This is the final part of my “portable” network saga. I am actually using the product of all I have written about. My network is easily transportable in two “wheelie” cases. Tear down and setup about as easy as I can get. Flexible and practical as I intended. For now I have met my objective. Read on for a description of the product.
As I have previously said in my writings since my retirement: I have almost abandoned brands as a guide. I do have brands I would prefer, largely because of favorable experience. However, like most retirees I must watch what I spend. As a result I find myself looking more for favorable prices rather than perceived quality.
As a consequence I often buy refurbished gear rather that the latest offering. I have found this approach to be quite successful. I do check what I am saving, evaluating the possibility of taking some other customers problems against that difference. I avoid buying “refurbished” when the price difference is too small or the device too risky. In addition, I look at whether a new or refurbished device is available through E-bay at a saving for a delivery wait.
Much of what I do is therefore done a the lowest cost I can achieve without risking scams. E-bay is good with their operating criteria. Most of the on-line suppliers I deal with offer unconditional returns, the few problems I have had have been well supported. My approach, used carefully has been very cost effective.
In a long IT career I accumulated a number of useful accessories which I have put into use in handling my network. I will not be too specific but is makes the overall cost a lot less. I am finding use for things that almost got discarded. In fact, largely because I am a pack rat by nature, that retention has been a bonus. This has been particularly applicable to computer luggage.
I am not running a computer museum but still have useful leftovers from my business career: laptop cases, sleeves, including a couple of very capacious “wheelies”, cables (not much used now) and assorted spares including an assortment of IDE drives. Pretty much all of this is in use again.
In my final years in my house I also acquired an assortment of small folding tables. They are all collapsible and pretty much portable. Inexpensive but durable, they are the nucleus of making my network convenient. Lets face it, all these laptops are not going sit in one lap, as I age probably not even mine. I do have a larger table too, but only one is really essential. I keep that for the router and assorted other things needed on a daily basis.
The equipment list is actually quite extensive. Each laptop has its own mouse. I have things like mouse pads and thumb drives and of course backups.
Communications is handled by a Netgear wireless router, one of the more expensive purchases I have made. After dubious experience with other lower cost units (short life) I decided to cut my losses and buy a better unit. It is more nearly at commercial business level. The router is connected to my ISPs modem. Also attached: a larger printer ( 8 year old wide Epsom Photo) and a 4 Tb backup drive. These attachments are about to move, I am not sure where or how!
The router has dual frequency ability and I have router to server running on the 5 Ghz band. The capability allows for support of devices workable at either 2.4 Ghz or 5 Ghz. This really gets the best out of the network and the Internet.
The computer “server” in all this is a refurbished HP Elitebook with a 14” display (yes we really are ALL laptop here). The price was very reasonable. It runs Window 10 Pro. Attached are two printers: a 10 years old Canon iP5000 and a Brother label printer connected through a USB hub/card reader. Also attached is a 5 Tb hard drive (spinning) which is my current network backup. This laptop is connected to the router on the 5 Ghz band.
My main personal workstation is my newest HP 17” Pavilion. It runs Linux Mint 18.0 (18.1 when I can find time) and has a full range of all the software that I use including Google Earth. Now installed is 500 Gb SSHD for operating system, application programs and e-mail. The second drive is 750 Gb spinning drive which is used solely for data. The swap area for the OS is also contained on the SSHD, in practice this is little used as the actual core is large enough to be effective for most situations. Connection to the network is at 2.4 Ghz using the internal adapter.
My portable photo lab is running on my Acer Aspire. Smaller and lighter than the HP Pavilion and therefore more easily portable. It has only capacity for a single drive and the 1 Tb SSHD is installed. In this case the operating system is Linux Mint 18.1. In effect it is a near duplicated of the main workstation except that the e-mail system is NOT duplicated, nor is Google Earth loaded. It is also communicating via its 2.4 Ghz internal adapter. For my two Linux workstations I am trying to upgrade the network via 5 Ghz dongles – drivers are holding that back.
