I’ve been unimpressed with Windows Vista on my new Thinkpad T61 so I decided to give Ubuntu Linux a try, despite the fact that there are a few programs I would be missing (Slysoft AnyDVD HD for DVD decryption, TiVo Desktop for extracting files from TiVo HDs, Philips Pronto Edit for updating my Pronto, etc.)
I pre-read this excellent wiki article atThinkWiki.com. As the article mentioned, I did have problems with a blank screen when the CD booted, but the optional Safe Graphics boot option solved that. The installation was very easy. For the first time in the 20 or so times I’ve installed Linux, I wasn’t worried about accidentally partition my hard drive incorrectly and deleting my existing Windows installation. The wizard took care of resizing existing and creating new partitions automatically.
Unfortunately, I ran into to way too many problems to use Ubuntu 7.10 on a daily basis. Some of these may be resolvable, but not without a lot of work. Truthfully, I don’t care to devote that much time to it. Here are the issues that are making me stick to Windows Vista:
- The wireless will not connect. I’m using a Linksys WRT54G router with the Linux-based DD-WRT firmware the the plain old WEP encryption. I can see the wireless network, but I can’t connect to it. There is no error message and indication how to resolve it. I connected via a wired network and downloaded all the updates, but it still wouldn’t connect.
- If I reboot without powering off, the sound card “sticks” and repeats the first 2 seconds of any sound, over and over and over, until I shutdown.
- The sound card continually “chatters” in the background. It sounds like muted Morse Code, perhaps caused by some type of driver interference. Muting the speakers makes no difference. It doesn’t do this in Windows.
- The display brightness can’t be adjusted once the nVidia drivers were loaded. I can’t use the advanced Compiz desktop without these drivers, so I’m missing out on a feature either way. There is a work-around to adjust brightness from a terminal window, but I’d really just rather use the hot keys.
- Tapping the upper right corner of the touchpad caused Ubuntu to switch to a different desktop. But I couldn’t consistently pick the right or left desktop; it was random selection. Worst of all, it happened accidentally far too often. I’m guessing this would be a very easy setting to find, but there were too many other issues at this point for me to look into it.
- The Ubuntu boot menu gave me two identically-named options for Windows Vista. The first turned out to be the automated recovery partition and didn’t really have anything to do with booting Windows. I know it’s easy to edit the config file, but it would have been nice if this were correct from the beginning.
In the end, I’m beginning to feel like this is the best laptop hardware I’ve ever owned but I’m still is in search of a great operating system. The default Windows Vista Home Basic is OK, but I still have a couple of programs that need XP. And there is still the temporary freeze and “chuck-chuck” sound from the hard drive every 30 or so minutes. But still, it’s much better than the Ubuntu install.
To be honest, I’m starting to regret not going for a MacBook Pro. It could dual-boot to Windows when necessary, and I’d be able to run OS X the rest of the time. The purchase would have cost about $800 more, and that is a large price difference to justify, but I think I’d be more pleased with the overall experience.
Update (26-Feb-2008): I’ve spent more time messing with Ubuntu and am much more pleased with it than I was initially.
- Wireless Works: I was able to get the wireless working flawlessly, no script or configuration required. My problem was due to confusion with the Ubuntu network protocol naming (WEP Passkey vs. WEP HEX, etc.) Too bad it doesn’t auto-detect the network type and then try the password you enter to figure out phasskey vs. hex vs. decimal. But at least I finally figured out what was needed and got it working.
- Screen Brightness works: Following the thinkwiki article, I installed ENVY (after multiple unavailable package problems were resolved) and got the latest nVidia drivers, which allows screen brightness to be adjusted.
- Sound Problems Disappeared: The sound problems went away after a few reboots / updates. I don’t know what the deal was. I had to switch the default volume control (in the upper nav bar) to control the speaker volume instead of the microphone volume, per the think wiki article.
- System Dock: I installed the AWN (Avant Window Navigator) dock and highly recommend it.
- Touchpad Config & App Launcher: The advanced touchpad configuration tool QSynaptics and keyboard application launcher Gnome Do are two other must-haves.
- Unresolved: I installed Skype (after adding the skype repository) but it will not detect sound from the internal or an external microphone. I can make calls and hear people, but they can’t hear me. I worked on this for an hour and gave up.
- Unresolved: Going into sleep mode or hibernate mode causes bad things to happen. It might resume the first time, but never the second time. I have to hold the power button down and reboot. Power management is terrible.
- Unresolved: There is no native AccurateRip compatible CD ripping software; dbPowerAmp Music Converter for Windows has no equal. There is no DVD ripping software that nears the reliability (every DVD protection scheme) and functionality (re-authoring) of AnyDVD and CloneDVD.
- Conclusion: If you have the time, you can get a pretty OS install from Ubuntu. But it’s going to take time and I’d rather spend it other ways. Vista Basic is horrible. I’m going to switch to either Vista Ultimate or XP as both do more of what I need with less effort. In the end, I think a Mac hardware and OS is still the best option: great hardware, great software, less time messing with stuff, but at a higher monetary cost.