Linux on your 2 in 1 Touchscreen System

Introduction – "Distro" Selection

If you have never used Linux before, you will likely be over-whelmed when it comes to selection of a Linux Distributions with Linux enthusiasts bickering about what distribution is the best. The following things should be considered:

  • Free, Open-Source, Closed-Source and Propriety Software
  • Distribution
  • Version
  • Desktop Environment
    • Desktop User Interface
    • Touchscreen + 2 in 1 User Interface
  • Package Managers
  • Third-Party Drivers and Multi-Media Codecs
  • Secure Boot Support

Free, Open-Source, Closed-Source and Propriety Software

Although most Linux distributions are "free" for the end-user to download, install and use. Under the hood, there are human/time costs to develop them. Some open-source software is bolstered by companies.

An analogy you are common with is the Chromium Project which is open-source. This open-source project is however the basis of Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge. Google and Microsoft build Commercial products based upon Chromium which they can monetise but in turn feed code back into the foundation furthering the Chromium project.

Instead of just being the Browser, Linux can be thought of as the entire Operating System.

Third-party software developers can write software for Linux that is Open-Source and can be bundled in Linux and modified. They can alternatively write Closed-Source software which can either be monetized via a direct purchase for or provided for free.

For installation on PCs there needs to be some participation with the hardware manufacturer and the Linux community. Intel in particular are very good at providing Open-Source drivers and most of their drivers will be bundled directly into the Linux kernel. NVIDIA tend to only provide Closed-Source drivers which cannot be as easily tinkered with. In the past ATI also provided Closed-Source Drivers but since their acquisition by AMD are better at providing Open-Source drivers.

Distribution

Three of the most popular (easiest to use, most features and relative stable) Linux distributions are developed by companies. These companies have a different approach to Open-Source and Closed-Source drivers.

  • Fedora (RedHat Based uses the GNOME3 Desktop Environment)
  • Ubuntu (Debian Based uses the GNOME3 Desktop Environment)
  • DeepIn (Debian Based uses the DeepIn Desktop Environment)

RedHat is a Commercial Linux distribution for enterprise solutions Monetisation comes from enterprise support maintenance contracts. Fedora is the Open-Source ditribution that can be used by anyone. RedHat and Fedora tend to be puritan when it comes to Open-Source and will not bundle in any Closed-Source drivers or multi-media codecs. They distrust Closed-Source code and see it as the primary introduction of instabilities/bugs and thus do not bundle any Closed-Source code with the Fedora Linux distribution. As a result it slightly more difficult to install Fedora on NVIDIA based hardware or to use third-party multi-media codecs.

Debian can be thought of as the equivalent to the Chromium project. Ubuntu is developed by the Canonical (USA) project but the end product is itself Open-Source. Unlike RedHat, Canonical tend to bundle in as much free "Open-Source" and "Closed-Source" in as possible so everything just "works out of the box".

Several other common distributions are based upon Ubuntu. These other distributions mainly modify Ubuntu to work with other Desktop Environments (User Interface). The following are maintained by Canonical and have release cycles and versions based on Ubuntu:

  • Kubuntu (Uses the KDE Desktop Environment)
  • Lubuntu (Uses the LXQt Desktop Environment)
  • Ubuntu Budgie (Uses the Budgie Desktop Environment)
  • Ubuntu Mate (Uses the Mate Desktop Environment a continuation of GNOME2)
  • Xubuntu (Uses the Xfce Desktop Environment)

Some are maintained commercially and seek donations to download the software, others are entirely Community driven.

  • POP OS
  • Mint
  • Elementary
  • Zorin

China has long wanted software independence from American based companies. Currently there are trade-disputes between the USA and China. Huawei is a hardware company with deep links to the Chinese government and recently their Android Devices have been blocked from using Google Services. This has hindered their usage internationally and damaged their sales. DeepIn is a company that is looking to create a Chinese based Linux. Their primary purpose has been the domestic Chinese market but they also do have an international focus. It is rumoured that DeepIn will partner directly with Huawei to create Chinese software on Chinese hardware to overcome the issues of relying on American software companies.

Version

All Linux distributions use the same underlying Linux kernel but some are updated far more frequently than others. The Version number can be numeric like in the case of the Fedora or YY.MM in the case of Ubuntu.

When it comes to updates, there is a trade off between newer features and stability. Many Linux Distributions thus ship with a Long Term Support (LTS) release and a Feature Based Release. A LTS is released about every 2 years and is usually far more stable than a Feature Based Release which is released about every 6 months however towards the end of the 2 years, the LTS release can be pretty dated when it comes to support for newer hardware.