My Windows workstation is a low level HP 15.6” Notebook with no optical drive. Installed is a 500 Gb hard drive (spinning) which only partially used other than to support Windows 10 Home. The software includes the preinstalled Windows adjuncts. Added are copies of Libre Office and Google Earth. Google earth is my primary reason for having this workstation. However, I also need a system to support my cameras with firmware updates. I have Sony cameras and I have not been able to provide support via a Linux system (Sony seems to ignore Linux). The laptop was acquired through the sales last Christmas at a very reasonable price to solve the Sony support and provide Google Earth in a fully functional way. Wireless communication is at 5 Ghz (an inexpensive dongle) which make Internet and hence Google Earth very good. The transfer speed achieved is very high to the Internet. Considerably better than that achieved over 2.4 Ghz.
That is the basically the current version of my resident network layout that I use all the time.
I have run Google Earth on most laptops I have used in the last 10 years. That includes when I was using KDE 3 and KDE 4 on Slackware. There has always been some difficulty on 64 bit systems. I was always able to work around these problems by running a full suite of 32 bit libraries on the 64 bit OS. Unfortunately I have not been able to get full capability for Earth on Linux Mint, it can be run but it has some annoying problems with the embedded photos. At present there are two different protocols at play, Panaramio and 360cities.
Panaramio is undergoing a massive change, anyway. I have not fully researched where Google is going to end up. The installs I have done using MINT 18.0 and 18.1 have problems with displaying photos as Panaramio expects. A partial cure which generally seems to work for me: zoom in until groups mostly separate into individual shots ( some grouping do not separate). Single shots will then display. You will need to experiment to find how to exit from a photo display.
369cities are special zoom into pannable 360 photos. Displaying the access photo (single click) will not initiate the zoom. The cure for me: place your cursor on the 360 button until it display the description and the do a fast double-click, that generally seems to work. It also helps to zoom in so the button is clear of all other photos and featured buildings.
Mint provides a special Google Earth install program, for me it does not work easily and these two anomalies seem to persist. Neither is a game changer but are irritating. I have no idea why this happens. Current Mint and Kubuntu are both Debian derivatives and seem to have problems. (For the uninitiated Debian is a very good Linux distro) In earlier Kubuntu releases I had no problems, I have not had time to research the issue thoroughly. I suspect that Earth being basically a 32 bit program may be at play, I hope Google is moving it to a fully 64 bit Linux capability. The best results I have achieved are using the Google release for Debian.
The result of this is I do Google Earth work on my Window Workstation which has a 15.6” display. Occasionally I do it on a little HP Stream 11, which is really too small, unless you have better eyesight than I do.
I am truly over connected! I am not typical of my age group as I come from a long IT career history. I have several devices which despite my age I use almost every day.
I attach to the network when using these devices as they are basically dependent on that connection.
Netbooks: a Samsung Netbook with only a 10” screen and the HP Stream 11 These are both too small for anything other than occasional use, too much eye strain. I use them as occasional test beds when I do not wish to configure a workstation. I also have refurbished small Chromebook 11 that I play with, cost me less than $100 for entertainment. When I get tired of Chrome maybe I’ll try Linux on that device..
Tablets: a Samsung Galaxy Note 8 (16 Gb) running Android 4.4 and a Sony Xperia 10 (32 Gb) running Android 5.0, both seem to have reached the limit of their OS upgrade from the manufacturer. I have have a 64 Gb micro SD card on each of them (I am a storage hog). The Galaxy is a nice tablet and is now five years old. I still use it and love it but serious work is done on the Sony because of the bigger screen Storage is also a difference favoring the Sony. I now do my reading on the Sony, better in both screen and speed over my reader. Both communicate over the 5 Ghz band.
