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Portables Software Linux Hardware

The State of Laptop Linux In 2005 422

jg21 writes "LinuxWorld's senior editor James Turner reports this month on what he calls The State of Laptop Linux in 2005 and says it's a lot better than it was in 2004, but adds - after conducting his own new test to see if any Linux distro is yet really laptop-ready: "What's needed to make things better? Well, the Linux community needs to address the device driver crisis." Turner acknowledges that binary-only drivers are a sore spot with free software purists, but says he'd "rather have a fully functional, if closed, Nvidia driver than a reverse-engineered one that limps along." Overall though he concludes that widespread laptop Linux is much closer now."
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The State of Laptop Linux In 2005

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  • Installation woes (Score:2, Interesting)

    by TripMaster Monkey ( 862126 ) * on Friday April 08, 2005 @10:17AM (#12175679)

    From the article:

    Fedora Core 3 was next on my list. This was a pure disaster. The install program left me with a black screen, whether I chose text or graphical install. A total no-go from step 1.

    Heh...I could have told him what he did wrong...I had the exact same issue when I tried to install Fedora on my Toshiba. It took me a lot of flopping around (two reinstalls) to identify and fix the issue, but now Fedora works like a charm.

    I'm guess I'm not suprised to not see Ubuntu among his tests, although I am definitely disappointed...after reading the release notes on HH, I've decided to go with it on my laptop, but I would have liked to have a guinea p^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hsomeon else test it out first...especially on a Toshiba.
  • by null-und-eins ( 162254 ) on Friday April 08, 2005 @10:21AM (#12175722) Homepage
    Talking about video drivers shows how much Linus is not ready for the Laptop. If this is a problem, how much are audio, USB, FireWire, and WLAN are going to be a problem? I'm working in a CS department and most people I know don't even try to get Linux running on their laptop. (That's also why Apple's OS X on iBooks and PowerBooks becomes more and more popular around here.)
  • by ALecs ( 118703 ) on Friday April 08, 2005 @10:23AM (#12175740) Homepage
    My last remaining sore spot is sleep. I've tried everthing I can figure to get suspend-to-ram (aka sleep) working. It never wakes up correctly.

    And I place the blame SQUARELY on the BIOS manufacturers. From what I can see, they're cutting corners left and right because it "works with Windows".

    Not to mention the TERRIBLE tech support Avereatec has given me, even with regard to Windows problems. They haven't released drivers for this noteboook yet, claiming their re-install procedure works flawlessly (it doesn't). Right now, Linux runs better on this machine that Windows.
  • Linspire.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sammykrupa ( 828537 ) <> on Friday April 08, 2005 @10:24AM (#12175751) Homepage Journal
    Has full laptop support [].
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 08, 2005 @10:26AM (#12175777)
    While I've been moderately successful adopting linux on my laptop. But on my desktop where I have some top of the line hardware only windows works.

    My biggest issue currently is that linux doesn't support high resolutions well. Running a monitor in 1920 X 2900 just isn't possible. Even running the probe in the xconfigurator blows the system up. Why can't drivers just work on linux?
  • by radarsat1 ( 786772 ) on Friday April 08, 2005 @10:28AM (#12175790) Homepage
    That's strange. I recently installed Debian on my laptop. USB worked out of the box, and WLAN just took an install of the NDISWRAPPER. (Haven't tried firewire as i don't have anything that uses it.)

    Everything works just fine. For all intents and purposes it didn't really required anything more than installing on a desktop, nor was it really any more work than a windows install. (But don't ask me to get direct rendering and 3D acceleration to work... *sigh*)

    So yeah, I use linux on my laptop everyday. And i love it. :)
    What's the problem again?

  • by thepurplemonkey ( 814382 ) on Friday April 08, 2005 @10:28AM (#12175791)
    Yep, back a page and down one article. Ubuntu has been a great laptop disto. For all the problems reported with Dells it worked (wireless too) out of the box.
  • by shane2uunet ( 705294 ) on Friday April 08, 2005 @10:28AM (#12175795) Homepage
    Works great! A few things don't work, like some of the function keys, the svideo, etc. But overall it works great for me. My biggest complaint about linux (desktop/laptop) is bootup time. WinXP will have my laptop on a desktop in 30 seconds. Linux takes over 2 minutes.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 08, 2005 @10:30AM (#12175825)
    I have gentoo running on my HP NX7010. Everything works well, the ati graphic issues are better since ATI released new drivers.

