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    February 2011
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Isolated from the Outside World

I love my Acer Aspire TimelineX 1830T

Last months I needed urgently a laptop.  I did not have time to shop properly.  One evening I went through what was available at the local stores and in the end settled for an Acer Aspire TimelineX 1830T-3337 from Costco.  Costco’s 90-days no question asked full refund guarantee is unbeatable and gave me the assurance that if the device was incompatible with Kubuntu or otherwise did not fit my needs I could bring it back.

I feared compatibility issues.  And I feared the Intel Core i3 UM to be underpowered for my needs.  But in the end loved the laptop and kept it.

I love the small form factor (11″6 display).  The ergonomics of the keyboard and trackpad is far from optimal but I adapted quickly to it.  The only two real problems with the hardware were the glossy display and the lack of bluetooth in this specific model, both of which could be solved with a detour via eBay.

Kubuntu Rules

The netbook came with Windows 7 Home pre-installed and the first thing I did was to shrink that Windows partition to a minimum and install Kubuntu.  Installation went smooth like butter.  Faster than trying to get productive past the bloatware that requires registration and acceptance of convoluted usage terms on Windows.

Because support for its WiFi chip Broadcom BCM43225 has been added only recently, I had to install an alpha version of Natty Narwahl, the next iteration of Ubuntu 11.04 that is not due to reach maturity before April.

Despite not being recommended for production, Natty has been a solid performer for the past two months.  There are small cosmetic issues (such as the brightness level of the display not being preserved when resuming from sleep) but overall the experience is great.

The netbook does not have an optical drive so the only connections to the outside world are a USB key or the internet.  Preparing a USB stick for installation was easy following these instructions.  On top of that I only had to install the Wicd network manager because the network manager that comes by default with Kubuntu could not manage this netbook’s WiFi.  That was very simple:  connect to the wired internet, start a console and type:

sudo apt-get install wicd

And the machine was fully functional ever since.

The Joys of Alpha / Beta Software

Because Natty is work in progress, there are continuously new updates.  In critical times when I could not afford downtime I simply stopped getting / installing them.  On weekends however I got the latest update to see Natty progress.  I am aware of two instances when this broke my system temporarily, and I could recover twice from them.  Of course it is nicer when situations like this one do not happen, but they are almost inevitable.

The switch from GLIBC to EGLIBC affected functionality of some software like Skype for a few hours, but I still had my 10.4 LTS workstation for my son to chat with his grandparents overseas.

The one that affected me most happened today, and it is the bug in the DHCP client that left me without connection to the outside world.  Neither wired nor wireless.

No Net and no Optical Drive

A Google search revealed that the issue had been already identified and solved; but how to update it on a machine that has no connection to the outside world and no optical drive?  Simple.  Download a newer ISO snapshot of the Kubuntu alternate installer and issue the following commands:

sudo mount -t iso9660 natty-alternate-amd64.iso /cdrom -o loop
sudo mv /etc/apt/sources.list /etc/apt/backup.sources
sudo echo " deb file:///cdrom natty main restricted" > /etc/apt/sources.list
sudo apt-get upgrade
sudo mv /etc/apt/backup.sources /etc/apt/sources.list

And the system is functional again.

On the Windows 7 side, all tools to generate the install media depend on the availability of an optical drive.  Window’s own back up as well as Acer’s tool.  Since the system does not have an optical drive, I am left without backup.  I might lose Windows 7.  Not that I care so much.  What I do care about is that in the price I paid there is a Microsoft tax.  For software that I do not need and will never use.  That’s unfair.  Kubuntu rocks!