Monday, 1 August 2011

Lubuntu Laptop

Warning: The following post contains information about and links to open source software. It’s pretty geeky stuff, and isn’t really related to anything musical. Those of you of a musical disposition (especially drummers) should be aware that your brain might melt.

I mentioned in a previous post that my laptop had died a gruesome death, and I hadn’t received my new one yet. I’ve been using my PS3 to get online, and using other people’s machines when that wasn’t good enough. Now however, I have the solution; I’ve got a fully functional laptop with a modern, full featured browser, a few useful apps and a decent user interface. Not bad for a 7 year old laptop with a 1.5 GHz Celeron and 384MB of RAM.

Yes, that's a NES sticker...
I wrote the laptop off a couple of years ago; running XP on it was utter torture, with it often taking up to a minute to open up the start menu. Upgrading the RAM didn’t solve the problem, so I stuck Ubuntu Linux on it, and that was fine, until the new Ubuntu releases began getting more ambitious, and therefore more resource hungry. I persevered with it, but eventually I gave up, stuck it in a bag, and put it in the garage. I happened to be looking into Ubuntu again for a spare tower I have, and I read about a more recent development called Lubuntu, designed for lower spec machines. I had used a variant called Xubuntu before, but even the lightweight XFCE environment runs slow on this machine, so I was interested to see how Lubuntu performed. It took maybe half an hour to install, and when it was done it was ready to use and fully updated - the installer actually updates the packages as it’s installing them provided you’re connected to the net (take note Microsoft). My sound card, wireless network and graphics drivers all worked first time (again, something Microsoft could learn from). The only thing I needed to do was to install the Flash plug-in.

Lubuntu running the terminal and Chromium
This laptop will probably never do anything fancy; I could never run a recording session on it for instance. As a bog standard web browsing machine though it is absolutely solid. I can’t believe how well it’s working compared to how it was when it was running Windows. I’ve even played a few SNES roms on it using an emulator I found in the software repository (ZSNES), and it even recognised my USB to PS2 adaptor, so I could use my gamepad with it!

I think what I’m happiest about is the fact that I’ve managed to reuse a computer that was past its best years ago without spending any money on it. Lubuntu is free, as are all of the Ubuntu variants. Canonical, the company that provides financial backing to the Ubuntu project, have recently recognised Lubuntu as an official derivative, and as of version 11.10 (due to be released in October) it will be distributed and supported by them.

If you have an old machine lying around and you’re not afraid of learning new things, give Lubuntu a try. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to use a new operating system, and if you get stuck the Ubuntu support forums are great. I’m just glad to have a working laptop to use until my new one gets here. In the mean time I shall amuse myself by playing Zelda, Super Mario World and F-Zero until my eyes are square.
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  1. Microsoft did take note. Windows 7 and Vista do the same thing to a certain extent

  2. and Windows 7 and Vista also have pretty good hardware support.

    btw, what's the HDD capacity on that thing?

  3. It depends on the hardware Tissy, laptops often come with card readers that Microsoft don't have the right drivers for, and I wouldn't like to rely on the graphics drivers they provide either, especially for ATI cards

  4. So, what's the HDD capacity on that thing?

  5. It's got a 40GB hard drive, I got one cheap on eBay to replace the 20GB one it came with

  6. Matt, Nice little testament to the power of Lubuntu on legacy hardware. I'm commenting from a Gateway Solo 5300 laptop with the following specs:

    CPU: 700Mhz Pentium 3
    RAM: 512MB PC100
    HDD: 20GB
    WiFi: Netgear WG511T PCMCIA card
    OS: Lubuntu 11:10

    I came across Lubuntu a few months ago and have been really impressed by the performance on old hardware. The desktop environment is very functional, much more than another lightweight distro called crunchbang linux. One the best things about being able to install the latest version on old hardware is the application support - I can run the latest browsers and other apps, something that can't be said for older version of Windows and especially older versions of Mac OS. My Gateway originally shipped with Windows ME(perish the thought!) and any other version of Windows wouldn't come close to the functionality and speed that Lubuntu provides. Another obvious advantage of Lubuntu is that Linux in general is mostly immune to malware(virus/trojans/spyware) infections so no antivirus apps are needed(yet) which add to poor system performance. It's amazing how many hardware-related things work right after the install without any effort. My Gateway has volume/mute control when the Fn key is held and it just works. The Windows touchpad driver would never have support for scrolling but it just works. I just upgraded the memory from 256MB to 512MB and it made a world of difference. I sold a laptop recently that had 384MB with Lubuntu and it ran alright but 512MB seems to be a sweet spot if the laptop supports it and if you can get the upgrade for free or cheap.

    Take care.


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