The Laptopia Odyssey, Part 2

Linux Journal's least technical editor reports on the road to Laptopia with his new ThinkPad T40.

Back in March, in "Driving to Laptopia", I reported on the launch of a project: moving as much of my computing life as possible to a Linux laptop. Specifically, I was moving from a 17" PowerBook running OS X to an IBM ThinkPad T40 running Linux. Both were new models a year ago, and at this point both are broken in, though in very different ways.

The PowerBook has been in nearly continuous use since I got it more than a year ago. At home it's hooked up to a second (contiguous) monitor and a host of other peripherals--when it isn't floating around the house, hopping onto one our three Wi-Fi access points. It also travels with me on the road, which is up to half of my time. I doubt many other laptops have seen more use, under more conditions (in cars, on planes, on stages, on laps in less mentionable places), than this one--and that complained less. Which is saying a lot because I've beat the crap out of it.

I took delivery of the ThinkPad from Emperor Linux (it's their Toucan model) at LinuxWorld in January 2004. I got a loaded unit, with an 80GB drive and an Atheros 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi card. It's a fabulous machine, in ways that are very different from the Powerbook. The screen is beautiful. It actually boasts more pixels (1400 x 1050) than the PowerBook's, but it is smaller in total area and has a narrower viewing angle. The colors are rich and vivid, and the detailing is remarkable. Where the PowerBook is sleek and silver, the ThinkPad is industrial and black. For ruggedness and pure functionality, it's hard to beat. For example, where the Powerbook features a soft light behind the keyboard that adjusts to levels of darkness, the ThinkPad has a tiny light that shines down from above the keyboard--a simpler way to solve most of the same problems and in some ways more handy, for example, you can read by it.

I detailed the first episode of my adventures with the T40 in the March report, which ended with a hand-off to Mitch Frazier, Linux Journal's network manager, who tends our servers, among other duties, in Costa Rica. The plan was to rebuild the machine with SuSE 9.1 Professional rather than the latest Fedora, which was the original installed distro (Fedora Core 1; the latest is Core 2). Also, we wanted to make it (as it was before) a dual-boot with Windows XP Professional. Because I'm the Linux Journal editor covering the business beat, and because the vast majority of the world's laptops run Windows, especially in business--even in many otherwise Linux IT shops--I want to conduct a controlled study of Linux vs. Windows on the same portable iron.

The main reason for using SuSE was support. We recently standardized internally on SuSE, and our staff seems happy with it. We also figured the 2.6 kernel and a fresh suite of drivers would do a better job of sleeping and waking up and of driving various peripherals.

It took awhile to get the machine in shape. First, we (that is, Mitch) had to wait for SuSE 9.1 to arrive. Then, we needed to reinstall the whole Windows side of the thing, which includes an extensive help system behind a keyboard button labeled Access IBM. On its site devoted to the subject, IBM describes the system this way:

Access IBM is the comprehensive, on-board help and information center for your computer. It travels with you, eliminating the need to carry reference manuals. It is your guide to a host of information and tools:

  • Access IBM Message Utility

  • IBM Rapid Restore PC

  • ThinkPad Keyboard Customization Utility

  • Access Connections

  • IBM Update Connector

  • ThinkPad Presentation Director

  • Access IBM

  • PC Doctor

  • ThinkPad Software Installer

  • Access IBM Customization

  • ThinkPad Battery Maximizer Utility

  • ThinkPad UltraNav Wizard

  • Access Support Client

  • ThinkPad Configuration Utilities

  • IBM Client Security Software

  • ThinkPad EasyEject Utility

The system is indeed comprehensive. It also works only with Windows. For now. I've spoken to several IBM people about the company's quiet plans to make Linux a native OS for Thinkpads and other PCs, and they have made reassuring sounds about Access IBM. To me the OS isn't native until Access IBM, or the equivalent, works for Linux.

The ThinkPad finally came back to me a couple of weeks ago, and I've gradually been getting re-acquainted with it. Here's a summary of what I've found in a few key areas.

