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GNU is Not Unix Linux Hardware

Ask Slashdot: GNU/Linux Laptops? 708

conner_bw writes "I'm an OS X user looking to switch to a Linux laptop. I like the Unix/BSD aspect of OS X. Simple things like when I close the lid the laptop goes to sleep, the sound card works out of the box, long battery life, minimum cooling fan noise, and a comprehensive but relatively straightforward backup system and 'AppleCare' package are important to me. What all-inclusive model of laptop and distro would you recommend?" He didn't mention it, but I am presuming that working Wifi should be on that list too.
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Ask Slashdot: GNU/Linux Laptops?

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  • ThinkPads (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 24, 2011 @07:13PM (#37825616)

    ThinkPad + Ubuntu will probably work pretty well for you. ThinkPads have tended to have good linux support for a very long time. Check out ThinkWiki.org

    Of course, they still come with Windows (you used to be able to order them without, but I think they have done away with that now) but they still work pretty good with Ubuntu.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 24, 2011 @07:14PM (#37825632)


    System76 is the closest your going to get to a Apple experience with Linux.
    Pre-installed so you don't have to muck around with drivers
    Comprehensive testing and configuration of the hardware by professionals.
    Support and documentation.
    Company officially supports Linux.
    Provides custom driver bundles to make upgrading effortless as possible.
    etc etc.

    You will get NONE of those things if you go with a Windows system from a large OEM and then try to install Linux on it yourself. You will be your only source for OS support and hardware configuration. You can have Ubuntu forums and mailing lists, but to be honest the chances of you getting useful answers is about 1 in 4.

  • by jmorris42 ( 1458 ) * <jmorris@NOSPAM.beau.org> on Monday October 24, 2011 @07:16PM (#37825666)

    Ubuntu has a list of Certified Hardware [ubuntu.com] for ya. But I have yet to get a Thinkpad at least 90% running. I don't have the fingerprint reader on my X200s working with Fedora but everything else works, including the dock. The boss's Thinkpad T520 runs Ubuntu and has everything working except audio through the dock, but dual DVI displays on the dock do work.

    Of course once you get a laptop working expect updates to constantly break things until you just get tired of rolling back failed updates and just stop, only taking critical security updates you can't live without.

    It is worse with Linux because almost no OEMs are involved in keeping it working, most aren't even involved in initially getting it going so folks have to guess. But raise your hand if you haven't had to roll back a driver or update on that 'other' popular OS. Last week I had to roll back a mouse driver on a Dell laptop to get the pointer working.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 24, 2011 @07:18PM (#37825682)

    A trackpad on a Mac supports multiple actions depending on the number of fingers placed when clicking. I bought my first Mac (and first Apple product ever, for that matter) six months ago and the transition from a multiple-button laptop mouse to a multi-touch trackpad was pretty quick. Now I get thrown off when I don't have it.

  • My $0.02 (Score:4, Informative)

    by someSnarkyBastard ( 1521235 ) on Monday October 24, 2011 @07:18PM (#37825688)

    System76 [system76.com] and ZaReason [zareason.com] are both good dedicated Linux laptop companies. Personally, I have a Dell n-series [dell.com] laptop .

  • System 76 (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 24, 2011 @07:20PM (#37825720)

    I purchased a System 76 laptop a few months ago after being on MacBooks for 7+ years and haven't looked back. My requirements weren't the same as yours so you might want to contact their customer support to ask specific questions, which I found to be responsive and friendly when I was researching them.

  • by MalleusEBHC ( 597600 ) on Monday October 24, 2011 @07:25PM (#37825774)

    OS X is not a walled garden like iOS. You can install apps and tweak the system to pretty much any reasonable degree. While there's always the fear that Apple is going to iOS-ize OS X, right now the Mac App store is purely optional.

  • Fan noise? (Score:5, Informative)

    by devleopard ( 317515 ) on Monday October 24, 2011 @07:28PM (#37825816) Homepage

    " ... minimum cooling fan noise ..."

