an indication of where they are going in the future (or at least, where they are considering going in the future).

As a campus that relies on HP ProCurve networking gear, HP portables for faculty and staff, and was considering HP servers for a needed storage solution that is worrying. They’ve fallen down the line as far as vendors are concerned and I’ll be looking elsewhere for our server needs in the future.

Update on 2014/2/11 @ 11:49amHP has clarified its statements from a couple of days ago with another blog post. While it does leave it open for security updates and some other issues to be available to everyone, it still creates a barrier between users and HP. While it might appeal to some, I’m still highly skeptical of the move and it hasn’t changed my stance at all.