CentOS Stream 8 — a controversial yet boring Linux — would be my new operating system

After holding up due to distro indecision, I went ahead with the Linux laptop rebuild.

I decided to give CentOS Stream 8 a try. It’s a “hot” Linux distro, but for all the wrong reasons. I can say now that it’s technically excellent, with the extremely notable exception of an error in the Boot ISO (yes, I filed a bug) that makes it impossible to proceed before figuring out and manually entering a URL for a working mirror.

Once the installation is done and the Flathub, EPEL and RPM Fusion repos are added, it’s very much a “like butter” experience.

It’s buttery until you need an application that isn’t in the main CentOS repos, isn’t packaged for CentOS in EPEL and isn’t a Flatpak. That’s where you either do without, package it yourself or turn to Fedora/Red Hat’s Copr repos, which is where I found my main photo-editing app gThumb and hugo, the program that generates this blog.

Backup, tools and parts

Before I say more about the operating system and other software, let’s talk hardware.

I didn’t touch the hardware until I made an rsync backup of the /home files on my Debian Bullseye SSD, an HP-branded 250 GB NVMe M.2, and put them on a USB-connected portable backup drive.

I had my tools ready:

  • #0 Phillips screwdriver
  • T5 Torx screwdriver
  • Plastic guitar pick (as “spudger” to crack the case)

And my parts:

  • $50 replacement battery, made in China, from Amazon
  • 1 TB Samsung EVO 970 NVMe M.2. SSD drive

2019: New drive, new OS

I’ve had this laptop’s case open before, in 2019, to see if a $40 M.2 SSD would work with my HP Envy 15 as133cl laptop. It did, and I installed Debian Buster — then (and now) the stable release.

Going from Windows 10 on a spinning hard drive to Debian on an M.2 SSD meant a tremendous performance boost.

With Windows on a magnetic drive, it took multiple minutes to boot and then a half-hour to an hour for the Windows desktop to “stabilize” and be usable. One time a series of updates went horribly wrong, and I couldn’t use the laptop for at least three days due to something that was overwhelming the disk.

Debian on the SSD meant booting to a working GNOME desktop in under a minute. The desktop was ready as soon as I logged in. Updates were transparent and quick. Everything was faster.

I stayed with the 250 GB SSD and Debian Buster for about a year and a half. I ran out of space on the drive before that and kept many GB of data on a couple of other computers and a 64 GB USB flash drive.

Maybe a month or two ago, I tried to do an in-place upgrade from Debian Buster (10) to Bullseye (11). Bullseye is still the Testing distribution, but a routine Debian upgrade from one version to the next should work. It didn’t. I had some issue with GCC that prevented the upgrade from going through, and I was left witn an unbootable system.

I had a backup of my user files, and I did a reinstall of Debian Bullseye. It’s a great distribution, and even more things worked without issue than in Buster. In addition to automagic printing, I also had automagic scanning. That meant I could dump HPLIP and connect to my HP all-in-one printer/scanner with no configuration work at all.

I still had the problem of the SSD being too small.

I planned my upgrade.

This is a work in progress. Please return for more words.