Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Linux on new Laptop

I bought a new laptop a couple of weeks ago, because Zena's old hand-me-down IBM R50p's screen bit the dust. So she gets my IBM/Lenovo Z61p, and I bought a Sony VGN-Z17GN. Wow, Sony have long model numbers.

The thing that sold me on the Sony was the high spec in the small (and elegant) package. It has 4GB RAM, 320 SATA hard drive, dual core processor and a 1600x900 screen. But the machine is tiny, and weighs only 1.5kg. In a small laptop bag and with the power supply, it's lighter than my previous laptop's backpack, empty.

Like most people, I don't care for Vista. So I actually applied the XP Pro upgrade option before I even got the machine home. But the OEM XP Pro disk did not include the machine's specific drivers. So I had to download a ZIP bundle from Sony which was supposed to include all of the drivers. It did include 20 of them, which meant about 20 times of clicking through the installer, accepting whatever inane licence agreement, and rebooting. Sony didn't include the ethernet driver in their bundle, so I hunted that down on the Intel web site. It in turned required MSXML, so I had to find that and install it too. In the end, a fairly typical experience of installing Windows, mind-numbingly tedious.

After I finally got XP working, more or less, I popped in a freshly-burned Ubuntu disk and began the Linux install. Wow, what a difference. I had actually been a little worried about how hard it would be to get the video annd ethernet working with Linux, since the machine is quite new on the market. (I have the first one sold in New Zealand.) Well, in a few minutes, with perhaps one or maybe two reboots, I had Ubuntu installed, and everything just works. Everything I care about, anyway. I have no idea whether the fingerprint reader is supported in Linux, but I don't care. To be honest, the wireless network doesn't work yet, but apparently it is supported directly in the next Ubuntu version, due out next month, so I'll just wait for that.

Once I restored my home directory from a backup, all my desktop and configuration settings were ready to go on the new machine. No registry hacking, no special software for migrating settings. It's funny how with Windows, a lot of the "features" are workarounds for problems that don't exist in other operating systems.