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….

Running Linux/UNIX under VMware Server 1.0

I have the distinct pleasure of having tried a number of systems under VMware Server, including OpenSUSE 10.3, Kubuntu 7.10, OpenBSD, and Solaris Express Developer Edition.  All work quite nicely.

There is one caveat – this environment uses a dual-monitor setup for Windows, and if the emulator autodetects the desktop size it expands to something approximating the two monitors put together.  The emulated environment works just fine (usually) with this screen, but it can’t be used in full-screen mode (since that goes to one screen only).

In that line of video mishaps, Solaris detected the video but only wants to allow 1024×768 (I’ve 1280×1024 here).  Whatever.

I also did not try OpenBSD as a desktop environment – I’ve actually yet to really put it through its paces that way (although I did set up OpenBSD 3.0/Mac68k with WindowMaker a while back….).

Which one do I like the most?  Currently I find myself looking toward OpenSUSE 10.3 more and more – and loving to use it.  The new KDE menu is a pleasure to use, and I love the immense selection of RPMs (and I do like RPM as it is).

The fact that they split up the KDE RPMs seems ghastly to me – too many things to choose.  For example, KDE Office is available in all its little bits – as is KDE Toys, KDE Games, and whatever else.  Nicer just to choose to install KDE Toys or not… I’m not sure whether I like having KDE 3 as a base with all of the KDE 4 applications available – but it seems to work alright.

I’d like to install BeleniX next, but they’ve not updated their system yet – the last hard disk install was buggy. I’m waiting eagerly….

New operating system releases!

This is just amazing: did everybody coordinate this? Within the last three weeks or so, we’ve seen these releases come out:

Several of these were released on the same day, November 1.

What next? Am I really supposed to choose just one? Sigh. And I just installed OpenBSD 4.1 and Fedora 7, too – not to mention installing FreeBSD 6.2 not too long ago.

From all the talk, I’ll have to try Kubuntu again. So many systems, so little time.

I have been using OpenSUSE 10.3 (with KDE). I just love it – and I love the new menu format, too.

Update: Sigh. I should have known. Microsoft Windows Vista celebrated its 1st Anniversary on Nov. 8.