______________________

Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal

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Eudora for Linux is comming- based on Tbird

What is Linux?'s picture

In a few months Eudora for Linux will be released- I think that there are alpha builds available already. It is basically Thunderbird with a bunch of built-in extensions that mimic Eudora's functionality. I'm also anxiously waiting for it...

Re: OSX & Linux ??

Anonymous's picture

Why not Dual Boot, OSX & LINUX? SuSE or YellowDog (Redhat port)

Laptopia? Or masochism via Big Blue?

Anonymous's picture

Gives new meaning to "Big" in Big Blue.

The one thing I learned from your article is that as much as IBM stands behind Linux, it stands just as far away from Linux on its own laptops. That's it.

Thankfully, I read this in time to not renew an IBM laptop wanted ad I've been running off and on for the last few months on Craig's List, and in time to stop my brother from buying a new IBM laptop on my recommendation because of IBM's committment to Linux. This article was an eye opener.

Other laptops may experience the same problems, especially since most of them are actually sold by a small handful of oem manufacturers and which are then rebranded as Dell, Toshiba, HP, and others.

I was hoping to pick up a mid 500 Mhz IBM for under $300 on Craig's list, and my brother was looking for a new one, but was also considering buying a desktop instead, since most use would be at home, and he has minimal opportunity to use it at work, plus the risk factor of it being stolen out of his locker while he's on duty. I'll be advising him to forget the laptop for now, and pick up a Microtel desktop for home instead, and save his money. Maybe when manufacturers start standing behind Linux on their laptops, it will be time to start looking for one again. It looks like we haven't reached that milestone yet.

We need Linux Bios, a halt to the stupidity of keeping hardware specs secret which prevents OPEN Linux drivers, and we need manufacturers who stand behind their products by standing behind Linux. At a billion dollars per quarter for servers against Microsoft's 5 billion, at probably another billion dollars worth or more of freely downloaded/ older unit conversions/ self assembled/ white box installs, at a 50%+ annual growth rate, the GNU/Linux market can only be ignored at the expense of the company doing the ignoring.

With Walmart now making the Linux Microtels available in multi-unit SKUs of 5, 10, 15 and 20 desktops, it looks like demand for GNU/Linux is strong. Very strong. Walmart appears to have its eyes open, and is delivering on customer demand. This article reinforces the belief that IBM is supporting GNU/Linux only as long as GNU/Linux can prop up a pre-determined goal or path in regards to hardware sales and corporate computer services, and to hell with the rest of GNU/Linux. Yes they have a lot of people working on the kernel. And they have a lot of people working on tools and developer kits for their websphere and other web services software which competes with Java and .Net But in paying lip service to GNU/Linux on their laptops, this better shows their true motivations.

Doc, some people can read between the lines, and some can't. If you had been working for Consumer Reports, who buys their own products for testing, and who doesn't rely on advertising, and who isn't beholden to companies for off-the-record background info or access to insiders, etc., and who had a choice among many manufacturers for a laptop, instead of writing about a laptop you already own and love, I doubt your article would have been as restrained on the failings of IBM in the GNU/Linux-laptop sector. Yes, other laptop manufacturers/rebranders are in the same boat. But IBM has no excuse in this area, especially now. They've had plenty of time to correct the situation, and they have not.

Re: Laptopia? Or masochism via Big Blue?

Anonymous's picture

Why not dual boot the PowerBook with OSX & Linux? SuSe or YellowDog?

Re: Laptopia? Or masochism via Big Blue?

Anonymous's picture

Access IBM is only a help system, the fact it doesn't work this minute on Linux is not the end of the world - its not as if people read the docs anyway! :-)
That said, I would rather everything on the thinkpad worked under both Linux and Windows, including not just Access IBM but all the utilities that come with the Thinkpad which only work in Windows (network profile managers, presentation display tools, dvd players, etc...) as in most cases those utilities really are quite good.
Hopefully articles like this will be a wake up call.

Re: The Laptopia Odyssey, Part 2

Anonymous's picture

If Mac OS had problems on it's own limited line of dedicated, proprietary, [more expensive] hardware, it would be an unimaginably sad thing. Everything damn well better work!