    System is a 1.7ghz centrino which makes my 3.06ghz ht desktop (running Windows XP) seem like a dinosaur. Installation was very easy emerge this...emerge that... and finally a nice working system. If it weren't for certain applications that don't work under wine, I would move the desktop over to gentoo as well.

  • by NtroP ( 649992 ) on Friday April 08, 2005 @10:54AM (#12176053)
    I just got a donated 1GHz PIII Dell laptop. It came with Win2K on it, but no documentation or Licenses that proved it was supposed to be there - perfect excuse to load Linux. I've switched from Fedora/Gnome to Xandros/KDE on my primary workstation (still use RHEL3 on my servers) because everything "just works" with our large Active Directory domain out of the box.

    I installed Xandros on the laptop and it was a thing of beauty. I had two PCMCIA wireless cards (a Cisco and an older one that slips my mind - I'm at home posting this before work). I put the Cisco one in first and configured it to connect to our wireless network (through the nice GUI interface). It auto-detected the card upon insertion, grabbed an IP address and we were off and running. Then, just for kicks, while in the middle of a surfing session, I yanked the Cisco card our and popped the other one in. The system chirped upon removal and insertion and my surfing continued unhindered! I couldn't believe it.

    It's working so well, that I'm even loaning it to someone from another department (with no Linux background) to take with her on a business trip so she can do some work while she's at her convention. She said she's sick of dealing with all the "problems" her employees have been having with their Windows stations, and if this does everything she needs, she'll switch her department too. Since it's just basic WordProcessing/Spreadsheet, Email and web access they need, I'm sure she'll find this a great alternative.

  • by mjg59 ( 864833 ) on Friday April 08, 2005 @10:57AM (#12176093) Homepage
    Linux ignores the BIOS and uses it's own calls to talk to the hardware. For ACPI? No. For APM? Really, really no. ACPI sleep works well on about 75% of laptop hardware, though you have to go through some contortions to get the video back. Another 10% or so reboot immediately on resume for reasons that aren't understood yet. The others have a variety of issues, mostly on resuming IDE. Most hardware ought to work reasonably well in 6 months or so. We're already way beyond where we were 6 months ago.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 08, 2005 @10:57AM (#12176094)
    Hey, it isn't Linux only, the BSDs too. Remember the stories about Theo trying to get documentation to support things like RAID controllers or WiFi chips. And it can be seen as radicalism... but why then code FOSS OSes? Binary drivers for this and that... then chip makers giving binary schedulers, and oops, all binary. It's just about been logical for what you are doing: FOSS OSes. If you can be happy with binary drivers, why are you using FOSS software? Vote with your money and make noise so the issue is well know, companies would prefer to offer not products but get money anyway.
  • by radarsat1 ( 786772 ) on Friday April 08, 2005 @11:01AM (#12176144) Homepage
    Funny thing is that the first thing that occurred to me the first time I booted up the Ubuntu Live CD was, "Holy crap, my grandmother could use this!"

    (She's good at email and the web, but she finds updating the virus scanner kind of confusing.. wish I could tell her she didn't need a virus scanner. If it was up to me, I'd install it for her.. but on the other hand, it took her so much effort to learn Windows I don't want to change things on her now.)

  • by CarrionBird ( 589738 ) on Friday April 08, 2005 @11:03AM (#12176162) Journal
    Configuration afterward is, and software installation too. The package systems are halfway there, you can find programs to install eaisly enough. "But where's the icon?", asks grandma. There isn't one, gotta find where the thing inatalled and set that up yourself.

    And it doesn't help when some of the icons that are set up on install don't work and don't give feedback as to why.

    It's not like it's an impossible problem to solve, OSX and Windows software installs are pretty simple for grandma. You run the installer and it puts an icon in the menu/desktop/whatever. Seems like the package control system needs to be integrated with wichever desktop is installed. If the other guys can do it, the distributions should be able to as well.

    Oh, and fixing up USB keyboard support would be nice too. (was going to try out the new vector 5 soho, but couldn't get past go because of my USB keyboard. Tried VLOS 1.1 instead and was not too impressed.)

  • Knoppix as Shoppix (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kale77in ( 703316 ) on Friday April 08, 2005 @11:14AM (#12176270) Homepage
    I've been taking Knoppix CDs to shops here in Sydney to see if Debian will run on the 10.6" laptops available there (I commute; I'm looking for something ultra-portable). I drew a small crowd in one place by merely putting Xaos on Auto-zoom; It's interesting to see people's responses. As to results, not much yet; the Fujutsu's seem OK; the Vaio's I haven't been able to check yet (staff who don't know what Knoppix is are justfiably wary of booting strange disks).
  • I've helped a friend do this in the past. This posting more or less describes what to do: ry/039538.html []

    From what I recally, it worked quite well.
  • by radarsat1 ( 786772 ) on Friday April 08, 2005 @11:26AM (#12176411) Homepage
    adjust your X config file to use /dev/input/mice
    It usually combines all mouse input to one stream.
  • Re:Closed drivers. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by drooling-dog ( 189103 ) on Friday April 08, 2005 @11:31AM (#12176466)
    More than anything else, even more than Microsoft, closed drivers will be the downfall of Linux and open source.

