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.comment: I Want One! - page 3

Time for the Greed Fest

  • December 19, 2001
  • By Dennis E. Powell

Our friends the Linux distributors have been hard at work on all kinds of flashy installation programs, the chief purpose of which seems to be to make every Linux distribution incompatible with every other Linux distribution. My wish list includes a proposal that they do something useful -- horrors! -- for notebook users, as long as they're screwing around with installation routines.

Actually, there are a couple of parts to this.

The first is to make a boot/install floppy for notebook users. Some notebook machines have weird little PCMCIA floppy drives that are controlled by the bios such that when the user is prompted for the diskette containing the PCMCIA drivers, the boot can no longer see the drive. Some others give one the choice of a CD reader that can't be booted or a floppy drive that can be booted but now there's no CD reader, meaning it's time for an FTP install. There are ways around this, but they usually involve building a custom boot floppy, which is messy and only marginally satisfying.

Now. This would be a pretty difficult thing to cook up, because there's so much variation among machines. Producing and providing several thousand diskette images would be a royal pain. But none of them would contain anything not already on the distribution CD, so what would work instead is a script that would allow the user to construct such a diskette image locally, from stuff on the CD, which could then be put on floppy and used to get the FTP or local network install going. Yeah, it would require a desktop machine to build the floppy, but it would be a step.

That might take some work, but there is one useful thing they could do that would take very little work: put a "notebook" checkbox early in the installation program, so that all kinds of stuff that's of no use and that cannot possibly come to be of use would not be installed.

For instance, people do not change the video chips in their notebook machines. (I suppose that in rare cases it can be done, and I would not be greatly surprised to learn that it has been done, but it's not something that people do.) Yet Linux distributions make a habit of installing servers for all video cards supported by XFree86 -- makes sense for desktop machines, because people do change video cards there, but simply wastes space on notebook drives.

Likewise sound cards. Nobody changes the sound chip in a notebook computer -- why carry around drivers for all of them?

You wouldn't want to do this with printer drivers, because notebooks tend to be pretty promiscuous, plugging in to whatever printer is there. But there are whole areas of things that don't need to get installed on a notebook, because the machine is incapable of using them anyway.

The Linux distribution that makes life easier for the notebook user will do well for its efforts, I think. (And while they're at it, they might want to look at drivers for the hardware in the Casio Fiva.)

And With That . . .


. . . A very merry Christmas to all of you. Here's hoping that your wish list was a little more reasonable, and therefore a little more lucrative, than mine.

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