And if Microsoft, with it BILLIONS of dollars, and its symbiotic relationships with the big OEM's, couldn't support their hardware, at least most of the time, well again, duh!

So if easy matters most, Windows is dandy; my mother is comfortable and familiar with it. Easy, and well-thought out: Macs are hard to beat. Some of my best friends use and love OSX.

But if you like that wild, delirious exhilaration you get with an OS that runs on anything from embedded to mainframes, that is totally yours, totally open, a brilliant, collaborative production of developers around the world, that gives you the enormous satisfaction of being in possession and control of everything you need to make fire (rather than dependent on the match and lighter manufacturers), if you are the kind of person to whom organic agriculture seems like a good thing for yourself and the planet, then you might enjoy using linux, even when it takes more effort to get new hardware working.

Re: The Laptopia Odyssey, Part 2

Anonymous's picture

That last paragraph is ... indescribably beautiful... my eyes got misty while reading it.

Windows - Can't live professionally without it.
Apple/Mac/OSX - Life is surely better because of it.
Linux - Wouldn't enjoy computing as much without it.

Re: The Laptopia Odyssey, Part 2

Anonymous's picture

Doc,
I made the move from Eudora to Mozilla Mail. I found Mozilla or Thunderbird to be the most similar mail app to Eudora. I had my email store from 1996 to 2002 stored in Eudora (Windows). When I changed my mail server to IMAP I wanted that Eudora mail on the IMAP server. I imported it into Mozilla (on Windows) from Eudora. It came in as Mozilla local folders just fine. Then I set up Mozilla to point to my IMAP server. Using Mozilla I created IMAP server folders to match the old Eudora local folders (in Mozilla) and used drag and drop to move the Eudora local mail Folders (in Mozilla on Windows you see both the local and IMAP folders) to the appropriate matching IMAP server Folders (on my Linux server, qmail/Courier). Now my mail (all of it) is available from anywhere and from any OS.
MC - Neodigita

Re: The Laptopia Odyssey, Part 2

Anonymous's picture

Since you are using Firefox in Linux and OS X you might find Bookmarks Synchronizer useful. It aloows you to sync your bookmarks using ftp. You can fid it here http://texturizer.net/firefox/extensions/

Re: The Laptopia Odyssey, Part 2

Anonymous's picture

I admit that I'm a Mac person with no knowledge of Linux. Just by reading this article, it seems like an awful lot of work on the Linux box to get some basic functionality going. I'm all for alternatives to Microsoft, but using Linux does not seem like much fun for an average user who wants to focus on being productive with the computer. I would be in line to try Linux if I thought it wouldn't be a headache for me.

Also, Mac OS X can run Windows via Virtual PC, OS 9 via classic mode, and has X11 for all that Xwindows stuff (of which I'm not familiar).

When astroturfing...

Anonymous's picture

...it's always better to either limit posts to one employee/one post, or if that rule was followed, then to make sure your employees don't read the other astroturf posts, so that their subsequent astroturf posts sound somewhat original, instead of a cut and paste/scripted operation.

Another good rule to follow is to try and limit your company's astroturfing when the total number of posts are low, however tempting the target may be, and however desperate your market share situation is.

To fail to follow these simple rules makes it painfully/pathetically obvious to all, as is the case here, that your company is in a world of hurt, and defeats your real goals.

Re: The Laptopia Odyssey, Part 2

Anonymous's picture

A mac user since '92, I too found Eudora a really good app. Switching to Linux Mandrake and Kmail was good too, after a while finding Sylpheed, proved to be the e-mail program of choice.

email clients and email migration

undefined's picture

a eudora on windows user since the mid 90's (when you could fit it on and run it from a floppy).

around 2001 i wanted to stop using windows and wanted to migrate to linux (dual-booting drove me crazy, but not as crazy as trying to make eudora work under wine). eudora was the only thing keeping me in windows. not necessarily the application itself, but the email stored under eudora. sure, it's mbox, but non-standard mbox.

