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Installing and Configuring Ubuntu on a Laptop
Pages: 1, 2, 3, 4

Touchpad

The base features of the touchpad worked without any effort. The only nonworking feature I would like to conquer is the vertical scroll area. I found a reference on a Ubuntu forum that indicates the touchpad drivers may be broken. I haven't felt like compiling the drivers and getting it working yet, though.



DVD+/-R

So far, I have burned only a couple of CDs and data DVDs. Both work very well from Nautilus (Gnome's filesystem explorer). I even noticed when I right-click on an .iso file within Nautilus, it displays a "Write to disc" option. I will have to try that out one day.

FireWire

FireWire did not work initially, giving me a "Could not open device raw1394" error. After a bit of Googling, the answer was so obvious that I should have at least guessed the problem. The permissions on the file /dev/raw1394 were 600 with an ownership of root:video. My user was in the video group, but /dev/raw1394 was not group-writable. I did a chmod 666 /dev/1394 (overkill, I know) and it started working. Because that worked, I put the same command in /etc/init.d/bootmisc.sh.

Suspend

I read the web site of someone who has suspend to RAM working on this exact laptop, but it isn't working for me. His modified ACPI scripts seem to suspend my laptop, but when I try to restore, I just get a black screen staring at me and have to reboot. When I get a little more time and a little more motivation, I'll hack his scripts and see if I can get them working for my system.

I have tried suspend to disk only once. The Ubuntu suspend scripts shut the machine down and resumed to my desktop. Unfortunately, networking was totally hosed, and nothing I could do would bring it back to life. I guess that is another thing to add to my to-do list.

Sound

I've had several situations where an application would fail to put out sound, but would work once I had killed the esd process. I have disabled sound at startup from the Gnome control center. Since doing that, I have had no problems with sound under Hoary.

Upgrading to Breezy

When Breezy (final) came out, I decided to upgrade. I'm typically a delete-and-reinstall-everything type of person, but this time I decided to live dangerously and do a system upgrade. I changed all references of hoary to breezy in my /etc/apt/sources.list, did apt-get update followed by apt-get dist-upgrade, and then just let it run. There were a couple of packages I had to uninstall manually because they caused my dist-upgrade to hang--one of which, if I remember correctly, was a wxPython package. Other than that, the upgrade process went very smoothly.

Having to uninstall one or two packages manually was a much cleaner upgrade path than I was hoping for. Still, I was nervous about booting into my "new" system. My nervousness quickly passed when I logged in to the beautiful Gnome 2.12 desktop. I was perhaps most excited about the new Removable Drives and Media Preferences settings that are new in Gnome 2.12. Rumors even suggested that my Canon Digital Rebel XT would have support. (By the way, it does, but it doesn't work exactly right.) Overall, the desktop experience is still excellent; even an improvement over the previous and excellent Gnome version.

Video was still at a stunning 1,920 by 1,200. AVIs played, and the quality was even better than it was previously. Somewhere between my initial installation of Hoary and this upgrade to Breezy, I had reverted to the Ubuntu repository version of the fglrx video drivers, so I upgraded with this upgrade attempt.

Sound didn't work exactly right. I was getting sound for some applications and not for others. Then, as I mentioned earlier, I remembered that I had shut off sound support at Gnome startup. I decided to change that and let Gnome manage my sound once again. After I did that, I haven't had a problem with sound--well, no worse a problem than is par for Linux sound. Sound is definitely an area where Linux needs some improvement. One problem I regularly encounter with sound is that I have to kill ESD if I want to use Audacity.

The wireless network works, but it restarts if I use BitTorrent or FTP large files from or to my laptop. One upside is that Intel has some folks working on the driver, an open source project for the driver, and a Bugzilla database; they appear to be making steady improvements in the driver. The other upside is that I no longer see the open bug description of the symptoms that I am having, so they may have fixed it.

Overall, I am extremely pleased with the upgrade. My system has no hint of the brokenness that I have previously associated with OS upgrades. Perhaps the reason that I typically choose to reinstall rather than upgrade is my experience with broken systems after upgrading. As an aside, Ubuntu is an excellently usable Linux distribution. I use it every day as my primary desktop at work and rarely find myself wishing for more.

Final Analysis

Overall, this is a great laptop. The price was extremely reasonable; it had the features I was looking for; and most features worked with little or no effort. Dell, however, has some room for improving its relations with the non-Windows community.

Jeremy Jones is a software engineer who works for Predictix. His weapon of choice is Python.


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