Since I've seen several requests on the web for information regarding running Linux on this laptop, and no concrete responses, I thought I'd summarize my experiences to date. As you'll see below, pretty much everything works like a champ; the only problem so far is with flash animations. So read on...
My old faithful Averatec 3270 died, so it was time for a new laptop. Looking around a bit, I settled on a Samsung N120. The reason for the choice was that it's the smallest I could find with a full-size keyboard.
The one drawback to it is something it appears to share with every other "netbook" sized laptop computer: no optical drive. After a bit of thought, I decided that I very rarely use optical media any more (almost all the music I listen to is either ripped or on pandora.com). So I went ahead and got LaCie Portable DVD±RW with LightScribe
Experiences to date:
- When the new laptop arrived, I booted once to make sure it wasn't DOA, and installed Ubuntu 9.04. Absolutely trouble-free install; it all just worked, including the video camera (apparently a "Zaapa" webcam -- never heard of them before) and the wireless ethernet (Atheros AR242X). Really nothing to say about the install at all.
- ekiga was able to find the camera, mic, and speakers with no problem, and I can look at my smiling face as picked up by the camera, though the camera has absolutely the worst lens flare of any camera I've ever seen in any environment. Here's an image of the camera picking up a light above my desk:
- Putting a shade over the lens cures it:
- Talking to an echo server resulted in severe echo; I couldn't see any difference with cancellation turned on vs. off (yes, I am using the builtin mic and speakers, so they are on the same sound chip). In fairness, I haven't been able to get echo cancellation to do anything for me on any other machine I've set ekiga up on, either.
Flash animations through firefox were completely broken. Provoking a window redraw (for instance, by covering and then exposing the window) would update the screen to whatever it should currently be, but there would be no further animation until I did it again. Apparently there is a known xorg/kernel bug that sometimes causes this on the Intel video chip on this laptop; following the instructions on an Ubuntu form didn't seem to make a meaningful change (now it would sometimes update on its own). I'm not sure this is really the bug, as audio would sometimes skip or replay an earlier part of the animation too (some people seem to be suggesting this is more likely to be a flash bug than xorg/kernel bug). I found today that I'm able to play the videos fine through ubuntu's movie player, so I may be seeing a problem in the firefox flash plugin. I haven't backed out the changes from the forums in the link above, so I don't know how it would play without them.
- Some people have reported the same problem with virtualbox-ose. virtualbox-ose seems to work fine for me.
- Playing DVDs works fine as well, though of course playing encrypted DVDs requires the CSS library. The speaker placement (in the bezel by the sides of the screen) results in really good sound for a netbook. A big step up over the speakers on the old Averatec, which were perfectly positioned to rest my hands on them when typing!
- pam_encfs is very cool. I now have my home directory on the new machine encrypted; it mounts it when I log in, and unmounts it again when I log out.
- It turns out to be possible to copy a mysql installation (including its databases) from a Debian system to an Ubuntu system by
- Install mysql-server on the new machine.
- Delete /etc/mysql and /var/lib/mysql from the new system.
- sudo rsync -auvz those directories from the old system to the new system
- (I wasn't taking mysql backups, but was backing up my filesystem. So I actually retrieved those directories from the filesystem backup)
- It wants to come up with a bright screen when the AC adapter is plugged in, but a dim screen on battery power. You can adjust this with the arrow keys while the machine is in GRUB, but once the kernel boot has started it's locked until you're logged in (at which point the gnome brightness applet will adjust brightness). This can be controlled by a BIOS setting:
- The BIOS is entered on boot by pressing F2. The splash screen goes by so quickly I wasn't able to read this, and had to find it on the web!
Boot->Brightness Mode Control has the setting.
- Turns out plugging a mic in doesn't switch the audio input from the internal mic to the external. You have to switch it manually (e.g. using alsamixer) -- which, of course, means all my failed echo tests with external mics don't mean anything.
- I can't find a way to turn the wi-fi on and off from Linux. I can "disable wireless" with the applet; I can tell it to change transmit power with iwconfig. But near as I can tell, there is no actual effect; the only way to actually turn the transmitter off appears to be in the BIOS. Annoying. (there's got to be a way to do this, since the Windows side can do it. But I haven't found it yet)