we see standards all around us (html, xml, rtf, even if not an "official" standard), but there's no standard for email storage. well, mbox and maildir, but each application provides its own non-standard implementation, losing some information in the conversion process. i needed a standard way of storing email, or at least a standard interface to email. then the idea hit me: imap. so i set up an imap server: uw-imap, the easiest as all configuration is done at compile-time. (i tried running uw-imap under both linux and windows, so as to allow me to continue dual booting until i had established myself completely on linux, but uw-imap under cygwin was pathetically slow.) then, using eudora, i just copied all my email to the imap server. the process was 99% perfect: i think i only lost the "replied to" flag which states if an email has been replied to.

never would i have to worry about migrating my email again... until i switched from uw-imap to courier-imap, changing from mbox to maildir (which as the administrator of the server, i find maildir much easier to manage: incremental backups are cleaner, corruption is more maintained, individual emails can be more easily manipulated manually, etc). the hack for that: uw-imap-ssl on 993 and courier-imap on 143 (though i had to make a backup of uw-imap-ssl executable, uninstall uw-imap-ssl package, and install courier-imap, as debian has the two packages conflicting; but as uw-imap is compile-time configured, all that was needed was the single executable file).

another benefit to an imap server is that i can use whatever client i want. i tried several clients back in '01: evolution, mutt, balsa, spruce, eudora (under wine), etc. (yeah, no kde applications because i've found kde only provides benefits if you buy into the whole kde desktop, but i don't run either gnome or kde desktops.) i finally settled on evolution as i had purchased a palm pda (handspring, actually) and wanted the integration.

about a year ago i ditched evolution (too many features -> too much complexity -> too many bugs & quirks; html rendering was horrible and palm integration was flaky). still wanting to retain my palm pda integration, i switched to jpilot and sylpheed. sylpheed is like the mutt of gui email clients: fast and flexible, using other applications to provide additional functionality (html in browser, address book in jpilot, images in gqview, etc).

i initially used mutt for remote email access, but eventually installed squirrelmail & up-imapproxy (to speed up squirrelmail & courier-imap communication). if necessary, i could use squirrelmail as my only email client (though i haven't populated its address book), it's that capable.

an imap server on your linux desktop/laptop might sound overkill, but it provides a great deal of flexibility. offlineimap can even be used to sync your company imap server with your desktop/laptop imap server (heard it works great, but i couldn't get it to work right when trying to migrate from uw-imap to courier-imap; probably user error).

hth

Re: The Laptopia Odyssey, Part 2

Anonymous's picture

If you are happy to do the mail conversion on the Mac OS X side, you might like to look at Emailchemy. A very useful conversion program that will do individual text files, standard mbox files, and many other variants. Best I've found anyway.

Re: The Laptopia Odyssey, Part 2

Anonymous's picture

Sure seems like an Apple ad. It sure isn't one for Linux.
Life should be easy, why make it so hard! Just use OSX and be done with it :-)

Why NOT Yellow Dog Linux

Anonymous's picture

Why NOT Yellow Dog Linux on the 17" PowerBook in a Dual Boot that Macs are made to do. Oh yeah, you want your WIN-DOZE too! VPC does that!

Stephen

Re: The Laptopia Odyssey, Part 2

Anonymous's picture

Be honest, you really work for Apple don't you? It's hard to imagine a better Apple ad. Except the title: "The Laptopia Odyssey, Pain vs. Gain" kinda fits. When they say desktop Linux has a ways to go, the're not kidding are they?

Why NOT Yellow Dog Linux

Anonymous's picture

Why NOT Yellow Dog Linux on that 17" PowerBook in a very easy dual boot that Macs are made to do!

Stephen

FireWire Shortcut

Anonymous's picture

You didn't need to purchase the 60g FireWire drive. Just boot the PB while holding down the 'T' key. This will put the PB in to FireWire Target Disk Mode. Now the PB is essentially a FireWire hard drive. Just plug a firewire cable from the ThinkPad to the PB and mount the PB just like you did the LaCie drive.

No more shuffling between drives.

Re: FireWire Shortcut

Doc's picture

I've done that, and it works.

