Originally Published: Friday, 24 September 1999 Author: Scott Nipp
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Linux Laptops - Part 1

Everyone has heard what a great platform Linux is for a Web server, or a file server for your existing Windows environment. The performance and reliability which Linux offers makes it an excellent choice for these types of services. The corporate desktop and home users have also received quite a bit of attention lately with the current efforts to make Linux easier for less technical users. This brings up the next logical step: laptops....

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Everyone has heard what a great platform Linux is for a Web server, or a file server for your existing Windows environment. The performance and reliability which Linux offers makes it an excellent choice for these types of services. The corporate desktop and home users have also received quite a bit of attention lately with the current efforts to make Linux easier for less technical users. This brings up the next logical step: laptops.

I have installed Linux on a few laptops in the past myself. Speaking from experience I can honestly say that this is, or was, not for the faint of heart. Installing Linux on a laptop is generally much more difficult to get everything working properly than installing Linux on a desktop or server. This is due to the inherent complexity of today's laptop computers. Laptops typically have a different breed of video chipset, which in the past has not been nearly as well supported as the typical desktop video chipsets. Laptops also bring up the issue of PC-Card support, which is a challenge in and of itself. Throw in to this mix power management for laptops, and Winmodems which many laptops ship with, and you have a real bear on your hands.

Most people who run Linux on their laptop have either made the effort to install Linux on it themselves, or had a friend help them out. This is similar to the way that most people get the initial exposure to Linux, by installing it on their computer at home or work. The additional complexity encountered when installing Linux on a laptop makes this process daunting at best for the typical end user. Thankfully help is readily available on the Internet from newsgroups and various web sites such as Linux on Laptops. This Web site gives both general pointers such as how to get your X server working, and laptop-specific solutions such as how to get a specific PCMCIA SCSI card working on a Dell Inspirion. This type of help allows the user to get the most functionality out of their existing laptop with the least amount of frustration. Help with installing Linux on a laptop is just not enough though.

Linux pre-installed on laptops is the way to go. This allows a user, or company, to buy a system that is ready to login, code software, do presentations, or whatever you use your laptop for, straight out of the box. This means no more fighting to get the X server to display on the whole screen, or getting that PCMCIA Ethernet card to actually connect to the network. Pre-installed Linux laptops are available today from a few vendors such as Linux Laptops, but not from any of the major vendors. This lack of laptop offerings with Linux from major vendors may be about to end.

IBM recently announced that its ThinkPad 600E has been certified by Red Hat Software to run Red Hat Linux 6.0, currently the most popular Linux distribution in the US. This should lead, in the near future, to preloaded Linux laptops from IBM. This would be a wonderful offering primarily for corporations who are looking for a Linux solution for laptops. These systems could be purchased directly from IBM, and would require minimal configuration to bring onto the corporate network. Linux laptops would be ready to go without the pain and frustration of installation.

Linux is a wonderfully stable platform which offers excellent performance for more than just servers. The time has come for Linux to become a major player in the laptop market. With IBM announcing one of its mainstream laptops being certified to run Linux, it should only be a matter of time before we begin to see IBM shipping these systems pre-installed with Linux to users. Once IBM begins shipping these systems, the other major vendors will probably also begin to follow suit. Linux laptop offerings will quickly become commonplace, filling this highly visible gap in Linux products.

Scott Nipp is a Technical Analyst at Sprint Paranet. He spends his time there fighting the good fight, advocating Linux to his managers and customers.





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