Ubuntu Lucid 10.04 on Thinkpad W500

After over 3 years at 10 hours a day it was time to retire the thinkpad T60. I replaced it with a thinkpad W500, not the most recent model but well thought of and importantly works with Ubuntu Linux. The fan was nearly worn out, the disk slow (5100rpm) and the right arrow key was dead (using emacs or programming without the right arrow key is no fun at all).

The W500 a nice machine. The reason I use Thinkpads over other machines are build quality, keyboard and that they generally just work with Linux. Not many laptops will take the consistent (ab)use my T60 has seen. The W500 keyboard is very good and the build seems fine. The single major criticism I had of the T60 was its dull screen - the W500 is much better here. Its sound quality is much better than the T60. It has a 7200rpm HDD which is noticeably better than the T60's 5100rpm and 4Gb RAM will do for now.

This was my first use of Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid. I had held off, knowing a new machine was coming.So far I'm very impressed. Installation went very well, after a clearing 270Gb of the 320Gb drive, it installed in a few minutes. This is the most straightforward installation of any Linux I've used (I go back to Redhat 4), and it matches a Windows install for simplicity. The days of deciding how big to make /home and stepping through X11 and networking stuff are long gone. Also, the steps toupdate the operating system and packages with Synaptic are very simple - my Windows 7 update on the other disk partition hung a few times, so it seems Microsoft haven't quite sorted this out (I've had a few severe problems with Vista updates).

All went well until I clicked on the proprietary drivers option for the ATI Mobility Radeon HD3650. I had read in the past that there were problems with fglrx and the ATI card, but not that on startup the screen would go dead with no possibility to switch run levels or move into recovery. After trying to manually fix up Xorg via a LiveCD, I reinstalled. Because I had already copied over a lot of data I shrunk the original partition and reinstalled to reduce copying time. Again installation was a breeze. However the steps to remove the old partition and grow the new one via gparted resulted in the /boot partition getting messed up somehow. I was't able to get grub to work so I had to blitz the partition and install a 3rd time. It was unfortunate to mess things up twice, but that's not  a criticism of the distribution. (or gparted, this is the first time I've had anything untoward happen with it)

Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid is an excellent distribution and it is very close to the goal of  a Linux for human beings. I have two criticisms of the UI. First the window controls. I don't care they're now on the left, I do care that it breaks symmetry with the previous window layout by placing the minimize button in the center instead of the right. This is bad design as the most common operation is collapse and the relative sizings not have disjoint order that makes you think. Second, I believe the mouse grab for window sizing is too fine grained - I find myself having to place the mouse very carefully to grab the box.

It's always interesting to look at the extra software you need to install use the computer. Here's the list -

cisco vpnclient
mysql server
pidgin (can't use empathy at work)
protocol buffers
vmware (visio, word, powerpoint)

As far as I can tell this is less software that I used to depend on, which is a good thing. The main installed software is Firefox, Bash and Open Office. I still need to use MS Ofice via VMWare for Powerpoint and Word, as Presentation and Word Processor aren't quite good enough, whereas Spreadsheet is excellent.

The biggest changes in the last couple of years have been Git, Scala, and Emacs Orgmode. I still find Mercurial more usable than Git but so much OSS is in Git now, it's neccessary to have a working knowledge. Or more accurately, so much OSS is in github - github seems to be becoming the Facebook of DVCS. Scala has become my most liked JVM language in the last few years, although most day to day work is Java. Scala makes excellent tradeoffs between type safety, performance and expressiveness but the repl is not fast enough nor that language syntactically simple enough to replace Python for off JVM work. Orgmode is the biggest change and has become vital to me. Orgmode is the only notetaking/organisation tool I use now and the only GTD style app that has not failed me when I really needed it - it's indescribedly excellent and a true productivity enhancing tool - I can't recommend it enough.