Lenovo X61 Ubuntu 12.04

One day recently my Aspire One wouldn’t boot. A few tries gave errors, then it quit trying entirely. Black screen, nothing more. Miraculously it booted fine the next day, like nothing had happened! What it didn’t seem to realize was that I never liked it that much anyway so it’s little tantrum was enough to start me looking for a new laptop.

I found my new laptop in a Lenovo X61 tablet from Vancouver Laptops for $257! The cool thing about the X61 is that the screen can rotate and lay flat. At last I have a device with a decent sized (12.1″) screen that I can take hand written notes on using Xournal!

X61 Ubuntu 12.04

The first thing to settle was what distro to install.

(I should probably mention for any non-Linuxy people who wander by here that the machine came with Windows Vista Business on it. They also had some with Windows 7 for a few dollars more.)

It’s wonderful how easy it is to try Gnu/Linux distributions by putting them on a USB stick. I use dd. There are more complicated ways for people who don’t have Linux or aren’t comfortable with the command-line.

First I tried Mandriva, which is what I use on my desktop machine. Mandriva didn’t enable the touch screen on the default install and I wasn’t in a mood to monkey around with things.

Next I tried Fedora, which did enable the touch screen and seemed quite nice. Getting the display to autorotate when I put the laptop into tablet mode seemed problematic though.

Finally I tried Ubuntu and with installation of Magick Rotation things seemed to be shaping up.

So I settled on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS (Precise Pangolin). I like the Long Term Support releases because they give me more flexibility in choosing when to upgrade. Precise Pangolin was released in April 2012 and is supported until April 2017. Compare to 12.10 which was released October 2012 and is only supported until April 2014.

pangolinA Pangolin, in case you’re wondering, is a mammal with sharp scaley armour and long claws that can emit a noxious-smelling acid and can extend its tongue up to 40 cm. They can climb trees, burrow in the ground and swim. Tough and versatile, like Linux.

During the Ubuntu install on the X61 I chose to encrypt the /home directory to protect data in the event of theft. A good idea made simple by the installation process.

Unity has great keyboard shortcuts and Ubuntu 12.04 supports the IBM TrackPoint beautifully so the system is very efficient however it’s used moment to moment in laptop mode.

One small glitch with Ubuntu’s Unity interface is that if you choose to hide the launcher it does not appear using the tablet stylus. To make the Launcher appear, the cursor has to go just past the edge of the screen and that doesn’t happen with the pen. So in ~/.magick-rotation.xml I added under the run_normal_before option
gconftool-2 –type int –set “/apps/compiz-1/plugins/unityshell/screen0/options/launcher_hide_mode” 1
and under the run_tablet option
gconftool-2 –type int –set “/apps/compiz-1/plugins/unityshell/screen0/options/launcher_hide_mode” 0

Installed Xournal, Gimp, qpdfview (because it allowed me to move its controls to where I want them in tablet mode), Hamster Time Tracker, Getting Things Gnome, Lightning (calendar and tasks for Thunderbird), ImageMagick.

One small annoyance that took me a while to solve was that bluetooth was on with every boot. I doubt I’ll use bluetooth on this machine so I want it off. I might use it sometime though, so I don’t want it gone. I finally found the answer on Michael Hirsch’s blog. Add the line ” rfkill block bluetooth” to /etc/rc.local above the line (on my file) “exit 0” Thank you Mr Hirsch!

I think the only hardware on the X61 that is not supported by Ubuntu is the fingerprint reader. Fine by me, really. Battery life is better than four hours according to the power monitor applet. I haven’t timed it, but that sounds right based on the use I’ve had.

Loving this machine so far.

Next trick will be to figure out how to put a DVD onto a USB stick. Either that or get an external DVD drive for the X61.

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