Lappy! My m300 Arrived!

The laptop I purchased a week or so ago arrived today. It’s in good condition, with the exception of the completely unusable battery (I knew that) and a damaged-but-workable door that covers the docking port (I didn’t expect that).

It’s a PIII 200, with the 1024×768 screen, and the DVD drive works. W00t

It has Windows 98 on it, complete with somebody else’s screwy settings (funky cursor, QWERTY keyboard layout). This is fine, because it can be used right now to do stuff, but in short order I’ll be putting Linux on it.

Now… which flavor. Bear in mind that I need to obtain a wireless network card for the machine, and whatever Linux flavor I run needs to support the card in the machine. But since I get to pick the flavor AND the card, finding a match should be pretty easy, right?


EDIT: I should make it clear — this is my convention-going machine. 99% of what I need to do with it is BLOG. If I can offload my camera into it via USB, that’s a plus, but it’s not a showstopper if I can’t.

Now… I WANT to also be able to web-surf, get email, and FTP places if necessary.

85 thoughts on “Lappy! My m300 Arrived!”

  1. Linux build

    I’ve had fairly good success with Ubuntu ( although I am running a hardwire system, so I don’t know about their wireless support. I think that the current kernel supports more than the previous version. I do know it is very laptop friendly, according to several friends who are using it for that type of thing.

    1. Re: Linux build

      I wholeheartedly agree here. I’m a debian guy to begin with, but I’ve found that ubuntu is excellent for laptops where you want it to “just work”.

  2. I run Red Hat 7.3 on my pair of M300s. Any reasonably modern Linux should have no trouble, plus or minus the modem hardware (but I told you that already).

    I happen to have an unused Cisco Aironet 350 wireless card that I could probably be talked out of…

        1. I just stuck a Post-It with your name on it on the card. I’ll bring it to Linucon, unless you’d like it beforehand…

    1. You’re still running 7.3?!! I hope they’re never on public LAN’s, Red Hat’s always had the worst security track record (in my not so humble opinion), I personally try to avoid even their current stuff, but 7.3 gives me the shivers …

      1. They’re demonstrator systems that never see the light of the public Internet. One of these days, I should reinstall both boxes with RHEL ES3, since that’s the currently supported OS the software they’re there to demonstrate runs on…

        1. Not to sound too preachy (I’m no Stallman, by any stretch), but if you’re going to run a linux, why not an actually free version? I mean, I’m not a fan, personally, but why not Fedora Core 3 over RHEL ES3?

          1. Because the systems exist to demonstrate a piece of software that’s being sold to large (LARGE) corporations that want support for their OS. They don’t mind paying for RHEL.

          2. Ah yes, the “it’s a company thing” reason. I’ve dealt with that before, it gets old, though. Especially when you’re trying to sell people on the cost effectiveness of linux for a given purpose and some software they need/want “requires” they fork out the dough for RHEL.

      1. Nah…

        I “evlovled” a Gentoo system recently… from scratch.. and it was quite a breeze, once I figured out I had to manually partition the drive, create the filesystems, etc, it was quite easy..

        Of course, like I said before… I MUCH prefer NetBSD.. if only their soundcard and SMP support was better.

      1. Why, yes, Thanks for noticing…

        Without GNOME or KDE, a 200 Mhz P-II will do JUST FINE under ANY Linux distro. Use a lighter window manager, such as BlackBox or SawFish, or even WM with the right settings and customizations, and it’ll be quite usable.

        But what do I know? I retired from the computer field years ago and am now driving a truck.. so take whatever I say Cum Grano Salis.

    1. SUSE. It got bought by my former employer, and the guy managing their desktop offerings is the one who replaced me. Were I bitter I’d say “No SUSE for me!”

      I’m not bitter. But I’m only going to install something that I know will work. 🙂


      1. Suse doesn’t work?

        I’ve heard good things about it and have been meaning to give it a try for some time not. I kind of assumed you’d have a pretty positive opinion of it through your job experience. Would you mind sharing why you feel the way you do about Suse?

        1. Allow me to clarify: “I’m only going to the trouble of installing something once I know that it works.” While I give Novell and SuSE high marks, I’m not 100% convinced that what I want to work will, in fact, work with SuSE. Mostly because nobody has told me “I’m running SuSE on an m300 with a wireless card, DVD-rom, modem, etc and everything works.”

