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11/9/2004
11:36 AM
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Laptop Linux Talks Back

A while back, I asked you to share your experiences with Linux on laptop computers. Most of you who wrote back love your Linux laptops, and you're happy you made the switch. But enough of you also dealt with hardware glitches to suggest that installing Linux on a laptop is still a lot messier than installing it on a desktop PC.

A while back, I asked you to share your experiences with Linux on laptop computers. Most of you who wrote back love your Linux laptops, and you're happy you made the switch. But enough of you also dealt with hardware glitches to suggest that installing Linux on a laptop is still a lot messier than installing it on a desktop PC.

Smooth Sailing -- But...
More than half of the 25 or so responses reported smooth sailing with at least some of your laptop Linux installations. The successes included Red Hat, SuSE, Mandrake, and Xandros distros, running on both new and older laptops from different vendors. Here's a typical example:

"I've been using Linux on my laptop for about a year and a half, first running Knoppix and then switching to Xandros about six months ago. I've used a couple of different IBM Thinkpads during that time. The Knoppix was OK, but the Xandros has filled all my needs for office tools as well as given me considerable stability. I'm one of these types who has 20 different apps open on my desktops. Windows (whatever) is just not up to the task."

Just a few of you bought your laptop Linux installations pre-installed--one from HP and the others from smaller vendors. If your experiences are any indication, there's a healthy market for pre-installed Linux machines:

"My HP nx5000 arrived in early September, and I love it. Besides the fact HP can't deliver hardware on time (it took a month) it's a great box. I've yet to try the wireless . . . but it's a beautiful piece of hardware. In fact, I ordered two more of them yesterday for new employees."

In nearly every other case, however, readers who reported successful do-it-yourself Linux installations also ran into trouble with other installation attempts:

"I believe you will find that any modern, non-specialized distro will install and operate just fine on any mainstream laptop, with the notable exception of anything made by Compaq . . . They seem to have an abundance of the 'tweaks' you mentioned in their hardware, even on desktop and server systems, which seems to make the available drivers incompatible or unreliable."

Welcome To Hardware Hell
Those of you who failed to get Linux working on your laptops also used a variety of distros and laptop models. Wireless networking cards caused some of the biggest problems, although they weren't the only culprits:

"I am one of those people trying to use Linux SuSE on my Toshiba laptop. Ran into a problem (being very much a Linux neophyte not surprising!). Tried to install my Linksys wireless card and now neither the internal ethernet or wireless card seems to work! I tried a full reinstall from the CD, but it's not talking!"

One frustrated Linux user had a very different problem--one that might be a lot more common than my very unscientific survey suggested:

"I too suffered through an install on my laptop and finally gave up in frustration. The biggest problem is not the lack of documentation but the foreign language used. Why must Linux programmers write so cryptically? I've been in the data processing business since the days of the IBM 1401, through the 360s, 4200s, and AS/400s, and could probably still remember how to code in machine language. So why is it so difficult for me to understand Linux lingo?"

This reader clearly isn't a technology novice, and in fact, just one of you (quoted above) described yourself as a Linux "neophyte." Some of you described your Linux background, and others dropped hints by mentioning things like mount scripts and LAMP stacks.

A Funny Idea Of Fun
The fact that a bunch of Linux geeks read Linux Pipeline isn't surprising. When you described problems with your Linux laptops, however, many of you clearly enjoyed fixing them. We love you (and so do our advertisers), but let's face it--this isn't normal behavior.

What does it all mean? I'll leave you with email from one more reader. He said he had "great luck" running Mandrake on Compaq laptops but mixed results with some other distro/hardware combinations. He also closed with a caveat:

"Microsoft users probably aren't interested or prepared to fight hardware issues that come with running Linux on bleeding edge hardware, be it a desktop or a laptop."

He's right, of course: Microsoft users (in other words, most people) want cool new laptops with the latest gadgets, but they don't want to live on the bleeding edge. Until more Big Companies ship Linux on laptops that (usually) work out of the box, this won't be friendly territory for most laptop users.

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