[Beowulf] Linux laptops, and M$ advertisement

Robert G. Brown rgb at phy.duke.edu
Mon Apr 16 13:59:20 PDT 2007

On Mon, 16 Apr 2007, Peter St. John wrote:

> The ad is http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserver/facts/default.mspx?R=cf
> The testamonials all seem to be equivalent to "I"m a PhD in Rocket Science
> but setting up a Linux Cluster is too complex, so using MS saves me time to
> do Rocket Science". None of them mention if their MS clusters were in any
> way subsidized by MS. Also, I assume that essentially they are paying their
> vendor to do the setup & support, and they don't say if that compares
> economically to, say, paying Joe to do that, only that it saves them time
> themselves. Sure, if I had that budget, I'd pay Joe and RGB to come and work
> for me and I would have more time for other things.

I sure hope that it is a really big budget then, right Joe?  ;-)

> Be all that as it may, I"m wondering what laptop to get. There are two
> issues: one, that it used to be scary to get all the device drivers for
> linux (maybe not anymore); and two, that one would prefer not to pay the tax
> associated with the disk manufacturer contracting to preinstall Vista etc.
> Toshiba, which used to be a fair linux platform IIRC, promotes itself as the
> Premier Vista Notebook now (understandably).
> I ran into http://www.linuxcertified.com/linux-laptop-lc2100.html via a
> couple routes but of course it's a no-frills site, dunno what it wouuld be
> like to find/get accessories etc. Anyone want to pitch me their laptop
> favorite?

The problem is that this is such a crazy rapidly changing field.  For
example, I've been happy with two generations of Dell, but I know people
who have bought Dells on all three sides of mine and been unhappy.  With
one of my Dell laptops I started out unhappy and then rapidly became
happy as a driver was added in real time (thanks to FC!)  We've also got
a much newer Toshiba in the house.  The Toshiba, also, started out
unhappy (with FC unable to install) and then became happy (with it
installing perfectly and transparently) with the next FC that came

Toshibas to my limited experience tend to work better with Linux than
with Windows, partly because Toshiba installs its own layer of Toshiba
specific crap underneath Windows to deal with various things Windows has
sucked at, but MS doesn't willingly relinquish control of things like
the wireless network, and then along comes your ISP with their own
package (invented for the same reasons) and suddenly you have three
different pieces of software trying to run the wireless network, each
thinking it is the only one, one of which is based on low level firmware
drivers that is really difficult to turn off, one of which is built into
the core OS and really difficult to turn off, and one of which should
probably never have been installed but had to be in order to facilitate
accessing your ISP and now are -- really difficult to turn off, at least
without changing ISPs or learning how to connect without using their

Then there is the convertible/tablet issue.  One of the really cool
things about Windows that I will freely acknowledge is WAY ahead of
linux is its support for both tablet operation including freehand entry
of text with a stylus on a convertible laptop as well as mouse/stylus
operation of the sort the kind-of-works for linux with wacom drivers and
a bit of luck.  Also voice recognition -- Dragon used to suck but now it
actually works, often works quite amazingly well.  Expensive as all hell
for a "professional" version, but impressive and cost-effective for
people who cannot type!

This is particularly sad, as in most other ways a linux laptop is every
bit the equal of a Windows laptop (and in some the superior). Voice
recognition in linux seems (last I looked) to be pretty much abandoned
after a brief project was started by IBM some years ago.  This is a
disaster, as this could easily end up being a killer app inside a very
few years and there isn't any project that I can take seriously in linux
space at this time (I'd love to be corrected if this isn't true and you
know about something that works even approximately as well as Dragon).

Proper tablet operation and handwriting recognition for convertibles
appears to not be there yet, although there is maybe more hope there.

This doesn't answer your question, of course, but it does indicate that
your question isn't terribly easy to answer, because a good answer six
months ago might not be a good answer today.  I've had to go over
currently available laptops device by device to gauge what already is
supported and what might soon be supported (and how much I care about
the device in the meantime).  Once you home in on a current model, you
can usually turn up installation stories and walkthroughs with google
that help you make your final choice.

The really important thing is to get that 3+ year onsite service
contract, whoever you buy from.  Laptops are easy to break and break
often, and one tends to rely on them even more than desktops.


> Thanks,
> Peter

Robert G. Brown	                       http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb/
Duke University Dept. of Physics, Box 90305
Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
Phone: 1-919-660-2567  Fax: 919-660-2525     email:rgb at phy.duke.edu

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