          Besides, I can’t get SuSE for free on my desktop anymore, and I’ve already shelled out more than a poor cartoonist should on the luxury of being connected when I travel.


          1. Wait, am I mistaken in thinking Suse is free? I know I can download the install ISO’s for free. Do they attempt to charge for updates like Red Hat does for access to the Red Hat Network? Where does the expense come in?

          2. I’m running Slackware on an Averatec 3270, with DVD drive (dvdrw/cdrw), onboard sound, video, wireless, modem, – and I have all of them working.

            also USB / cardbus (figured out that problem night before last)

            So the older machine should be fully workable in any distribution.


  3. Vector Linux is great for older hardware like that. But you really should compile your own kernel on a Slackware based system like that, to make the hardware even snappier. If you’re okay with that, it’s a very nice OS.

    So is Ubuntu (and Kubuntu if you prefer KDE), but it’s not a great idea to run Gnome or KDE on that little thing. Xfce 4 or something similar will be much snappier, while almost as friendly to use.

    1. Sorry. I’m going to need a decent, full-service desktop. Is Gnome or KDE going to be noticeably slower than the Win98 already installed?


      1. Probably not. The latest KDE is much faster than previous ones if you turn off the eye candy. Very little of the candy makes it any more useful, it just makes it prettier, so it should be okay.

        The one thing you will notice is long startup times when KDE preloads a few things. That means it’ll be faster in use, so it’s not all bad. And you can probably get hibernate or suspend working without too much sweat, meaning you pretty much never have to restart, but can just suspend and then resume from where you were.

        1. That is; KDE (and probably Gnome) will be about as fast as Win98. Kfce4 or Fluxbox or similar will put Win98 to shame and be much, much faster. But depending on what you use the machine for, the difference varies. For basic writing, some surfing and emailing etc., the difference is small. If you want to juggle more applications than the old machine really is expected to handle, a lightweight environment will be noticeably faster.

          Hope I’m somewhat clear; it’s much too late for me here.

    2. Actually, I think Howard’s incorrect about the processor speed. The 1024×768 screens were only installed on PIII-500 and PIII-600 systems.

      Howard, you can tell for yourself…the serial number label has a product configuration code on it. It’ll start AM3; the next 5 characters are the processor, P3 for Pentium III, then the speed in MHz. The whole thing can be decoded with documentation on the HP website (look for the maintenance docs).

        1. I was sort of wondering about that. My freshman year of college my roommate and I had brand new laptops. His was a P1 200 and mine was a P2 200. I wonder if they even bothered making a P3 200 chip.

      1. A PIII500 with 320 megs will comfortably run KDE for blogging, surfing etc., no problems there. I run the same on a PII750 which I normally keep at 500MHz to save battery and keep it cooler.

        For hardware support, everything but the modem will most likely work out of the box pretty much regardless of distro. Power saving and suspent features may be tricky, and wireless can be unless one is careful. But you seem to know what you’re handing out to mr. Taylor, so I doubt that will be an issue.

        But don’t count on that modem working. I have several softmodems, and with a lot of sweat and headbashing I have gotten two of them working. Somewhat, at least.

          1. In that case it probably will on other distros as well. Good to know. I’ve got an Intel slmodem, and it doesn’t want to cooperate. Mostly because there seems to be some resource contest between the Intel AC97 sound and the modem. But, as I don’t need it much it doesn’t matter.

            (Watch me stranded somewhere with only dialup within the next week just cuz I said that, heh)

  4. linux and wireless can be a pain. in general you’re going to want
    to get a card with a non-11g chipset because the g chipsets are new
    enough to have driver problems (on the upside, this translates to less
    cost and such). i have heard *bsd (open/free/net) have it easier
    in this realm but i’ve never tried it. i tend to run debian linux
    everywhere for what it’s worth with servers on stable and workstations/
    portables on testing.

    if you want a card that you know will work, and that’s one of the
    better ones out there, take a look at (e.g.): intersil 2.5 chipsets (e.g., several of my friends have cards from them like
    and speak highly of them, also fairly common in 11b cards but on the cheap end
    the manufacturers tend to silently change chipset vendors frequently),
    or a cisco aironet card (pcm-352s are nice cards and run about $20 on ebay).