Fortunately, it's easier just to avoid Firewire completely on the Thinkpad and run the external drive over USB. Seems fast enough.

Re: The Laptopia Odyssey, Part 2

Anonymous's picture

Wow, that is a lot of work to get things to going on your laptop. It still sounds like linux is not ready for the consumer desktop. You had two experts helping you and it still caused some of them problems. You forgot that you can VPC for your Mac and run windows, even linux, while still booted in OSX. Much nicer then rebooting your machine.

Good Luck.

Re: The Laptopia Odyssey, Part 2

Anonymous's picture

Well that's it. I've been deliberating over the purchase of a Powerbook for the last couple of months and this article has sealed it. I'll be purchasing my first apple product within the next couple of weeks. I love thar Garageband stuff too.

Re: The Laptopia Odyssey, Part 2

Anonymous's picture

Doc has an OSX box so who cares what XP costs to run/maintain. Doc has the perfect solution sitting in his lap already. Others could to.
Windows is an expensive option but the Doc/Linux ordeal shows that is as well.

Re: The Laptopia Odyssey, Part 2

Anonymous's picture

Well, things should get even more interesting when Apple's developers conference starts Monday the 28th. Supposedly Apple has added even more UNIX/Linux support to the OS. Even the Fed. computer journal has said that the ability to run much UNIX/Linux software unmodified was a strong feature of OX X.

I'd like to see a report on 10.4.

Re: The Laptopia Odyssey, Part 2

Doc's picture

Not for the consumer desktop, but certainly for many professionals.

For what it's worth, the Thinkpad in SuSE 9.1 Linux mode doesn't seem a lot more demanding of help than does Windows XP Professional. Both are short of OS X for pure convenience, but I at least get the clear impression that Linux is moving fast. How much has XP improved over the last six months? How long will the Windows World wait for Longhorn?

One thing I highly appreciate about Linux, over Windows, is the assumption that I don't need graphical (especially Wizard) assistance to do everything. And the command shell is always there. I still haven't found it (though I'm told it's there, somewhere) in Windows.

Re: The Laptopia Odyssey, Part 2

Anonymous's picture

There are a lot of useful free utilities that make Windows XP a better environment for laptops. WinRollUp, VirtuaWin, Sidebar, SpeedSwitchXP, XP SP2 RC2, Firefox 0.9, X-Tek X-Setup Pro, TortoiseCVS.

>> And the command shell is always there
Start, Run, cmd

Re: The Laptopia Odyssey, Part 2

Anonymous's picture

It's easy to ridicule Linux for hardware problems but would you say the same about Windows if Microsoft had to write the drivers for every single piece of hardware available ?

Most of the time, linux or bsd drivers are written by end users. Now, that's quite a feat, considering that in many cases these drivers work better than those provided by the manufacturers.

Talking about specialists, have you ever asked your friends or relatives how much money they had to pay over the years to get Windows reinstalled by a techie whenever something went wrong (viruses, worms, software glitches, the usual "reboot and see if it works") ?

Re: The Laptopia Odyssey, Part 2

Anonymous's picture

Wow! Most of us don't have a linux guru to tie up for hours/days.
What do you think that would have cost you/me.
So much for the Linux "free" idea.

Re: The Laptopia Odyssey, Part 2

Anonymous's picture

When you're done migrating over to your Linux machine (which considering the problems you're running into doesn't make sense to me - aside from the fact you work for a Linux publication), can I have your 17" PowerBook?

Re: The Laptopia Odyssey, Part 2

Doc's picture

Not if you stay anonymous. :-)

Re: The Laptopia Odyssey, Part 2

Mindflayer's picture

Doc, I am not anonymous. I would love to have that 17" Powerbook. Heck, I could write about OS X in a production environ where I use it to manage a team who manages one of the largest Linux implementations out there. :)

Or I could just enjoy its Mac goodness.

Re: The Laptopia Odyssey, Part 2

Anonymous's picture

Kmail is probably the best Eudora replacement. I have replaced my mother's Win98 SE with Mandrake 9.1 onher laptop and she immediately fell in love with Kmail.

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