Fundatillus

Dec 06, 2018

KDE Neon on 2017 MacBook Air

I'm a huge fan of Linux-based operating systems, but I've always been smitten with the svelte union of hardware and software that Apple creates. While I haven't been able to bring myself to part with my iOS gadgets (consumption devices), I recently wiped macOS from my MacBook Air (creation device) and installed KDE Neon User Edition.

Spoiler alert: It's awesome!

Installation

There are plenty of tutorials out there on how to install Linux, especially Ubuntu, on your machine, including most Macs, so I'll spare you. The current build as of this writing is based on Ubuntu 18.04 LTS. If you're having trouble finding one for the 2017 MacBook Air, search for "MacBook Air 7,2" or any tutorials for the 2015 version (which is also model 7,2).

The only real pain of installation is wireless connectivity, which is to be expected since many laptops have wireless issues on Linux-based operating systems. Fortunately, it is easily remedied in this case.

To activate wireless in the live environment, open a terminal and type:

sudo apt install bcmwl-kernel-source

sudo modprobe -r wl

sudo modprobe wl

This installs kernel modules to support the Broadcom BCM4360 (or similar) wireless chipset. The second and third commands reload the kernel modules (may or may not be required, but doesn't hurt). You will then be able to select a wireless network from the network icon and proceed with a normal Ubuntu-like installation, including the download of updates and installation of 3rd party software, drivers, etc.

Once the installation is complete and you boot into your fresh KDE Neon environment, you won't have wireless again. You need to execute the same commands as above and you have a few options:

  1. Insert installation media and configure apt to recognize it; or
  2. Use a USB or Thunderbolt Ethernet adapter to gain wired connectivity; or
  3. Tether your phone via USB.

Whichever option you choose, follow up by executing the same commands you did in the live environment and you will have wireless connectivity.

Review

KDE is my preferred desktop environment on Linux, so please forgive my bias. After installation, you're greeted with an awesome KDE experience OOTB. Everything works, including the Fn keys, the tilde key... everything! Battery life isn't as good as provided by macOS, but it's decent and workable. Installing and calibrating powertop provided near-macOS battery life. While I didn't run it to zero, I had 60% left after 4 hours of battery use.

There's not much to report. It works great! If I have any major issues to report, I'll update this post.

Why?

Why did I do this? Because I could... but mostly because I picked up a brand new 2017 MacBook Air on sale at BestBuy for US$750. It has a dual-core i5, 8GB RAM, and 128GB SSD. A similarly configured KDE Slimbook II was around US$1100 when I was shopping. I would have liked the freedom to expand that the Slimbook offered, but I wasn't willing to pay for it.

Feedback

Your feedback and tips are always welcome and encouraged! Please share in the comments, on Twitter, or shoot me an email.

--Josh

Updates

20181207

  • Built-in webcam does not work.
  • The microphone of headphones with one built-in (i.e. the ones that come with your phone) is not detected. Headphones work fine.

20181209

  • HDMI audio out does not work.