I use my Arch powered bootable USB drive on lots of different hardware, but most often on hand-me-down laptops from work. I recently moved into a newish laptop (a Dell Inspiron 13-7352, P57G) which came with an Intel 7265D wireless card. Its a really nice 2 in 1 laptop where the screen folds back so you can use it in tablet mode, its the size I like (13″) has a backlit keyboard and a touchscreen with an i7. I don’t see myself ever using this thing in tablet mode but build quality seems good and the keyboard is very Macbook-like chicklet type which, while I’m not a huge fan is usable.
Sadly, I do need to keep the SSD drive loaded with Windows (10) since its a work machine, but I was able to take it out of secure boot mode so I could boot from USB as needed. The first few tweaks I needed was to change the resolution because the default res on this screen is only good for the under 30 set. xrandr --output eDP1 --mode 1600x900 gets me something I can live with. Since I use the USB stick on lots of machines, and I’m running i3 and using netctl I don’t have it connect automatically. Sometimes I need to manually scan (like at the library) so I have a few preset profiles I can load set up, but its just another step when I boot to manually connect up. Fn+Brightness keys work fine, as does the Fn+keyboard backlight key but volume keys do not. These are set up in the .i3/config file and I haven’t messed with those keybindings for a couple years and I haven’t looked into fixing that yet, for now I’m just using alsamixer to adjust sound. I did add a binding for screenshots:
It wasn’t long before I realized that the network speed over the wireless was just awful when in Linux (currently using kernel 4.9.8-1). The Intel 7265 is fully supported under Linux, though it doesn’t specifically list the 7265D and there really aren’t many complaints about it out there, though there definitely are some and some of those were solved by disabling 11n, but no matter what I tried I just could not get anything faster than about 1.5Mbit/s over my 20Mb connection. The card ran fine in Win10, but even when I disabled the latest iwlwifi (22) and tried each previous version successively in /usr/lib/firmware it wouldn’t ever work right. Another possible culprit was power management but turning it off didn’t help, and most folks complaining about slow performance due to power management reported a slow-down after a certain time period (as if the radio was being powered down on a time limit). This wasn’t my case – it was just slow all the time and equally so. There definitely are some ACPI errors at boot on this machine very similar to those some folks were blaming on the BIOS. The BIOS numbering for this machine (A09) appears to be in an entirely different sequence from the one discussed there (1.4.4) though. There are a few ACPI related errors at boot and I did find a similar kernel bug reported for this kernel, and others have discussed this issue but mostly everything does seem to be working. I can shut the lid and it suspends, and opening it again it resumes and wifi and networking function properly:
I wish I could relate a more satisfying solution than this: I swapped out the 7265D for a 7260 wireless card out of an ASUS UX303L I have with a broken screen. A few months ago I removed the broken screen and hinges and run the laptop hooked up to an external hdmi screen. Doing so has the side effect of rendering the built in wireless non-functional since the antenna wires route around the screen. Win10 still runs fine with the 7260 (no discernable difference), and now my Arch stick is getting speeds of about 18Mbit/s (according to the command line speedtest-cli program). I was at the point where I had just about given up tweaking software settings and rebooting and if I didn’t have a spare wifi card laying around I would probably have just brought this laptop back in to work and grabbed something less sexy since the slow wifi was that much of an annoyance to me.
A recent job reminded me of why I no longer buy Apple products. The client calls to say they just got a new iPhone and are having problems getting a custom ringtone onto it. OK, sounds simple so I run over on lunch. Client had gone to a local AT&T store when their old phone gave up the ghost. AT&T store guy asks client for the password for their Apple iCloud account so they can set up the new phone. Client doesn’t remember it, OK, no problem – they ask for the client’s email password so they can reset the iCloud account and get into it to set it up. Client doesn’t remember it since I had set it up a long time ago and its saved on the phone and MacBook at home. Note: client has all the passwords written down but didn’t realize they would need that info and so didn’t bring it. AT&T store guy resets both account passwords, sets up the phone and the email account on the iPhone with the new passwords. Client hadn’t yet realized that all other devices tied to his account no longer worked since the new passwords had only been set up on the new iPhone.
