Ubuntu 10.04 on a ThinkPad T42
I am typing this entry from my 5 year old IBM ThinkPad T42 laptop. Why? It’s a simple matter that I decided to give Linux one more try on this machine. In the past I have had bad luck with Linux on this particular laptop because it does not play well with the ATI Radeon Mobility 7500 video that the laptop came with. It would run like molasses until I hacked and hacked just to make it somewhat usable. This was true for recent past releases of Ubuntu, Xubuntu and OpenSUSE.
I was pleasantly surprised when I installed Canonical’s Ubuntu 10.04. Right out of the box it runs well – very well. Compiz effects included. I know the latest release is actually 10.10 but 10.04 is the most recent LTS release (Long Term Support – 3 years) and I have heard of some performance issues with 10.10. For me, 10.04 has been pretty impressive but at the same time not flawless. I’ll get the bad out of the way first and then get into the good stuff:
The bad. :\
This laptop’s internal wireless radio has been broken for a while now. Under Windows and other Linux releases I have been able to use the laptop just without proper use of the wireless. Under Ubuntu 10.04 the startup gets stuck in an infinite loop with the message “Unable to start the card”. I eventually had to disable the wireless radio in the BIOS to get to the desktop. Not very good error handling.
Over the last few years, many Linux distros have been touted as having everything you need right out of the box. You know, your office apps, web browser, that sort of thing. I therefore have one small gripe: There was no Flash or Java plugin installed. Come on guys, most of the web runs on that stuff! Even something for SilverLight should have been there because there’s enough websites using that technology now too.
Now I know, I know, these are not open source products. However, there are open source alternatives to them. I have no problem installing the plugins myself but from a marketing point of view it makes sense to package some open source alternatives since there’s everything else loaded right out the box.
There really should be some proper means (not via command line) of changing key mappings. Prior to the “Lenovo era”, ThinkPad laptops did not come with a Windows key. On Linux that’s the Super key and is mapped to some shortcuts. Under Windows I used IBM’s utility to remap my right ALT and CTRL to WIN and MENU but it’s not so simple under Ubuntu.
Note: As far as the Compiz effects go, if you want to remap the shortcut keys so you don’t need the Windows/Super key, you can use the Ubuntu Software Center, search for “Compiz” and install the CompizConfig Settings Manager.
The good! :D
The first thing I have to say is that I am very glad the Radeon 7500 is finally supported out the box. It’s not flawless; with full effects on the card is too old to get the edges smooth when wobbling windows around (though the motion itself is very smooth) and I can’t get the water effect to work. All in all though, it works pretty well and is smooth with transparencies and everything enabled. I even installed Celestia and gave it a run. It’s smooth enough.
In terms of software, notwithstanding what I spoke about before Ubuntu comes with most of the essentials built in. There’s OpenOffice.org Presentation, Spreadsheet and Word Processor 3.2 as well as some games, CD/DVD creator, dictionary and media players. Installing software is a breeze; just go into the Applications menu and run the Ubuntu Software Center. Find what you want and it downloads and installs without issue.
Note: The software is not flawless. OO.org did not display my PowerPoint slides very well and the SABRE flight simulator hangs but it would not be fair to hold Ubuntu responsible. That would be like holding Microsoft responsible for Adobe software crashing. I am mentioning it as the PowerPoint issue could be a problem in the workplace.
There was a built in alert that my battery may be old at only 42% capacity upon startup. This test machine is a 5 year old laptop so that’s precisely the case. Windows never gave me such an alert. My HP 6980 printer installed without a hitch over the Ethernet connection.
I can’t put my finger on what it is exactly, but the interface seems generally cleaner and more refined than I remember it to be. Mind you I changed my setup to something blue – Ubuntu’s default orange/brown look is not a favorite of mine. It is decidedly attractive and intuitive though.
I am no code geek. I code yes, but to get websites and administrative tasks running. I don’t want to have to mess around with command lines and manuals to get my OS set up so in that respect, Linux has come a very long way indeed – particularly under Ubuntu. I honestly feel like it has finally matured past the Geek’s OS stage enough so that I can even install it on my parents’ computer. I won’t – but I feel like I can.
Ubuntu 10 seems pretty much built around the idea of the cloud with built in access to Ubuntu One and Chat Accounts right next to the clock. Pretty good considering that there’s a Netbook edition of Ubuntu.
Will I be moving my primary PC and Laptop to Ubuntu? No, not anytime soon. It is not that I don’t like Ubuntu because I do. It is not that I feel it has too many quirks because I don’t. It is because I live and work in a Windows world. I like Windows and the applications I use for work and play reside on Windows. I would need to install an emulator like Wine to work on Linux and to me that’s just counter productive.
I would however consider (after further use) using Ubuntu in some classroom environments – you may be surprised at the sheer quantity of educational software available in the Ubuntu Software Center. I would put it on older corporate machines being donated to orphanages and the like. I would gladly run it on a Netbook.
Ubuntu is no Windows replacement, but based on my experience thus far it has come a very long way indeed. Unless you are like me and are tied to Windows applications then using Ubuntu as your OS may be something to consider.
The setup used for this review was Ubuntu 10.04 32-bit Desktop Edition with Special Effects set to “Extra” on an IBM ThinkPad T42 with an Intel Pentium-M 1.6GHz processor, 1 GB RAM, Western Digital 120 GB 5400 RPM PATA Hard Drive and ATI Radeon Mobility 7500 video.
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Tech tips, news and views from an IT Professional and Educator based in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.