Just a quick note in praise of Ubuntu Linux 10.04 "Lucid Lynx" - more specifically their excellent Netbook edition - with a HOWTO for installing it on the problematic Dell C400 laptop.
Ubuntu Netbook Edition is a nice consumer-friendly desktop operating system for everyone, but it's particularly appealing for your friends and relatives who just want something quick and easy for accessing web and email (although once they've got used to Ubuntu, the other tools it comes with such as word processors, music players and graphics editors may also prove useful). The Netbook edition has a simple menu system that's really easy to use. Also, the window manager works well on smaller screens. And the boot-up time is rapid even on older hardware (under a minute on anything Pentium-4 powered). Installing it is easy too: it auto-detected all my devices: Ethernet, Wi-Fi, 3G UMTS, Audio, Video, Bluetooth, the lot. Also, the network manager applet in the toolbar makes it easy to configure 3G data connections, and to hop around between different Ethernet and Wi-Fi networks.
I've installed Ubuntu 10.04 succesfully on a Dell Precision M4400 laptop; a Dell Latitude D620 laptop; an HP XE4500 laptop; and two Dell Latitude C400 laptops. The Dell C400 laptops caused problems (an error abort message in the installer, and flashing video in the test drive mode), apparently due to a buggy ACPI system on that hardware. But that's easily fixed - see HOWTO below. The fix is to disable ACPI mode. I've also disabled Intel video card kernel mode setting as a precaution - although I think that may be the default now anyway. Read on for a step-by-step solution - this may be useful on other buggy laptops/desktops too.
Once set up, Ubuntu runs nicely on the Dell C400, which isn't half bad when you consider that it's only a 1 GHz Pentium 3 machine. My C400's both have 1 GB RAM, but it would probably work at an acceptable speed with less memory too.
HOWTO: Install Ubuntu 10.04 "Lucid Lynx" on the Dell C400 laptop
- Boot netbook 10.04 CD
- Press F6 when keyboard icon appears
- Arrow down to "Install Ubuntu Netbook"
- Press F6 (Other Options) and :-
- Press Escape
- Press right-arrow to edit Boot Options line
- Press left-arrow four times to move cursor to just after "splash"
- Type " acpi=off i915.modeset=0 nomodeset" (This mode choice applies one-time only.)
- Press Return to start the install
(UPDATE: This does not work on Ubuntu 10.10. Once again, new software breaks on old hardware. Perhaps on 10.10, you could try the Alternate Install CD [text-mode during installation], then try updating the kernel and manually enabling the intel driver in xorg.conf.)
Yay! Now the 10.04 installer boots, and after answering 7 quick questions, it begins installing 10.04 Netbook to the hard drive. Easy.
The install completes OK, but after booting into your freshly-installed system, you'll still have problems. By default, the desktop will die (X crash) after painting the menu etc because those special boot settings weren't saved.
- press Power switch once to shut down cleanly
- switch on again to reboot
- hold down Shift as soon as box starts to boot
- This brings up a pre-boot menu so that you can set temporary boot parameters.
- Press 'e' to edit the grub settings:
change 'quiet splash' to 'quiet splash acpi=off i915.modeset=0 nomodeset'
- Type Ctrl/X to boot with these temporary settings.
The system should now start normally.
Now edit edit /etc/default/grub to make the change permanent. Change the line:
GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="quiet splash acpi=off i915.modeset=0 nomodeset"
Now run "sudo update-grub".
At this stage, if you have Ethernet or Wireless working, you should probably
run the Update Manager to update everything (over 200 packages including new kernel and X) then reboot. Then check it all still works.
So far, the only issue I'm seeing is that shutting down Linux doesn't power off the laptop. That's predictable because ACPI support is needed for that. No matter, just press the power switch after it shuts down.
What about software? Well, web and email work out of the box, but there's no Flash support (so BBC News clips don't work), no Java and no MP3 support. But all that is easily fixed, as follows… No geeking required!
- 1. From the menu, select System and click Software Sources. Tick the box "Other Software / Lucid Partner".
- 2. From the menu, select Favourites / Ubuntu Software Centre. Install "Adobe Flash Plugin" (otherwise BBC News clips won't work). Better still, install "Ubuntu Restricted Extras" to include support for MP3, TrueType fonts, Java and various Codecs too.
- 3. Personally I prefer Sun Java not OpenJDK Java. So I then use the Software Centre to remove all Open JDK related items, and then I install "Sun Java 6.0 Plug-in" instead for some software to work. Note that during installation of the Sun Java software, you need to Alt-Tab to bring a license acceptance dialog to the front in order to allow the install to proceed.
- 4. You might also want libdvdcss2 so that you can play DVD movies (probably not possible anyway on the Dell C400). Haven't tried it as I don't watch movies on my laptop anyway.
- 5. I also install the Chromium Web Browser and the GIMP graphics editor - again just pick them from the Software Centre tool and they install very easily.
Hopefully, Ubuntu Netbook Edition can breathe a bit of extra useful life into older hardware.