I'm a grad student in philosophy, presently working on my dissertation. I'm also a huge Linux enthusiast, and recently bought one of Dell's Ubuntu offerings: the Inspiron 530 Desktop. Here I will put tips and experience I've had setting up and using the system (and I'll try to keep it updated).
Dell Inspiron 530 with Ubuntu Pre-Installed
I bought a new computer. the last one I had been using was about 7 years old and painfully slow. I decided it was finally time to dump Windows entirely, and the best way to do this was to buy a computer without it pre-installed. So I decided to go with Dell's line of Ubuntu computers. I've had it for a couple of days and now I'm ready to give my general impressions, experiences, and occational frustrations.
One conclusion that I feel confident in drawing, though (and it doesn't make me happy to say this), is that Dell's Ubuntu desktops are not for the complete computer novice, or even the average computer user. That's not to say that I'm not happy with my purchise (I am!), just that there are a number of issues that still need to be resolved before I can hardily recommend these computers to the average computer person.
It arrives! Yay! I quickly unpack it and look it over. There are a couple of things I notice right away. There are 4 usb connections in back and 4 in front (it actually took me a couple of days to find the one's in front).
Now I boot it up. It asks me a couple of questions and there, I'm in. It looks exactly like I expect it to, except for two small annoyances. First, the default nvidia configuration doesn't center visuals on the center of the screen: The bottom is cut off, and even when I recenter using the monitor controls, it doesn't go up far enough and is still a millimeter off-screen. Second, when I go to Preferences->Screen Resolution, its already set on the maximum resolution (1440x900): which isn't maximum enough for me.
Attempts at a resolution: In the terminal I typed nvidia-settings. I played around with this, but haven't really found anything better than the original configuration.
Ok, time to get everything set up. First I want to test how everything works out of the box. It detected my printer, external hard drive, and external dvd burner without any problems. Great! I put in a DVD and it read it without any problems. So far so good. Now I'd try some things I figured would give the system some trouble, like: browsing around to multimedia rich sites like cnn.com and the bbc to see if I could play videos from those sites. No surprise: I couldn't. Time to wrestle with the multimedia problems that are always a hassle when configuring a Linux system.
Oh sh*t!! I got up, installed a couple of updates, and rebooted the computer. But instead of it restarting like normal, it stopped functioning right before (or maybe during) it initialized the grub boot loader, and refused to boot up. I had no idea what caused this malfunction, but now I've got to deal with it. I figured the grub configuration had been corrupted, so my plan was to insert the Ubuntu CD that came with the Dell and fix the boot loader. Unfortunately, though, it wouldn't boot up correctly. It would start off fine, but then it would give something like the following error and then reboot:
Its not the CD, because I tested it on my laptop and the cd boots fine...now on this pc it wont boot at all. it gives me these errors after i tell it to boot the cd/install.
/bin/sh: can't access tty; job control turned off ata2.01: failed to set xfermode (err_mask=0x4) ata2.01: failed to set xfermode (err_mask=0x4) ata2.00: failed to set xfermode (err_mask=0x40)
Fix: Got past this screen following the instructions here: http://www.fak3r.com/2007/06/22/failed-to-set-xfermode-solved/
Now I'm tweaking things so its a fully functional and so I can do everything I want it to. Here is a list of things I set up:
Open *.docx files.
The instructions are found here: http://wvarner.blogspot.com/2008/02/microsoft-docx-files-on-ubuntu-gusty.html
Internet Connection Sharing
Instructions for getting this to work are here: https://help.ubuntu.com/community/InternetConnectionSharing
Note: these configurations seem to be lost on reboot. I've decided to use Firestarter http://www.fs-security.com/ to configure my firewall. Seems to work pretty well, but also seems to crash every once in a while.
Daily Use Since
Overall I'm pretty happy with my system. There are a couple of things that are annoying me, though. Here is my list of the top annoyances:
- Firefox crashes too much. Its crashed at least once a day, often even without heavy usage. I'm really looking forward to Firefox 3.
- Another Firefox annoyance: for whatever reason, the english spell-check dictionary used by Firefox isn't working, so even right now, while I'm typing these words, "everything" is getting a little red squiggly underneath it.
Fix: Try switching which language Firefox is checking your spelling against. Right click over the text box to find a 'Languages >' entry in the menu. Highlight that and then choose your preferred language from the resulting drop down menu.
Nautilus times out while waiting for my external hard drive wakes up, and displays an I/O error message. A clearer description of the error is here: https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/nautilus/+bug/184511
Fix: Following the instructions on this link fixed my problems: http://ubuntu-utah.ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=494673
- When booting up, sometimes my system will get stuck at the beginning of the initialization of Ubuntu, and then it will reboot itself in about 20 seconds. And sometimes it will do this 2 to 3 times before it actually boots up the way its supposed to.
Useful Applications to Install
- Deluge - My preferred torrent client
DeVeDe - convert movie files (like .avi) into a DVD iso.
- Filezilla - My preferred ftp program
- Firestarter - useful GUI firewall configuration
- Google Earth - I'd be very sad if this program didn't support Linux
- Geany - Fantastic text editor. I definitely prefer it over gEdit.
- Gmount-iso - GUI front-end for mounting .iso files
- Last.fm - Internet radio catered to your tastes
- Thunderbird - My preferred email client
- Unison - very useful backup utility. Works by syncronizing directories.
- Wine - There are still some Windows programs I still can't live without
- xCHM - for viewing microsoft help files. [synaptic]
Applications I had trouble with
- clamtk - It gives me the message (something like this): Signatures not found!
- Gnome Scheduler 1.0 - Didn't seem to do ANYTHING right. Garbage.
- Perl-tk - The Ubuntu package doesn't use anti-aliased fonts! Looks like crap. When I try and install the package from CPAN, it fails on make test.
Fix: Here is how I finally got perl-tk installed on hardy with anti-aliased fonts:
First, make sure you turn off compiz - when I had it turned on it lead to all sort of weird errors and freeze-ups.
Then I downloaded the package from: http://search.cpan.org/dist/Tk/
Using Synaptic I installed: libperl-dev, libx11-dev, x-dev,and libxft-dev
Then, using the command line:
tar xvfz Tk-*
perl Makefile.PL XFT=1
sudo make install