Figuring this out upon my arrival I proceed to explain that we really need to reset these passwords again to something we control. The passwords chosen by the AT&T store were obviously default passwords they use for all clients they set up and so, are fairly insecure. Also, the client doesn’t want to run the risk of having the phone hacked into by someone connected to the store someday, right? It wasn’t as easy as I hoped given that iCloud forces you to use security questions and AT&T guy had changed them and not told the client? Selecting appropriate security answers and passwords and getting them all written down on the (previously forgotten) sheet of paper for the client as well as setting them on all the client’s devices took most of “lunch”.
Now, on an android device there are lots of ways to get a custom ringtone (or any file) onto the phone. Plugging an android phone into a computer you can usually just copy the file over to it (if your computer and android device are set up properly for this) or you could just email yourself the file and save it to the android device from the email. Apple on the other hand wants to ensure that any and all media files are passed through their “DRM managment system” (iTunes) to ensure that you didn’t steal that file you created yourself which pleases their Corporate Media Partners.
I had originally gone over to this client expressly to set up a ringtone so I plugged the iPhone into the client’s MacBook and fired up iTunes only to be greeted by an error message: “This iPhone cannot be used because it requires a newer version of iTunes” OK, so not a big deal – I downloaded the latest version of iTunes and went to install it but was met with a second error message because the new version of iTunes required a newer version of OSX than was already on the MacBook. At this point I realized I couldn’t finish the job right away, and made arrangements to come back later that evening..
The client purchased his MacBook in 2013 with OSX 10.8 and has been very happy with it. Certain third party software on the Mac required that version and since upgrading to a new version of an OS is sort of a drastic measure to take when everything is working fine, he/we opted to stay at 10.8 over the last couple years even though newer versions had come out. The new phone forced the issue, and I started the upgrade. Even though the update was free, when you are using an existing Apple ID, Apple requires you to enter a credit card for the Apple store to work even for a free download. This is horrible thing, and its reason enough for me to never use Apple again but thats the way it works. Supposely you can get around it by creating another Apple ID at the time of purchase and selecting None as the payment method, but what a hassle – we opted to just put in a card.
…and, it didn’t work. Thats right, for whatever reason a corporate AMEX didn’t work and we tried it several times. We ended up using a personal VISA card to complete the “free” purchase of an OS upgrade. Speaking as a Linux user, the idea of paying for an OS upgrade at all is sort of anethema, but to be forced to fork up a credit card number over the internet for a FREE upgrade is just plain ridiculous. The download took about an hour, and the actual upgrade somewhat less and it went fairly smoothly. After a reboot I only had one issue with keychain errors which kept popping up on the screen about it and I couldn’t close them all. It was disheartening and annoying until I found that all I had to do was delete a folder (the one named with a long series of digits) from ~/Library/Keychains and reboot.
Once OSX was upgraded on the MacBook and running, I could finally install the latest iTunes (thankfully a painless process), connect the iPhone (again thankfully the cable wasn’t some new proprietary connector the MacBook didn’t have), drag the ringtone over to the phone in iTunes… Whoops! iTunes recognized there was an important OS update for the (brand new) iPhone! Downloading that took some more time, and then applying that update took some more and restarting the iPhone and then I could finally attempt to copy one single goddamn file to the fucking iPhone once again.
As hinted at earlier, the OS update broke a vital piece of software which was purchased for and ran well under OSX 10.8 but would not run under OSX 10.12 at all. This required the purchase, download and install of a newer version of this large software. Not a fault of Apple, but this software’s authentication process was a bit arcane and took over an hour to complete properly. This software tested, the client wanted to print out a sample of a test document we created with the software …and the printer would no longer function. Luckily, Apple’s print dialog was smart enough to recognize that it needed new drivers and provided a helpful button to update the driver. It didn’t even require a reboot and started printing immediately after the driver was updated. Thank heavens for small favors.
While I’m not personally interested in being on the Apple upgrade mill, I do really appreciate the rest of you that are.
