Updated: January 15, 2021
Several days ago, I bought myself a Lenovo IdeaPad 3 laptop as a new test machine, and promptly configured its default Windows 10 operating system, as well as installed two fresh Linux distributions, creating a cushty triple-boot setup. In my original review, I told you how the process, especially the Windows piece, went quite smoothly and quickly. Well, that got somewhat undone just a week into the adventure.
About a dozen reboots later, I suddenly saw a new icon pop up in my system tray in Windows 10. Something called Meet Now. Styled in the "modern hipster" cartoon design, this thing annoyed me instantly, because there's nothing I hate more than random low-IQ attempts by software vendors to entice me to use things I have zero need or desire for. And then, a whole bunch of other things happened.
Artificial Intelligence, you keep using that word ...
There are many problems with how vendors - desktop and mobile - try to do things. I think the big issue is the lack of any real intelligence in how these new features are peddled. For example, on my system, there were many clues that I might not be even remotely interested in this. For instance: I was using a local account, I've disabled all and any app feature in the Settings (background app, access to various resources, etc), I had removed the Skype UWP (if anything, I'll use the desktop one), and then some.
So why would you then offer someone like me this thing? Isn't it obvious that I'm not using any "modern" features? A simple check would have sufficed: IF LOCAL && NOT-USING-UWP THEN NOT OFFER MEET NOW. Very easy. Alas, this ham-fisted approach only breeds antagonism. Microsoft has some brilliant products and ideas, and then you get these random bursts of salesy nonsense every now and then. This thing is quite easy to get rid of. You can right-click and hide, or go for a registry tweak, just to be on the safe(r) side.
Then, I noticed that Lenovo.Modern.ImController.exe processes were back! I had removed the service and uninstalled the Lenovo Vantage and Lenovo Utility apps, and yet, I still had these things running, against my explicit action.
Autoruns to the rescue!
I decided to run the superb Sysinternals Autoruns tool, to carefully and thoroughly inspect everything that runs on my system, and then disable and delete anything I don't want or need. Not surprisingly, I've discovered a whole bunch of things.
Notice the Services tab. The ImControllerService and mcafeeintegration service are both there. And they are also running. This even though I had explicitly removed these two apps/stubs when I configured the machine. Fifteen years ago, what would you call a program that refused to uninstall? Hm? Ah. Well, today, this is part of the "modern" desktop experience.
Notice the Drivers tab. You get a McAfee OS Switch Detection Driver. Once again, why is it here, if I had removed the app? How does this help anyone? Do you think I'll ever be inclined to buy this software? In fact, I am most likely never going to buy another Lenovo machine after this, the legendary Thinkpad line notwithstanding.
Scheduled tasks. Tons of tasks related to this ImController - PLUS the installer. Then, dead tasks for Mirkat and OneDrive, which I had removed. Why not remove the scheduled tasks, too? How bad can this whole UWP thing be, if you can't do a simple software removal in a clean way.
You also get the SMB1 nonsense, and Edge updates. Speaking of Edge - and Internet Explorer, you also get two Browser Helper Objects (BHO), basically DLLs that will make Internet Explorer forward queries to specific websites or pages to Edge. This isn't bad per se, but the whole thing is just wrong. There are more elegant, less antagonistic ways to make people actually switch, or if they cannot or do not want, offer smart workarounds that can help their security. Oh well.
The cleaning frenzy
I should probably be thankful. If not for the Meet Now thing, I would probably have left things in a more relaxed state. As a result, I decided to untick tons of things via Autoruns, and then do some extra purging. First, you can remove various optional Windows components, like Internet Explorer. But you need a reboot after that.
Defender anti-virus turned itself on ...
Another thing I noticed - Windows Defender real-time protection had been reactivated. I don't know what did it, and I've not encountered this on any other Windows instance. No problem. I removed still more things, and then run ExecTI and disabled several extra services. I don't ask for much, just the basic respect of my computing wishes and skills.
Windows Administrator account & standard account
As part of healthy security, I decided to convert my account to a standard one, but that also means enabling the built-in Administrator account, so I'd have something to elevate privileges to if and when needed. This opened a whole new Pandora's Box of its own. Because when I logged into the Administrator account the first time, I had to redo 80% of (my) privacy-focused setup from scratch.
I had to tell Windows not to use my typing and whatnot, not to do personalized ads, disable location, uninstall the same set of apps that I've already uninstalled before, and then some. It comes down to things like promotional messages in the Settings. Just let that sink in. I'm logged into the Administrator account, which I'll probably only ever need to use for some really deep-down admin stuff. And yet, I have these stupid messages shown to me. I guess that's why Control Panel was not good enough.
