|NOTE These notes are now somewhat
outdated. I removed the original Caldera Linux and installed Red Hat
8.0. The install was completely uneventful. Red Hat 8.0 detected all
hardware components automatically, with no intervention on my part.
|NOTE You may also be interested in my
dual-boot installation on an IBM
Thinkpad R40 or IBM Thinkpad
I used to like Windows. I used to understand it pretty well too. I even got used to the wretched registry and c:\windows\system folder that fill up with more crud every time you install some software. I lived with the fact that programs and devices would eventually stop working when the crud conflicts became unbearable. I stoically went through the rite of backing up all my files once in a while, reformatting my hard disk, reinstalling Windows from scratch, reinstalling my applications, and enjoying a reasonably well-working computer for a while. Then I found out that Windows XP won't let you reinstall from scratch just because you feel like it's that time again. You need Bill's permission. I decided that was an evolutionary dead end.
My HP 8200 USB CD burner had just failed to work on Windows. Reinstalling the drivers didn't solve the problem. I wasn't about to follow the dead end and reinstall Windows. It was time for a change.
[In the meantime, more news appeared that confirmed my earlier misgivings
about Windows XP. A staff writer in the Christian Science Monitor was
apparently ticked off by the relentless XP dialogs that push users to sign up
for Microsoft services. He writes: "More than anything else, XP reminds me of a
tourist trap. You arrive in a foreign city, and a handsome stranger walks up to
you and says he will show you around the city. He offers to take you to the
very best shops and restaurants. But you soon realize that he is taking you
only to places that are owned by his relatives or by someone who gives him a
kickback. " (full
review... ) At least for now, it actually seems downright unsafe to entrust
your credit card number to the "passport" service--Marc Slemco reports some scary
security problems .]
I checked out OS X and I liked it, but I wondered whether OS XI or XII would require Steve's permission to reinstall it. So, the obvious choice was Linux. I had installed and used Linux before, but I never got everything to work just right. That's ok for occasional use, but on the system that I use everyday I want my display, mouse and audio to work, not to mention the CD burner.
I looked at Thinkpads--I like the rubber stick mouse, 3 mouse buttons, and the keyboard layout. One Thinkpad model came with Linux preinstalled. Great--no install hassles, and no tax for an OS that I wasn't going to use. There even were multiple sources that had the machine in stock. Pricing Central found me a good deal. Here is a log of my experiences--the good, the bad, and the ugly.
You can also find a nice review of the machine at http://www.linuxhardware.org
IBM did a good job with the "out-of-box experience". The machine booted up much more quickly than Windows. I entered a root password, KDE came up, and a web page was launched to tell me how to add users. I added a user account and logged into that account. I had never used KDE before, but it was straightforward.
Suspend/resume works very nicely. Close the lid, and the machine suspends. Open it, and it resumes again. I haven't had a glitch so far. On Windows, this was totally hit-and-miss.
I tried the DVD player and got an error "can't play back in this region". That had me stumped for a while. There are no online documents because the software is a pre-release version, and the web site only has information for prospective OEMs. I finally found the magic button that brings up a properties dialog and set my region. I don't know why audio/video program designers are enamored with user interfaces that look like bad remote controls.
I found that magic button while being on hold with IBM's technical support. I am glad they have support, but clearly they aren't very experienced supporting Linux. Their suggestion was to reinstall the software. (That, by the way, is easier said than done. IBM only gives a whole disk image, not an individual installation for the DVD software. So you can't reinstall it without wiping out your hard disk. And, of course, reinstalling won't solve your problem since it comes again installed with no preset region.)
By the way--the DVD software seems to be tied to the distro. If you change the kernel, you would appear to lose the DVD ability. At least, that's what I think is implied in the interesting article by Keith Frechette, the IBM development lead in charge of the software for this machine.
The machine comes with Netscape 4.7, StarOffice 5.1 and the Java SDK 1.2.2.
I downloaded Netscape 6.1, StarOffice 5.2 and Java SDK 1.4 beta instead. All
installed without a hitch.
I then tried installing a couple of utitilities--an image viewer and a GUI FTP frontent, to replace what I had on Windows. I was stumped instantly because the Caldera Linux has RPM 3.0, and just about every RPM package I tried required RPM 4.0. I tried getting that, but to no avail--it is packaged as an RPM that couldn't be opened by RPM 3.0. I then got a copy of RPM 4.0 from a Mandrake machine, but it did me little good. All of the RPM packages that I tried required graphics libraries that aren't preinstalled. Be prepared for some major library hunting if you want to install recent software.
The good news is that I found a Java equivalent for everything that I needed. Since SDK 1.4 works fine, this solved my problem. Installs were trivial: unpack and run java -jar program.jar. Forget what you heard about Java programs being total dogs--all the utility programs ran at a good speed.
Here are some of the Java programs that I like:
My wireless network card (NetGear MA401) was recognized right away--no configuration was necessary.
An ancient Adaptec "APA 1460 SlimSCSI" card and external SCSI drive worked fine.
A SanDisk Compact Flash adapter worked fine as well. I was able to transfer photos without a problem. (mount -t vfat /dev/hde1 /mnt/flash )
The trackpoint mouse has a silly habit: It doesn't work when you plug in an
external mouse. Remedy: Reboot, hit F1 to enter setup mode and change the
trackpoint from AutoDisabled to Enabled.
One big annoyance was the hard disk setup. For some reason, there are two 4G
partitions for / and /home, with the remaining 12 GB on an
unmounted Windows partition. I only discovered that after shoveling lots of
stuff onto the /home partition, so I removed the Windows partition,
added a Linux partition, and mounted it as /home2 .
Here is some information that I hope you never need (but I did, a few weeks after I first got the machine). My partition table looks like this:
Disk /dev/hda: 240 heads, 63 sectors, 2584 cylinders
Units = cylinders of 15120 * 512 bytes
Device Boot Start End Blocks Id System
/dev/hda1 * 1 555 4195768+ 83 Linux
/dev/hda2 556 630 567000 6 FAT16
/dev/hda3 631 648 136080 82 Linux swap
/dev/hda4 649 2584 14636160 f Win95 Ext'd (LBA)
/dev/hda5 649 1203 4195768+ 83 Linux
/dev/hda6 1204 2584 10440328+ 83 Linux
||Extended partition (just a container)
||/home2 for me; a Windows partition by default
The partition table got damaged spontaneously, and /dev/hda5 and /dev/hda6 mysteriously vanished. Removing and re-specifying partitions 4, 5, and 6 with fdisk fixed it, but it was a very nerve-wracking thing to have to go through. If your partition table is trashed, and you didn't keep a record of it, try gpart (see here or here) to recover it.
I never got a CD burner to work. When I realized that the Caldera preload
doesn't support USB CD burners, I spent $50 on a Smart and Friendly CD-R 4012
that others had used successfully with Linux. It kept hanging in the most
annoying manner. After too many hours of frustration, I gave up. To add insult
to injury, it works fine with Windows.
The clock came set to local time, so it didn't adjust to the end of daylight
savings time. I changed it to GMT, but then I had trouble getting Caldera to
believe that. I also had to modify /etc/rc.d/rc.boot as follows:
# Set GMT="-u" if your system clock is set to GMT, and GMT="-l" if you lose.
# GMT="`get_val CONF_KERNTZ_FLAG`"
ln -s ../init.d/ptal-init /etc/rc.d/rc5.d/S99ptal-init