    there’s approximately as many flamewars about desktop environments
    as there are about editors. *personally* for the smaller screens and
    typically reduced capabilities of laptops I tend to go for lighter
    windowing environments like fluxbox/openbox but then pretty much all they
    do is provide a thin wrapper to spawn many many xterms and firefox windows.

    windows is probably less configuration pain in the ass up front, but
    probably more general cruftoid pain in the ass long term. imho it’s kind
    of a wash, pick your poison sort of thing. I used linux on a variety
    of old x86 laptops before recently buying a 12″ powerbook (unix environment
    and native ms office/photoshop, great hardware, essentially zero conf
    headaches, and cheap with a student discount) fwiw my main uses were,
    in rough order of frequency: portable dev environment for conventional and
    web apps, scientific computing & report prep, security/sysnet admin usage,
    and general coffeehouse network tomfoolery.

    1. OpenBSD’s wireless support is indeed phenomenal, but most linux distros’ default kernels will support the major ones as well. And a lot of the new chipsets without linux drivers can still be used in linux with the ndiswrapper, which actually works surprisingly well.

      I often prefer OpenBSD or FreeBSD for my servers, but installing and upgrading software can be a real pain for a desktop, especially on a slow one like that. Everyone raves about how great the ports tree is, but compiling KDE or Gnome on an old machine can take days (literally), depending on the system. Obviousy using the available precompiled packages is an option, and highly preferable in a case like this (it will only take minutes), but it still strikes me as too kludgy, and you can’t always find all the packages you wanted in precompiled binaries (especially if you’re running on some non-i386 architecture).

      My personal preference among linux distros is Debian because I’ve really come to love its package management capabilities, but it too, will be a little more daunting to some users than, say, Fedora, Mandrake or Suse (though a cakewalk compared to Gentoo). I really can’t stand scouring the internet looking for obscure RPM’s that rpm ‘x’ depends on, and I never have to with apt in debian. And if you can only find an rpm for something, and no debian package, I’ve never yet had “alien” fail to convert it into a usable .deb to install from.

  5. funky cursor, QWERTY keyboard layout

    You mention QWERTY an a screwy settings, does that mean that you use a Devork keyboard?

        1. I’ve had kreely/Chalain and others try to get my to move to Dvorak from Querty.

          I type an insane amount of characters per minute when I’m actually typing something – why would I want to slow down 🙂

          (For most people, this is not an issue)


    1. Lurker poking his head out…

      May I ask what the placement theory behind the Dvorak keyboard is?

      I know that qwerty is supposedly designed to place most used letters nearer fingertips (although now that I think about it, that would mean e should be under one of my fingers.

      Is there a similiar layout theory behind the Dvorak layout? Why is it supposedly faster?

      1. QWERTY is a legacy from moveable type printing.

        You had two cases for letters. One above the other.

        Each was laid out the same way, the capital letters were in the upper case, the small letters in the lower case. The letters used most frequently were in those positions that required the least amount of motion. (Two arms, seadf/hujmni… and similar)

        DVORAK is supposedly designed for least amount of muscle motion or something. I don’t remember the details behind it. Ask Chalain 🙂


        1. Did some extra research, and I was HALF right. And half wrong.

          Anyway – qwerty was designed by the man who invented the “TYPE WRITER” (apparently the letters that spell out type writer are all on the top row – it was a sales gimmick).

          Early typewriters apparently had the paper underneath the keyboard, so you couldn’t see what the hammers were doing. Thus, if you jammed up two or three hammers, you didn’t know until you lifted everything up to see what was underneath. So the guy moved letters around until those letters most likely to be next to each other were distant. (d from i, and so forth)

          I can dig the article back out again, if anyone’s really interested. I don’t have the link in front of me.

          However – the upper and lower case are correct.


      2. QWERTY was designed to slow typists down, because they quickly got fast enough to jam the mechanisms. The most-used letters are OFF the home row.

        Dvorak puts all of the vowels under the left hand home-row, and the most-used consonants are under the right-hand home row.

        Before I learned Dvorak my wrists would hurt after hours of typing. I haven’t had THAT problem in the decade since learning Dvorak, and I type much more now than I did then.