Desktop Environment

The Linux Desktop Environment can be thought of as the User Interface. Different considerations should be taken when using Keyboard and Mouse or Touchscreen.

Keyboard and Mouse

The GNOME3 Desktop environment is one of the most common used one. It has a Panel at the side and commonly used Apps can be pinned to it. GNOME3 is the default Desktop Environment in Ubuntu, POPOS (which is based upon Ubuntu) and Fedora.

GNOME3 Desktop Environment in Ubuntu 20.04

All open applications can be viewed by selecting the activities from the top.

GNOME3 Desktop Environment in Ubuntu 20.04 (Activities)

And all available applications installed can be viewed by clicking Show Applications:

GNOME3 Desktop Environment in Ubuntu 20.04 (All Apps)

The Fedora Linux distribution also uses Fedora but note that there are some subtle differences out of the box such as the absence of the minimise and maximise button. This can make it more difficult to navigate between applications or multi-task. Most touchpads are also treated as macs. i.e. there is only left click behaviour for both the left and right click. These settings can be amended by installing GNOME Tweaks.

GNOME 3 Desktop Environment in Fedora 32

Other Desktop Environments such as Elementary OS are also designed without the Minimise and Maximise buttons and a single click. They use a Central Dock similar to Mac OS.

Pantheon Desktop Environment in Elementary OS 5.1.7

The Cinnamon Desktop Environment used by default in Linux Mint is more similar to that of Windows XP/7 with a Start Menu and an All Applications Menu.

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Cinnamon Desktop Environment in Mint 20
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XFCE Desktop Environment in Manjaro 20.1.2

There are several other Desktop Enviromnents that try to more closely mimic the Windows Desktop Environment such as the DeepIn Desktop Environment in DeepIn 20 which closely resembles Windows Aero found in Windows Vista/7

DeepIn Desktop Environment in DeepIn 20 (Start Menu – "Efficient Mode")
DeepIn Desktop Environment in DeepIn 20 (Start Screen – "Efficient Mode")
DeepIn Desktop Environment in DeepIn 20 (All Applications – "Efficient Mode")
DeepIn Desktop Environment in DeepIn 20 (Dock – "Fashion Mode")

The Zorin user-interface in particular is designed to closely mimic the basics of Windows 10 designed for Linux beginners transitioning from Windows 10 to Linux. On a deeper level, Windows Power Users may however find the user interface a bit frustrating as right click context menus don't exist and the Settings menu doesn't closely resemble that within Windows 10.

Zorin Desktop Environment in Zorin 15.1.3

Touchscreen 2 in 1 Devices

Most of the Linux Desktop Environments are about 5-10 years behind Windows and Mac OS when it comes to Touchscreen support. The main exception to this is the GNOME3 Desktop Environment. GNOME 3.36 present in Ubuntu 20.04.1 works very well with 2 in 1 Touchscreen Devices. The Touchscreen interface works very well and the 2 in 1 system converts seamlessly between Laptop, Tablet and Tent Mode as expected. There is also a decent Touchscreen Keyboard.

GNOME3 Desktop Environment in Ubuntu 20.04 (XPS 13 9365 – Laptop Mode)
GNOME3 Desktop Environment in Ubuntu 20.04 (XPS 13 9365 – Tablet Mode)
GNOME3 Desktop Environment in Ubuntu 20.04 (XPS 13 9365 – Tent Mode)

All of the preinstalled Applications (except FireFox) work seamlessly with the Touchscreen. FireFox for some reason uses a non-touch user input method which highlights text instead of scrolling (this can be fixed by use of a single line in the Terminal).

FireFox Scrolling Issue in Ubuntu 20.04 (XPS 13 9365 – Tent Mode)

Unfortunately the updated GNOME3.38 which is used in the Feature Based Ubuntu 20.10 released introduces a bug which breaks 2 in 1 auto-rotation functionality.

Fedora 33 has an improved Touchscreen keyboard with Emoji Panel (although this does not have symbol input like Windows 10). Fedora 33 also uses a default Touchscreen input method for FireFox.

GNOME3 Desktop Environment in Fedora 33 (XPS 13 9365 – Tent Mode with Touchscreen Keyboard)
GNOME3 Desktop Environment in Fedora 33 (XPS 13 9365 – Tent Mode with Touchscreen Keyboard Emoji)

Other Desktop Environments normally have an inferior Touchscreen Keyboard and do not auto-rotate properly ruining the Touchscreen User Experience.

The Cinnamon Desktop on Linux Mint for example has a slightly inferior Touchscreen keyboard to the one in GNOME3 and is designed to be at the Top of the screen.

