Saturday, 3 November 2007

Linux (and BSD) on a HP OmniBook XE2 - Part 2

Although I've had Linux working on the old OmniBook, one problem had shown up - that was that the wireless card drops its connection after a couple of minutes. So my quest for the perfect free operating system for this old laptop continues.

FreeBSD has a reputation of good support of wireless cards, so it was with high hopes that I downloaded the latest version PC-BSD and installed it on the laptop.

First impressions weren't promising. The installer doesn't fit on an 800x600 screen, small, unimportant things like confirmation buttons are not visible and can only be accessed by the old "hit and hope" method of hitting tab and pressing enter and hoping that the correct option has been selected. Through a mix of luck and bloody mindedness I got PC-BSD installed.

The graphics card was detected, but showed some corruption once KDE had started up. Sound worked fine. The wireless card on the other hand was absent without leave. After a bit of searching through all the options looking for the configuration program for the card (there wasn't one) I discovered that you need to run a shell command and have the Windows drivers to hand to get the wireless card running.

Although this is nice as a fallback option, really this shouldn't be the default. Linux manages to support the cards natively, why can't BSD?

As a last resort I tried the distribution formerly known as Mandrake - Mandriva. Their latest release is Mandriva 2008, which runs as a live CD but can also be installed to disk. Running the live CD was a slow process as the CD drive isn't that fast on the OmniBook, but once the OS was installed to disk - wow! Colour me impressed - this is really good.

The wireless card was detected without any problems at all - and has remained connected to my wireless network without any problems with dropping the connection. The default desktop looks great, with no graphical corruption (unlike BSD). The onboard sound has been detected and works well. The local network shows up without any issues at all (browse smb:/ through Konqueror to see the local Samba shares).

What is really good is that even on this old laptop the whole thing feels snappy. Apps launch with very little delay. Web pages launch quickly. In fact, there is very little to complain about. I really like Mandriva 2008. It feels like a lot of time has been taken in getting things "just right" and compared to the other distributions this just feels so much better.

The on-screen fonts look better than I would have thought possible, the icon scheme looks slick, the only slight downer is that by default MP3 playback won't work. This is down to licensing issues, but luckily there are third party solutions for this.

All in all, it looks like the perfect Linux for this laptop may turn out to be one of the least likely ones.


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Anonymous said...

HP XE2 Omnibook here ... .

Well, Puppu linux (lupu-525.iso) does indeed work quite well. Don't take graphics like photos for the background, etc. then it is pretty fast.