Cameras: are all Sony now and can communicate at 2.4 Ghz except an older DSC-R1 (10 Mpxl) which has no wifi capability. All the laptops have SDHC readers built in and I use those more than wifi. The DHC-R1 uses compact flash rather than SD cards so I use the slots in a USB hub/card reader (now 8 years old). I have a replacement hub/card reader still in its box!
Reader: a Kobo Arc (32 Gb) is a nice reader but I rarely use it now. Purchased in 2012 it runs Android 2.2 and is abysmally slow even with 32 Gb storage. It is basically a 7” tablet
Ancient: my original HP 17” Pavilion is still working well. I use the “beast” as a testbed and it is destined for my next project. It still has a nice 750 Gb spinning drive even if the display means eye strain. With an external monitor it may yet do good things.
The old laptops that were the slippery slope into Linux, they had too few or no USB ports. IDE drives and the screens were fading to mud. They are gone to the last lap!
I am happy that I have a fairly neat and clean (and portable) network. However, technology and age wait for no man, it probably will not be a long period of content.
I have used all my past experience and adapted as much as I could afford. Considering that I started on this project late in 2006, urged on by 2010 events and there has been much technical progress, I am amazed at how current the final product really is. Most of the credit for success is really attributable to the use of Linux. Because of Linux I have always had a current operating system. The cost of that has been keeping my knowledge current enough to do all this myself, I have never found that to be a strain. I cannot say the same for my vehicle which tests me every day.
Since 2011 I have spent about the equivalent of about 2 months rent on my network and computing. I have made two purchasing errors in that time to the tune of about $350 which, in hindsight, contributed to my education but not the network. On a pension that is not chump change!
At no extra financial cost, I am still looking for my perfect Linux distro. That alone will keep me from becoming bored. Maybe this article will prompt the perfect Linux distro for photography wonks and maybe I’ll live to see it. That 100 year old man in the corner loading Linux on an old Chromebook? That is probably me!
This marks the second and longest part of my struggles with laptops. In fact the struggle has mostly been the need to adapt to change, both in my circumstances and technology. It has been enjoyable. This part gets more specific at greater length about choices and technicalities, loosely documenting my experience putting the technology together, the nitty gritty so to speak. I have a general objective: create a flexible and comprehensive photography support system, to my taste!
The network I grew in Part 1 of this discussion did not happen by a magic trick. It has been a considerable adventure. The process has not been onerous but has had some challenges.
I am by nature a rather lazy guy and tend to take the path of least resistance. Knowing all this, some of my sceptical friends have suggested that moving away from Windows was not a good move. “Stupid”, “insane” and “masochistice” are some of the milder epithets cast my way. More understanding has come to them recently, the adjectives have declined with the invective. A recent discussion produced a “couragious” designation, so I have decided that I can believe in what I am doing, it is a success for me.
As specified I am lover of Linux, specifically Slackware, until recently using that as my laptop OS of choice. I came by that choice for laptops because it was so controllable and simple to understand. I have used Slackware for about 20 years as my server OS of choice for terminal based applications, often with terminal based user systems actually running Windows with an emulator, with the application system based in the Linux server.
This Windows/Linux hybrid approach has served me well with insurance systems, garment systems and some other clients. My use of Slackware as a user system – a fully servicable KDE desktop with very good local power - was a logical step.
Slackware has been a very complete distribution, a very good operating system for learner and tyro alike. Included is a full slate of useable applications. It networks reliably and easily. It includes all of the application aspects of the KDE and Gnome desktops. It allows the installer to choos KDE or Gnome, besides other desktops, as a working choice. It includes most of what I need in my daily computer use. However, the stated intent of the distribution has been to allow the user complete choice in almost everything, making some applications packages quite difficult to install. This can be particularly time consuming with packages of a specialised nature, in my case digiKam and related applications. Ideally I would like to have the very latest, to match with the excellent manuals now available and, not the least, to keep up with advances in photo gear I am involved with.
