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Editor's Note: Slashing My Wrists on the Cutting Edge
One Word: Naive
August 15, 2000
I'm not much of a hardware geek, but I must admit that my new laptop is a real beaut. A Sony Vaio, the PCG-XG28, with enough candy to bring tears to the eyes of even the most casual computer user. DVD drive, 128 megs of RAM, a gorgeous TFT display, a 12-gig hard drive, and a carrying weight of 6 pounds (sans DVD drive)....it is to die for. I acquired it this past weekend--the same time my family acquired a seven-week-old Golden Retriever--and I must admit that I don't know which I love more: my shiny new laptop or my perfect puppy.
Ah, but love will turn on you and break your heart, as I've discovered in trying to configure the new laptop to my own needs. Now, granted, my needs are not necessarily those of the mainstream, but they are not out of the ordinary, either--and they certainly are not obscure when considering the target audience of this article (that means you, dear Linux reader). The fact that I'm writing this editor's note in StarOffice, itself running under Red Hat Linux, is more a tribute to my stubbornness (the result of a Danish temperament, says my German-American father; the result of a German temperament, says my Danish-American mother) than the ease in which Linux can be installed on a cutting-edge laptop.
Like virtually every other laptop in the mass market these days, the Sony Vaio PCG-XG28 comes with Microsoft Windows preinstalled. That's not a huge deal to me: there are a few Windows legacy apps that I still run (although it sounds funny to call Quicken and QuickBooks legacy apps, the fact is that they are), and with a large drive I can always partition off enough for some serious Linux usage. And I know from monitoring the newsgroups that by and large the components of the PCG-XG28 are supported by Linux, including the NeoMagic graphics card and the Rockwell internal modem.
So I naively assumed that Linux installation and configuration would be a breeze.
One of the reasons I went with a Sony Vaio laptop was my general pleasure with the older Sony Vaio 505G laptop I'd been using for the past few years. The 505G is a superslim model, weighing in at under three pounds, but it had a fatal defect--Sony played some hardware tricks with the CD-ROM drive, to the point where it wasn't a bootable CD-ROM and rather useless for installing Linux--and it was a little on the skimpy side when it came to horsepower (a two-gig drive just ain't gonna make it on a dual-OS system when one OS is Linux). When it comes to ergonomics and design, Sony really has no peer when it comes to laptops.
After launching Windows, I threw an OpenLinux CD-ROM in the CD drive and attempted to install OpenLinux under Windows. This is not a endorsement nor dissing of OpenLinux; I chose that Caldera distribution because I had never used it and I like to use multiple distributions on multiple machines. Unfortunately, it was not a very smooth nor intuitive installation: of the two installation CDs (one containing commercial partitioning and boot applications; one not), both managed to partition the hard drive, but neither managed to ferret out the NeoMagic graphics card. There was even some inconsistency within CDs: The Lizard installation failed to detect any graphics card during the first run but then detected it on the second run. To no avail, alas: multiple tries yielded a working Linux text installation, but X would not even boot.
OK, I thought to myself; although the NeoMagic graphics card isn't exactly the newest laptop card on the market (Sony had used it in several older Vaio laptop models), it definitely was not supported in the the version of XFree86 used in OpenLinux 2.4. I could live with that, so I deleted the OpenLinux partition and decided to go a different route.