Linux on the Dell Inspiron 8600

Since I last posted about this, I’ve received my new hard drive and now have Fedora Linux installed on the notebook. A suprising number of things actually worked right out of the box. I’ve been slowly getting the other bits and pieces of hardware working as I have time. This process has been made easier by others who have already documented the process. One of the best sources of info is the Fedora on a Dell website.

As it turned out, the driver for the NVidia GeForce is included with Fedora and the display worked at least in a low resolution mode immediately. With some minor tweaking, it is now working at the full 1920 x 1200 resolution. The missing piece of the puzzle was the lack of a monitor type for the Dell LCD 1920 x 1200 display. This looks like it would be trivial to patch but I can’t tell yet if the thing needing the patch is X or the display configuration program in Gnome. If anyone knows, please email me, I’d happily submit a patch so this worked for the next person who tries it. There is apparently also a non-free, binary-only driver for the NVidia that is a bit faster but I don’t plan on using the video for anything important enough to make it worth switching to a proprietary driver. I’m quite happy with the nv driver.

The sound hardware and ethernet hardware worked with no changes needed at all. The battery monitor and CPU speed controls also worked without needing to do anything special. The CD/DVD hardware worked as well, though I needed to download some extra packages in order to view movies on DVD. Intel offers a GPL’d 2200 BG WiFi driver (though the firmware itself is still proprietary). It seems to work fine with the exception of monitor mode which apparently isn’t quite functional yet. I also added the latest version of Network Manager so I can switch seamlessly between wired and wireless connections. It’s working very well too so far.

So what’s left to tinker with? I’d like to get gi8k set up so I can monitor fan speed and CPU temperature. Also, I haven’t had time to get the suspend to RAM or disk functions working yet, so I have to manually shut down before closing the notebook. And finally I picked up a little USB to serial adapter at Frys, the BAFO BF-810, because I frequently have to interface with microcontrollers that use a serial port (the 8600 doesn’t have any old-style serial ports). I’m hoping it will work without any special tweaking but you never know. Overall, I’m quite happy so far with how well my Dell Inspiron 8600 is working with Linux.

The demise of Red Hat Linux

We’ve run Red Hat Linux on our servers since version 5. Now we’re contemplating what distro to use in the future since Red Hat has announced the end of Red Hat Linux. They will continue to make their high-end Enterprise Linux but it’ll cost $1500 – $2500 per server per year. And they’re using security updates as a sort of legal loophole that lets them get around the GPL and prevents you from buying one copy of the software and installing it on multiple servers. Supposedly, you can still download the source but if I wanted to compile a whole GNU/Linux system from source, I wouldn’t be using a distro like Red Hat in the first place.

I installed Fedora on a test box to evaluate it but it’s clearly not intended for serious use in a production environment. It’s intended as a bleeding-edge distro for “enthusiasts and developers” only. From what I can tell, it’s just a new name for Red Hat’s beta distro, Rawhide. Even if someone wanted to use it on a server, it would be impossible – each release is only good for about three months before it’s replaced by a new one and support for the old one is dropped. We don’t even reboot our servers every three months and I sure don’t want to be reinstalling the OS every three months! And then there’s the issue of Red Hat trying to trademark the Fedora name and essentially steal it from an existing project.

The only good news on the Red hat front lately is Fedora Legacy, a project that will attempt to offer security patches and support for Red Hat Linux 9 after Red Hat abandons it in April. Looks like we’ll stick with that until we can find a new distro. And if some new distro springs up to take it’s place, I think they’re going to be a lot of takers. I know a lot of folks in the same situation we’re in who relied on Red Hat Linux. It’s really hard to believe Red Hat did something this stupid. They’ve effectively found a way to do what none of their competitors had been able to – reduce Red Hat’s market share drastically.