    Which Microsoft realizes as well, I'm sure. I wonder if there is any pressure from Redmond - explicit or otherwise - on manufacturers not to release OSS drivers? Or maybe just extra candy for those that don't? Just speculating, but there's little doubt that they would do just that if they thought they could get away with it legally...

  • by philipgar ( 595691 ) <> on Friday April 08, 2005 @11:33AM (#12176487) Homepage
    I agree, although with stipulations. Linux is not ready for laptops. I have an ibook for that very reason. However Linux is mostly ready for desktop replacement style laptops. When battery life is not an issue (so the importance of APCI/APM support is minimal), many problems go away. The real problem comes with the state of wireless support. People claim that well obviously things won't work right with cheap wireless cards like those built into most laptops, but thats a load. Look at regular ethernet cards. I tend to buy loads of realtek 83159 cards because they're cheap and work fine under Linux. Why can't the same be done with wireless. Besides every wireless card has different types of drivers, and even if you get your card to work, there are issues. Try using 802.1x authentication under Linux (which my school requires). I fighted with xsupplicant for over a month of my old thinkpad before giving up and deciding I need an ibook. Now that I have an ibook I have the best of both worlds. I have a unix friendly enviornment that easily interoperates with my linux workstations, and I still have working wireless, accelerated video, 5 hours of battery life, most linux apps run under it, MS Office runs on it (I know its the darkside, but its needed) and everything is plug and play compatible. Most of all things just work. I don't worry about anything. In this day and age when laptops are becoming permanantly network attached devices whats the need for a fancy hardware support. Let the laptop be a graphical terminal and everyone will be happy. Phil
  • by Phred T. Magnificent ( 213734 ) on Friday April 08, 2005 @11:43AM (#12176599)

    I've tried several different Linux distributions on my laptop over the last four years. (Yes, it's been the same laptop, a Presario 1800-series, for that entire time.) Some have worked right out of the box, others haven't worked at all, most are somewhere in between.

    One trend I've noticed is that Red Hat / Fedora keeps getting progressively worse. RH7.x worked great. It detected all of the hardware right out of the box -- including the video chipset, at a time when even Windows 2000 didn't have a video driver. RH8 and 9 still worked, but not as well. FC1 found some things not working anymore, FC2 was worse, and with FC3 I had the same experience as the author of TFA: a black screen, with no way to install at all. Should there happen to be an FC4, I doubt I'll even bother trying it.

    The best current distro I've found for my laptop is Mepis, with Suse as a close second place, and FreeBSD 5.3 doing admirably as well. I suppose it's worth noting, though, that on my Dell laptop at work, no Linux distro I've tried works at all, but FreeBSD has been great from day 1. Conclusion: your mileage is unconditionally guaranteed to vary based on what laptop you use.

  • Laptop Experience (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mpapet ( 761907 ) on Friday April 08, 2005 @01:51PM (#12178144) Homepage
    I had the same experience that the author did except my laptop is an old Thinkpad P3 500 with lots of RAM.

    Fedora: Installer exited with error before it was done.

    Suse 9.1: Installed and ran great, but there are/were issues with usb-hotplug and I couldn't compile anything from source either. (terminal exit with error 1?) My lack of patience put that distro to an end.

    Debian Sarge: The best by far. I had to do the kernel recompile to get the wireless card to collect stats, but otherwise there have been no surprises. As much as I hear compliants about a lack of a Sarge release, it works much better right now than Suse 9.1 (with updates) without the Suse polish.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 08, 2005 @02:50PM (#12178814)

    From EmperorLinux.

    They installed Debian on mine. It even came with a well done printed manual to explain how to use the features specific to that laptop.

    Definitely ordering from them again.

  • Re:Power Management (Score:2, Interesting)

    by adam1101 ( 805240 ) on Friday April 08, 2005 @03:04PM (#12178976)
    Why? AFAIK, none of the highly praised Apple laptops support hibernation/suspend-to-disk in the even more highly praised MacOS X.

Executive ability is deciding quickly and getting somebody else to do the work. -- John G. Pollard