        Dvorak vs QWERTY is a classic example of “consumers don’t want what’s best.” Dvorak is very clearly better, but most folks don’t want to change, and won’t teach their kids a superior system because they’d have to have two keyboard layouts around. We’re doomed to use QWERTY until keyboards go away altogether.


  6. I would highly recommend a prism2 based card, as they are by far the best supported card under Linux in my experence. 2 drivers for them exist: hostap, and prism2_cs, and any distro should easily support them.

    Dlink DWL-650 (PRIOR to rev P, which I discovered (after buying it from someone) has a prism3 chip…)
    Linksys WMP-11 (I think it’s WMP, also double check because some later revisions use a newer prism chipset)

    (I really really really hate when companies change the whole chipset, and don’t change the model number)

  7. Wow… I’ve never felt so completely computer illiterate before reading this entry and all the comments… *L* It’s a new experience for me.

  8. I’ve personally had excellent results with hardware autodetection on Mandrake. It generally just plugs in and goes.

    A Canon scanner, a Brother HL-1435 via USB, my Motorola cell, all just plain worked, quite often with less hassle than hooking it up to the same hardware on Win2K (dual boot laptop).

    The only thing you may have problems with is the memory, which you didn’t mention. Mandrake 10.1 is a bit memory heavy, but I’d say give it a quick try. The install shouldn’t take more than an hour tops, even with a slow hard drive, and you’ll rapidly get a feel for if it’s thrashing swap and/or how well it detected everything.

  9. I like Debian, though, never tried setting wireless on it… too poor for a laptop ^-^;;

    I found out today that the NSA has an available distro, wich is kinda amusing, if you’re into security and all~

  10. Oh, and I should point out one more thing about Debian: it will be much easier than the Fedora/Suse/Mandrake-like distros to keep your system from getting too bloated and bogged down by unnecessary cruft, because it’s much easier to just install what you want and nothing else, and that can of course be very nice on older hardware.

  11. I’m a big fan of debian. It looks like you’re set for a wireless card, but in general, if you want it to work right, right away, you want a prism2 based card (802.11 b).

    1. I’m not a fan of Debian, but that’s because it’s a political distribution, not a technical one. (That goes for Debian derivatives such as Ubuntu, too.)

          1. Well, actually the choice of packages is license based. It’s the license decisions that were political. But just opting to include the “contrib” and “non-free” packages gets around that.

          2. Making a choice of packages be based on the license is political. Debian is now, and always has been, about “free software”, and has always done all its users would put up with to espouse the cause, rather than simply picking what works without regard to license politics.

          3. Well, that’s Stallman, for you, but I and many many others like it for purely functional/technical reasons. I would rather work with apt than rpms any day, and I believe they’re much easier for anyone to use and understand.

            I was actually just introduced to Ubuntu a couple days ago, and it sounds like a really cool Debian derivative that tries to build on its strengths and make it more user and corporate friendly like many of the other distros at the same time. So far I’ve liked everything I’ve read, and hope to try it out this weekend or next.

  12. I am SO not going to venture an opinion about which distro here… I don’t want to be mugged later. 🙂 But if you don’t need the system installed immediately, why don’t you bring it to Penguicon with you, and come to the Installfest? You’ll have a choice of distros all in one place, and dozens of LUG members who will battle fiercely with each other for the honor of helping the renowned Howard Tayler do his Linux install! *And* make sure the networking all works. (Yes, there’ll be a wireless net there to test with.)

  13. hey, I saw you post in one of the cartoon communities and noticed your in Utah so I thought I’d drop you a hello. We local artists gotta stick together.

  14. I’m going to assume a P3-600, which is more than enough to web-surf, email, and FTP. Of course, I do all these things on my P1-100 laptop…

    …and 320 megs of memory is more than enough for it.

    You’ll probably using USB dongles or PCMCIA/Cardbus cards for WiFi access.

    Now, there’s a few major distributions (check Distrowatch for further details):

    RedHat Fedora: When RedHat went corporate, Fedora was split off as the development distro for RedHat. Good news is that GNOME works on it (becuase Redhat supports it financially). Bad news is that you’re stuck in a binary distro, compiling anything is a mess, and configuration at the lowest levels isn’t good from the last I’ve tried.

