Well, it's getting to be that time of the year when the next generation of Linux distributions are ripening towards release. So I went over to the openSuse site and grabbed a copy of 10.3 beta 1 and then over to the Ubuntu testing site and grabbed 7.10 Tribe (alpha) 4.
Trying to test openSuse 10.3 beta 1 turned out to be a bust, both on the Gateway notebook (running openSuse 10.2) as well as europa. openSuse refused to boot in graphical mode on the Gateway. After the grub selection the screen went black and stayed that way. On europa I got a lot further, and was even able to test the integrity of the DVD, which it passed. But after that the installation failed because it could not see the DVD. I've had this problem in the past (most notably on the Gateway M680 with Suse 10), but never on my desktop system. Two strikes and openSuse 10.3 beta 1 was out. Maybe the next beta will work...
Then I booted the Gateway with Ubuntu 7.10 alpha 4, and that worked rather spectacularly (see image capture below). Not only did it boot with the ATI X700 graphics chip in 1680 x 1050 resolution, but a number of 3D features were enabled, such as drop shadows around the windows and partial transparency on window borders for windows that don't have the focus.
The following is a closeup that shows shadowing and transparency.
One other feature in Tribe 4 was desktop switching. When switching using the keyboard ([Ctrl][Alt] left arrow or right arrow) the desktops slid left and right respectively, which was much preferable to the flipping as if spinning a cube. The only feature missing was the Expose-like feature that is currently available on regular Compiz and Beryl window managers.
Most other features seemed to work, such as wireless networking and USB mounting. I was able to plug in my Kingston 4GiB thumb drive and save off the screen capture to it. The only feature that seemed to have a problem was playback of video Ogg. I couldn't play back the Mandela sample video. I heard the audio, but the video did not display.
I think I'll wait until Tribe 5 before making a decision about installation. And from the looks of things, the good free version of the ATI driver seems to be spreading out to more and more distributions, which is indeed a good thing. Perhaps they'll re-spin Fedora 7 with the latest Xorg ATI video driver.