Monday, July 17, 2006
To hold off the need to buy a MacBook, I've decided to change my Windows notebook into an Ubuntu notebook. I downloaded the Ubuntu self-booting demo CD a couple of weeks ago, and it looked alright, so I'm going to install it on an old laptop.
The notebook in question is a Sony VAIO model PCG-GR300P. I bought it a few years ago, when a 1.13-GHz notebook was considered top-end, and I used it during my (failed) consulting career. For the past couple of years, it has been sitting next to my couch, and I pick it up to check e-mail, write blog entries, and do some occasional programming while watching TV.
I've been doing a lot of Unix-ish and open-source programming in my free time, so I wanted a Unix-based notebook next to the couch. That's the real reason for the urge to buy a MacBook, but if I can get a Linux notebook working, that might be enough (for a while).
I'll write about my tribulations getting this thing working. I don't expect it to be trouble-free.
Monday, 7:47 PM
I installed Ubuntu 6.06 (desktop) from the downloaded CD. I let it erase and automatically re-partition the 40-GB hard drive in the notebook. A lot of stuff is working fine out of the box: keyboard, trackpad, video, and sound are all fine.
The only problem is that I don't have networking. The notebook has a built-in Ethernet port on the back, and also a Netgear WG511 wi-fi PC card, but neither one is working. I did a little investigation of this a couple of weeks ago, and apparently the secret to getting the wi-fi card working is to use ndiswrapper, which I understand to be some sort of utility that lets you use Windows networking drivers on Linux.
Unfortunately, with neither network interface working, I'm not sure how I am going to get any necessary packages and drivers onto the notebook. I'd hate to have to burn CDs on the Mac just to get the files over. Maybe I'll have to get a dial-up connection working.
I suspect I'll end up buying a new wi-fi card that is known to work with Ubuntu out-of-the-box.
Off to the READMEs and FAQs...
Monday, 11:02 PM
Still no joy for networking.
The notebook has an internal Intel PRO/100 Ethernet controller, for which the e100 driver should work. If I try an ifup eth0, it doesn't report any errors other than the fact that the DHCPDISCOVER messages don't get responses. But my router doesn't seem to be seeing those messages. Using a static IP address doesn't work either.
All the Google searching I've done leads to people saying that their Intel Ethernet controllers just work automatically on Linux, or all they have to do is a modprobe -v e100, and then it works.
Time to buy a new wi-fi card, I think. (Or maybe a MacBook.)
Monday, 11:12 PM
After seeing a thread about problems with the e1000 driver (http://www.ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=149941), I tried the following sequence of commands:
sudo rmmod e100 sudo insmod /lib/modules/2.6.15-23-386/kernel/drivers/net/e100.ko
Then, I reactivated the eth0 interface, and it got an address through DHCP. I could then ping other machines on the local network.
However, it couldn't get out to the Internet. Names weren't being resolved. I manually added the DNS server addresses that my other home machines have, but that didn't help.
So I rebooted, and then everything worked. Just like Windows!
Now I'm updating and installing packages (apt-get rocks). Tomorrow, I'll look into getting the wi-fi working.
Tuesday, 9:16 PM
I'm going to try to get the wi-fi card working. There is information on the Ubuntu site and elsewhere on the Internet for using the Netgear WG511 card with Linux, but the information is inconsistent and I think much of it is out of date.
My particular card is labeled "v2.0" and "Made in Taiwan." Here is the output I get from lspci -v:
0000:03:00.0 Network controller: Intersil Corporation Intersil ISL3890 [Prism GT/Prism Duette] (rev 01) Subsystem: Netgear WG511 Wireless Adapter Flags: bus master, medium devsel, latency 80, IRQ 9 Memory at 34000000 (32-bit, non-prefetchable) [size=8K] Capabilities: [dc] Power Management version 1
According to https://help.ubuntu.com/community/WifiDocs/WirelessCardsSupported and https://help.ubuntu.com/community/WifiDocs/Device/NetgearWG511andNdiswrapper, the cards labeled "Made in Taiwan" should work out of the box. Mine didn't when I tried it yesterday. I guess I'll try the same rmmod/insmod dance I did with the internal Ethernet interface driver.
Tuesday, 9:33 PM
OK, I feel a little stupid. It turns out that the WG511 was working all along. I just had to go into its Properties page and select an available wireless network, then enter the WEP key, and now I'm wi-fi'ing.
Wednesday, 11:20 PM
I can access shared directories and the shared printer on my Windows box from Ubuntu. No problems there.
However, the notebook is suffering from lock-up problems. Every once in a while, the screen just freezes, and the trackpad and keyboard have no effect. The only recourse is to cycle the power. I have no idea what is causing it, but it is really annoying.
Thursday, 8:20 PM
I'm not positive, but I think every time that my notebook has locked up, I was running one of the GUI package-management applications. Following a lockup, a command-line apt-get update results in an error message. A subsequent apt-get works fine, so it seems like something is getting corrupted when I run the package managers. I'll try using just apt-get for a while to see whether that eliminates the lockups.
Next Tuesday, 12:19 AM
After refraining from using the package management apps, the random lockups have stopped. However, I can usually get a lockup if I start Firefox right after logging in. The simple solution is to just wait a minute or so before starting Firefox. I wonder whether the network stuff might take a while to get initialized...
Next Tuesday, 8:22 AM
Mozilla doesn't cause lockups like Firefox does, so that's now my web browser.
Here are a few little things I discovered along the way:
- To enable anti-aliased fonts with subpixel rendering (great for LCDs), go to System -> Preferences -> Font and choose the appropriate button.
- Install kompose to get a feature like Mac OS X's Exposé.
Linux usability has gone a long way since I last played around with it. Installing Ubuntu was relatively painless. I had a little frustration with the network interfaces, but apparently the wi-fi worked out of the box, and the internal Intel PRO/100 network interface works fine for everyone but me. This is a big improvement over the good old days when getting the right drivers and configuration for all the hardware for a new Linux installation could take days or weeks of experimentation. I didn't have to rebuild my kernel, and never had to study a HOWTO.
The Ubuntu desktop is a lot prettier than the GNOME desktops I've seen in the past. It's not a Mac, but it's as pleasant to use as a Windows box.
I have a few complaints:
- The user interface feels slow. It's usable, but the notebook is not as snappy as it was when it was running XP. Even a simple app like the Terminal takes several seconds to start up, and it is slow to redraw when windows are exposed or moved. Firefox is a pig. Eclipse is practically unusable.
- XEmacs looks and feels like crap with the Motif-ish widgets. It may be time to learn vim.
I'm going to try to live with Ubuntu for a few weeks, but I suspect I'll have a MacBook before too long.
I'm this close to trying to find an old WinTel laptop so I can install Ubuntu and give it a whirl. Heck, at $450 (the el-cheapo sale at the local microcenter) I guess I could afford a new laptop.
Actually, the thing I am missing the most lately is the feeling of hacking around. I haven't been doing much creating anywhere and it's bothering me. Troubleshooting a new system sounds like fun -- and it's easier on the psyche than writing or singing.
Hmm, wanting a gadget to delay you from being creative. That sounds almost like a recognised procrastination symptom. Better forget about the Ubuntu notebook for now and get cracking on my wife's website.
I can suggest vimtutor as a good place to start. It comes with most vim installations.
After that, I suggest the New Riders Book "Vi IMproved -- Vim" by Steve Oualline. I liked it.
Well, my wife is getting a new laptop, so that means I get her old one.
Sooo.... it's like a new laptop.
Maybe I'll install the PPC version of Ubuntu until I get sick of it.