Along with most of the rest of NextEd's Toowoomba staff, I am changing jobs(aka redundant); off to work for "The University of Southern Queensland" USQ for at least a little while. This means giving up my work computer, but at the staff auction on Friday I scored an IBM T20 notebook for practically nothing. It's now running Linux, happily connected to the ADSL connection at home, as is the old Compaq desktop I got for $25.

I was seriously considering forking out about $2000 (Aussie) for a new IBook to try OS X like all the proper geeks but at $150 so far this one seems pretty good value.

A few notes about the experience so far follow.

The only problem with my new computer is that the removable DVD drive only works "about once in twenty times" as the previous user put it. My colleague Ron Ward peered into the connector and said "spray some WD40 on it", which I would do, if I could find it (won't be able to find it until I finish reading Getting Things Done and Implement a System, and buy a label maker, and so on). What works, though, is licking it. Well not so much licking it as blowing in it with nice slobbery moist breath. That makes enough contact to run the thing for a few hours.

First up I booted from a Knoppix CD, which is a way of running Linux without spoiling your computer, and managed to get in a spot of web surfing. Emboldened I tried to get Knoppix to copy itself to the hard disk by running the |knoppix-install| command, using instructions I found. Two problems there:

  • The partioning process seems to go alright but the installer can't recognize the partitions. Eventually I tried |ignore_check=1 sudo knoppix installer| and got through to the next part, whereupon,
  • the system starts installing itself and then starts reporting screenfulls of disk-related errors, maybe to do with the slobber on my DVD drive drying up, or maybe not.

So, to plan B.

Plan B was to download Ubuntu Linux, make a CD and try that. The process took a whole evening, mostly because the installer can get the latest packages from the net, and that took a few hours for each computer, over the 256Kb/s ADSL. Luckily we were watching Hidalgo on DVD, and I had plenty of time to wander out and check on the installs without feeling like I was missing out on anything, not to mention catching up on an hour or so of sleep.

Why Ubuntu? Well, it was on Slashdot last week. Sounded alright to me.

So I now have two Linux computers, both of which can connect to the Net with no problem; and for a Linux newbie, with some Unix experience a long time ago, it's all pretty friendly. I even got Flash working with the (supplied, yay) Firefox web browser so the kids could play games, but some didn't work, I guess because they use Shockwave, for which there is apparently no plugin.

The next steps are to:

  • Get connected to the Windows shares that hold all our data here. Not working yet.
  • Get subversion running on the Linux desktop/server to keep track off all our documents.
  • Get the power management to stop lying to me; it claims the battery is 0% charged and that it is running from the battery, even when plugged in.
  • Figure out how to organize myself on Linux without making a big mess of it. This is urgent, because the mess has started as I experiment with bits and pieces. Already there are half-ripped CDs and empty files created with Emacs in strange (to me) places.
  • Get a wireless card working. We have a laptop here with a Belkin card; no luck with that so far.
  • Learn Emacs. Emacs is a, a everything that I have been meaning to get to grips with for many years. I will set aside an afternoon for that.

It is possible I will update this, or post further on how to switch from Windows to Linux.


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