The Laptop, First Month Retrospective [Linux FTW]

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Well, it’s been one month.

I figured since I had blogged obsessively for the first week, it seemed only fair to see how things stand after the initial test-period.

Before I get to the details, the general opinion I have is still very positive. I definitely consider it to be a solid purchase, and I have no buyer’s remorse whatsoever — I’m usually very apprehensive about large purchases because I’m anal-retentive about our family finances, so for me to be comfortable dropping $1500 on ANYTHING is a big deal.

That said, there have been a couple challenges along the way — nothing dealbreaking, but somewhat disappointing.

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Ok, things that have not gone well so far:

I was unable to get ReBirth RB-338 (a really cool music synthesizing program) to work in WINe. The only comparable open-source alternatives that I found were Freebirth and ReBorn-338 (I’m dead serious about the names, cheesy as they are). Freebirth has a terrible interface and ReBorn is no longer supported and was developed for a different distribution. The original Rebirth software has some sort of audio incompatibility — not sure exactly WHY it doesn’t work. I will probably load these in a VBox virtual machine, I imagine it will work there.

I have not yet been able to get the “Beyond the Sword” expansion for Civilization IV working — other people have had similar problems. For what it’s worth, I had a hard time getting it to work on my WinXP desktop machine as well, so I don’t think it’s entirely an OS limitation (and it’s also worth noting that I am attempting to run it emulated, through WINe — so there’s some inherent challenges anyways). One person suggested installing it on a WinXP computer and then copying the files over manually — I just did that and will try to get it working again later — we’ll see if it works! Edit: It worked! Just played it this morning! Copied the files over to the correct folder, ran the file with Wine, and we’re all good! Turns out it was just the installer that had problems; something to do with the updating of DirectX.

This morning I attempted to patch my wireless drivers so that I can use monitoring mode and do network monitoring / packet sniffing (purely out of curiosity) — I had a rather disastrous outcome when I tried to install the driver; it failed BADLY. I was in a bit of a panic because wireless was not workking at ALL and I could not find any easy fix anywhere. It’s important to note that what I was trying to do is pretty technical and most users would not even THINK of trying it — I was definitely in over my head, technically. The good news on this is that the problem fixed itself when I restarted. Whew! Until I’m able to put it in Monitoring mode, I will be unable to use Kismet, SWScanner, or WireShark. Oh well.

Cheese1The webcam is a little sluggish, although it might just be the Cheese software — I haven’t played with it very much beyond basic picture taking. I really have no basis of comparison either — aside from Mel’s laptop, Posey. I have yet to attempt video conferencing in Skype or anything else. It works pretty well — the picture quality is actually really good when things are in focus, it’s just a bit clunky.

I think the only other gripe I have is that I’m kind of locked in to using version 8.04 for the time being until I can take some time and figure out if my hardware is supported on a newer version — This isn’t a HGUE  deal; pretty much everything works great and I don’t know that I would upgrade; but it would be nice to be able to upgrade without concern of unsupported (or less supported) hardware.  (There are two newer versions: Intrepid Ibex (8.10) and Jaunty…Jackalope? (9.04))

One of the rubber feet in the back came loose — the adhesive must have been knocked loose when putting it into my bag. Not a huge deal, I can fix it with super glue if it gets worse (it’s currently re-attached, but I’m checking on it now and then).

The Rhythmbox music player occasionally burps/gaps during playback if I’m doing something else (like blogging).

Props

Things that have gone awesomely:

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WINe is just PHENOMENAL. Basically, I can run pretty much any Windows program (although I mostly use it for games) and it runs as if it were coded natively for Linux. To date, I have loaded Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Civilization IV (with the Warlords expansion), and the Steam game frontend (which will allow me to get blockbuster games like Counterstrike, Half-life, Left4Dead and others) — I also know for a fact that a few other games (including Evil Genius) definitely work, I just haven’t installed them. The setup is a little tricky and would definitely be far more challenging if it weren’t for some great walkthroughs online — but then again, that community is part of what makes this whole experience so awesome — no node is an island.

