Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Linux on Dell C400 laptop: Ubuntu Jaunty Jackalope

Ubuntu Linux just gets better and better, and the new Jaunty release is no exception. Very easy to use, and to add and remove software packages, keep up with the security updates, etc.  It doesn't need shiny new hardware: it will run quite happily on old slow laptops....

I have a couple of old Dell Latitude C400 laptops - very small, not quick (from the Pentium 3 era) but perfectly usable given enough RAM. These runs Jaunty very nicely, however there is an issue with the X Windows display fonts becoming corrupted, because the Jaunty installer doesn't quite guess the settings correctly for the C400. To fix this, you can copy the following file into /etc/X11/xorg.conf:-
Section "Device"
Identifier      "Configured Video Device"
Driver "intel"
Option "AccelMethod" "exa"
Option "MigrationHeuristic" "greedy"
Option "ExaNoComposite" "false"
Option "DRI" "false"
EndSection

Section "Extensions"
Option "Composite" "disabled"
EndSection

Section "Monitor"
Identifier      "Configured Monitor"
EndSection

Section "Screen"
Identifier      "Default Screen"
Monitor         "Configured Monitor"
Device          "Configured Video Device"
EndSection
[26th May: Tweaked this a bit (added DRI and Composite lines). Fonts were fine, but occasionally the machine would lock up. Repeated on 3 different C400 machines.]

Another thing worth noting, is that Ubuntu Linux offers full-disk encryption right out of the box. But to get it, you need to download the Alternate Installer CD image rather than the default one. Then just select "Encrypted LVM" when the installer gets to the disk partitioning stage.

Hopefully the next Ubuntu will offer full-disk-crypto on the default installation CD, to encourage users to encrypt their disks. That way, if someone steals my laptop, it's only money I've lost; and if someone borrows my laptop without permission, it's pretty hard for them to drop a keylogger on it without modifying the hardware.

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