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Here Cometh The Laptop

To date in my computing life, I have worked entirely with desktops. We have two in the study. One is the old Windows XP machine that so slowed to a crawl despite tripling the memory and regularly defragging the hard drive that it is now mainly the children’s. Their school uses XP, so it makes some sense.

The other is our nearly-two-years-old Windows Vista PC. We bought it a fortnight after Vista was released, due to the dire state of the XP computer. Like many people, we have discovered considerable disadvantages to Vista. We can’t use the quick upload tool to Snapfish when we want to upload digital photos for printing. Having said that, some things are nicer in Vista. What’s more, now I’ve doubled the RAM to a ridiculous 4 gigs, it runs at a decent speed. I can’t put in more RAM with a 32-bit operating system, however.

But in a month’s time, I start a three-month sabbatical. I shall be away for three weeks of that time. One of the places I am visiting, Cliff College, assumes in the emails it sends out that people will arrive with wifi-enabled laptops. Likewise, I shall be spending time at Lee Abbey on a photography course, so having a laptop on which to manipulate some shots will be handy.

Hence I have desired a laptop for a little while. Thankfully, my accountant has worked his usual magic this year and there is enough around in my tax rebate to afford a modest model. This week I paid the princely sum of £341 to Tesco for a machine that was being discontinued, the Acer Aspire 5720. Ideally I’d have liked a bigger hard drive than 160 GB, and I can expand the 2 GB of RAM easily enough.

Tonight I set about beginning to adapt it for my purposes. Off came a raft of software: a load of arcade games for a start, swiftly followed by Microsoft Works and the 60-day trial of Microsoft Office 2007 – I have that on the Vista desktop and don’t intend paying through the nose again. So once I’d downloaded and installed Open Office 3.0 off came the MS products. The only disadvantage to OO is there isn’t a UK English version.

Next stage will be to replace the bloated and expensive trial version of McAfee Security Centre with some free security products. (Not as bad as Norton, I know, but it’s still £50 a year I could do with saving.) Gizmo’s Tech Support Alert website is full of useful reviews. I’ve started to read up on anti-virus, anti-spyware and software firewalls. The XP machine had a number of freebies on it, but I may not choose the same products. I shan’t be downloading emails to the laptop, because that will create a sync problem with the Vista desktop, but I shall read my Gmail on it and use that while I’m away.

I have also downloaded and installed Paragon Partition Manager Express so that I can carve out a separate partition early on where I can install Ubuntu Linux. Having failed miserably to get Ubuntu to run within Windows using wubi.exe on Vista (although it does happily on XP), I’d like to do a proper install, if I’m brave enough.

I shall also buy a large memory stick for moving stuff over to the Vista desktop. (I’ll also sort out the wireless network between them, I trust, but often a memory stick is quicker if the wireless plays up.) 7dayshop have some bargains: this looks like a bargain, 16 GB for £15.49.

Before I go away, I shall probably get some pay-as-you-go mobile broadband. There is a good review of available services in the February 2009 issue of Personal Computer World. Vodafone comes out best for performance, although they charge the earth if you exceed your data allowance.

So that’s my little personal project with which to begin the new year. Any thoughts on my plans are welcome. What are you up to?

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Ubuntu

Thought I’d put out a couple of help requests here, which I’ve also posted at Ubuntu Forums. (If you want to find me there, the user name is ‘davefaulkner’.) But I thought I’d mention them here, in case any techie readers can help.

The back story is this. I’ve given up the idea of trying to get a dual-boot computer between Windows Vista and Ubuntu Linux. (Despite checking the MD5SUM, Ubuntu has never installed properly on the hard drive.)

So I decided that since I wanted to experiment with Linux, I’d run it inside Sun’s VirtualBox 2.0.4. Well, it installs fine, and runs fairly fast in much less memory than Vista – surprise, surprise. But there are a few problems:

1. I can’t get any sound – e.g., if watching a video on YouTube. Error messages tell me I might need a Gstreamer plugin. I’ve googled ‘Gstreamer’, but the results are not the sort that a newbie to these things can understand.

2. Ubuntu only shows up in a monitor resolution of 800 x 600 pixels. It won’t detect my monitor (a Dell 1907FP Digital, if you’re interested). The card is an NVidia GeForce 7900 GS. So I’m stuck with a ridiculously small window for a 19-inch monitor. It’s useless for looking at most websites, for example. I need 1280 x 1024 or at very least 1024 x 768. I also can’t change the refresh rate from 61 Hz. 

I dearly want to like Linux and have a usable alternative for the times when Vista increases my rate of hair loss. I understood Ubuntu was about the most user-friendly, but these are not the problems I’d even expect to encounter with badly behaved Microsoft products.

If anyone has any constructive ideas, please leave a comment, or email my ‘personal’ or ‘backup’ email addresses as listed on the Contact page of this blog.

Thanks.