Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Testing a new disto...

I haven't posted for a while, partly because I've been busy with other things (including paying work), partly because I've been busy trying to get Linux to work properly.

Eventually, I had to give up on the Freespire experiment on this laptop (Acer 5315). It's too easy to brick Freespire, thereby putting myself in a place from which the only escape is re-installation.
For example: when I connected a second screen to the machine, Freespire detected it straight away. I couldn't get the second screen to behave like a second desktop, but something's better than nothing, right?

Except that in auto-configuring the second screen, something (no, I don't know what or why) happened, and thereafter the machine declined to boot unless the second screen was connected.

Facing the nth reinstall, I decided that Freespire had had its day, and am now an OpenSuSE user.

But getting things bedded down and stable was non-trivial. OpenSuSE is just as breakable as Freespire was if you're trying to install anything unusual.

The great paradox of Linux is this combination of stability and fragility. Once you get things set up and working, the golden rule is "touch nothing", because if you do anything rash, you'll get into trouble.

On OpenSuSE, what got me into trouble was trying to get the trackpad to behave itself. The 5315 has a hyper-sensitive trackpad and a badly-behaved cursor, and the only way I can make the machine usable is to attach an external mouse and switch the trackpad off.

To fix this, I tried to get the Synaptics driver working; this broke the Xorg configuration, which meant the machine would only boot to the command line. Thankfully, I was able to recover the orginal configuration without a complete re-install.

I have, however, found to my satisfaction that OpenSuSE has a much better understanding of the wireless configuration. Ndiswrapper with the right driver worked completely without a hitch.

Now I just have to win the battle with the machine's sound card, learn how to run two screens properly, and I'll have an almost functional machine.