To my disappointment, I have been unable to achieve photo software nirvana. Not with the high work level requred for Slackware to maintain packages. Not with any of the alternatives I have tried. I have settled on a distribution having continuous available update as a feature. I still love Slackware for its stability and ability to adjust as I needed. However, as a retired computer techie it simply is too much for my age bracket and time available.
The addons that I need arise from my interest in two areas: I am a photographer, I have a strong interest in on-line security. The albatross is too heavy for this “ancient mariner”!
Loading and using digiKam, which I believe to be just about the most adaptable and powerful workflow system available for photographers, became extremely complex with Slackware. Finding the supporting libraries and related loads was almost a career in itself. In fact, I was unable to get digiKam 5.0 to load and run after a week of fiddling. Total frustration arising from the need for supporting software libraries. This should be easier than it is.
So I abandoned my wish to run a fully up-tp-date version with Slackware. I was prepared to compile what I wanted but could not succeed at that more lofty approach. I appreciate that the problem is me! It is no discredit to the application or Slackware. Other users have told me I am not alone, some very nice software is going unused for exactly these reasons. Locating the supporting libraries is definitely an issue, even when one knows in detail what is required. Often these libraries are part of a package of related library software. The problem can be resolved but takes a lot of time and research. The developers of digiKam do provide a list but it has not solved the problem for me.
Network security is another personal interest and an entirely different problem. Again add on libraries can cause a problem during some package installation. This is much more easily solved as the distribution called Kali Linux has all the answers (maybe that is over stated) at least as it appears to me. So I have Kali, with a laptop system to run it, ready to install. That will happen as soon as I have my laptop network settled down from the latest upheaval. Kali is a different next big project.
So finding a new system to replace my almost complete dependence on Slackware has become the latest sub project occupying my time
Even considering the time I have spent with the net finding libraries, Slackware has been really easy for me and exceptionally reliable. I have been using it on my laptops since I disposed of Windows Vista for good in 2008. After using it for several years as a server OS. Bluntly – I love Slackware and became very comfortable with the KDE destop, choosing KDE rather than other desktops offered with this distributiion.
Originally, prior to 2008. I had been a user of Microsoft Outlook, Word and Excel. They were my most used software. After that I had also added “PaperPort”, Adobe Photoshop and followed the path most users did for software. Buying what I needed at often ridiculous prices. If I add the cost of software my Windows XP laptop actually rose from a price of about $3,000 to well over $7,000 (all Canadian), over its life of about eleven years. I had decided that the tool was much too expensive, well before I embarked on my “laptop network” and downsize project.
To provide an experience base I decided not to throw good money after what was already spent. I upgraded the Windows laptop to a larger hard drive and started loading whatever “free and open source” software I could find. I used free software wherever possible. Occasionally I ran into strange incompatibilities. A typical example: in 2009 one Power Point presentation loaded into Open Office gave a file error when copied from an origin MS Office presentation. It turned out that the problem was on the MS Office side when a file was improperly closed. But that was a small problem disposed of when using Open Office to develop the PP-style presentation. Yes, my attempt to move into free software did have some strange incompatibility “glitches”. However they were few. Since I had both software products not often a problem.
I have had no problems since 2011. All problems I encountered before that date generally involved exchanging files with other users
All this experimentation raised my confidence in and appreciation of the “free and open” product range. This did not extend to a Photoshop replacement immediately, that is a different journey.
I lived with a total replacement for the Windows laptop as I did more and more work solely on my Slackware conversion of the HP Pavilion 17” originally acquired with Windows (gasp) Vista. Only occasionally did I revert to the Windows XP system, by 2011 it was all on the Slackware loaded laptop except for some more pernickety photo work.
I added to the Slackware system gradually. First by upgrading with all the releases from Slackware: passing from 11.0, through the 12 series to 13. I encountered my first major change moving fron KDE 3 to KDE 4. The applications I used had improved in ease of use and competetive features throughout the period, I could edit photos, edit/show videos, work with any document format, any spread sheet format, play music and completely replace what I had been doing under Windows XP.
