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New Laptop & Linux Installation

April 20, 2008

I bought a new laptop, which arrived last Wednesday.  It’s a Dell Vostro 1400; the specs are: Intel Core II duo 1.4ghz, 2gb ram, 120gb hd, and a 9-cell long-life battery.  This machine was quite a deal, or so I thought.  The next day, Dell sent me an email saying something like “You’ve expressed interest in our Vostro line of computers.  We’re running a sale for [$100 less than I paid for the same computer].”  Grrr…  From what I read online, Dell wouldn’t have been receptive to giving me a rebate, so I decided it wasn’t worth the effort.

Oh well.  The thing has a nice screen, very long battery life, and seems to work just fine.  I installed WinEDT to edit LaTeX files (a mathematical typesetting markup language), and it had a number of neat features lacking in TeXShop (the Mac equivalent).  It sucked in a variety of other ways, notably that the computer slowed down if I didn’t reboot periodically.  This sort of poor performance is new to me—I’ve been exclusively using OS X since July of 2002.  I wanted to install Linux, though Webs05 advised that I wait until the new version of Ubuntu comes out.  Never one to follow advice, I decided to try the release candidate for Hardy Heron. 

The install went fine, but WiFi didn’t work.  Several hours later, I decided that since all the advice I saw online related to Gutsy Gibbon, I should try installing that.  After much more Google searching, I discovered the solution, something which I should have found much sooner.  (I didn’t think to check in Windows what chipset is actually in my computer; the Dell documentation was just plain wrong on that point.)  Admittedly, I was stupid in various ways, but I doubt that the “average user” would have been able to fix this.  On the other hand, the average user probably couldn’t fix a similar problem under Windows, even if the solution would have been easier to find.  There was also a problem with the sound, whose solution I found quickly, but it involved editing a config file by hand.

First impressions of Ubuntu:  much faster than Windows XP on identical hardware.  Install (modulo the driver problem) was much faster and simpler than installing Windows (at least as I remember it).  Installing programs is actually quite a bit easier than installing them on either a Mac or Windows.  Ubuntu has a neat utility to automatically find supported programs, and download/install them at the click of a button. 

I installed TeX/LaTeX, and two integrated LaTeX editors: Kile and TeXMaker.  Both were substantially better than anything I’d seen on either Windows or Mac, Kile being the better of the two.  It includes a number of features which made me slap my forehead and go “Why doesn’t everyone else do that?”, including templates for common document types, and pulldown menus to find uncommonly-used symbols.  Given that LaTeX is my most commonly used non-web application, I think Linux and I will get along just fine.

The video player that comes with Ubuntu is very good, and it actually successfully found codecs online automagically for the video file I wanted to play.  Realplayer and Quicktime almost never succeed at that (I still haven’t gotten the AC3 codec working on my Mac).

I had previously used RedHat Linux in the late nineties, and things have gotten a lot better since then.  I only had to edit one config file, it found networks automatically, drivers actually existed for all the hardware I wanted to use, I didn’t have to recompile the kernel, there was no obnoxious “screen calibration” thing, etc.  After it was installed, I think it’s probably about as easy to use at Windows XP.

The only cons I’ve seen so far are the difficulties in setting up drivers, and that the computer takes a long time to hibernate.  Also, that if anyone finds out that I use Linux, then I’ll be branded as some sort of uberl33t jerk that everyone loves to hate.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. April 20, 2008 at 21:32 | #1

    The hibernation issue should be fixed in the next release. Linux has never been as good as Windows with simple to use power management, and Windows aint that great either. But I think that is one of the fixes coming up.

    Did you figure out the hard drive partition thing? I ask because if you are going to upgrade to the newest release when it comes out in like 5 days, if you separated /home and root it should be really easy to upgrade without losing any personal files or settings.

  2. April 22, 2008 at 18:18 | #2

    After you’ve had a bit more experience with it, would really like to hear your full take on the Vostro 1400. Been looking at it for recommending to customers.

    Have tried Ubuntu on a couple of older Dell notebooks and a ThinkPad, all with limited resources that choked the living crap out of XP Pro. Installed and ran great. But I had same experience with difficulty of loading drivers. My spiritual bent does not allow me to believe in hibernation, so haven’t fooled with that, but it seems to take 5 minutes to shutdown. Not sure why. And you’re correct that it has come a long way, baby, since Red Hat of just few years back…

  3. April 22, 2008 at 23:50 | #3

    I guess its not too hard to install Linux on laptop.

  4. April 28, 2008 at 15:12 | #4

    I bought an Acer that had Vista installed on it, and am now working from an Ubuntu dual-boot.

    As long as I don’t ask Linux to do anything but perform bare functions (turn on, stay on, use the internet, have a word processor and IM client) with utter perfection, all is bliss. Trying to get it to do anything specific though? That is a task clearly not intended for the computer-plebs like me. Alas.

    And yet! Here I remain, still logging into Ubuntu every day. I guess it can’t bother me all THAT much.

  5. April 28, 2008 at 15:34 | #5

    What specifics things are you trying to do? Maybe I could help…

  6. April 29, 2008 at 07:17 | #6

    I may have to close comments on this post because some automated spambot has found it and Akismet isn’t stopping the posts.  A lot of other blogs have the same problem so my guess is that it’s part of some kind of spammer research project to defeat spam defenses.

    I’ve already deleted a ton of those weird, random-letter automated spam comments from it.  So Cobalt, Webs, if you come back to this post to palaver on Ubuntu, and find comments closed, please move forward to another post on a similar topic. Thanks.

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