Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Ubuntu - A True Pleasure

I have a Dell Inspiron XPS laptop. It's a P4 3.4GHz machine with 1 GIG of RAM and it has an ATI Radeon Mobility 9800 with 256MB. Not a bad machine. I have really enjoyed it. Well, I've enjoyed running Windows on it. I've been trying for 6 months to get a Linux distro to run on it. The major hurdle? Video. About the time I bought it was when ATI was just releasing their drivers for linux for the 9800. Problem is they were never really designed for the mobility card and they suggest getting drivers from the computer manufacturer. Uh, Dell don't do dat.

I tried Mandrake, Fedora, Debian, and Gentoo. All of which installed rather easily (well, not gentoo but I still like that distro) but I could not get video to work with any of them. And I'm not talking 3D acceleration. Plain old show my desktop video would not work. It was so frustrating. So I gave up for a while.

Yesterday I got to work and went to Distro Watch to see what was up and coming, what had been updated, etc. I noticed Ubuntu recently released another version. I went to their site and did some reading. It seemed that from the forums people were having success getting video to work with the same hardware I have.

Ubuntu is built off of a Debain core so all you need to download is a single CD ISO. The CD installs the base system, kernel, and a few other goodies to get you going. Everything else you need is done using apt-get or their nice GUI interface for apt-get, synaptic. I downloaded the CD, created the CD image, and started the install process. The install is all text based but it is still really simple. The only part where you might have questions if you are new to linux is drive partitioning. Although you can automate that but I was dual booting so I had to customize the partitions a bit. Hardware detection was all automatic. The install was done in a hurry and it ejected my CD and asked to reboot. No questions about video or anything. I thought "Great, going to have to jack with this manually". It booted right into a nice GDM where I logged in and saw the nice, clean Gnome desktop. And at the correct resolution, 1900x1200.

I was in utter amazement. Video worked just like that. There was still a problem though. My 3D acceleration wasn't working very well because it was still wanting to use some basic ATI driver and not the fglrx drivers that really sing. After a bit of searching on the Ubuntu Forums I was able to fix this problem really easily. 3D acceleration and opengl support work flawlessly.

A few other notes:
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Desktop - Ubuntu uses a customized Gnome by default. You can install any other desktop you want. There is even a KDE Ubuntu project called Kubuntu that I installed and it works great if you are a KDE fan.

Multimedia - I had to install some additional drivers and codecs to get DVD and MP3 support. Not a big deal as Ubuntu makes installing additional software a breeze with apt-get.

I still don't have my linksys wireless PCMCIA card working. Word in the forums is that my card worked after some driver installs using ndiswrapper with the RC of the latest release. After the release was made final it doesn't work anymore. So I am still working on this. But I can run wired just fine.
I went to Best Buy tonight and bought a Netgear WG111 Wireless USB Adapter for my Tivo. I noticed this card mentioned on the Ubuntu forums so I gave it a shot and now I am editing this post from my Ubuntu Wireless system. Wahoo!! (I also installed Unreal Tournament 2004 and it runs even better than it ran on Windows, but that is another blog)

Ubuntu has a 6 month release cycle so every 6 months they offer a new distribution. Current users can simply upgrade their current release with apt-get, kernel and all.

Software packages using apt-get are based on links in the repository of where to find the software. You need to add additional links to the list so that apt-get can get more and newer software. This is as easy as editing a file and adding the links though.

The Ubuntu Guide is the best place to go right after installation. Just go down the list and do what it says to get what you need. Including how to add those additional resources for software.

Sometimes software versions won't match release. What I mean is accoring to Help->About on Mozilla Firefox I am running versino 1.02. 1.04 is the latest. Questioning this in the forums I was told that although the versions don't match all the patches in 1.04 have been applied to my 1.02. Good enough for me.

7 comments:

Rob Sanheim said...

Couple questions:
- how was networking setup? including wireless lan and wireless internet.
- would you say you familiar with linux in general?

Gregg said...

etworking for the most part is done automatically during the install. I haven't had to mess with it much from the command line other than trying to install the drivers to get my wireless card to work. There is a Network GUI for activating and configuring your eth0-ethX and your wlan.

Morwan said...

Hey, just stalking you and all...

Currently I'm mulling over loading Ubuntu on my friend's machine. She has the same USB ethernet adapater as you (WG111, with the serial beginning with 72), and I was wondering how exactly you installed the drivers, or if you could give me a link that'd point me in the right direction.

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