January 22nd, 2008
As you might know from reading my blog, at my workplace, we have largely standardized on Linux on the desktop and laptop.
We use systemimager to maintain a standard desktop image and a separate standard laptop image. These images differ because there are different assumptions. The desktop machines mount /home over NFS, authenticate to LDAP, etc. This doesn’t work on laptops. Moreover, desktops don’t use network-manager or wifi, but laptops do.
Our desktop image uses Debian’s hardware autodetection — plus a little hacking in /etc/init.d/gdm — to automatically adjust to a wide range of hardware. So far this has worked well.
Laptops are much more picky. Our standard laptop model had been the HP nc4400 — a small and light 12″ model that people here loved. HP discontinued that model. Their replacement was the 2510p. We ordered one in here for evaluation. Try as we might, we couldn’t get it to suspend and resume properly in Linux.
So I went out scouring the field of Linux laptops. Companies such as Emperor Linux buy retail laptops from people like Lenovo, test them for Linux, and sell them — at a premium. These were too expensive to justify at the quantities we need them.
Then I stumbled across Linux Certified. I’d never heard of them before. I called them up and asked a few questions. They don’t buy retail laptops, but instead have OEMs in Taiwan build laptops to their spec. They happen to use the same OEM that Fujitsu does, I believe. (No big company builds laptops in the USA these days). I asked them about wifi chipsets, video chipsets, whether they use stock kernels. I got clueful answers to all of these.
So we ordered one of their LC2100s models. They didn’t offer Debian preinstalled, but did offer Ubuntu, so I selected that. The laptop arrived a couple of days (!!) later, configured with the particular CPU, etc. that I selected.
I was surprised at the thrill I felt at taking a brand new laptop out of its box, turning it on, and watching Grub appear before my eyes. Ubuntu proceeded to boot. I then of course installed our regular Debian image on the thing to check it out.
It needed a kernel and xserver-xorg-video-intel from lenny, as well as the ipw3945 driver for wifi, but otherwise worked with the exact same software as our HP nc4400 image. (In fact, it wasn’t hard to support both laptops with that image, since both use a lot of Intel hardware.) The one trick was making hibernate call /etc/init.d/ipw3945d stop so that the ipw3945 module could be unloaded before suspend. (Why this particular chipset needs a daemon is beyond me, but oh well.)
The hardware is great. As far as I know, the ipw3945 was the only component that wasn’t directly and automatically supported by DFSG-free software in lenny main. The screen is sharp and high-contrast (it’s glossy, which I personally don’t like, but I bet our users will). The device itself feels sturdy. It’s small and dense. I haven’t opened it up, but it looks like all you need is a screwdriver to do so.
The only downside is that they don’t sell docking stations for it. Their standard answer on that is to buy a USB docking station. That’s a partial answer, but can’t handle power or video like a standard docking station will.
Also, the LC2100s is much cheaper than the HP laptop, even when configured when nicer specs in every way. That is no doubt partially due to the lack of the Windows tax.
I’m sending off an order for 4 more today, I believe.