At some point, I cannot remember the exact timing, I switched from Open Office to Libre Office to get an improvement in some features. I found I liked Libre Office better and have stuck with it, an entirely personal preference. The differences are actually minor I think.
I had been using KDE 3 as my desktop until I switched to KDE 4 in 2013. What I now had was a desktop system which bettered anything I had seen before. The change was quite startling when compared with the Windows range. I particularly liked the features and customization abilities of KDE 4 its early releases provided. I benefited from a degree of control and reliability, with few glitches of any kind. My workflow developed to a level where almost everything came readily and intuitively. I loved it. I upgraded no further, preferring to wait for a major change.
I personally prefer the layout and appearance of KDE interface features. So I will still be with KDE 5 for the forseeable future. I have tried other desktops and still have this preference. In 2017 some changes I dislike in KDE have forced me to think of moving to a different desktop. However, although I have tried several distros using different UI appearance, looked at others, I am still using KDE. Others may like any or all of these desktops, I think they all have their own advantages. If you are or were a rabid Windows fan there is something there for you too!
The next major change for me was not Slackware. I began to work with more advanced cameras in 2013. This raised the need for a workflow systems change. So, while I had installed and used digiKam up to 4.0 I had been editing photos on my old XP system gradually moving to my remaining Windows system which had Windows 7, it had taken over and the XP system was decommissioned in 2012.
The display on my XP system was failing and Microsoft was starting to say farewell to XP. The time for change had come. I got more serious about open source photographic software and started to look for other products settling on digiKam. I have made a complete move and now rarely use Windows as a Photo Workflow tool. Further incentive came from the “beast” (which showed signs of fading display) when color consistency became a problem. I had already acquired a replacement which was running as my Windows machine, with a newer 17” Pavilion running 7 Pro. By 2015 I no longer wanted to use it as a Windows system and acquired an inexpensive HP Elitebook refurbished, with lots of features. The newer 17” HP Pavilion was due for Linux, replacing the “beast” now in its old age.
In 2016 Slackware released a new version. This loaded and set up easily but proved to have some problems with KDE apps, particularly Kmail. Also it had proved impossible to keep up with new releases of digiKam. None of the blame here belong to the Slackware distribution. I have some misgivings about what is hapening to KDE. I still like it but changes are hurting me. Perhaps a subject for another time.
At that point my main photo workflow and editing tool had become digiKam. To save the day with Kmail (Kontact) I took my slightly newer Acer laptop and loaded Kubuntu, then transferred all Kontact work to that system as the Kmail problems were less. I will not go into details but I have seriously questioned the use of Kontact (with Kmail). Again, that is another story! After about six months with Kubuntu I moved to Mint on my photo support laptop (the Acer). All this upset due to changes in KDE from 4 to 5 and (in my opinion) a less than well publicised process. I suspect its my own fault as I often do not read the KDE information in sufficient detail (there is too much of it).
With Kubuntu, I completed my move to a more current version of digiKam. I still am not running the latest version and have decided that is wishful thinking for now. With KDE undergoing a change with onset of KDE 5 and Plasma, In general I like the results but occasionally curse KDE. I use a series of 10 named virtual desktops, the ability to name them freely has changed and is no longer as useful as it was – an irritation but not an insurmountable obstacle.
Changing the Linux distribution you are used to is a hard decision. I started playing with Linux in 1995, finally settling on Slackware in late 1997. I needed a server for a Unix based applications I had developed for insurance companies and for other similar terminal based syatems I was working with. These systems, dumb terminals originally, were gradually moving to PC networks using Windows with terminal emulators. Now, after 16 years it was becoming more of an integrated Windows or Linux Workstation based world with servers using Unix/Linux showing exceptional reliability and lower cost for data and network management.
Perhaps Slackware was no longer the best choice. I started defining the distro I needed based on how I acrually used my network. A number of issues occur to somebody is this position but trying to think a current decision into the future is not a wise idea. In other words do not bet the farm on what you think is coming!