In response to the very good point about this situation largely being brought upon the user by not keeping up with updates to the OS over time on G+, I feel I should add the following here:
In this case, the user is not particularly computer savvy, wouldn’t do updates on their own and would not pay for this kind of basic maintenance to be performed by yours truly. That said, the expensive third party software would have had to have been re-bought several times over by this time. I also find it interesting, actually, that just as every business person is now expected to be able to do all those things secretaries used to do now all computer users are expected to be their own IT staff. Generally I find most folks are doing those additional tasks about as well as you might expect. Very few can type as fast or as accurately as my grandmother did, and most folks can’t stand doing updates and dealing with the inevitable fallout thereof. As you pointed out, when otherwise brilliant people are not concerned enough about those things that IT folk care so much about they are indeed “sternly chastised” about it.
Ever since I first got an android based ASUS Transformer model TF-101 back in 2011 I’ve been a fan of the tiny netbook sized laptop form factor. The Transformer could be separated from its (optional) keyboard but I never used the Transformer in tablet mode anyway, and the few times I did it wasn’t for very long. The Transformer was quite heavy – a solidly built device that certainly outlived its usefulness – and tablets always have to be held or propped up in a suitable position, my hands would tire using it that way quickly. Besides, the keyboard had an integral battery which would keep the thing going for about 12 hours! The post linked above goes into detail about Android as a choice for OS if you’re wondering.
I kept the Transformer relevant for as long as I could by flashing it with custom ROMs. After a couple years most manufacturers of android phones and tablets stop updating software for their older devices and users are left to fend for themselves against an onslaught of security breaches and malicious websites. The folks working to build custom ROMs for these older devices are doing so mainly because they want to use the latest software on their older devices and at least with Android (an open source project at its core) this is possible. I had very good luck running the Transformer on KatKiss ROMs and its still working fine running KatKiss 5.1.1.
note: Since Apple has monopoly over their devices, Apple users can usually keep their devices current longer – but ironically Apple has also successfully promoted a culture which encourages tossing the old devices and buying new ones every couple years even though the new devices are so similar to the older ones its almost incredible they are able to make the case! Customization, the removal of Apple’s bloatware, or installation of open source apps isn’t possible on these devices though.
The web is slowing me down!
An old Gateway gets refurbed
A friend at work brought in a netbook sized Gateway from around 2009 which looked perfect. The processor was sorta slow, but compared to the nVidia Tegra2 in the transformer it was lightning. My friend had brought it in for help replacing the hard drive which had failed, and when I stuck an SSD in that machine and slapped Ubuntu on it I instantly knew I could use that machine. I was thinking about looking for a used one online, but didn’t get very far and gave up.
The RCA Viking Pro (2015)
I’ve been using android in this format (a 10″ tablet with attached keyboard) for so long that when I started looking around for a replacement thats what I went looking for. There really wasn’t very much of a selection. I was, however, amazed to find a line of cheap Chinese tablets branded with the RCA trademark. I’m well aware that RCA, the Radio Corporation of America, went out of business in 1986 because that was a fairly big deal at the time. The trademark is maintained and licensed out to various manufacturers today, including rcaav.com which markets tablets made in China by Venturer Electronics in Shanghai and ALCO Electronics in Hong Kong. The tablets are very low cost and can be found in Wal-Mart or on Amazon (where I got mine) for under $100.
I think it was the cost that hooked me. Here’s a device that looked a *lot* like the Transformer I loved, with a faster processor and twice as much flash disk space. It had a detachable keyboard (though I wouldn’t need to detatch it as I’ve already explained), miniSD and USB ports, and it ran android 5. I didn’t realize at first that it would be running an older version of android (5.0) than I was running on my Transformer via the custom ROM, but it wasn’t too ancient and since it was fairly new there was some hope that it would get an update.
