Installing SuSE Linux 10 on a laptop
What’s the best Linux distro for desktop applications? My subjective opinion based on years of Linux experience is that SuSE 10 at the moment offers the best combination of features and user friendliness. The latter, as anyone who tried running Linux on a laptop would agree, is in short supply in the world of Linux.
The primary points of concern when installing Linux on a laptop are the wireless NIC, the touchpad, widescreen LCD, hardware 3D graphics acceleration, power management, sound and video configuration. In an out-of-the-box Linux installation on a laptop most or all of these things will not work or will not work right.
Regardless of which Linux distro you chose, some tinkering will be required to get everything working right. I will take my setup as an example. I have an eMachines M2350 laptop with a built-in Broadcom Wi-Fi card, a widescreen LCD, and a Wacom touchpad that never worked right under Windows.
Installing SuSE 10 is a relatively simple process. You should be just fine accepting all the defaults proposed by the installation program. Any additional software can be installed at a later time. You probably already have Windows installed on your laptop. If you decide to keep it, SuSE 10 installation will not damage Windows and you should be able to boot either SuSE or Windows.
Once you boot-up your system into the newly-installed SuSE, you will probably notice that everything on the screen looks stretched. This is because most modern laptops come with a widescreen LCD, while Linux has a default resolution appropriate for a standard monitor. This is not hard to fix. Just click on the K-Menu -> System -> Configuration -> SaX2 (or type “sax2″ in the terminal window).
For the monitor type select “LCD” and the appropriate resolution (normally, 1280 x 800 would do just fine). SaX2 will offer to test the new configuration before saving it. You should follow this suggestion. If the screen looks OK, save the settings. You will need to log out and then log back in to your computer for the changes to take effect.
3D Graphics Hardware Acceleration
Many integrated video cards used in today’s laptops support some form of hardware 3d graphics acceleration. By default this feature is disabled under SuSE. You will need to open SaX2 again and check “Activate 3d Acceleration”. Once again, SaX2 will offer to test the new setting. However, this time you will need to just save the new settings without testing them. Testing 3d acceleration may hang your computer. Log out and log back in.
You will probably notice that your screen resolution is “stretched” again. You will need to repeat the steps for changing the resolution to 1280 x 800 (or whatever your LCD supports).
Sometimes in the process of messing with SaX2 a strange thing happens: you log out of KDE and then try to log back in and you keyboard does not work. You can’t even enter a password. Connecting an external USB keyboard does not help either. However, in reality the keyboard is still working. If you hit CTRL-ALT-DEL it will reboot your computer. I am not certain what is causing this behavior. However, should this problem occur, it is relatively easy to fix.
Just hit CTRL-ALT-DEL and reboot your laptop. On the boot loader screen select “Failsafe” mode. This will boot your machine into command-line mode. Log in as root and run SaX2. Set you monitor type, resolution, hardware acceleration as before. Save and reboot normally. You keyboard problem should be gone.
Wi-Fi Network Card
Manufacturers of many popular laptop Wi-Fi network cards would only provide the specs for the their products to Microsoft. As the result, only Windows drivers are available for these devices. If your Wi-Fi card is not supported, there are three things you can try. First, depending on the design of your laptop, you may be able to replace the internal Wi-Fi card with a Linux-supported one. Alternatively, you can buy a Linux-supported PCMCIA Wi-Fi card. Both of these solutions, however, will cost you money and may cause problems if you still run Windows on your laptop.
There is a way to use Windows drivers under Linux. The software that allows you to do so is called NDISWrapper. The process of configuring your wireless card with NDISWrapper can be broken down into four steps:
1. Download and install NDISWrapper software
2. Download and install the appropriate Windows wireless network card driver using NDISWrapper
3. Define and configure your network card to work with your Wi-Fi network setup
4. Customize network startup scripts to avoid conflicts between the Wi-Fi card and the Ethernet card
All of this is actually not too easy, so let’s get started. Many of these steps should be performed as root. Download NDISWrapper from the developer’s Web site. Save the GZIP file as /tmp/ndiswrapper-1.23.tar.gz (or whatever is the current stable version). Check you kernel version (you need at least 2.6.6 or 2.4.26 to work with NDISWrapper v1.23):
ls /lib/modules/`uname -r`/build
Unzip, untar and install:
tar zxvf ndiswrapper-1.23.tar.gz
Follow the instructions for the NDISWrapper program to download and install drivers for your wireless card. To verify that the driver was installed, type:
NDISWrapper – allows to use Windows wireless network card drivers under Linux.