I’ve been dicking around with Ubuntu.

I don’t know if I mentioned it or not, but one of the other things I picked up as a result of some PC side work lately is an old donated IBM Thinkpad 600E. Damn thing is ancient (Pentium II 366 Mhz), but I was able to bump the RAM in it up to 512MB and slap a 20GB HD in it so I’ve at least got a working laptop once more. So I figured I’d see if I could get Ubuntu to install on it to try out and quickly discovered why Linux has a long way to go before it’s going to replace Windows Vista or any other Microsoft OS.

Everything I read about Ubuntu claims it’s the easiest of the Linux distros to work with. So far that has not been my experience. I started off with downloading the Live CD/Install CD image that was recommended on the Ubuntu website. That was a mistake as it apparently doesn’t give you a choice on whether to launch the Live CD (which essentially runs Ubuntu from the CD-ROM) or just do an install. It turns out that starting a Live CD takes some time, no, make that a lot of time. So much so that I thought it wasn’t doing anything at all and maybe got a bad image. After talking with some coworkers one of them mentioned that it took upwards of an hour for his to startup on some hardware that wasn’t quite as old as what I was running on, but he put that down to only having had 256MB of RAM. So I tried again that night and let it sit for two and a half hours with no apparent signs of life coming from the system.

Returning to the Ubuntu website I don’t find any suggestions that would be helpful in speeding this process up any or bypassing the launch of the Live CD, but I do find a link to downloading an “alternate text-only install CD” which I proceed to grab. This drops the whole Live CD bit and gets straight to doing the install, but this still took an inordinate amount of time to complete. By my estimates it took at least an hour and a half to finish the install and it wasn’t an entirely smooth process. The laptop itself has a Linksys PCMCIA wireless card in it and Ubuntu did manage to see the card, but wasn’t able to actually get it to work for some reason. I tossed in a 3COM 10/100 card I had and that didn’t fare any better despite the fact that it’s listed as being compatible on the Ubuntu website.

But it did finally install and I found some help pages on the Ubuntu site that offered some suggestions on how to get the networking cards working. To say that the process of installing alternate drivers and enabling them was a convoluted and involved process would be an understatement. Hell, just finding where to configure the damned things was a lesson in trial and error. To top it all off it still didn’t work even after trying everything suggested on the website. Not having a working network interface pretty much negates the whole point of having the laptop for me as I wanted it specifically for accessing the Internet away from my desktop.

So I wiped the hard drive and tossed my Windows XP CD-ROM. Total install time was an hour and four minutes. Both network cards were detected and while I did have to download drivers for the Linksys wireless card, I was able to do so using the 3COM card without issue. Considering the age of the laptop XP seemed to run pretty well probably thanks to the half-gig of RAM I had in it. The difference in the two experiences was amazing. Despite being a pretty crappy OS in many ways, getting Windows up and running was a no-brainer.

While I’m certainly nowhere near as knowledgeable about Linux as I am Windows, I have been working with it for years with my webhosts so it’s not like I’m clueless. If the difference in setting up the two OSes is that profound for me then I can only imagine what it’d be like for your average I-just-want-the-damned-thing-to-work Joe User and it drives home the point of why Linux won’t be replacing Windows anytime soon no matter how much safer, faster, better it happens to be.

I’ve not completely given up on getting Ubuntu to work as I’ve had some more suggestions from coworkers that use it on how to possibly get it up and running. Might even try reinstalling it tonight, though I’m debating downloading the Kbuntu variant as I like the KDE desktop a bit better than Gnome. Depends on whether I feel like tearing out what little is left of my hair.

Dell and Blizzard form an Alliance.

Looks like the folks at Dell have partnered with the wizards at Blizzard to come up with the ultimate World of Warcraft branded gaming laptop to be announced soon. In addition to being able to choose between an Alliance or Horde themed XPS Gaming laptop word has it that it’ll come with a membership to the WoW Beta Club and something else so super-secret that my sources inside Blizzard couldn’t tell me what it was, but it’s so cool that my source says they’re thinking of buying one of the laptops themselves and they don’t get a discount on them!

