Okay, I just bought a new laptop. A bit of background. I previously had an Alienware Area-51 laptop that my previous employer bought for me. Since I’m in the games business it had to have that “I’m one of you” cachet value. The catch here was that the thing weighs like 20 pounds, burns your palms from the full video card used in it and gets you a whopping 20 minutes of battery life. It’s really a lug-able desktop.
So this time around I picked up a Dell XPS 1530. It has a smaller screen and uses some mobile components but it also only weighs 6 pounds and the battery lasts 4-8 hours.
Anyway, the bad news was that Dell refused to sell it to me with anything other than Vista on it. I wasn’t about to invest heavily in that so I took the Home Premium edition with plans to replace it.
I then realized it was another chance to give Ubuntu (a Linux OS variant) another chance. In fact, several people commented that a laptop was optimal for it. So I set about making it happen.
The first thought was to try the LiveCD version of Ubuntu which I mentioned before. This lets you boot a CD with the OS on it and test-drive it before you do anything. Unfortunately for me it would boot and end up at a black screen and then locking up. Not a good first sign.
Then I ran into a wall with Vista. Ubuntu likes to have two partitions of its own on the hard drive—one for the OS and the other for a swap file. I found that Dell, as is the way with most things Dell, had complicated my setup. There were already four partitions setup. One for a backup of key files, another for the OS, a third for a backup of everything as shipped and a fourth for something called MediaDrive that I had no interest in using.
I figured I’d use Partition Magic to get this all right but then found out Partition Magic doesn’t work with Vista. Instead I needed to get something called Acronis Disk Director (so I’m out another $50) which does support both Vista and Linux. I installed it and it is actually quite nice and powerful. I wiped out the non-Vista partitions, moved the Vista partition over and then created two new partitions behind that for Ubuntu to use.
What Ubuntu does well it does so very well and the installer is usually a thing of beauty. I created an install disk of version 8.04 and started the installer. After having to do some verifying of partitions (still too technical for most) the installer ran flawlessly.
Ubuntu loaded and it was time to reboot. I rebooted and much to my surprise it came up to a login screen asking me for my username and password. Fantastic. I typed that in and then the trouble started.
First, the touchpad wouldn’t work properly. Off to the forums. Okay, there’s a fix for that. I need to add a command to my boot parameters to make it work. Again, this requires a bit of comfort with a text editor and some non-unituitive commands but it worked.
Then there’s an issue with my video card not working quite right but at least it’s functional enough for now. I’ll address that later.
The sound sort of works. I get some noise but I’ll be damned if I can figure out how to record anything. The settings ask me to choose from so many choices that I’m not sure what’s right. Thankfully I have little interest in recording anything on my laptop so I can tackle that later too.
The fingerprint reader requires the addition of some other software and since I don’t care about it I’ll get to that later too.
Suspend and hibernate aren’t working quite right and this seems to be the way it has to be.
Most annoying is that my wireless card isn’t working. I went for the plain Dell card and apparently that was “my mistake”. It’s given people fits. To possibly fix this requires no less than 6 steps of more mumbo-jumbo including downloading a few other files and installing them and changing various settings.
This all from an OS that purports to be ready for primetime for the masses. Sorry, I’m just not buying it. There are still too many trade-offs and things that just don’t work out of the box as you’d expect. What it does well it does great but far too often too many things don’t work and getting them to work is a major hassle that pretty much means you either give up your life to the undertaking to understand it and remember it or so these tweaks without really having any clue what it is you’re doing, why you’re doing it or how to do it again later.
I like what I see when it all works but I want so much more than I’m getting here.