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Dell Inspiron 1420n

My new laptop finally arrived today, a Dell Inspiron 1420n. Usually the arrival of a new laptop means a couple hours at least of babysitting the Linux install, but this comes with Ubuntu Linux preinstalled. I plugged in power and network, turned it on, went through four straightforward setup screens, and it was ready to use. (The first three screens were for language, keyboard layout, and time (and time zone)--all were intuitive and had reasonable defaults. The last was to enter the account details (name, username, password) for one user account.)

All that was left to do was install some software and copy over my home directory.

The Linux integration still seems a little rough around the edges. The manual in the box, for example, refers only to Windows, not Linux, though it also has plenty of useful OS-neutral information (like how to install new memory). Of more concern: a shrink-wrapped Ubuntu CD is included, but it's not clear whether it would reproduce what's installed on the hard drive. That's not a great problem for me, but it might make restoring from disaster a problem for someone not used to installing Linux from scratch. Update: actually, they do have some details on the install, and it appears to be very close to a straight Ubuntu install. Neat! And there's also a "reinstall partition" on the drive.

Other than that, I've seen three problems:

  • The little sound volume applet on the panel crashes after the laptop wakes from sleep. A dialog pops up asking if you want to reload the applet, and if you do, then it's fine. So this is an annoyance, not a show-stopper.
  • For some reason the Firefox spell-checker defaulted to German.
  • The one 3-D game I tried (Planet Penguin Racer) crashed the machine. I didn't get a chance to investigate, but suspect the video driver needs an update.

There's also the usual problems that result from the clash between free software and the legal system: e.g., if I want to watch the DVD's I buy or check out from the library I have to go track down the software on my own, since the people that control the DVD format claim it's illegal for me to watch a DVD with software that I can actually read or modify. Thanks to the Medibuntu people, that's a five-minute fix.

Anyone who knows they want a Linux laptop is probably prepared for that. And for those people I think this machine is a no-brainer. It seems like a decent laptop. My previous machines had 10-12 inch screens, and this one is 14, so I find it a little cumbersome, but I think most people prefer the larger size.

Of course, the holy grail would be a computer that I could recommend to people who were just looking for a computer and didn't care about the OS. It's close. If it wasn't for the video driver problem I think I might recommend with the obvious warnings. If hope Dell continues working on this--they seem like they're making a serious start.

In other news, Linus just accepted this patch. Now I have super-powers. I think. Actually, I feel just as stupid now as I did last week. There's too much to do, and I can't be on top of it all....