Running Kubuntu on the Compaq nc4010

I’ve not been a big fan of Ubuntu in the past – and perhaps mainly from the aesthetics of it, as well as its reliance on Gnome – but I’ve neer felt I gave it a good test. Favoring KDE as I do, I loaded Kubuntu and gave it a run. I’m already a big fan of APT (through having used APT-RPM all these years) – and Kubuntu didn’t disappoint.

As I mentioned before, Kubuntu recognized everything on the system – bluetooth, PCMCIA, USB, wireless, ethernet, sound, video – it all worked.

Now after several weeks, how does it stack up?

I still don’t like the dpkg way of things: RPM is designed (and properly so, I say) to run unattended. If you use rpm to install, you don’t have to respond to any sort of install choices (there is no “partial install” – either it worked or it didn’t). APT is wonderful: dpkg is not – but that’s just my opinion.

I was surprised to see that, in Kubuntu at least, Synaptic seems to have given way to something called Adept. Not sure which I like better. I do know that I just despise the “dynamic search” that searches while you type. It slows everything down. I also don’t like the fact that I can’t sort things by groups – for instance, I’m always installing shells and languages of all sorts. Can’t I just look at those groups specifically?

I also found that with this hardware, the bluetooth adapter is always disabled (or seems to be) after hibernation. Using the key to re-enable it doesn’t help; the key is either intercepted or ignored by Linux. It’s not hard to make sure it is active after hibernation. First, make sure that the bluetooth is on at startup; if not, press the bluetooth button at the top. During the initial boot, the BIOS is in charge and it knows how to react to a press of this key – and the bluetooth light (blue) will come on.

If the bluetooth is not active after Kubuntu comes up entirely, it may be necessary to restart the bluetooth services:

/etc/init.d/bluetooth stop
/etc/init.d/bluetooth start

Don’t use bluetooth restart; it may be that more time is needed or something else. It may or may not be necessary to restart kbluetooth; if so, stop it from the task bar and run it from the System menu under the K menu.

With kbluetooth, you can tell if bluetooth is active or not: if the entire icon is gray (including the symbol) then there is no bluetooth adapter recognized. If the symbol is white, then there is an adapter present (though it may not be active).

There is also the Synaptics touchpad – but this is good stuff. The touchpad has capabilities that are not well-explained out there:

  • Using a two-finger tap or a three-finger tap results in a right-button click and a middle-button click respectively (at least that’s what it looks like).
  • Dragging your finger from top to bottom (or vice versa) on the extreme right side results in scrolling (similar to a mouse-wheel).
  • Dragging your finger from left to right at the top may result in scrolling left-to-right (I couldn’t test this out).
  • A double-tap and swipe is the equivalent of dragging an object – or at least, it is the equivalent of holding down the mouse button.

I found that both ksynaptics and touchfreeze (for configuring the Synaptics capabilities) are missing from repositories; only gsynaptics is present. There is good documentation from Ubuntu on how to set up a Synaptics driver; I recommend it.

The system as a whole does get hot – and, for whatever silly reason, has exhaust vents on the bottom (a silly idea in my opinion). No wonder people’s laps got hot. I have three film canisters that I set in a triangle to support the machine; it works beautifully. I plan to fill them with sand to keep them from moving around.

This combination of software and hardware is wonderful – the machine is nice, and the system is nice. Everything was integrated with a click: DVD playback, MP3 support, Flash support – it all came down with just a click. Everything is supported. I love this machine.

Putting Linux on a Compaq nc4010

The HP/Compaq nc4010 is a business-class laptop with no CDROM, no DVD, and no floppy – but with network, modem, USB ports, SD slot, and PCMCIA slot. The system has a 1.7GHz Pentium M – snappier than a Pentium II for sure. It will also boot from the network with PXE or from the USB ports.

Booting this platform is the most difficult part. I didn’t try using PXE, because although I was once set up for PXE on my home network, I don’t have the distributions (Kubuntu and Fedora) set up for installing from PXE and it seemed like a bigger headache than try to make it boot through USB. USB booting is not (apparently) enabled by default; it requires setting USB to use Legacy in the BIOS settings – and in my case, it also required playing with the setting for Quickboot: I had turned it off, but upon re-enabling it the system booted from a USB key.

I tried using Fedora 9, but the Live USB version come up in a lower resolution and crashed upon exiting. I tried also Kubuntu Hardy (8.04.1) and it worked beautifully.

Loading Kubuntu was a breeze – and recognized all of the capabilities of the laptop (amazing!). USB works, network works (albeit with proprietary drivers), PCMCIA works – it just works. Even hibernate works (although suspend may not).

I’ve never quite liked Ubuntu, and I mostly chalked that up to its standard themes (brown and orange) and its use of Gnome and so on – never fully experiencing Ubuntu and always wanting to get a better feel for it. I’ve tried running Kubuntu (which uses KDE) before, but never as an “active” desktop.

Kubuntu made a believer out of me. Everything works in the laptop. Even MP3s, Adobe Flash, Java – it all installed cleanly (upon demand) and works out of the box. Installation was extremely simple. The available packages are quite extensive, and include Debian’s packages.

I attribute some of this ease of support (specifically, MP3 support, Flash, Java, proprietary drivers) to the fact that the company behind Ubuntu (Canonical) is not an American company, but a South African company – which has different laws. So they can make it easy to get proprietary “parts” that they could not sell or support otherwise.

I’m switching from my FreeBSD laptop to this one for the most part: this system is smaller, lighter, faster, and has more memory. It was good to build a FreeBSD desktop though – and took more doing than I thought. I wonder what PC-BSD would be like….. Hmm….

OpenSolaris on a MacBook

OpenSolaris is very interesting, and since the introduction of dtrace and ZFS has enthralled many. I tried to install it onto my HP Compaq E300 laptop (which it was unsuitable for), and tried to install it onto an HP Compaq 6910p laptop. In this case, the networking was unsupported: both the ethernet and the wireless drivers were not included with OpenSolaris Express (Developer Edition).

In any case, I expect I might just be shopping for a laptop in the next year – and it’s nice to see that OpenSolaris does run on the Apple MacBook.  This article goes into detail about how the writer got it to work, and each of the steps that were taken to make it happen.  Paul Mitchell from Sun discusses dual-partitioning a MacBook in this context as well.  Alan Perry (also from Sun) had done the same thing with a Mac Mini, and Paul extended it to the MacBook.  Both entries are detailed and have to do with MacOS X and Solaris dual-booting.

An a different note, check out the graph of library calls from dtrace in this article.  From what I’ve heard of dtrace, it’s the ultimate when it comes to debugging…

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