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What *nix do you recommend for a laptop?

by apl (Monsignor)
on Feb 28, 2008 at 16:21 UTC ( #670926=perlquestion: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??
apl has asked for the wisdom of the Perl Monks concerning the following question:

I'm finally seeing laptops and notebooks being sold without Windows pre-installed. This is moving me to consider buying one.

My questions are: which flavor of *nix do you use on yours? Is it tolerably well-behaved? Reasonable utilities readily available for it? Any pros that would tempt me, or cons I should be aware of?

I use Solaris at work, have never used any flavor of Linux, but realize this is an area I really should get familiar with. Thanks for your thoughts on the matter.

Comment on What *nix do you recommend for a laptop?
Re: What *nix do you recommend for a laptop?
by Fletch (Chancellor) on Feb 28, 2008 at 16:34 UTC

    OS X on a MacBook Pro. Best *NIX experience I've ever had on laptop hardware.

    There might be small bumps in a SYSV-vs-BSD sense between Solaris that you're used to and OS X, but probably most any open source utilities that you want will compile out of the box (either by hand or via something like macports). Leopard comes with 5.8.8 stock (or you can roll your own 5.10 from source).

    Update: Fink is certainly another viable option; I used to use it but switched to macports

    The cake is a lie.
    The cake is a lie.
    The cake is a lie.

      I haven't used macports but I've had good luck with Fink which seems to serve a similar purpose.
Re: What *nix do you recommend for a laptop?
by tirwhan (Abbot) on Feb 28, 2008 at 16:52 UTC

    <unpopular>If you want something with bells and whistles that locks you into a vendors idea of what your laptop should do (i.e. a Windows thats better than Windows) use OS X. If you want an open system that may take a little more getting used to but allows for better customisation and hackability use Ubuntu.</unpopular>

    All dogma is stupid.

      I have an old PPC PowerBook that started with Jaguar and is now Tiger (OS X). Just recently I had to replace the hard drive, and I replace the battery every 10–15 months or so (I overuse it), but otherwise it's been solid for years.

      For $work, I have a Dell Latitutde (D620, it says on the front) running Ubuntu 7.04. I've had it for about six months, and it works fine.

      I like Ubuntu better for programming. It has the nice package management I'm used to, so I can just ask it to install or uninstall all manner of Linux goodies. On the other hand, making the wireless do what I want seems like quite a pain. I haven't gotten WPA to work at all, and I sometimes wind up dropping to a command prompt to issue iwconfig commands to get things working. That's been a fairly typical experience—things that should be easy, aren't. I stopped trying to suspend it because it would usually wake up confused. I have never tried anything like bluetooth.

      I like OS X better for desktop type stuff. It's where I have my music, where I watch movies, where I pull photos off my camera, etc. For the most part, it just works. The biggest problem I've had with it is that it is closed. If I want to do something off the wall, I can't always go out and download some half-baked patch and do it. That said, it is Unix underneath, it does have Perl, and there's always ssh.

      Update: I forgot to mention, when I retire the PPC eventually, it's probably going to get a Debian GNU/Linux install and sit in a corner as a headless machine. I haven't tried using Linux as a desktop on a Mac, but I have put it on another PPC laptop whose display was destroyed in a toxic corn syrup spill. It's working as I'd expect any other Linux machine to work.

Re: What *nix do you recommend for a laptop?
by Joost (Canon) on Feb 28, 2008 at 17:07 UTC
    I use debian for everything, including my laptop. I had to spend some time configuring the suspend and power-saving functionality but everything else worked more or less straight out of the box.

    The big advantage of debian over some other linux distros (like RedHat and SuSe) is its huge library of packages and all the infrastructure you need to deal with them, and its general focus on giving you everything you need to hack and configure the system. IMO it's one of the best linux systems for technically minded people who want to have it all their own way.

    There's also Ubuntu which is a debian spin-off aimed more at providing an easy to use and install desktop. Some people seem to like it a lot. I've never tried it.

    Coming from solaris, you may find one the free BSDs a little more familiar, but from what I hear hardware support isn't as complete as linux.

    And then there's OSX, which is just fine if you like the desktop it gives you, but won't give you an alternative if you don't. On the plus side, it's a real Unix and it does support things like MS Office, the Adobe software suites and lots of other "big and important" commercial software that isn't available for any other unix.