Battery life is awesome — I get about 2 hrs solid out of it before having to re-charge. It might even last a little bit longer, depending on what I’m doing with it. (Gaming, this morning, got me about 1.25 hrs before it started flashing to alert me the battery was low).

Wireless support, with the exception of that self-inflicted issue I mentioend earlier, has been terrific. I am typing this while sitting on our porch, where Melissa is unable to get a wireless signal with her HP Mini notebook. Last week, at the Community Celebration on campus (aka “the Chancellor Installation”), my boss was unable to get a solid wireless connection with his new Dell laptop, but I got a weak connection (VPN and all) sitting right next to him. I think part of it might just be the fact that the hardware is pretty solid (Intel WL4965 AGN). Considering that wireless support was spotty in the past, this is a pleasant surprise. One thing that I really like is that when I’m on campus, I have never had a case of the VPN connection dropping me; apparently windows users will occasionally have problems with that.

The heat issue is terrific too; it stays pretty cool for the most part — there’s definitely some hot air that blows off the fan when I’m gaming. But as laptops go, it’s pretty tepid.

Conky is so cool. I’m using a config file that’s a modification of my original one (see previous posts) and one my old co-worker made. I added some additional lines that show the temperature of both my CPU cores, as well as how full my battery is. (If you click on the image at the top, you can see the full version of it – the green bar is my wireless connection strength) I’m thinking about using it on my other laptop (for wardriving) to show what connections are currently made and to monitor what other hosts are in the area.

The display is AWESOME, as is the video card. I can play Civilization IV at 1680 x 1050 with all high-res features enabled; Oblivion plays at 1280×1024 with a moderate amount of detail; Doom III (natively supported, thanks Id!) runs at full res with detail.  I found some beautiful HDR wallpapers and they really pop on the glossy display.

I got MAME and NES emulation working — found some free arcade roms and roms from NES cartridges I actually own (seriously — I still have the console and everything :) ) — it’s fun to play them on here, and Sullivan likes watching.

I love the Avant Window Navigator (the “Mac-style” dock in that screenshot at the top) — I tinkered with it and figured out how to change the display icons and re-order the elements. The only thing I wish they did differently was have better documentation on how to use it.

Prism is wicked cool too — I know that it’s basically a glorified browser-bookmark, but it just seems more convenient because the browser is so lightweight. I have a Prism app for GMail, Facebook, Google Reader, Google Docs, this blag, Twitter, and Google Analytics. (You can see the icons for most in the AWN dock in that screen shot above)

Remote Desktop support is great as well — I can remote into my work or home computer really easily — the funny thing is that the resolution on both those computers (at full res) is smaller than the resolution of the laptop — so even with the remote window at full-size, it’s still not full-screen.

Virtualbox is handy, although I rarely use it. I was able to get the “Guest Additions” plugin loaded (very easy to do), so that I can have a Vbox session open and have it function as if I was in Windows itself.

I think one of the biggest “win” moments may have been when I got my work computer, google calendar, this laptop, and my wife’s calendar all tied together and synchronizing. Melissa can schedule appointments where my presence is required and it will propagate to all of my computers — and vice versa — very useful. I’ll do a full blog post on how to do it i the near future — it’s easier than it sounds.

The keybaord shortcuts (laptop native) such as play, pause, skip, volume up/down, brightness up/down, etc. are all fully functional and bound to the correct programs.

Overall

This was definitely a good purchase. I would strongly recommend LinuxCertified.com to anyone looking to get a laptop; the product is solid and the specs are WAY better than anything you’d get from Dell or another company at this price point. (Dell was charging ~$2000 for a laptop with these specs!) You don’t HAVE to do Linux, either — if you’d rather stick with Windows, you can certainly have them install that instead; you just have to pay $100 for a license. (This cost is normally rolled into the cost of the laptop by Dell or whomever, hence the “Microsoft Tax” — there’s a reason they don’t let you NOT get Windows on it)