I did launch Edge, just to do some tweaking. I spent a lot of effort cleansing that New Tab page. And another example right there, temperature being shown in Fahrenheit. Why? I have set my region to a country that uses the Metric system, like 99.92% of the world. Besides, why even show the temperature right there. How does this help my browsing experience in any way? How does this make me want to use Edge?
Inside the Edge settings page, I discovered tons of things. First, the bad ergonomics - pale gray font on pale gray background. Second, so many options and permissions. Apparently, sites can ask for access to USB devices and serial ports, clipboard and then some. All that is missing is the kernel running inside the browser, and we're done. From what I see, there is no option to block media autoplay automatically for all content, which is a big no-no in my book. Autoplay is the worst thing in history.
Eventually, I sorted the Administrator account. Two rather unnecessary hours.
AMD Radeon software
I tried the AMD utility provided with the system. It's one of the few modern apps I have not removed. What it does is, it lets you tweak your gaming experience primarily. It comes with some extras, like the Virtual Super Resolution and display color calibration. I've not had a chance to test the former, but the latter, while nice in theory, didn't really work for me in practice. I was able to change the color temperature, hue, saturation and such, but none of the tweaks helped. The defaults are the best - if still not ideal given the screen's overall quality. But in the end, this ain't a bad tool.
Other Windows things ...
I noticed the Hotkeys function had been re-enabled, so I had to go into BIOS and disable it again. Not all software plays well with the 150% scaling. Some programs look decidedly fuzzy. I've commented on how the Plasma desktop does it, and I must say, it does a better job than what you get here. Well, that's the first chapter of this adventurous saga!
The Linux affair
Here, the things were quieter and far, far more predictable. I've not encountered any super-major issues, except one. When playing videos in VLC, it would not quit once done. There would be a system tray icon left, and a process in the process table. The player refused to go away, even though it remained responsive.
I soon learned that this is some sort of a bug - and that you can work around it by disabling the hardware acceleration in VLC. But then, this ruins the battery life if not outright playback performance. Not a good thing, and not something that should have happened. But then, I told you, I don't think I've encountered many distros and/or instances where Linux plays 100% well with hardware, whatever it is.
And then, I had to disable Secure Boot. Because I tried to boot half a dozen other random distros on the system, and they couldn't. As it turns out, the list of Linux distros that actually support Secure Boot is tiny. So if I want to actually be able to do any meaningful amount of testing on this laptop, I have to disable this functionality. This is a sad reality. On the plus side, the few major players you know do have the support, so you are not likely to be Linux-less on any which platform that uses Secure Boot - unless it has no switch to turn it off. Then again, in all my testing endeavors, desktops and laptops included, I've not yet encountered a case where you can't turn Secure Boot off.
The keyboard remains sub-optimal - primarily the Enter and arrow keys thing. But then, soon, you will have a little tutorial that shows how to remap individual keyboard keys to custom values, which can help with any erratic backslash vs Enter presses. Stay tuned. As for the arrow keys, there's no real remedy.
All that said, the experience in Kubuntu was rather pleasant. So far so good.
Here we are. My initial satisfaction with the laptop's default offering has gone down some. I am quite disappointed with how Microsoft chooses to promote Windows 10. Yes, it rules the desktop market, so it can do pretty much what it pleases, but this is a long game. And in the long game, they are not winning themselves any loyalty. If Linux ever achieves functionality parity, off I go. The same goes for Lenovo. I don't mind a vendor offering its tools and solutions. That's fine. But if I choose to have those tools removed, then there are no two ways about it. I'm most likely not going to buy any Lenovo machine again, because I don't appreciate being treated like a potato.
In this regard, Linux does a much friendlier job - to be let down by random erraticism. I'm talking about the sound config I had to handle, plus the VLC quirk. And let's not forget Secure Boot - even though it does not affect my two installed distros at the moment. Hardware wise, the keyboard quirks are quite annoying, and the screen can do only so much. Other than that, the laptop is robust and neat, fast, and the CPU fans don't rev too much. The battery life is pretty good, but I need more data to verify if the original numbers hold true.
Well, there you go. This is my satisfaction report a week into the laptop's usage. I am certain there will be more lovely surprises, twists and turns along the way, but then, part of the experience is figuring out issues early. This way, if and when I deploy software in my production setup, I will have all the right workarounds in place, and my seven-digit IQ will not be affected. Stay tuned for more good stuff. See ya.