I started by listing the software I needed and deciding which distros met those needs. That was a very small list. I then backed up a bit and redefined the list to include distros which included KDE as the desktop along with other criteria which included auto and rolling update and a comprehensive supporting repository. I looked at all the frustrations with Slackware and decided that a replacement must load any needed supporting libraries. Providing semi or fully automatic updates was a desirable feature, many distros do provide the “semi” feature.
After a lot of trial and play, some with my interest in solid state hard drives, I settled on Linux Mint. Changes in KDE have made this a less definite move and I find this irritating, but I am assured that the basic KDE system will perform better when the changes are done. I like KDE 5 plasma version, except for the apparently incomplete customization changes. By the way: using Mint has nothing to do with the fact that I am 5/8 of Irish descent!
Other distros which appeal for the future are Manjaro and Antergos. However, I found their KDE apps not really usable. I look forward to future versions. They look really promising.
More change is coming, so there will be another part to this saga. To summarize to this point, I still have a “hybrid Linux/Windows” network. The Windows divorce is not yet final and the blame (from my viewpoint) lies with computer peripheral and other device manufacturers. They make often obscure driver requirements (competetive reasons?) and inflict them on the world. Perhaps there is a better way to drive all this gear, inventors needed.
So ... after what must seem like a rather messy process, I finally have my portable network the way I like it. How I actually use what I have is one subject in Part 3 of this rather long article. To be fair I have enjoyed messing with the gear and the entire process has fed my techie roots.
In summary I actually have a working four computer network with occasional sit-ins. The four are all fairly large laptops and the sit-ins are netbooks (including a Chromebook to satisfy curiosity), tablets and a Kobo reader. I will lay out my gear in Part 3. Everything is wirelessly connected using (basically) 802.11 g as the connection. Very little of the equipment is new, most at least 5 years old. All hung together with a good quality router (almost four years old now). There is good security but I am not telling – obscurity improves the odds against interlopers, I hope.
The final part (3) of this article (saga) is coming soon, writers block and snack breaks permitting. Stay tuned!
This article started, as the title suggests, as an expose of the way to use Linux to get an older laptop functioning in a more modern world. The experience that I accumulated with my own situation became the basis for what I write. Over twenty years of Linux experience made me go a certain way, a need to keep costs reasonable confirmed it. To keep it simple to read and understand I have uses an equally simple approach to entice both technical and non technical readers.
In the last 12 years I have gradually become totally portable. Well, not me, my computing environment. As a result I am immersed in the laptop culture. I am now an advocate of having all my computing eggs in one rich “laptop” basket.
Laptops have several distinct advantages. Your monitor, keyboard, CPU and – lets face it – your computing life are in one nicely portable and compact package. Laptops take up less desk space. With wireless features they avoid messy wiring problems (except for the inevitable wall plug). Fitting into a convenient and decorative luggage style bag, they can be moved and set up almost anywhere, speedily and without too much fuss. Tablets have some of the features of a laptop, portability needs make them less powerful. I now have a couple and they also communicate (Android seems to love Samba).
I still have my old mid 1980s Toshiba 3100, it still fires up and runs but with some screen damage, it is definitely old technology. The orange screen was a problem for me but it lasted for almost 8 years in active use. Crossed the Atlantic about 10 times, replacing a “luggable” at about one eighth of the weight.
I used to own a house. In that house I built a network with internet connections and a firewall to protect against cyber unpleasantness. Came time to contemplate a move and (gasp) downsize, my ego, my hobbies and what remained of my business, were encapsulated in a motly collection of hardware. I had two desk tops for playing with Windows and Linux, some debelopment work, one smaller desktop as a data storage system (less than 500Gb of storage on any of them. For convenience I also maintained a laptop (yep, only one). This equipment was set up as a home network, down sizing meant a severe process of elimination, the only part that stayed was the laptop. Oh, I also had a smaller older desktop which was set up as a Linux based firewall. That was the situation half way through the first decade of the new millenium. Working with several clients over the preceding 25 years raised a new scenario as the end of that decade came. The new millenium saw a number of changes in both equipment and work.
