Looks like I have really bad luck with harddrives. Never had a problem in a total of >10 years computing, and now I need to replace twice in a little over a year. Gladly I do backup, and I was lucky that the noise from the drives made very clear indications that it’s going to die. So, this seemed like a good time to give Ubuntu a run on the notebook. If you’re not familiar with Acer, the Notebook is a Centrino 1.73Ghz with 512 MB RAM, a 15.4” Display (1280×800 resolution), Intels i915/GMA900 graphics chip, and the Intel Wireless 2200BG chip. I already had Ubuntu experience from my older desktop machine which went Hoary->Breezy->Dapper.
I didn’t even meant to write about it when I started out first, but things worked so well and so quick, that I just had to. Plus there were some things that still had to be done manually and that somone else might find useful to know.
Installation and first Boot
I have been upgrading an older desktop machine from hoary to breezy to dapper, so I didn’t get a chance to actually use the LiveCD or installer until now: And it’s very nice! Not only is the install quicker than it used to be, I can also do useful stuff during the installation, like checking the net. Both of which is a big advantage compared to WinXP.
Booting time has improved considerably. It took less ~30 seconds until the login prompt, and another ~15-20 seconds until the Desktop was finished loading completely and already idling. That’s about as quick as a naked XP install; of course XP slows down considerably after installing all the necessary tools and drivers – all of which are already included in Dapper.
Display and CPU
I was greeted with a stretched 1024×786 resolution. Ubuntu Wiki to the rescue – turned out to be very easy. Install 915resolution, enter a few quick commands (explained in /usr/share/doc/915resolution/README.Debian) and I was running with the native 1280×800 resolution.
On to the CPU – checking the Panel showed that I could add a a CPU monitor that showed me how the CPU was automatically switching according to the load. The Help showed that it was basically possible to change CPU-frequencies manually, but that it was disabled (due to security concerns as it turns out). Ubuntu-Blog on wordpress has the details. Again the solution turned out to be right in front of me in /usr/share/doc/gnome-applets-data/README.Debian (run
dpkg-reconfigure gnome-applets and confirm).
Wireless and Internet Stuff
Checking the Network preferences showed that my Wireless chip was already recognized and running. But the default network dialog only asked for WEP settings. Of course, my router had been configured to use WPA a long time ago. I had already heard that WPA was easier to get going than with Hoary or Breezy, and indeed I found the answer in an introductory article at heise, it’s also in the Ubuntu Wiki. Simply installing
networkmanager solved the WPA issue. It is a little panel-applet that shows the current connection and allows to easily switch between different wired and wireless networks.
Firefox came pre-installed. It’s noticably faster than on my windows installation, but that is probably due to the many extensions (12) that I have running. I also decided to give Swiftfox a try. I can’t complain, but it was already so fast, that I only really noticed it with multiple windows and lots of tabs, subjectively that is. I didn’t bother much tinkering with it.
Standby, Hibernate and specfifc Notebook Buttons
Hibernate worked and was enabled out of the box. Standby I had to enable in the energ settings, there was a warning that it may not work properly on some systems, but it did for me. So no complaints there. However both Standby and Hibernate were slower on Ubuntu than on WinXP, at least when the latter is regularly defragmented with third party software (otherwise from the gut I’d say there’s no difference).
Like every notebook this one has a set of special buttons a well. To my surprise almost all of them were working. I am able to switch off the touchpad (for better typing), turn up/down the volume, mute the speakers, increase/decrease the brightness, Go straight to standby or hibernate, and start the browser and e-mail-client. Unfortunately I can’t switch between screens if an external display is connect, meaning I am stuck with what is switched on at boot time.
Scanner, Printer, Webcam, USB gadgets, Software etc.
Things just work. The scanner (Canon) and webcam (logitech) work out of the box. USB sticks just work. The printer (a brother) I had to install manually, even though there were plenty of other brother printers available. Brother is doing very good work in providing linux drivers. Installation consisted in downloading two packages from brother, and then right-click install.
As for software, well, this I guess is pretty well known by now. There is plenty of useful software that’s pre-installed and a lot more that is additionally available. And there’s really good stuff.
When I wanted to burn a downloaded ISO-file, all I had to do was right-click and select write to CD/DVD drive. GIMP I have already been using on windows, just like Firefox, Thunderbird, Openoffice etc., there are messengers that connect to all IM services, a lot of development-related things are either already installed or can be very quickly installed (and kept up to date) with the package manager. There is good software for managing foto-albums, video editing and plenty of other multimedia needs. You can also create screencasts. It goes on and on…
Conclusion: a great fit for a notebook
Well, last year with Hoary I was sure that Ubuntu was good for desktop machines, but I was not satisfied with it on the notebook. Too many things were missing or were too fiddly (like WPA support, standby/hibernate, etc.). Now I am left without a doubt, that Ubuntu is great for a notebook. It feels snappier than WinXP, everything more or less just worked, and where it didn’t I found it very easy to fix – quite a big contrast to the difficulties I’ve had just a few days ago, when I had to upgrade my wireless-driver (because of connection-dropping), where due to a wrong selection and the crappy Intel software I was left with a system where I could neither login when booting regularly, nor remove the software when booting in safe-mode. After hours of fiddling, I was so fed up, that I just restored a backup from an image. I was left with no other choice, because everything is basically a black box in Windows.
When I started out I with this testdrive I was merely interested in seeing what had improved in the last year; my WinXP installation was basically doing good enough (apart from the wireless disaster), that I didn’t consider switching to be a real alternative. Now I am already thinking about how best to import all my data, and whether to completely dump WinXP, or keep Windows on the side in the form of a dualboot, for that occasional situation/software. It’ll probably turn out to be the latter, “just in case”. I can only recommend everybody to at least give Dapper a try. I don’t know whether it’ll “wow” you like it did with me, but you are certainly going to find several things to like and you’ll have made a new acquaintance, who – some time in the near future – may turn into a good friend, when you need it. ;)