Re: What *nix do you recommend for a laptop?
by w-ber (Hermit) on Feb 28, 2008 at 17:23 UTC

    Slackware 12.0. However, my laptop is from 1996, vintage Intel 80486 DX4, so I'm not the best source on tips for recent laptops.

    (X11 is terribly slow even with 24 MB of RAM, but otherwise the system runs fine, even with Linux 2.6.)

    print "Just Another Perl Adept\n";

Re: What *nix do you recommend for a laptop?
by olus (Curate) on Feb 28, 2008 at 17:30 UTC

    I had a few flavors on laptops, RH, fedora, gentoo and no doubt the best experience I had was with Ubuntu. The reasons range from a lot of the servers at work being Debian, the ease of use in maintainability and keeping up to date, and all I needed is available. Also, maybe because it is more recent and a lot more things are available to Linux. The next step would be to try Kubuntu for the desktop experiece.

    I now have a mac osx and I'm quite disappointed at it. I feel too dependent on the mouse. The desktop is pretty and that's it. All it has is things that look nicer and the box is cool too. I'll soon install kubuntu on the mac. All the software I have installed comes from opensource projects so I won't miss anything.

Re: What *nix do you recommend for a laptop?
by clinton (Priest) on Feb 28, 2008 at 17:36 UTC
    I'm a big fan of openSuSE - it's a polished distribution which works well for me on a new Dell Inspiron. And YaST makes configuration dead easy (for those who don't want to reread the docs every time they set up mail/DNS/NTP/etc servers)
Re: What *nix do you recommend for a laptop?
by rhesa (Vicar) on Feb 28, 2008 at 18:33 UTC
    Ubuntu for me as well. On my ThinkPad z60m, I'm running 6.06 LTS, which is probably old by now, but everything just works (wireless, hibernate, sound, video, you name it).
Re: What *nix do you recommend for a laptop?
by The Mighty Buzzard (Initiate) on Feb 28, 2008 at 19:01 UTC
    If you're a massochist: gentoo, If you're never going to compile anything yourself: ubuntu, If you're scared of choices and shell prompts: OSX, Otherwise: slackware

      I don't mean to pick apart your post, because as a 10,000 ft overview it's not too bad. But what about Ubuntu precludes compiling things?

        It's not that you cannot compile stuff under Ubuntu -- it's that you compile everything under Gentoo.
      You were doing really well until "If you're scared of choices and shell prompts: OSX". It's not a case of being scared of choice and the shell, it's a case of having better things to do than spend hours getting everything working and then more hours fixing it when it randomly breaks, which has been the case every time I tried Linux on a laptop. Although really, any OS not written by excitable children would probably work just as well. When Apple piss me off sufficiently, maybe I'll try FreeBSD on a laptop.
Re: What *nix do you recommend for a laptop?
by dragonchild (Archbishop) on Feb 29, 2008 at 14:58 UTC
    OSX, if you can afford it. There's something to be said for the experience on a closed platform.

    That said, if you cannot (or won't) go Apple, then Ubuntu (or some other Debian flavor) generally has the best all-around support for laptops. There's something to be said for an eccentric billionaire supporting your organization with large no-strings-attached checks.

    My criteria for good software:
    1. Does it work?
    2. Can someone else come in, make a change, and be reasonably certain no bugs were introduced?
Re: What *nix do you recommend for a laptop?
by leocharre (Priest) on Feb 29, 2008 at 16:29 UTC

    I wrote a little bit of my new love.. Fedora Core 8 on a compaq laptop.

    It works really well.
    I've used it on a IBM Thinkpad 600E (works very well also). I like using yum. Most general things are there.

    If you compile packages from source and need various versions of gcc, it's a little bit of a pain.

    I suggest using KDE vs Gnome as your desktop to maximize space and usage. I set up Win+Esc to switch between the desktops, each has two terminals dividing the screen in half vertical wise.

    I preffer gnome-terminal.
    I've been recently using the shortcuts on gnome-terminal and it's very nice, Alt+0-9 for diff tabs.. etc.. really lets me get away with not havint the usual workstation 3 monitor setup.

    I would say what's much more important then the flavour of your posix system, is the hardware you choose.

    If you get an older IBM thinkpad, you are blessed by the penguin. Do NOT get a cheap Dell, you will be cursed by m$.

    ps, i would suggest against mac. I love apple, we set up clients on mac- love it love it- I would not code on it. mac osx is built around unix, whatever that means.. and you're not going to be on ext3.

    I would imagine the ideal world would be to have the time, money, and stomach to run linux on a mac.. it's been done, and done well.

      i would suggest against mac ... you're not going to be on ext3.