If you want in on the official announcement on December 4th you can sign up here to be emailed once it’s unveiled. I have to admit that I’m sorely tempted to check in on financing one of these puppies once they become available. The standard Dell XPS Gaming laptops start around $1,999 so it wouldn’t be cheap, but the WoW addiction is strong.

Anne’s PC has finally kicked the bucket.

You may recall a couple of months back I was fussin’ over my wife’s PC suddenly giving up the ghost only to find that blowing the system out with a can of compressed air seemed to get it back up and running. Well it has died again and this time it seems like it’s good and dead with little hope of blowing on it bringing it back from the great beyond. This means we’re back to sharing my PC until probably at least after Christmas unless I win the lotto.

The one possible exception to that would be if we killed two birds with one stone and financed a new laptop. Her thinking is that she could use my desktop while I have the laptop with me at work and then when I got home she’d make use of the laptop while I used my desktop. That would mean finding a laptop capable of at least running World of Warcraft as that’s the main reason we need two machines is so we can both play the game at the same time. Trouble is that while there are plenty of decent sub-$1,000 laptops out there, most gaming laptops start at a cool $1,500 for the bare minimum configurations. I don’t know of any sub-$1,000 laptops that would be decent enough to run WoW, though I’d imagine there’s got to be one someplace so I’ve been looking around as we’d really like to keep the price under a grand.

So those of you out there who are gaming on your laptops should drop a comment on this thread letting us know what you’re gaming on and how much it set you back. Barring this course of action (and it’s by no means set in stone) I’ll end up building her a new desktop piece by piece after the holidays have passed.

Asus launches “Eee” low-cost laptops.

Hmmm, perhaps this would make a good replacement laptop for my needs. The folks over at ArsTechnica.com fill us in on the just announced Eee laptops from Asus:

The Eee (rhymes with Wii) is an ultra-compact notebook with a 7-inch screen that weighs 2.03 pounds. It will be available in three different models, starting from $299 on up to $399, depending on storage capacity, memory, and presence of a built-in webcam. The low-end model, called “Surf,” has a 2GB Flash drive for storage and 256MB RAM. The high-end model, which is available now in Taiwan’s popular 3C computer stores, comes with a 8GB Flash drive and 1GB of DDR2 RAM. Both models feature a 900MHz Intel Celeron M processor.

While the initial models will ship with Xandros Linux preinstalled, Microsoft has been anxious to get on the Eee bandwagon. According to Davis Tsai, general manager of Microsoft Taiwan, Asus is planning to launch an Eee PC running Windows XP before the end of this year. Windows Vista is out of the question as it would require too much storage space (a vanilla install of Vista runs at around 14GB) and has higher RAM and CPU requirements than its predecessor. At least Microsoft will still be selling XP to OEMs, having extended XP’s cut-off date to June 2008.

It’s not like I’d need much in the way of a machine for what I want to do with it, which is mainly browsing the web and writing blog posts, so the limited storage capacity isn’t a huge issue for me. If it runs at a reasonable speed, and the use of Flash RAM should help keep it speedy, then it’d probably be perfect. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of reviews it gets once it finally hits the streets. If nothing else I at least know the company that’s producing it well as I’ve built more than one PC that made use of an Asus motherboard in my time.

Correction: I will NOT be doing some video blogging soon.

Got an email from Amazon.com that the release date on the RCA EZ 201 flash RAM based video cam I had ordered had been pushed back until sometime in November, which is weird as Amazon lists three different affiliated shops selling the camera that all claim to have it in stock. Given that I just destroyed my laptop I opted to cancel the order for now and just slap it on my Wish List. Once we get that close to Christmas I tend to stop buying myself things because people are gift shopping around that time. If I don’t get it for Christmas then I’ll plan on picking it up sometime after then.

My thought was I’d use the money I was saving from my birthday along with what I would’ve spent on the video camera to replace my laptop, but it doesn’t quite add up to the amount I’d need to pick something up from Best Buy and I have to use Best Buy because some of my b’day money is in the form of BB gift cards. The cheapest basic laptop BB has at the moment is the Acer Aspire 520 which is around $550 at the moment and it only comes with about half as much RAM as you should really have to run Vista.

So it looks like I’m just saving money instead of doing anything at all. Anyway, just wanted to post an update on the whole video blogging thing. Ain’t gonna happen yet.