    I have a 2011 15" MacBook Pro. The new i7 quad-core + new GPU gets crazy hot. Often the temp gauge jumps to 80 degrees C + and the fans spin up. Those 2 fans maxed out at 6200 RPM is anything but quiet.

  • by itsdapead ( 734413 ) on Monday October 24, 2011 @07:29PM (#37825838)

    Perhaps he does not want the comparatively walled (though curated?) garden of a mac. I agree, though, almost all of the "just works" aspects that he want sounds like it would fit a macbook.

    A Mac isn't an iPad - Apple would like you to you use the App Store, but you can still run what you like. The compilers and dev tools are free. If you install MacPorts you get access to a huge range of FOSS projects. Others (E.g. LibreOffice, Eclipse) have native ports that don't rely on X Windows.

  • by Rastor ( 8752 ) on Monday October 24, 2011 @07:30PM (#37825846)

    Yeah, it would be good to get it from a supplier who has actually heard of Linux. So System 76 [system76.com], or maybe Emperor Linux [emperorlinux.com] or The Linux Laptop [thelinuxlaptop.com] or Linux-Certified [linuxcertified.com] or ZaReason [zareason.com] etc.

  • Stick with a Macbook (Score:4, Informative)

    by John Bresnahan ( 638668 ) on Monday October 24, 2011 @07:31PM (#37825868)

    I used to run various versions of Linux on a couple different ThinkPads, and over the last few years (2006 - 2008 or so), each new release seemed less solid than the one before. I would spend days or weeks trying to hunt down fixes for various problems (sleep wouldn't work, WiFi wouldn't work, audio wouldn't work, etc.).

    Finally, in 2009, I bought a MacBook Pro (17", 8GB RAM), and used that as my primary machine. Best decision I've made in a long time. I wanted one laptop that I could use for everything, and with VMs running Windows 8 and whatever flavor of Linux I feel like playing with at the moment, I can develop and run any software for any platform.

    I might feel differently if I were a gamer, but I'm not, so this is the best setup. Since you're coming from a Linux system, I'm guessing that any games you might play are already available on the Mac.

  • by Bob9113 ( 14996 ) on Monday October 24, 2011 @07:40PM (#37825968) Homepage

    oh well. I love you guys

    A worthwhile point that made me smile -- always remember, Slashdot, we wouldn't bitch about you if we didn't care. :)

  • by jmelchio ( 681199 ) on Monday October 24, 2011 @07:46PM (#37826036) Journal
    Until recently I had an old PowerBook G4 and a Macbook Pro. When the Powerbook died I had to make a choice of forking out significant money to replace it with another apple product or get something cheaper. The Macbook Pro allows me to do iOS development which I need for work, the second machine is really more for wife and kids so it's not that important what it runs but I still like the idea of having a Unix/Linux system.
    I was pleasantly surprised to see that Ubuntu listed several laptops on their site that would work with their distro so I ended up getting a Dell Inspiron 15 which I re-partitioned. After that I installed Ubuntu 11.04 without a problem and everything works after installation.
    Wife and kids use the Windows 7 partition and I use the Ubuntu partition when I use it which is actually quite often. The machine is obviously not as nice as a Macbook Pro but it costs only a third of what the smallest Macbook Pro costs and as far as I've been able to tell it works just as well for most purposes.

    If you're after a good Unix/Linux experience for a reasonable price I think this is a good option.
  • by itsdapead ( 734413 ) on Monday October 24, 2011 @07:47PM (#37826044)

    Because you want more than one mouse button, for instance?

    You've been able to plug a standard USB 3 button/wheel mouse into a Mac and use all the buttons since last century - which is good, because mice are the one thing that Apple don't seem to be able to get right (although they've had multiple virtual buttons using touch sensors for years) . Their trackpads, however, are the best in town and support multiple buttons/scrolling via multitouch gestures. You can even enable 3-finger dragging, which finaly makes click-drag usable on a trackpad and is almost (but not quite) enough to wean me off a mouse.

