First look at Intrepid Ibex

November 1, 2008

In the wee hours of this morning I decided to upgrade from my much loved Hardy Heron installation on my trusty Dell Inspiron 9400 (e1705 for you yanks out there) and give Intrepid Ibex a run. At this point I’d like to digress for a second and state that I’m convinced that the person who designed this laptop probably also is responsible for the design of the sherman tank. This thing is friggen’ huge – it’s claim to portability is roughly the same as that of a spare truck tyre. Sure you probably could drag one around but it really belongs strapped to 20 tons of Detroit muscle to make it easy. Once I had to carry it into work every day for a fortnight. I swear the resultant chiropractic bills coulda bought me a new cheaper, lighter laptop. Anyway enough whinging, gotta leave some room for what’s to come.

Although Intrepid doesn’t boast much in the way of new features, I was excited to hear that the Canonical team had spent a fair amount of time and effort improving the stability of the distro and fixing bugs. Considering I already thought Hardy Heron was getting pretty damn close to M$ Windows killer (I even managed to shun Vista entirely and used it exclusively for a period of about 3 months), I thought surely this latest release was gonna be “the one”.

Given that I already had an existing Ubuntu install with a separate home partition I thought I’d simply overwrite the root partition with the latest incarnation. I was impressed as always with the graphical installer, and the process of performing the upgrade was relatively painless. Feeling rather happy that it had all gone so smoothly I quickly rebooted and logged with baited breath. The system logged in and detected my wireless and ATI graphics card within seconds of logging in. I was really impressed at that point and decided to grab the latest updates off the web. Imagine my disappointment then, when everything came to a screeching halt about 5 min later and about halfway through downloading the latest kernel patch.

Now I’m no stranger to these sort of happenings in Linux, especially when it comes to laptops. The first thing I checked was the temperature of the case by running the back of my hand under the laptop and bingo! The thing was more steamed up than a shower scene with Sharon Stone. Immediately I thought to myself, oh great we’re back to the Edgy days when I’d struggle to keep a lid on the CPU temp of my Inspiron 5150 at 75 degrees Celsius (scary huh). To be honest I was majorly boned about this, I really though they’d sorted out all the ACPI shite in earlier releases. I was just about to give up and revert back to the venerable Heron when I noticed a curious thing. Then hot spot wasn’t anywhere near the CPU!

Turns out my Intel 3945ABG wifi card was trying to turn itself into a mini supernova right from the comfort of my desk. Disabling the wifi card and running using the wired NIC confirmed my suspicions. No lockups, nothing. She was solid as a rock. Turn the wifi card back on and bam! My laptop was cookies (as in baked) within a minute or two. Now that really had me scratching my head. What the hell had they done to the wireless driver stack to hurt my wifi card’s feelings so badly? I mean you shoulda been there, he was really hot under the collar about it all.

Thankfully I stumbled upon a post or two on the Ubuntu forums from people with the same card experiencing similar conflagrations breaking out on their desks spontaneously. The solution was rather straight forward. I simply went to http://linuxwireless.org/en/users/Download and followed their instructions to compile a new driver and presto I had my wireless back.

Now where was I? Oh yeah I was supposed to be feeding you some sycophantic review about how good Intrepid (ergo Linux) is and how much M$ suck. Well I’m not going to – go to ITWire if you want to read one of those.

So what do I think? Well driver issues aside Intrepid’s not bad, I particularly like the new dark theme. Given the aim of this release I think I’m going to withhold judgement till I’ve been living with it for a few weeks and see if it lives up to Canonical’s claims of a more stable and reliable OS.

There a lots of great ways to improve your desktop experience in Linux. If the default stylings of GNOME or KDE just aren’t your cup of tea, or you really want a Mac but can’t afford one like me, then read on.

Vista, really?

I’m first to admit, and rather shamelessly, that I really like a bit of eye candy in an OS, especially 3D candy. For all it’s underwhelming glory, I do quite enjoy the shinyness of Vista. If I was really going to make the total conversion over to Linux once and for all, I was really going to miss those effects. Unfortunately for Vista, and consequently the reason I’m trying Linux, is that it’s a bit like a photo of a hooker; looks good, but doesn’t do much. But I digress.

Turning on a bit of visual flair in Ubuntu requires that you have a graphics card with some form of graphics acceleration available. My faithful laptop has an absolute clanger of a video card, an ATI Radeon Mobility X1400 to be precise. I can almost hear you stifling a yawn – it really does suck that much – or so I thought…

Driver dramas

Being OSS, Ubuntu doesn’t include proprietary drivers in the distribution due to the license restrictions many of the EULAs impose. This means that by default you’re using an open source equivalent driver for your hardware. This is fine for every day 2D office related tasks. This won’t do with what we’re proposing however as they don’t support many of the advanced features your graphics card offers – we’re gonna need those. Now before you break out in a cold sweat and start fretting about compiling, editing X config files or anything silly like that, take a deep breath. EnvyNG is a great tool that takes care of all the driver updates for you. It detects and installs the correct proprietary video card driver for you in a matter of minutes. Easy huh?

Mac on a mortgage

Mac4Lin Desktop

After a reboot you should now be ready to turn on advanced desktop effects (Compiz-Fusion for those in the know). This will enable all kinds of funky effects on your desktop like wobbly windows, 3D cube desktop selection etc.

Impressive eh? Well this is where it gets really fun. Head on over to SourceForge and grab all the latest files from the Mac4Lin project. This should include everything you need, including instructions on how you tweak your desktop till it’s damn near unrecognisable as Linux. I’m not real sure how Steve Jobs would feel if he saw this.

One thing I’m really impressed with is the speed at which all these effects run. Under Vista one could have been forgiven for thinking that Dell had given me the worst graphics card known to man. In fact I’ve always been slighly disappointed with my laptop’s performance until now. Ubuntu runs like a scalded cat on a hot tin roof, and I’m smiling from ear to ear about it.

Sorry Vista, looks like another nail in your already sealed coffin.

Click here For a more in depth look at more things you can do in Hardy Heron.

Ubuntu

Well it looks like Canonical finally hit some of the right stuff with their latest incarnation of the Debian based Ubuntu: Hardy Heron (8.04).

A couple of weeks back I installed Ubuntu Linux in a dual boot configuration on my laptop along side Vista after getting a good review from a friend about it. Some of you might remember that I’ve tried to do this before with prior versions of Ubuntu but been met with stiff oposition from my Dell laptop’s stubborn drivers. In fact it damn near killed my laptop due to a faulty ACPI implementation that caused my processor to cook itself. Not a great day at the office really.

Anyway my experiences lately have been chalk and cheese. The install process was so straightforward, fast and easy that I actually managed to install the distro on the bus on the way to work (I’m a dork and I make no apologies for it). All my applications and drivers installed fine, and there was no baked chips to speak of. It just worked. In fact I think it was easier and faster to install that Windows – very nice.

It looks like Linux on the laptop has come a long way.

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