Life with Linux: The basic situation

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As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve used Linux on the desktop on and off for many years. For a long time I had dual boot Linux and Windows machines until a couple of years ago when I bought an iMac. Then I had a dual boot laptop with Windows and Linux, then just Linux, and then I got a MacBook Pro.

Macs are sweet. Ignoring the cost and “not open source” issues for the moment, they are the nicest machines I’ve ever used. As many have said, Linux needs to aspire to the usability and elegance of the Mac design, and not try to copy what Windows looked like at the beginning of the decade.

I’m now in a dual laptop situation where I have the MacBook Pro where everything I need just works, and I have a Lenovo T400 which is just Linux. My plan is to use the T400 a lot for work, knowing that I can fall back on the MBP if I have a problem. To make life even more interesting, the T400 is a multiboot machine which has several flavors of Linux desktops. I could have just stuck to the Mac, but I really want to push on desktop Linux. I want to encourage others to move to desktop Linux. I need to know personally what it can and cannot do before I recommend it, at least with a straight face.

Note that most people moving to a Linux desktop would be doing it from Windows, not a Mac. I have no need or desire to run any flavor of Microsoft Windows for work. I put in my time, and life is short.

I’m going to be primarily focused on running two distros, Fedora and Ubuntu. I may add a third, but my first requirement is that I be able to run my IBM applications, including Lotus Notes (email etc.), SameTime (instant messaging), and Symphony (word processing, presentations, and spreadsheet). With these two I plan to switch back and forth to put them through their paces, trying to shape each system into a truly comfortable working environment. There is no question that I have everything on the T400 that I need to do my job.

Therefore I’m going to focus on what I need to do to tweak, upgrade, or otherwise customize these two distro installations to make them as nice to use and look at as possible. I’ll chronicle the fun I have here from time to time (and hope that I am more diligent to the task than when I’ve said that other times). One caveat is that I won’t always be sure which features on the machine are part of the base distribution, versus what was added by the IBM customizations. So I’ll try not to criticize Fedora, say, until I know it’s really its fault. Ditto for Ubuntu.

At the moment I’m backlevel on Fedora (10) whereas I’m right at Ubuntu 9.04, the latest. I’m looking into getting on Fedora 11 if I can do so without screwing up my environment with its IBM customizations.

Today’s Linux Desktop Tips

  • The ThinkPad has both a trackpoint as well as a touchpad. When I first moved to a MacBook, the touchpad drove me crazy, though I got used to it. Now back on the ThinkPad, I keep accidentally hitting the touchpad, causing odd behaviors. I turned off the touchpad from the BIOS: press the ThinkVantage button when you get the first logo screen after booting, go into the BIOS, choose Config, choose Keyboard/Mouse, and then disable the touchpad. Alternatively I could disable the trackpoint, but I’ll try this for a while.
  • I like nice wallpaper on my machine. The nicest I’ve found is at InterfaceLIFT.

Also See: Life with Linux: The series


  1. Congratulations Bob. I wish you the best ( writing this in my beloved Ubuntu 9.04 that works like a charm ).

    Greetings from Argentina

  2. Thomas Downing

    Hi Bob,

    Not intended as a criticism – but why those two? I think that if one is interested in validating the workability (which includes UI issues, not just ‘purely’ functional one), then there are other distro’s that might be better candidates.

    For those interested in trying Linux, especially on a laptop, I tend to recommend, at this time anyway, Mepis; especially in preference to Fedora. I’m still a big fan of Slackware, but I wouldn’t try that out on someone dipping their toe.

  3. “Why those two” is a bit like asking “Why do you have those two parents”, or “Why do you have those two wafer foundries for making chips for games consoles”.

    There is a reason for having two rather than one (or none); there is also a reason for having two rather than three (or more). I think it has to do with competitive advantage, the best tradeoff between likelihood of success and cost of doing business, in each case. So “two” it has to be.

    But why it’s a particular two ? Is it an accident of history ?

  4. The simple answer to why those two distros is that our internal IBM tools are supported on those, among others. That said, I just did a new blog entry where I went from two to one.

  5. Michael Schemer

    If a 3rd is chosen, I believe it should be OpenSuSE 11. This would top out the 3 major distributions most likely to have corporate acceptability.

  6. “Linux needs to aspire to the usability and elegance of the Mac design, and not try to copy what Windows looked like at the beginning of the decade”

    I’ve played with a Mac and Linux GUIs on KDE4 go, in my opinion, beyond what a Mac can do (and leaves Windows trailing far behind)

    Of course when comparing Gnome to Macs or Windows, then the quote above applies :-) Especially if you’re not using any eye-candy effects like Compiz.

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