      Isn't that same as "i would suggest against non-mac ... you are not going to be on HFS Plus"?

Re: What *nix do you recommend for a laptop?
by blockcipher (Beadle) on Feb 29, 2008 at 16:40 UTC

    I have installed Elive on two different laptops and it works great on each. One is an odd-ball brand I never heard of and the other is a Toshiba. Only real problem was wireless networking, but I have an NetGear PCMCIA card, so that became a non-issue. In fact, my wife's laptop is running Elive from the LiveCD and it works fine. Elive give you a very nice UI (Enlightenment) without a lot of bloat.

    I've tried a number of distros and this one is my absolute favorite.

Re: What *nix do you recommend for a laptop?
by chatur (Acolyte) on Mar 02, 2008 at 09:18 UTC
    Mac OS X is the best *nix OS for the MacBook / MacBook Pro and Mac desktops as well.

    DesktopBSD is suitable for the other laptops as it aims at being a stable and powerful operating system for desktop users, combines the stability of FreeBSD, the usability and functionality of KDE and the simplicity of specially developed software to provide a system that's easy to use and install.

    DesktopBSD can run on any decent i386-, AMD64- or EM64T-based computer. We recommend at least 6 GB of disk space and 256 MB memory for installation. For more information visit

    Ubuntu is also great for Desktop Use and it is a Linux Distro. While talking about Linux Distro's CentOS is also great with enterprise features based on Red Hat.

    I presonally use CentOS, Ubuntu, and FreeBSD as Desktop OS in my work place coz they all are stable and relaible.
Re: What *nix do you recommend for a laptop?
by hangmanto (Monk) on Mar 03, 2008 at 17:01 UTC
    I use Solaris (9 and 10) and RedHat (3 and 4) at work.

    I use Ubuntu at home and love it. It has a great package manager and works "right out of the box".

    I recommend Ubuntu if you want to use the laptop to get other things done. Other Linux flavors are easier to tweak/customize.

    I don't have any experience with OSX, so I can't compare it with Ubuntu.
Re: What *nix do you recommend for a laptop?
by sth (Priest) on Mar 03, 2008 at 19:44 UTC
    MacBooks are nice, as many have already indicated, but it is hard to justify the price (for me at least) when I can find a Toshiba with a dual core cpu, 2 gig of ram, 15.4" display, ...etc for $599 on sale. It comes with Windows Vista installed, but you can just install over it. As far as what *nix I use, it is FreeBSD everywhere. :-)
Re: What *nix do you recommend for a laptop?
by ryanc (Scribe) on Mar 05, 2008 at 00:51 UTC
    One of my main requirements is the ability to manage and maintain all my Perl stuff via CPAN independent of the package manager of the OS or distro. Too many distributions try to package up and maintain the popular CPAN modules but in the end fall behind, run over stuff you've installed yourself via CPAN, or a combination of both.

    That being said, a distribution that I can have absolute control over is required. OpenBSD if you want to go the *BSD route (more familiar to you if you use Solaris), Gentoo Linux for complete control of the distribution and it's components, or Arch Linux if you want the same amount of control as Gentoo but without having to deal with compiling *everything*.

    My personal choice is Arch Linux on laptops, OpenBSD on servers. Of course, if you don't want anything other than a *very* basic package manager, go with the tried and true Slackware Linux.
Re: What *nix do you recommend for a laptop?
by samizdat (Vicar) on Mar 05, 2008 at 14:03 UTC
    Here we go again... but I'll bite because I've got new input.

    I have an aging Dell Inspiron 6000 (1.6GHz Celeron, 1GB RAM, 40 GB disk) that's a good test. Since my employer (D*ll) uses Linux as the environment we develop embedded code to target, I have been using Fedora 6 and 8 on my home L/T for over a year now. It worked superbly except that
    • Gnome2 does wierd things with fadeouts (which I believe can be turned off),
    • the Synaptics touchpad driver often likes to go back-browser when I drag left,
    • and I couldn't get it to accept <unmentionable> codecs.
    Overall, a very positive experience. Suspend locked up less than WinXP does, and then only when I left firefox open on my gmail and closed the lid. Packages were easy to deal with, updating worked well, and ease-of-use was very good.

