Monday, July 18, 2005

Ubuntu Linux - What a pleasant surprise

I run both Windows (Professional XP SP2) and Linux (Fedora Core 4, SuSE 9.1) at home. One box runs FC4 all the time, while the Windows box dual boots between Windows and SuSE. I have, however, been less than satisfied of late with Fedora Core, especially FC4. Yes, I know Fedora Core is 'bleeding edge'. I don't mind bleeding edge in areas clearly defined as such, and quirks can be forgiven if usability provided out weights the quirks. But there are enough annoyances in FC4 in many areas that shouldn't have quirks that I've started looking around for a replacement distribution on the all-Linux machine. Thus my willingness to try various distributions, such as Ubuntu 5.04.

Ubuntu is available on the web in CD-ROM and DVD-ROM format. I decided to download the DVD ISO and burn a DVD for testing. The DVD is available only via torrent, so I snagged a copy of Azureus, the Java BitTorrent client. I first Azureus to grab NASA's World Wind client, and I've been hooked on Azureus ever since. Azureus is interesting for another reason; it uses the Eclipse Rich Client Platform. Once I had the Ubuntu DVD ISO, I burned it to DVD and popped it into my notebook.

My notebook is a Gateway M680 with Windows Professional SP2 installed. It's unique in a number of ways. One feature of note is the video subsystem. It's built with ATI's X700 mobile video card. The Gateway also comes with a 17" display, and the display though the ATI card and driver is set to 1680 x 1050 pixel resolution. It also has Microsoft's ClearType enabled. The overall effect is beautiful to view as well as very easy to read, especially with my bad eyesight. I want to boot Ubuntu DVD just to see how well it handles the display. ATI video cards are a bear to get right under Linux, and I want to see what the out-of-the-box experience is like.

But before I could do that I needed to pop the Ubuntu DVD into the Gateway's drive. And when I did that I got another pleasant surprise. Windows found and ran the Ubuntu browser. The Ubuntu browser is a lot like the OpenCD browser in that it allows the installation of free and open software on Windows. The Ubuntu browser even has a link to the OpenCD and explains that the Ubuntu collection is a sub-set of the software found on the OpenCD collection.

The Ubuntu browser is well laid out, and allows the user to read about the various applications available for installation. I particularly like the screen shot galleries for each application. Over all the Ubuntu Windows browser is very professionally done. I have yet to boot the Gateway into Ubuntu, but if the Windows browser is any indication then I look forward to a pleasant and professional experience on the notebook as well as my home Linux system.


Ubuntu didn't boot into the GUI on the Gateway. The reason is the lack of a default ATI driver for the video chipset. I'll sure give it lots of points for trying, though. The configuration file had an entry for the Radeon Mobility X700 (RV410) chip, and it let me try to run at 1680 x 1050 resolution. I'll be booting Ubuntu (or more precisely, Kubuntu when its torrent download finishes) on the home Linux box tonight, and if the live run finds everything and runs to my satisfaction, then I will replace the Fedora installation with Kubuntu and use that as my working distribution. And since the home box has an older ATI 9600 card, I'll play with adding the ATI driver.

I really do want Linux running on the Gateway, but the Gateway is my work machine provided by my employer and it's not mine to do with as I please. I have no problem making it a dual boot (with Lacey's support), but I have to get real work done. I don't have a lot of time to tweak and fiddle with Linux to make it work as well as Windows. Perhaps as time goes on and I find out more I can install Kubuntu on the Gateway. If that happens I'll post it here.


  1. the problem with the x700 is well known. you'll have to add an option in the xorg.conf (or change the x driver to vesa. but then you won't have acceleration etc)

  2. Not well known enough. Do you have a link to this "well known problem" and any possible resolutions? Besides, this is old history now. I have 2D and 3D acceleration with the current ATI driver, thank you very much.


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