Configuring Your Laptop for GNOME and Sound

In part 3 of his series on Linux and the laptop, Jay explains how to get GNOME configured, sound modules working and its appearance changed.
Advanced Power Management

Advanced power management (APM) is the primary link a user has between his laptop and its power consumption. Due to APM's integration in the Linux kernel, there is little difficulty to get it running. All you need to do is compile your kernel with the APM support enabled, and you will have basic APM functionality. You must set the following options in the 2.4 kernel compile for APM:

  • Power Management support

  • Advanced Power Management BIOS support

At boot time APM reports as to what type of BIOS is detects. After the machine is booted you can verify APM is functioning correctly by running more /proc/apm. If this file does not exist, you have a problem.

Once APM is enabled, GNOME provides an extremely useful battery monitoring applet that you can add to the control panel. Right click on the panel, then go to Add to panel, then Utility and then click on Battery Charge Monitor. This utility if perfect for monitoring your battery; it tells you your power source and your charge level. If you want to use sleep and suspend, you can use this applet to kick it off. Due to the proprietary nature of enabling those features, I am not going to delve into explaining how to enable sleep and suspend. If you are looking to enable them, however, you will find your needs met by consulting a howto manual for setting up your exact laptop model. Such tutorials can be found here.

Fun with GDM

By default the current build of Sid comes with XDM installed for your X login needs. Although XDM was great in its day, it is bare bones when compared to the newer versions of GDM. XDM is more appropriate if you are running a server, whereas GDM offers more desktop, or in our case laptop, oriented features. The ability to shut off or restart the system is only one of GDM's many abilities. In a server environment, shutting off a system without logging in is a security nightmare. But, for a laptop this type of worry is trivial. A few of GDM's other advantages are: it can be configured on the fly without starting a window session; it has a lavish GUI where you can configure many aspects of it's appearance; and it enables you to manage multiple sessions. With GDM you even can manage remote sessions.

Unfortunately, the Sid repository does not currently have the latest version of GDM, 2.4; it offers the older, 2.2 version. In regards to laptop use, the big difference between these two version is the graphic greeter option. The graphical greeter provides a much more customizable (XML) theme-oriented environment. If you want to use GDM 2.4, you have to acquire it from an alternate source. A tool like this one can be used to find alternative download sources for GDM. After a source is found, you have a choice of apt-getting it or downloading it directly from a site for a manual dpkg install. I think you'll find the latter method to be faster than editing your apt-sources and updating. I was able to download the gdm_2.4.1.3-2_i386.deb package directly from this site, which I found through

From the standpoint of the end user, the appearance of the graphical greeter is big plus, and it's pretty simple to enable and configure. When GDM is first installed, it defaults to using the standard greeter. To change this click on the System drop-down menu and select Configure. You will be asked to enter the system's root password and then presented with GDM's configuration window. To switch to graphical greeter mode, under the General tab, use the drop-down menu next to Local: to select graphical greeter. To configure it further, select the graphical greeter tab at the top of the window. From here you can add new themes or switch between existing ones.

To add a new theme, you must first download the .tar.gz file of your preferred theme. Such themes can be acquired at many web sites. A great place to start is Once you have downloaded the theme, you must go back into the configuration menu for GDM and click on the Install new theme button under the graphical greeter tab. This allows you to browse your system for a downloaded theme; it also uncompresses the tar.gz theme and installs it into the appropriate /usr/share/gdm/themes folder on your system. If you are familiar with XML, you can go into that folder manually and manipulate any theme. Each theme's primary configuration file resides in the directory by the theme's name and is named $themename.xml.



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Re: Configuring Your Laptop for GNOME and Sound

Anonymous's picture

for 2.4.X kernels the CS4232 in config-2.4.X is not needed and incompatible as I checked it when inserting it as a module which failed during the initial module selection for bf24.

recompiled without it, worked

now trying alsa with 2.6.4 currently, need help, got sound but choppy
need to change sampling? rate?

