Installing and Running Ubuntu on a 2015-ish MacBook Air

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So a few months ago kiddo one dropped an apparently fairly large cup of coffee onto her one and only trusted computer. With a few months (then) to graduation (which by now happened), and with the apparent “genuis bar” verdict of “it’s a goner” a new one was ordered. As it turns out this supposedly dead one coped well enough with the coffee so that after a few weeks of drying it booted again. But give the newer one, its apparent age and whatnot, it was deemed surplus. So I poked around a little on the interwebs and conclude that yes, this could work.

Fast forward a few months and I finally got hold of it, and had some time to play with it. First, a bootable usbstick was prepared, and the machine’s content was really (really, and check again: really) no longer needed, I got hold of it for good.

tl;dr It works just fine. It is a little heavier than I thought (and isn’t “air” supposed to be weightless?) The ergonomics seem quite nice. The keyboard is decent. Screen-resolution on this pre-retina simple Air is so-so at 1440 pixels. But battery live seems ok and e.g. the camera is way better than what I have in my trusted Lenovo X1 or at my desktop. So just as a zoom client it may make a lot of sense; otherwise just walking around with it as a quick portable machine seems perfect (especially as my Lenovo X1 still (ahem) suffers from one broken key I really need to fix…).

Below are some lightly edited notes from the installation. Initial steps were quick: maybe an hour or less? Customizing a machine takes longer than I remembered, this took a few minutes here and there quite a few times, but always incremental.

Initial Steps

  • Download of Ubuntu 20.04 LTS image: took a few moments, even on broadband, feels slower than normal (fast!) Ubuntu package updates, maybe lesser CDN or bad luck

  • Startup Disk Creator using a so-far unused 8gb usb drive

  • Plug into USB, recycle power, press “Option” on macOS keyboard: voila

  • After a quick hunch… no to ‘live/test only’ and yes to install, whole disk

  • install easy, very few questions, somehow skips wifi

  • so activate wifi manually — and everythings pretty much works


  • First deal with ‘fn’ and ‘ctrl’ key swap. Install git and followed this github repo which worked just fine. Yay. First (manual) Linux kernel module build needed need in … half a decade? Longer?

  • Fire up firefox, go to ‘download chrome’, install chrome. Sign in. Turn on syncing. Sign into Pushbullet and Momentum.

  • syncthing which is excellent. Initially via apt, later from their PPA. Spend some time remembering how to set up the mutual handshakes between devices. Now syncing desktop/server, lenovo x1 laptop, android phone and this new laptop

  • keepassx via apt and set up using Sync/ folder. Now all (encrypted) passwords synced.

  • Discovered synergy now longer really free, so after a quick search found and installed barrier (via apt) to have one keyboard/mouse from desktop reach laptop.

  • Added emacs via apt, so far ‘empty’, so config files yet

  • Added ssh via apt, need to propagate keys to github and gitlab

  • Added R via add-apt-repository --yes "ppa:marutter/rrutter4.0" and add-apt-repository --yes "". Added littler and then RStudio

  • Added wajig (apt frontend) and byobu, both via apt

  • Created ssh key, shipped it to server and github + gitlab

  • Cloned (not-public) ‘dotfiles’ repo and linked some dotfiles in

  • Cloned git repo for nord-theme for gnome terminal and installed it; also added it to RStudio via this repo

  • Emacs installed, activated dotfiles, then incrementally install a few elpa-* packages and a few M-x package-install including nord-theme, of course

  • Installed JetBrains Mono font from my own local package; activated for Gnome Terminal and Emacs

  • Install gnome-tweak-tool via apt, adjusted a few settings

  • Ran gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.wm.preferences focus-mode 'sloppy'

  • Set up camera following this useful GH repo

  • At some point also added slack and zoom, because, well, it is 2020


    • docker
    • bother with email setup?,
    • maybe atom/code/…?

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