    Mandrake: Based on RedHat, but with alot more sanity. You’re stuck with RPM’s, but the guys know what RedHat did wrong and fixed ’em. Compiling is still a mess, though.

    Debian: A distro with good support for most things… but there’s alot of politics here. Very conservative politics. Think radical-conservitive and back it off a few. Because of this, some vital software isn’t availible because it’s not open source (like NVIDIA chipset and video drivers).

    SuSE: I like this distro because it knows how to get out of your way, but I like it’s YaST too to boot.

    Slackware: A simple distro, installer’s no thrills. Once in, it doesn’t force you to a “setup” tool to configure the system. Updates fairly often too. Unfortunately, has no support for GNOME for one reason — it’s too *!)@#*( hard to keep up with the dependencies that it keeps throwing at folks, especially the sole maintainer. KDE is native, though, and I belive Xfce is on there too. I use this on old systems, including my laptop and a P1-100 system.

    Gentoo: A Source-compiled distro. It takes a few days to set up, and some manual tweaking as you compile everything up, but once it does it’s compiled to your computer’s chip. It’s not all source, though — it keeps up with NVIDIA’s releases for the video drivers. It takes a bit of work to install, but it’s well worth it.

    My choice is to slap Slackware on it, check for the display’s settings, and set up a small desktop enviroment with Blackbox as the window manager and Mozilla for email and web… unless you use Gmail for email and only use the web version, thus only need Firefox.

  15. As for the installfest – I may be up in Detroit that weekend, and I’ll put my time to good use – I’ve already said I’d reload the laptop for Howard, so that it’s done. I did the same sort of thing for Chalain, and myself.

    (Chalain and I use Slackware. I’ll just say that and stop)

    Wireless. Ergh. Urm. Harrumph.

    802.11b is easily supported. 802.11g is less so. However, unless you’re planning on doing transfers of a lot of huge files, 802.11b is your friend. I can also track a card down for you as well. (I have a linksys B revision 3 card that detects immediately in any recent kernel, but that may end up going to Pi – depending on his luck with the Prism54 chipset drivers)

    The biggest issue with most of the G chipsets is that the manufacturers don’t understand that it’s NOT the hardware specifications necessary for building drivers that are “proprietary secrets”. It’s the actual architecture of the chip itself. Giving away the information on how to interface with your product will simply increase your ability to SELL said product.

    My new Averatec laptop has a RaLink chipset built into it. Ralink technology is actually giving out Linux drivers, and there’s an open source driver group for the chip.

    Quick search comes up with the Encore ENPWI-G-RLAM, and Possibly the belkin F5D7011.

    No guarantees on that one.

    The MadWifi drivers require extra effort, and the Prism54 drivers are apparently a firmware based system of some sort.

    Recommendation: 802.11b. 🙂

    Desktop – KDE, or if you just need/want fast, and able to do email/web browsing – use one of the smaller ones such as WindowMaker or IceWM. Less full featured, but use less memory/processor.

    Distributions – processor hogs are RedHat/Mandrake, SuSE (less so), Knoppix (although that’s good for testing out your system to see how the hardware works), Linspire. Less hogs are LFS (linux from scratch, of course), Slackware, Debian (but the install will get you – ask Chalain), and I’ve heard decent things about Gentoo – no clue about Ubuntu.

    Talk to Chalain about it, he might have a better idea – or feel free to call me. I’ll call back to put it on my nickle.


    1. Dear God, not Windowmaker.

      Sure, it looks nice, but the project maintainer appears to be allergic to the concept of “readable and useful documentation”.

      (This does not stop the usual suspects from chanting their mantra of RTFM!)

  16. Hmm — difficult one.

    I won’t do my usual “Gentoo all the way” thing, because it *does* take a long time to set up and laptops require lots of tweaking to make the hardware work properly.

    Knoppix, in my experience, has the best hardware autodetection and configuration. Sure, you run it off the CD and it’s slower, but it can be installed to the hard drive if you poke around a little. You may have to pass a couple of parameters on the boot line (laptops often have video driver issues and you’ll probably want to change the keyboard map) but even so, a couple minutes boot time and you’re in a usable system. By “usable”, I include a P1 166 machine with 64mb ram (although that’s pushing is — kde was annoyingly slow).