Cinnamon Desktop in Mint 20 Touchscreen Keyboard (XPS 13 9365 – Tent Mode with Touchscreen Keyboard Emoji)

Also if the Touchscreen Keyboard is positioned at the bottom of the screen and set to open anytime something expects an input, it makes the Start Menu unusable.

Cinnamon Desktop in Mint 20 Touchscreen Keyboard set to Bottom (XPS 13 9365 – Tent Mode with Touchscreen Keyboard Emoji)

The autorotation of the screen setting is Disabled by default in Linux Mint. When it is Enabled, the screen Auto-rotates but the Touch Input does not rotate with the screen. The Start Menu opens on the bottom left if I touch the bottom right corner (which is bottom left when the 2 in 1 XPS 13 9365 is in laptop mode).

Cinnamon Desktop in Mint 20 Autorotation Enabled (XPS 13 9365 – Tent Mode with Touchscreen Keyboard Emoji)

Linux Mint also inherits the FireFox scrolling issue from Ubuntu which can be fixed using a command line.

The Cinnamon Desktop Environment has obviously been developed primarily for keyboard and mouse users. It is almost usable on a 2 in 1 Touchscreen Device however the lack of auto-rotation functionality and the small hassle with the onscreen keyboard makes this Desktop Environment greatly inferior to GNOME3 for touch.

The DeepIn On onscreen keyboard is similar in functionality to the On screen keyboard found in Windows Vista/7 and on high resolution screens shows up so tiny that it become unusable. This On screen Keyboard is greatly disappointing for what looks otherwise like a fairly polished Desktop Environment. The Onscreen Keyboard also does not automatically open when pressed into a text input field but has to be manually opened and placed on the screen limiting touch productivity.

DeepIn 20 Onscreen Keyboard (Latitude 13 7350 Tablet Docked)

The next issue, as you might have guessed is that DeepIn 20 does not auto-rotate the devices.

DeepIn 20 No Autorotation (Latitude 13 7350 Tablet)

Moreover manual rotation requires one to press [Ctrl] + [ s ] to save the rotation which is not useful for a tablet without a keyboard. The onscreen keyboard is obscured when the rotation Window displays.

DeepIn 20 Manual Rotation (Latitude 13 7350 Tablet)

Manual rotation rotates the screen and not the Touch Input (giving the same issue as Linux Mint).

DeepIn Manual Rotation, Rotates Screen and Not the Touch Input (Latitude 13 7350 Tablet)

FireFox on DeepIn 20 has the same default issue as FireFox on Ubuntu or Mint where the default FireFox input is for non-touch and highlights text opposed to scrolling. This is likely inherited from Debian. This can once again be fixed using a command line.

DeepIn FireFox Touch Highlights Text Instead of Scrolling (Latitude 13 7350 Tablet)

The DeepIn Desktop Environment looks polished enough to compete with Ubuntu, ChromeOS and Windows however sadly it appears that the main focus has just been in looks and core functionality has been skipped over for the touchscreen user interface.

Most other Desktop Environments had similar problems:

  • Kubuntu, XUbuntu, did not have an onscreen keyboard. Ubuntu Budgie had a similar poor performance once similar to that of DeepIn. Ubuntu Mate also had an onscreen keyboard which is slightly better to that one in DeepIn but still inferior to that in GNOME3.
  • Kubuntu, Xubunutu, Mate didn't autorotate. Ubuntu Budgie autorotated fine.
  • The default display resolution on a high resolution screen is poor. 100 % zoom is used opposed to 200 % or 300 % making the text very tiny to read.

Package Managers

Most people are used to using Windows and Android Devices. In Windows it has long been the convention to download software packages (.exes) from the third-party software vendor and then double click it to begin the install. The software package will normally install all required dependencies and then the main software application. On an Android Device the convention has been to use a Store where one can search and download the software and only software approved by Google is displayed. There are limited software dependencies on Android devices and most third-party Apps are limited. Microsoft have tried numerous times to switch the default software installation method from the software packages to the Microsoft Store however every time they tried it was a flop (Windows 8.1 RT and Windows 10 S) mainly because people expected far more versatility on a Windows OS.

In Linux it is common to use Downloaded Software Packages, Install Software from a Store and to install software via the Command Line.

Downloaded Software Packages

Ubuntu (Ubuntu based distributions such as POP OS, Mint, Elementary and Zorin) and DeepIn are Debian based distributions. These use Debian Packages (.DEB) to install Software which can downloaded from the software vendor and double clicked to be installed. Fedora uses RedHat Package Manager (.RPM) files.

Google Chrome for example uses a .DEB Package on Ubuntu or a .RPM Package on Fedora.