Re: Configuring Your Laptop for GNOME and Sound

Anonymous's picture

I have not been able to get GNOME working on my Debian laptop at all. I had GNOME 1.4 working fine, but when I tried to upgrade to 2.2, I got a series of errors about broken dependencies and locked files. I'd love to remove the GNOME 2.2 files and start over, but I have no idea how to do that.

Re: Configuring Your Laptop for GNOME and Sound

Anonymous's picture

Hi there!! I'm just gettin' nuts with the sound stuff!!! I did not have any trouble with the r6 when it came to sound (I'm a recording engineer),so I'll apreciate any help on this matter either with alsa configuring or OSS (it just don't "see" my sound card and don't have the /dev/dsp)

System Settings folder is empty?

Anonymous's picture

Followed the article instructions for installing gnome 2.2, but I'm disappointed to find the StartHere::SystemSettings folder empty. I expected to see some of the nifty controls described in April 2003 LJ article, "The Gnome2 desktop environment" by Russell Dyer.

Do I apt-get some pkgs to change network IPs, or reconfig Xwin, etc?

Re: Configuring Your Laptop for GNOME and Sound

Anonymous's picture

I appreciate this series of articles as I've had some trouble getting some distros to work on my Dell Inspiron 2650. May I suggest, especially for newbies, Xandros Linux 1.0? It's a Debian Woody-based system, very stable, and does an excellent job of configuring even many laptops without having to edit config files. I love Debian, too, but not everyone will want to delve so deeply into their OS until they are more experienced.


Re: Configuring Your Laptop for GNOME and Sound

Anonymous's picture

I've also found debian libranet to be great with hardware


Xfree on IBM Thinkpad

Anonymous's picture

You know if you have a Thinkpad and you want that third button to work like it does on windows, where when you hold it down you can control scrolling of applications I suggest you use this in your XFree config file as the TrackPoint input device.

Section "InputDevice"
Identifier "TrackPoint"
Driver "mouse"
Option "Protocol" "PS/2"
Option "Device" "/dev/mouse"
Option "Emulate3Buttons" "true"
Option "EmulateWheel" "true"
Option "EmulateWheelButton" "2"

With that added I can hold down that blue button and move the trackpoint up and down to get scroll action, it's pretty sweet I suggest you try it.

Re: Configuring Your Laptop for GNOME and Sound

Anonymous's picture

>> Now, if you restart your GNOME session, you should see an option for the new theme element in the Themes panel.

I've never tried to install a theme using that install button, but shouldn't it automatically get installed _without_ restarting the session?

Sounds a bit strange to me to restart a session just for getting to see a new theme in the theme panel.

(I don't see any reason why that should have to be done)

(perhaps the author of this article wasn't running FAM correctly?)

Re: Configuring Your Laptop for GNOME and Sound

Anonymous's picture

I am facing problem while playing the sound files on my laptop.
I could see my sound card getting detected but when I attampt to play any type of sound file say mp3 I am not able to listen any sound. Even I could not able to listen the test files like info.wav which are present on system by default.
I have gone through the article and like to seek the opinion of experts to get something positive to be able to listen sound on my laptop. I am not that much expert to alter kernal to get it working for me.
Following are the system configuration on my laptop.
kernal - Linux version ( (gcc version 3.4.1 (Mandrakelinux (Alpha 3.4.1-3mdk)) #1 SMP Wed Sep 8 16:41:52 CEST 2004
Arch - Intel x86
Sound card detected - intel8x0 82801DB ICH4
Module - snd-intel8x0
file /etc/modules.conf is empty
No file /etc/modules/aliases present.
audio group is present.
All files in /dev/sound are owned by prasad user and audio group.
I am using user - prasad.
ESD version is 0.2.35

Do I need to add the lines specified in /etc/modules.conf


Re: Configuring Your Laptop for GNOME and Sound

Anonymous's picture

I usually install a theme by clicking on the install button, and it works flawlessly (assuming the theme itself is correct) *without* having to logout and in again.

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