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  Linux Letter 06

The Linux Letter for July 5, 1999

Last weekend was a busy one for those of us in North America. July 1st was Canada Day and July 4th was Independence Day in the US. So, I spent some time off in the mountains of central Idaho, getting away from it all.

Of course, I'm never without some kind of a computer, and in this case, I had an old Micron notebook along with me. This computer runs RedHat Linux 6.0. In fact, Linux works very well on many notebook computers. Most Linux distributions contain drivers for almost all popular notebooks, and with a little bit of work, even unpopular notebooks can find support.

Of course, one of the issues facing Linux on a notebook computer is the computer itself. Most notebooks are very proprietary, from motherboard to hard drives. Part of the problem of fitting all of the components of a high-powered desktop system into a box small enough to be carry on luggage is that some compromises must be made. Usually this means that much of what we usually expect to see as peripheral cards becomes integrated onto the motherboard. And normally, that's not a bad thing.

My Micron notebook is a good case in point of a proprietary system. It's aging now, but when it was new, it was the hottest thing out there. But to get that way, Micron elected to make some compromises, and the most serious was that the video system that they selected was used by only one or two other manufacturers. That meant that to get X to run correctly, I had to actually hand edit the configuration file.

Fortunately, everything else works correctly, including the PCMCIA slots. My 3Com network card is supported, as is the flash card that I use with my digital camera. APM works well, giving me an average battery life of about an hour or so. That's about on a par with its performance under Windows 98...remember, it's an old notebook.

But what about newer notebooks? Well, the notebook computer that I rely on for most of my work is a Compaq Presario 1675. It runs Windows 98 because it has too many gadgets that just aren't supported by Linux. And they probably never will be, because they are proprietary to Compaq notebooks. But Linux would work on this system, because although much of the hardware is integrated onto the motherboard, it is standard PC hardware, from PCI IDE controllers to AGP graphics.

There are resources for you to turn to if you want to run Linux on your Notebook computer. One of the best is Linux on Laptops. You'll find tips and suggestions, as well as links to dozens of success stories about specific models of notebook computers.

If your aim is to use Linux on your notebook computer without the pain of trying to configure it, several companies sell notebook computers with Linux pre-installed. The Linux on Laptops page makes several recommendations.

If you plan to purchase a notebook, then install Linux, do your homework. Take a look at the web page and read about others' successes and failures. Make sure that you order your computer using the model number, not just its name. Remember, IBM makes a lot of different Thinkpads, and Compaq has more Presarios than you can shake a stick at. And remember that most computer manufacturers will not support Linux on their computers. Once you remove Windows and install Linux, you've crossed a significant bridge. Of course, you can always depend on the Internet and its legions of Linux supporters to help you resolve your problems.

Finally, you've sent some great questions to me at LinuxLetter@nospin.org. Keep them coming! Although I can't answer all of them, I'll pick some of the best and feature them in an upcoming Letter.

Next week, we'll talk about RAID for your Linux system. A hint...it's not bug spray!

Linux on Laptops: http://www.cs.utexas.edu/users/kharker/linux-laptop/

Hot Tip of the Week

Are you getting low on hard drive space? Maybe you're down to that last few megs and you'd give anything to free up just a little bit of space. The strip command may be just the tool for you! Strip removes all of the debugging information from binary files, leaving a leaner, meaner program ready for the running. To execute strip on every binary on your system, run this command:

strip /bin/* /sbin/* /usr/bin/* /usr/local/bin/* /usr/X11R6/bin/*

This should free up some space on your hard drive. Your mileage may vary depending upon your distribution of Linux, the way the programs were installed and how they were created.

Happy computing!

Drew Dunn


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