I used it for only a short time before I realized I would really need some kind of case for it. The Viking Pro is very cheap plastic and slippery – this was no over-designed and heavy duty ASUS Transformer. I opted for a faux leather folio cover which the page on Amazon describes as “Vegan leather” which got more than a laugh or two! The case keeps the keyboard and tablet snugly together as its carried and used, and while it makes it more difficult to detatch if you wanted to use the tablet on its own (which I have done more often than I did with the Transformer because its so light) you can still do it once you figure it out.
I’ve been using the Viking Pro for a few months now and I can say that I don’t like the ultra cheap keyboard as much as I liked the ASUS Transformer keyboard, but at about 1/5 the price what do you want, really?
Lots of the programs I use on the Viking Pro are the same ones I used on the Transformer. I’ve discovered new apps over time – perhaps I’ll list them out here soon – but I’ve been able to get most of my day to day work done on it. I can check email and calendars from lots of accounts, surf the modern web with some limited sluggishness on some sites, watch videos and stream them to the chromecast (which we keep plugged into the TV) with ease. I take notes on it at meetings, and play some light games. I play music on it from time to time but the sound quality of the speaker is horrible so only if I’m going to plug it in to a speaker.
Could a chromebook become my ultimate netbook?
It seems, however, that it has only taken some time for the rest of the world to catch up to what I already knew – in May Google announced plans to make the Play store available on chromeOS later this year which would bring android apps to the form factor I’d already been using for four years in a real way but for now this is only available in the development versions of ChromeOS.
I like the Viking Pro, but I really wanted something a bit nicer, preferably a netbook sized laptop no bigger than 11″ with attached keyboard and good battery life. I came across the ASUS Chromebook C201 and was instantly struck by its classic Macbook styling (though, in miniature) and when I looked into it I was able to find a bunch of them USED on Amazon some for as low as $140. Since Chromebooks don’t run Android and instead everything you run revolves entirely around the Chrome browser, I knew I wouldn’t be happy with it unless I could get around that limitation. At that price I’d be willing to do a bit of work to see if I could get Linux running on it.
With Google’s announcement of the Play store coming to Chromebooks (and this one is on the list) I figured that at least I’d be able to run some of the apps I love on it eventually. I didn’t realize when I was looking into them that this model doesn’t come with a touchscreen though so its unclear how much fun those android apps are going to be on the C201. Since I prefer to use a wireless mouse anyway hopefully it won’t be too bad. This Google I/O talk describes what this wedding of ChromeOS and android might look like:
I was able to get Ubuntu Linux (with XFCE4) running with ease using crouton and have been enjoying using all the tools I’m used to using on my big boy rigs and switching back and forth between ChromeOS and Linux. Some cases in point: ChromeOS doesn’t let you run Firefox which I prefer (for reasons I won’t go into here), but I can use it fine under Linux on this device. ChromeOS requires you to have a cloud printer (which I don’t have) to print. I was able to set up my printer just fine from Linux. There are just tons of tools I use every day that are free and open source – they don’t work under ChromeOS but run fine on this Chromebook under Linux. The Chromebook side is fine for checking email and playing some videos (though casting them seems a lot clunkier than on android), but for anything more than that I’ll be using this in Linux. I was *not* able to get desktop Minecraft running on it (I got close) because crouton doesn’t support 3D hardware acceleration on Arm (the Rockchip is an Arm processor).
So far the ASUS C201 Chromebook seems well made (certainly more so than the Viking Pro, though nothing has broken on that device as yet), though nowhere near as sturdy as the old Transformer. The C201 is really thin and light (which is nice) but definitely flexes when you put some twisting pressure to it. My advice: treat it with kid gloves. Its Rockchip Cortex‑A17 (some claim its actually A12) RK3288 CPU is no slouch and its able to run ChromeOS and a bunch of Linux applications with ease. It has two USB 2.0 ports (USB 3 would have been nice, but really I don’t think it is necessary since it has a miniSD slot which can be used to run an alternate OS). Since I have an Arch Linux 64GB USB drive which gets a lot of use I was able to stick that into one of the USB slots and make symlinks over for some folders so I can store files and images over to that drive instead. Linux initially took up only about 1.5GB of my 16GB internal drive but with it set up with all the tools I like its up to about 3GB now. I’ve had no issues closing the lid and having it wake from sleep even with Linux running. I do have to deal with the annoying Development screen at boot, just hit Ctrl-D to bypass but if someone accidentally hits the space bar its “game over man, game over!”