    Alternatively, I’ve heard good things about Ubuntu. That’s set up as a strictly user system by default (no dev tools, can’t even recompile the kernel) but it’s close enough to a standard Debian that you can use the standard Debian packages with no trouble, so software availability’s no problem.

    I usually point people in the direction of Mandrake for a desktop system, but it’s been so many years since I used it that I can’t really comment any more.

    Whichever distro you go for, though, gphoto should do the camera without too much trouble and firefox is the more-or-less standard web browser.

    Window mangers are all down to personal taste — you’ll have the base libraries for both KDE and Gnome installed anyway. I like fluxbox, but that takes a little getting used to — no start button, no icons on the desktop, etc.

    Good luck on the installation — laptops can be a little tricky, but Linux is well worth the effort of installing. Just be warned that once you’ve used a real commandline, DOS (or the windows commandline — same thing) will forever be painful.

    1. I second knoppix. I threw it on my laptop as a temporary measure when I gave up on Fedora, and to my surprise I’ve never looked back. It just works.

      However, on a 200 mhz machine with 64 megs of ram, even installed on the hard drive, the performance is going to be but under par due to their use of cloop. But at Penguicon I could convert that to a squashfs for you, and that should clear it right up. (I need to upgrade my own laptop to 3.7 anyway. Or is 3.8 out by now? For all I know, the new versions have already made the switch…)


  17. I dream of a day when all you have to say is, “I am installing Linux”, and not have worry about all the different flavors. Standardization anyone?

  18. I personally use Mepis. It’s like Debian but with better hardware autodetection and a nicer setup.

    Only downside is it does not take kindly to poking around with the Kernel and tends not to work well with older stuff.

  19. The choices for Windows are quite simple. Linux choices are hard (use this thread as an example). The Linux community seems to like it that way. Until Linux is standardized, and the community is better centered on a common goal, Linux will never be mainstream.

    This thread hurts my brain.

    1. The people who hack on Linux tend to do so more for innovation than standardisation, which usually comes later. Also, different flavours have different purposes. You need different types of optimisations depending on whether your OS is going to run on a server, a desktop, a PDA, an embedded controller, a cluster, or whatever.

      Standardisation is also not necessarily a good thing. I have my machine set up the way I like it with lots of keyboard shortcuts, editor settings, etc. The guy a couple of cubicle over, using the same distro, window manager and mostly the same apps has a very different setup that suits him. Both of us are more efficient on our systems than we have ever been on windows or various distro defaults.

      Also, market research done by Novell (I went to a presentation by them) indicates that, in the business world at least, support and training are the major reasons Linux isn’t widely adopted and they’re addressing that with their Linux offerings.

      I could say a lot more on the topic, but this isn’t the place — maybe I’ll post to my LJ about it sometime…

      Having just done a spellcheck of this comment, standardisation on en_US definitely doesn’t suit me, since I speak en_GB…

    2. The choices for walking are quite simple. Automobile choices are hard. The automotive community seems to like it that way. Until vehicles are standardized…


      There’s no need for Just One Platform. This is no more complex than “I want to buy a car, what kind is best for me?” but for some reason because it’s distros of an OS, choice and variety are suddenly bad?

  20. Locals

    Don’t forget if you need help, or just to pick from a distro, you have a lot of fans that are local lug members (and presidents :)).

    Also, what is your preferred linux desktop environment? KDE/Gnome/fun lightewieght other.. ? Some distro’s are better with a specific one, and that can help.

    Anyways, support is readily available locally (Heck, there are 3 lugs in Utah Valley alone (BYU, UVSC, PLUG), and if jmaynard can’t get you the card in time, I’m sure I could find one of my old B cards laying around.

    1. Re: Locals

      I may just take you up on the B card, what with you being local and all.

      Email me directly, wouldja? howard dot tayler on gmail.


  21. I can only say that FreeBSD is a decent server software, but it needs a better way of implimenting Ports and syncing the collection over the ‘net.

  22. The original dream (as it turned out, hype) for Linux was that it was the OS for the people. As it turns out, it is the OS for a few elitist computer geeks. At least thats the way you portray it.

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