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Editor's Note: Goodbye PPC, You Served Me (and LT) Well

Feb 24, 2006, 23:30 (22 Talkback[s])

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

This has not been a banner week for hardware in my house. First the microwave blew, and now today my trusty laptop bit the big one. Given that I have just paid off my car, I am waiting to see what's going to happen to it now.

The microwave turned out to be an inexpensive fix, which was good. These days it is getting harder and harder to justify the cost of repairing versus replacing an item, so I was surprised when the estimate came in well under the replacement cost.

Not so the laptop--a dual-USB 12-inch iBook that I purchased way back in 2001, before coming to Linux Today. I would not have normally bought it, but I had offers to write two Mac OS X books, and I thought it would be a pleasant diversion from Linux books. I was right, at least on the software side. On the hardware side? Not so good. This is about the fourth or fifth time this laptop has bailed on me. Each time, I keep plunking down the repair invoices, thinking that this would be it.

But now, with the screen completely on the fritz (for the second time in two years), it is time to move on.

I am not too sorry to see it go. My kids were using the OS X partition, and they didn't like it because they couldn't install most of their games. I had Yellow Dog and, most recently, Kubuntu running for my own use on the other partition. (Luckily, I synced the data when I got back from SCALE and OSBC, so nothing will be lost.) I have been very impressed with the efforts made by both of these distros to get things compiled for the PPC side of the fence. It wasn't quite 100% of the packages I'd wanted at times, but it was pretty much everything I needed.

The excellent performance of Linux on PPC will not be enough to entice me to purchase another Apple machine. There were just too many problems with the hardware for me to spend that kind of money again. I wonder if this is why Apple is opting for commoditized Intel-based machines as a new home for OS X--my problems can't be unique. Personally, I hope this works out for them. OS X is a pretty decent operating system--a lot more stable and user-friendly than that "other" operating system.

My melancholy feelings about parting from OS X are quickly replaced by the fact that I will be getting a new toy soon. The question now becomes, which laptop?

First, a note on the mission: this will be a full-fledged Linux machine. No more dual-booting. My daughters will still be able to use it when I am not traveling, but they will be using Firefox, Thunderbird, and OpenOffice.org now. The games issue will be handled by Cedega and the fact that my oldest is about to get a game console for her birthday soon (don't worry, the odds of her reading her geeky dad's article are right up there with Stallman giving Gates a hug).

I debated letting them have a Windows partition--for about five seconds. The thought of letting them out on the net with that nonsense was just too awful to contemplate. My kids are about to become penguinistas.

Back to matters at hand: what to get?

I have already ruled out a PPC machine, because of cost and reliability concerns I have. 64-bit is attractive, but I have a couple of problems there. One is the price--I really want a sub-$1000 machine. The other is my perception that there are even less 64-bit packages out there for Ubuntu than there are for PPC (though by all means, correct me if I am wrong). Even if my perception is incorrect, there still remains the fact that there are more x86 packages available for any distro versus any platform. Frankly, I just want to have everything ready for me to apt-get and go.

In case you didn't notice, yes, I plan on sticking with Ubuntu--specifically, Kubuntu. This just goes back to a long habit of making my main workstation and my mobile systems as identical as possible. It saves me adjustment time on the road.

I found some great help already to get me started on finding a decent machine. Jem Matzan wrote an excellent article on NewsForge this summer summarizing the things to look for and the common traps (like the ubiquitous I-am-Broadcom-therefore-I-won't-play-with-Linux problem). I also located Linux on Laptops, which is fantastic reference to fine specific hardware models and how they perform with Linux. Now all I have to do is scope out eBay (or Newegg, a site recommended in the Matzan article) and if I see something that I like in my price range, I can quickly check to see what, if any, known issues there are.

Right now, most laptops seem to have issues with the onboard wireless chip (the Broadcom problem I mentioned a moment ago). I have read the ndiswrapper tips, so I should have no problems there. Even if I do, I have a spare PCMCIA 802.11b card lying around that I know is Linux compatible.

Of course, it's times like this that I wish I lived in France or Brazil or some other nation that had OEM support for Linux from major vendors. Someday they'll get that kind of product going here in the States. Maybe not in time for me, but I expect it to happen within the next three years. Sooner, if more schools follow the laptops for every child approach a lot of them seem so keen on.

It's only a matter of time.