The Laptopia Odyssey, Part 2
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
IBM Update Connector
ThinkPad Presentation Director
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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