New laptop for Linux experiments

So my trusty old Toshiba Satellite T130 has started to fail. The keyboard has started to go wrong, it seems to miss out random keystrokes, which is really annoying. It's a shame, because apart from that the machine is still working fine. But I decided that it was time for it to be replaced. I didn't want to spend very much money on a new laptop, because the old Toshiba was running Elementary OS very nicely. So I didn't need a super fast processor or anything. I ended up going for the cheapest laptop with 4GB RAM that I could find. So I am typing this on a Lenovo ideapad 100 15iby. It was less than £190, which is pretty reasonable I think. So far I am pretty happy with it.

This machine does feel cheap. It seems very plasticy and the touchpad buttons rattle a little bit as I type. I don't think that it is as robust as the Toshiba, but for the price it seems like good value. It only has a Celeron processor, but it still seems to fly along when running Elementary OS. When I first got the machine, it was running Windows and that was a slightly more painful experience. Although I only kept Windows for a few minutes - just long enough to apply the firmware updates from Lenovo so that I had the most recent BIOS. After that, I blew everything away and installed Elementary OS Freya from a DVD (the ideapad does have an internal DVD drive). I don't have anything against Windows, but I don't think that I'd be happy running Windows on this laptop - I think I would find it too slow on this hardware.

I had no problems installing Linux, everything worked right out of the box - even the special volume and brightness buttons on the keyboard.

After installing the OS, the next things I installed were:

  • Docker
  • Kate / Konsole (for coding in C)
  • Spotify
  • Chrome (and the Chromecast plugin)
  • Nim / Nimble / Aporia
  • FileZilla
  • TLP in the hope of getting more out of the battery

The ideapad version I've got does not appear to have bluetooth (I think that it's an optional extra on this machine) but I managed to find a tiny Bluetooth dongle on Amazon which seems to do the trick. So anyway, let's see how it goes!

Elementary OS upgrade

I've just upgraded my old laptop OS (it's a Toshiba Satellite T130, and must be about 5 years old). Previously, I had been running Elementary OS Luna which I found pretty impressive. It had a couple of niggles ... for example the file manager app always seemed to take ages to load. Now that the new version, Freya has come out, I decided to try it. I went for a complete wipe and reinstall.

I am quite pleased with the upgrade. The slow file manager startup time has even gone away, and the whole OS seems even more polished. However, I have had a problem with the pointer getting corrupted if I did drag and drop, which was annoying, I am currently trying this fix, hopefully that will make it go away. Anyway, I celebrated a successful reinstall by going off to the Nasa JPL Wallpapers site and grabbing myself a nice background, so here's a screenshot:

I think that it's still the most visually appealing Linux I have tried and I'm quite happy that I've upgraded to the latest version. It runs nice and fast on my old laptop, and it's nice to have something that looks good without eating all your CPU cycles.

Lubuntu 13.10 on Toshiba

My old Toshiba Satellite T130 laptop has been pretty much abandoned since I've switched to a MacBook Pro. But it's a shame to have an unused piece of kit. So I decided to use the Toshiba T130 for messing about with different Linux distros. As a test I tried to install Debian 7, but it looked like it was going to be a real pain to get the built in wifi adapter to work, so I gave up.

Then I tried Lubuntu 13.10, which worked a treat. All the hardware seems to have good driver support (even the built in Bluetooth). If anything, the driver support is better than Windows 7 or 8. So installation was very simple and painless.

So I'm very impressed. The machine is nice and responsive and everything is easy to find in the user interface. It's almost like having a new laptop (well OK, you'd have a hard job getting me to part with my MacBook actually).

Since then, I've even tried installing Lubuntu on my Acer Iconia Tab W500. The result is that the machine works fine as a laptop, but you couldn't really use it as a tablet (not without a lot of configuring anyway). Umm, experimenting with Linux distros on one laptop has led to me wiping another; you need to be careful with these types of experiment I guess...

But ... if you have an old machine sitting around doing nothing, and you want to get some more use out of it (without costing any money) then installing Lubuntu might be a good thing to try.

H2D2 … now on Mac OS X

OK, first of all, I've bought a new laptop, and it's a Mac - a 13" MacBook Pro to be precise, the one with the Intel Core i7 processor, 8Gb of RAM and 750Gb hard disk. After having great success with running things as VMs at home, I've decided to do the same on my laptop. But the old Toshiba T130 was just not powerful enough to do that (it seemed like quite a powerful laptop when I bought it, but that was over 4 years ago I think). Besides, the Toshiba was feeling quite slow anyway.

But I came to realise that if I was going to run all my stuff as a VM, then I didn't need Windows as the host OS. And getting a new shiny Apple piece of kit seemed like a pretty good choice. I've virtualised the old (Windows) laptop and now it's running happily as a VM in VirtualBox on my new MacBook. Pretty seamless really.

But, I then went and downloaded Xcode (Apple's IDE) and quickly realised that it will happily support plain old C programs. So I copied the H2D2 codebase from Pelles C on Windows into Xcode on the Mac. It compiled and ran first time - even I was surprised. But that is what is supposed to happen when you write portable C code - you can run it natively on just about any platform.

So, I'm going to carry on developing H2D2 in Xcode for a while and see how that goes. My initial impression is good, I'm still learning the keyboard shortcuts … but then I'm still getting used to the new Mac keyboard as well. I was surprised to realise that there is no hash (#) key, at least not on the UK Mac keyboard. Maybe twitter isn't as popular amongst Apple users as I had thought. Or maybe that's just because I think of Steven Fry when I think of a typical Mac user :-)

Anyway, I'm still finding my way round the IDE at the moment. It's probably too soon to draw any final conclusions. Maybe I should buy a book on Xcode...