Yesterday was not a good day.

So I’ve mentioned how I’ve been working on my old Dell Latitude L400 trying to get it back to running Windows 98 so I could use it during downtime at work and not have it run as slow as molasses in January only I can’t find where I packed away the CD-ROM drive which makes getting the OS onto it difficult. I ended up yanking the hard drive out, hooking it up to an adapter, and plugging it into my desktop machine so I could format the hard drive and copy the Windows 98 files over. What I didn’t think to do while I had it hooked up was copy over the network drivers for either the built-in NIC or the D-Link wireless PCMCIA card I had in it.

So I run the installation and it installs just fine, but of course it doesn’t have the needed network drivers. So I think, no big deal, I’ll just use my Sandisk USB flash drive to copy the files over except that Windows 98SE doesn’t have the drivers for that either. OK, not a problem. I have a working floppy I’ll just put the drivers for the USB flash drive on a floppy, except my desktop no longer has a floppy. So I have to go upstairs and use Anne’s. Annoying, but not a big deal. I do that and I come back downstairs and hook up the floppy drive and put in the disk and the system refuses to read it. Pop the disk out and back in a couple of times until the floppy drive decides it doesn’t want to take the floppy anymore. What the hell? So I set the laptop down on the edge of my desk so I can dig around in my boxes for another floppy drive, these things are pretty old so perhaps this one just picked that particular moment to die.

You already know what happened next, don’t you.

Yes, I somehow managed to knock the laptop off of my desk whereupon in landed in just the right way to not only break the D-Link wireless card I had in it, but also smashed the display rendering the entire laptop into a very attractive, but otherwise useless, paperweight. It was like the perfect storm of bad things happening all at once. Needless to say I was quite upset as I don’t have the funds to replace it anytime soon. The sting is lessened somewhat by the fact that I got this one for nothing as it was being tossed out by one of the companies I used to work for and they were kind enough to let me take it home after removing the HD so it could be destroyed. In fact all of the laptops I’ve owned were castaways from someone else and this was probably the newest one of the lot. All the others having long since died or been given to friends and family who needed one, this means I’m now without a laptop.

There’s nothing quite like an event like this to make you feel like a total idiot. I’m a Tech Support Professional, this sort of thing isn’t supposed to happen to me. I’m supposed to be better than that. On the plus side at least it happened to me at home and not while at work with someone else’s laptop. It’s probably going to be awhile before I can replace it unless I break down and finally take a chance on eBay or something and even then it’s going to be awhile before I can afford to do that. Grrrr. Damned annoying.

Oh, and to top it off, I heard back about the possible job back at Ford Motor Company. They decided to promote one of the first levels to the open second level position so it looks like I won’t be going back to work at Ford after all.

The Medison Celebrity is a $150 Linux laptop.

I’ve got an old Dell L400 laptop that’s really starting to show it’s age as of late so I’ve been thinking of trying to find a replacement, but even at the low prices laptops tend to have these days nothing was within my budget range. Then I saw an entry on Engdaget about an upcoming laptop called the Medison Celebrity that’ll go for the rather affordable price of $150.

Medison, a Swedish consulting company, has just unveiled its Medison Celebrity laptop, which sports standard hardware, a 14-inch WXGA screen, an optimized Fedora Linux install, and a downright criminal $150 pricetag. Sure, you’re not going to be launching Crysis on this thing anytime soon, with a 1.5GHz Celeron processor, 256MB of RAM, and VIA PN800 integrated graphics, but the casual user should find plenty to keep them occupied, and there’s room for Windows XP if you want to pony up for a license—which at retail costs more than the laptop itself. There’s 40GB of storage, a CD / DVD combo drive, 802.11g WiFi, and even what looks to be a built-in webcam in the pictures.

That’s not too shabby a setup for $150. They plan on introducing additional models in the months to come and the current one comes with a one year warranty. I don’t know much about Medison so I have no idea what the failure rate for these laptops might be nor do I know if you have to send your machine back to Sweden for any warranty work that it might need, but that price is very tempting. If the machines end up being halfway decent and the support isn’t too much of a pain in the ass then this could be an excellent deal. I’ll have to dig around some more to see if I can find out if anyone has one already and is happy with it.