Its been a while since I’ve posted anything here so just as an excercise for the fingers I thought I’d post an update about my current machine.
I’ve been running Arch on an old Thinkpad T410s for almost a year now ( journalctl says logs started on June 23, 2014). Its an Intel i5 M560 2.67 GHz from 2010 that was turned in by the sales department as its warranty ran out, physically broken (handrest cracked) with complaints about it being “too slow”. This was certainly true with Windows 7 on it. It hadn’t come with an nVidia card, so it just has the el crappo first gen Intel HD graphics. The screen is horrible – washed out, nowhere near as nice as some of the newer IPS screens, and not even as good as my old 2008 MacBook (though with a slightly larger screen res: 1440 x 900). I was able to buy a cheap handrest replacement off ebay for $15, and after finding that the reason it was so cheap was because they didn’t supply the electronics with it – forcing me to salvage that stuff off the cracked handrest – this second one has now cracked as well. The fan and heat pipe assembly needs to be taken out and cleaned but have been too lazy to get to it, the speakers are very quiet (compared to the MacBook at least), but everything works and its been a great learning experience for Arch.
I started using Arch on a USB drive in February of last year with a newer Dell laptop which I had to keep Windows installed on but quickly came to find that I’d rather have a permanent install to play with. This laptop quickly replaced my MacBook (which runs Ubuntu) as a daily driver mainly because its faster but while I like the keyboard more (I hate chicklet keyboards), its just nasty to state at for very long. While the USB install had i3 (a tiling windows manager) configured, I had decided to use KDE on the Thinkpad – and its been interesting getting to know KDE over the past year. At first I thought I was in love – I use Gnome 3 at work and on all my other machines, and KDE was responsive and looked good. It had all kinds of nifty graphical effects (most of which even worked on my slowgar graphics card too!) but little by little the love affair wore off. I just couldn’t find a way to use “activities” (KDE’s virtual desktops) without grumbling about it getting in my way, and the whole massive Akonadi experience with Kontact got frustrating after awhile. I liked kjots and kept a lot of notes in there (luckily, these can still be found in ~/.local/share/notes after kde is removed), but the font sizing for all the apps was always wrong and I couldn’t ever get it to be a comfortable size, and when kMail started having problems with certificates for accounts and the constant nagging error messages and notifications were the last nail. I ripped out KDE tonight and installed Gnome 3 and am busily moving in. I can see giving a die-hard Windows person KDE as their first Linux desktop because it would be very familiar to them, but I don’t think I’ll be going back to it.
I recently got a new laptop from work. Its a refurbished Dell Latitude E6330 with an Intel Core i5 processor, a 13″ screen and a 120GB SSD drive that came with Windows 7 Pro. I haven’t used Windows regularly in quite some time (I’ve been using a WinXP VM on the rare occassion I need to do something in Windows) but now that I’ve been using Windows 7 for some time I can say its really a very good OS. That said, I missed my Linux tools, and quickly grew frustrated every time I hit up against a task that I knew I could do easier in Linux or that required yet another proprietary and expensive application. Trust me, you can quickly get used to having access to a vast repository of software that can be installed in seconds safely and for free.
Since this is a machine owned by my company (and for which they paid good money for a Windows license) I can’t in good conscience just blow away Windows and replace it with Linux. The SSD, while incredibly fast, isn’t really big enough to carve up partitions for another OS. Besides, the main reason I have the machine is to run some software which requires Windows. That said, there are times when I’d like to use the machine for personal tasks as well, and I’d rather not have my personal information saved on the work machine. This got me thinking about how I could boot the machine from a “persistent” USB drive. Persistent in this sense means that the drive would not only boot the OS (a bootable live CD or USB drive does that), but also serve to store personal settings like wifi settings, themes, installed programs, etc. and personal files so that the next time I boot up, its all there.