It will be opened by the Software Install:

The Software Install then allows you to install the Package:

The package installation needs to be authenticated (by inputting in your password):

Software Store

The Ubuntu Store also allows for a Software Search, Download and Install analogous to the Play Store on Android. You will need to input your password to Authenticate the Software Install.

Ubuntu Store in Ubuntu 20.04

DeepIn 20 has a similar Software Store, initially it had issues because its software servers were Chinese and the Software Descriptions and Reviews shows up in Chinese even though it was set to English Language. Much of this has been resolved in the 1003 Update however you will still get the odd Chinese character show up here and there when it is printed as part of an image.

DeepIn Store (DeepIn 20 1003)

Command Line Based Install

Software can also be installed in Debian based distributions using the Advanced Package Tool abbreviated APT. This is normally used in conjunction with the Super User DO abbreviated SUDO command (use of this command will then require you to input your password to authenticate the software install). The command makes sure the links to the software repositories is current:

sudo apt-get update

The command:

sudo apt-get install "software"

Will install "software". Replace "software" by the name of the software package without quotations.

To remove the "software" instead use:

sudo apt-get remove "software"

Fedora formerly used the command Yellowdog Update Manager (YUM) which has been superseded by the DanDeFied (DNF) YUM. To install software use:

sudo dnf install "software"

To remove "software" use:

sudo dnf remove "software"

When installing software by command line, one of the main problems in Linux has been the fact that some Open-Source software requires some dependencies to be installed in advance (which may or may not be Open-Source). Without the dependencies, the software will either not install or install and not run properly.

Snap Package Install Snapd

Until recently only the most basic of software could be installed via the Software Store (similar to Google Play Store) with limited software dependencies. The Canonical Team has recognised the issue of of Software dependencies and recently introduced the Snapd packages which will download and install the required dependencies and then the software. An example is the Open-Source Chromium Browser.

The Linux Mint team however see Snapd packages as a backdoor to installing potential unwanted programs (think of XP and all the programs bundled with toolbars) and as a result have blocked this innovation by default.

Fedora also take this kind of puritan approach to software installation.

Third-Party Drivers and Multi-Media Codecs

Ubuntu (and Mint) give the options to install Closed-Source Multi-Media Codecs and Closed-Sourced NVIDIA drivers during installation.

DeepIn will install Closed-Source Multi-Media Codecs by default during installation and give the option to install the Closed-Source NVIDIA drivers during installation.

Fedora gives no option to install them during installation. There is a RPM Repository which gives a command line based installation method for these third party drivers.

Secure Boot

2012-2019

Secure Boot is a feature that Intel and Microsoft developed together in 2012. It essentially stops unauthorised/unsigned code from booting during a UEFI Boot. The primary objective is to prevent preboot malware from booting before the Operating System and compromising all the security features of the OS which was common that plagued Windows XP and Windows 7 users.

When Secure Boot was initially rolled out it blocked all Linux distributions from Booting. It was thus met with a lot of resistance from the Linux Community. Ubuntu, Fedora, Mint and DeepIn got their Grand Unified Bootloader 2 signed by Microsoft and modern distributions can boot in hardware with 2012-2019 UEFI BIOS Updates. Other Distributions need Secure Boot Disabled in order to boot.

Fedora does not allow installation of third-party Closed-Source software by default. If the PRM Repositiories are to be manually installed, Secure Boot should be Disabled.

For Ubuntu, Mint and DeepIn Linux, a Machine Owner Key (MOK) needs to be created during the Linux Installation.

This MOK needs to be supplied to the UEFI BIOS during the first time Boot in order to Boot with the Multi-Media Codecs and NVIDIA drivers.

2020

Unfortunately in 2020 there was a Security exploit with the GRUB2 Bootloader. OEMs released UEFI BIOS Updates to patch this Security Issue but in doing so Secure Boot blocks most Linux Distributions. The following error message will display "Secure Boot with Verification Failed: (0x1A) Security Violation."

The Ubuntu 20.04.1 and 20.10 ISOs have an updated GRUB2 to Pass Secure Boot.

Ubuntu Flavour Distributions maintained by Canonical also have their GRUB2 Bootloaders updated:

  • Kubuntu (Uses the KDE Desktop Environment)
  • Lubuntu (Uses the LXQt Desktop Environment)
  • Ubuntu Budgie (Uses the Budgie Desktop Environment)
  • Ubuntu Mate (Uses the Mate Desktop Environment a continuation of GNOME2)
  • Xubuntu (Uses the Xfce Desktop Environment)

Mint 20.1 Beta based upon Ubuntu 20.04.1 is also updated.

No other Distributions have been updated yet including surprisingly Fedora 33.

Installation Instructions

Ubuntu

Mint

Fedora

DeepIn

Manjaro

Zorin OS

Awaiting version 16.

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