In 2010 my hand was forced, my network faced the chopper! Retirement crunch time loomed. I had to move in early 2011 now retired. I found a way to move my network. Laptops were the game I chose, Linux was the team I made my own. However, the actual business of downsizing was not an instant solution, the process evolved over several years of experiment and trial. My history with Linux helped and broad computer experience aided an abetted the process. None of these were strictly essential but did smooth the way. To duplicate this process for yourself: well all that experience helps but success is possible even for a rank amateur as improvements in Linux have made a change so much easier.
As a precursor and fortuitous action I bought (relatively inexpensively) another laptop. It was a refurbished 17” HP Pavilion, a huge beast. The “beast” had Windows Vista loaded, not one of Microsofts best offerings. I lived with it for about three months, realized that getting it usable was going to be costly, risky and frustrating. At that point I made up my mind to rely on Linux for day to day use.
Is the same period – 2007-9 – I acquired or was given three older laptops. These units had older versions of Windows which were no longer viable. The Linux daylight dawned. I started to experiment with Linux as a laptop operating system, including my recently purchased “beast” I soon had al these machines loaded and communicating via ethernet. A few bucks and some agony later the cables of ethernet were replaced with wireless. What made this easy was the discovery that Linux worked very well over a wireless network. I already had done that with one laptop but needed to make it happen for several! It was not the easiest thing to do at that time. At this date in 2017 it has become very easy to set up Linux for wireless, also it has been the easiest networking approach I have found. Samba is the software which makes a hybrid Windows/Linux network function well. In 2006-7-8 it has had minor setup difficulties which disappeared by 2010. If attempting this hybrid networking feat always load Samba to avoid frustration. Instruction on its use is beyond the intended scope of this rather simplistic discussion.
What did all this cost? Relatively speaking, a pittance. Linux was downloaded over the Internet for free. Being already a Slackware user I actually had the CD/DVD media on hand but went for a newer version. The downloads were free. I purchsed wireless adapters for two of the older laptops, the “beast” and one of the others already had built in adapters (all 802.11B, 2.4Ghz). I already had a wireless router, an Internet connection and one wireless connected Windows laptop. Connecting the lot went well and the extended laptop network came together. The beast now had Linux. Slackware 11. Four Linux laptops, one Linux desktop, worked well together. Using Samba, one Windows laptop and the Windows desktop were soon talking accross the network, happily exchanging files, all connected to the Internet through the common router.
Thus was the seed from which I then cultivated my new moveable feast the new transportable network was born.
Linux was the savior in all this exercise and the basis of my portability to come. Initially, although this started as a need to dispose of Windows Vista, I soon generated personal enthusiasm. I exhanged the hard drive (320Gb) in the beast for a larger drive (750Gb) and loaded Slackware. The system set up easily with the network connecting almost immediately. The only variation was to load Libre Office in place of Open Office. I use Kmail as part of Kontact, a truly excellent PIM package included in the Slackware distribution.
Before I got that far I read a lot (mostly nonsense) about how badly laptops respond to Linux. The nay sayers cited examples of missing drivers, incompatible hardware and lack of software. Some brands apparently do have problems, I have not encountered any myself that have not had a relatively simple answer.
All the older laptops and the beast were HP or Compaq productes. All four – no exceptions – loaded the OS and ran wihout problem. I will concede that some brands pose a bigger challenge, I have found a couple. But, generally., laptops I have loaded have run immediately and required very little or no tweaking. There were a couple of nervous days early in the game. Minor problems I have run into related to manufacturers who bought into Windows supremacy propaganda, placing Windows related “features” on their systems. I have generally ignored these “features” with impunity, occasionally bemoaning wasted keys and opportunites.