  • Re:Walled Garden (Score:3, Informative)

    by Gizzmonic ( 412910 ) on Monday October 24, 2011 @08:00PM (#37826154) Homepage Journal

    The whole "walled garden" metaphor applies to iOS products, not Mac OS X. You can download and install whatever you want on a Mac. Including Linux or Windows if that floats your boat.

  • by jmorris42 ( 1458 ) * <jmorris@NOSPAM.beau.org> on Monday October 24, 2011 @08:03PM (#37826178)

    > Is this really your current experience?

    Yup, take the two examples I noted. The Thinkpad 200s I'm typing this on was installed with Fedora 12. During it's errata stream the kernel broke undocking. So I had to roll back and hold.... all the way through the F13 and F14 cycles I got to stay midway in F12 and hope a remote exploit didn't force me to upgrade anyway and just shutdown and reboot instead of undocking. The bugzilla is now closed since things started working with F15. So I could chose stay with a totally unsupported OS or GNOME3. I'd much preferred F14 so now I run XFCE on F15.

    The Boss's Thinkpad can't update Ubuntu anymore unless great care is taken to ensiure Xorg doesn't update lest the second DVI port stop working and of course a distro update is out of the question because of the GNOME problem, so she will be stuck on 11.04 until that situation improves.

    I have a machine at home with a PATA RAID card that hasn't worked with new kernels for years. RHEL4/(clone of) is rock solid though. Stuff doesn't officially go depracted very often while examples are still in the wild, but most stuff will eventually stop working unless a lot of people use it or a key kernel dev uses it.

  • by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Monday October 24, 2011 @08:43PM (#37826480)

    I didn't buy it for mine, because $379 seems a bit egregious. If a manufacturing defect doesn't manifest in the first year, I don't see the point in paying for 2 more years of coverage. I use my laptop every day on the go, if something's screwy on it, it's gonna die young.

    Because Apple's bad cooling designs cause normal failure in 2-3 years even without manufacturing defects.

  • by mspohr ( 589790 ) on Monday October 24, 2011 @09:02PM (#37826610)
    Having recently switched from Linux on a Dell laptop to a MacBook Air (which I bought because I fell in love with the design), I would have to say the the Mac UI definitely has a few oddities that just don't make sense (except in a historical context). My biggest gripe is the menubar on the top of the primary screen. I can understand that this made sense in 1984 when screens were small (and there was only one). Now that it is the 21st century, it drives me crazy to have to mouse up to the menubar at the top of the screen. I go absolutely batshit insane when I have a window on my secondary monitor and I need to use the menubar which is many thousands of pixels away at the top of the primary screen. The keyboard is missing a bunch of keys (a real delete key, pgup, pgdn, home, end, etc.). They also have this odd Command key (flower power) which seems to have taken over a lot of the functions of the Control key (but not all... I'm still figuring this out). Build quality seems fine but I'm not that happy with the chiclet keyboard. Touch pad is nice but I still prefer a mouse. I think I much prefer the Linux UI (any of them, all of them) and standard PC hardware.

    BTW, a good backup solution for Linux is "Back in Time" which is a nice shell built on rsync similar to Apple's Time machine. Linux on my Dell was just fine. Everything (including power management) "just worked".

  • by seandiggity ( 992657 ) on Monday October 24, 2011 @09:46PM (#37826974) Homepage
    Typing this on a 4-year-old System76 now. Great hardware, and it's important to support GNU/Linux vendors.

    System76 has an update tool that will install anything specific to their hardware as a .deb package, so you shouldn't have any driver problems as long as you only upgrade your distro when System76 says they support it. For some time now, however, I haven't needed any updates directly from System76, as driver support for all my hardware is now available in the default repos.

The party adjourned to a hot tub, yes. Fully clothed, I might add. -- IBM employee, testifying in California State Supreme Court