January 29th, 2010
I have recently been evaluating small laptops, and wound up purchasing the Thinkpad X200s. It arrived a few days ago, so here are some first impressions.
The X200s is, in a word, awesome. It is light and portable, built solidly, and very fast. With the 6-cell battery, it feels light. The 9-cell makes it physically bigger and heavier, but even so, it is still a light unit even then. The fans run only rarely, and battery life looks to be towards the upper range of what I was expecting, so I am pleased with that.
The screen is a very high-DPI one, and quite bright. However, it is also one of the only drawbacks: its vertical viewing angle is quite poor compared to most other screens I’ve used recently, meaning I’m frequently adjusting it to get the best angle relative to my head.
The keyboard is a pleasant change after having using the Eee 901 for so long. I hadn’t realized just how much of a pleasant change it would be.
I was concerned about the lack of a touchpad, but it appears that the touchpoint device is a lot better than it was on the Thinkpads I used a few years back. I miss a touchpad, but not very much, and far less than I thought I would.
Of course, one of the first things I did with it was to wipe off Windows 7 and install Debian. Now a word about Debian. I rarely do fresh installs. I normally tar up my machine and move it over to new hardware when needed, and upgrade the software over time. However, I wanted to make this a 64-bit install and had no suitable image to move over. I decided to try the default Gnome install in squeeze since I hadn’t tried Gnome in awhile and was about due to give it a shot.
I was very impressed. Squeeze will make an awesome desktop OS. Everything worked perfectly out of the box. It suspended and resumed. X came up in full resolution without me having to do anything. Ethernet worked, and I was helpfully invited to supply the non-free firmware for the wifi on a USB stick during install time. Hardware brightness and volume keys work. The docking station is fully compatible with Linux. Sound works. The hardware “lock screen” key even works. Bluetooth works out of the box. It is a well-integrated, extremely fast, and smooth setup.
Cups is installed out of the box by default, and accepts network printer broadcasts by default too. So I snapped in an Ethernet cable, and when I went to print a few minutes later, I just could. It didn’t even strike me as special until later. Yes, that’s right — I plugged it into the network and, with absolutely zero action on my part, could print to all the printers at work or at home.
The update-manager that Gnome uses by default (I wonder if Debian’s KDE installs yet use one? I have never seen one in KDE) is a wonderful work of simplicity compared to Windows 7’s madness. You click the update icon, click the button to start updating, and 30 seconds later get a message that 45 updates have been installed. With no ominous “reboot now” message. This is no surprise to me as a long-time Debian developer, but I just wanted to highlight it here. I think I should file a wishlist bug on update-manager asking them to improve the wording in the box to say “There is no need to reboot your computer” :-)
I still have my gripes about Gnome. It only lets me choose some pre-defined settings for screensaver timeouts, for instance. I still feel that KDE gives me more control. But Gnome seems to be better integrated with the entire system, faster, and less buggy. This difference is especially acute at login time. This laptop logs me in far faster than my Core 2 Quad machine at home running KDE (from sid) does.
So, of course, my next task is to integrate xmonad with Gnome. Should be fun.
Now, a final word on why I wrote this. None of these components have been a surprise really to me (aside from the completeness of the hardware support for this laptop). But what I want to bust is the myth that somehow Debian is difficult to use on the desktop. It isn’t. This setup was easier by far than the Windows 7 install I did on a different machine recently. Although it has less eye candy than Windows 7, it exudes solidity, performance, power, and yes, ease of use in every way.