The horrible doom and failures I read about did not materialise. What eventually condemned the older laptops in the end was they wore out. It became impossible to fix problems and new technology replaced how they operated. Linux has kept pace with that technology and now handles most situations with built in drivers and inclusions in the “kernel”. So new hardware parts were a problem. Linux was not.
So by the time my 2010 crunch hit me I had learned a lot, but my test beds were not the real answer, too slow or had need of unavailable or over priced parts.
I ended up doing what I wanted, changing over my network to laptops but had to acquire new hardware. In 2011 I acquired a new HP Pavilion 17”., an Acer 15.6”, and a netbook. The netbook was a mistake I will tell about that another time. My Windows laptop started to fade (screen failure) and I looked at completely abandoning Windows. The “beast” soldiered on and is still going, now almost nine years old, but display brightness is an issue as it fades..
Buying new hardware meant that I got pre loaded Windows whether I wanted it or not, so I had Windows 7 Home in triplicate! Considering that all were going to be Linux soon and there is no way of getting that cost back I lay back and accepted my fate. I did need to replace my dying Windows XP syatem so I intended to use one of the three new devices. When the smoke cleared two devices went to Linux. Other arrangements were more convenient than Windows but I keep it around to educate myself and for som devices which have overly complex Linux connection issues.
Most devices, especially printers do connect to recently released Linux distributions, that “tame” Windows system is becoming less necessary. Six years later I have got Linux working happily for all that I need. I have no desktops and I can reach all my printers except one, without buying extra software or getting special drivers. In 2009 I actually purchased a Linux printer handler to simplify multiple systems using them. By 2015 I no longer need that as Linux inclusions can access all the printers I have tried except my label printer. A Linux solution is available for that label printertoo, but I have not used it because the label editor software seems to be restricted to Windows.
I have found that complete flexibility needs an available Windows system. I do not usually work on my Windows devices as I am not entirely comfortable with Windows 10. This comes from the unfamiliar and rather awkward UI style. I know some people who really do like it. This problem is a very much a matter of taste.
So my intent of becoming entirely Linux has not been realised. I actually have two Windows 10 units.
One (Windows Pro) acts as a peripheral server for the label printer, a large (5 Tb) backuo storage device and a Canon printer which seems happier with Windows. The second is still Windows 10 Home used almost entirely as Google Earth tool. I got it to raise my understanding of Windows 10 and it has been very good for that.
Recently I have also acquired a Chromebook (also HP but not the latest model. I found one at a very good price and wanted to see what it could do. This is NOT part of my network as it is not a sophisticated communicator. It does some things quite well and I use it for a quick Utube or Facebook access when I am otherwise involved with other activities. I also use a diary app which I can bring up on any device through Chrome, it can be used with that too. The problem I found is related to the fact that I am aging. The Chromebooks are generally small and my eyesight is getting weaker. Therefore I am not likely to adopt that model as my main workstation. To be fair, newer version are now appearing with larger displays, so even an old fogey might look at the simplicity and be happy with a purchase. In fact, the ease of use and simplicity may well a good move for any of my peers who do not feel computer literate, but better manuals are needed to provide for that type of user.
I also have that netbook that came with Windows 7 Home. It was an early convert to 32 bit Slackware and I use is rather less that I originally expected. A mistake in purchasing which has taught me a lot but – surprisingly - cost very little! The problem with netbooks is the very small screen and poor resolution from my point of view. Also there was noCD/DVD drive so I purchased an inexpensive USB accesory, this proved far more useful than the netbook so that mistake actually did some good.
While photography is much more my current bent, I do love computers and my techie roots still need feeding. So my hobby is also hybrid – computers/cameras. Now that most photography is digital and computing oriented, the mix is an obvious move for me.
In part 2 of this rather wordy (now 3 part) article I will discuss in greater detail the Linux saga with my laptops, along with the surprisingly few problem.