    Recently I managed to screw it up -- being greedy and seeing if opening up the development tree would help the aforementioned problems -- so I decided to try Ubuntu. Hated it. They've managed to completely screw up the administrative privilege system of *NIX. Can't log in as root, can't su -, same p/w for admin as for normal user, doesn't always work right. Wiped it two days after installing.

    Since I have a lot of history with FreeBSD (back to 2.1.5), I decided I'd try DesktopBSD. It is purported to have the same ease of use as recent Linux distros. It does have that, indeed, including a nice GUI package/ports installer that's better than Fedora/Gnome's. It also has a well-tailored KDE install that I find to be much more stable and configurable than Gnome. However, when I tried to optimize the functionality of the OS underneath the desktop, I ran into problems getting the kernel to recompile. Do not know if that was my pilot error or inherent in the distro, but I looked and the DesktopBSD mailing lists are sparse. Wiped it and downloaded latest FreeBSD-6.3.

    Okay, so I'm back to where I started. Latest FreeBSD systems preinstall more things than they used to, but you still need to allow for a good two weeks to get your system completely set up the way you want it. The FreeBSD philosophy is also NOT to do things like automounting USB keys and wireless connectivity. It's easy enough to set up these things, because the FreeBSD documentation is very good. I just wrote some one-liner shell scripts and attached them to KDE panel buttons. KDE is very easy to understand and configure, much more so than Gnome.

    From an expert's perspective, the underlying mechanisms of FreeBSD are so much more efficient and tunable than (any) Linux that it's worth the effort. My clunky old Celeron blows more modern dual-core l/t's out of the water regularly. That said, it's a lot of work. There are also some packages that are painful to get working (Inkscape comes to mind), but when you do succeed, the speed of operation is awesome. My graphics subsystem is a low-end R300, but DRI and OpenGL work fine under latest ported Xorg 7.3.

    So, I'm back to loving my FreeBSD and will almost certainly not switch back. However, for 90% of the rest of you, I'd have to say that Fedora 8 is a much better deal. I'd set it up to launch KDE rather than Gnome, but overall the Fedora experience I had was quite good. Ubuntu was slightly prettier, but they definitely need to take a step back and reconsider the way they've "helped" users handle root. =8^O

    Don Wilde
    "There's more than one level to any answer."
      so I decided to try Ubuntu. Hated it. They've managed to completely screw up the administrative privilege system of *NIX. Can't log in as root, can't su -, same p/w for admin as for normal user,


      marc@deadpool:~$ su - Password: root@deadpool:~#

      You must have been on a different Ubuntu from the rest of the world. And changing the root password shouldn't be beyond someone who has used Linux for over a year now. The privilege system on Ubuntu is pretty much the same as it is on all modern Linux distros.

      The FreeBSD philosophy is also NOT to do things like automounting USB keys and wireless connectivity.

      That's certainly a real incentive to use it. Users have been crying for this nonfeature for ages now... </sarcasm>

      From an expert's perspective, the underlying mechanisms of FreeBSD are so much more efficient and tunable than (any) Linux that it's worth the effort.

      Care to point to some concrete examples here? Otherwise I'll just have to call bollocks on this and almost the entire rest of your post. I certainly don't want to start a "my-OS-is-better-than-yours"-flamewar here (and there are certainly valid reasons why one could choose say, FreeBSD over Linux as ones OS), but your post rates a bit high on the FUD-ometer to go by unchallenged. Anyone who claims that their "Celeron blows modern dual-core CPUs out of the water" is either full of bs hyperbole or needs to learn how to benchmark.

      All dogma is stupid.
        Whew! Remind me not to get in the way of tirwhan rolling out of bed in the morning... <G>

        Obviously, this was One User's Experience(TM), tirwhan, and did I or did I not make it clear that I love FreeBSD? Also obviously, any geek worth his salt knows that a Celeron is a slug, but that makes my point. Tuning your OS so that it appears to be running rings around a dual core machine is a real rush. And, I believe I stated, sorry if I didn't, that I was comparing it to WinXP on said dual core.

        My point was that FreeBSD is tunable as well as fast out of the box. Its networking stack is still the envy of all *NIXen, and the VM algorithms implemented and improved since 5 are reputed to be the best. I compared three basic userland tasks (very subjectively): web browsing, USB-key-to-disk reading, and Blender3D. Would you agree that those three activities exercise a lot of a desktop system? In all cases, FreeBSD rocked. This is with a streamlined kernel but not yet any tunables tweaked.

        It's Gnome that automounts USB keys, not Linux. Might I remind you that Linux doesn't do a whole heck of a lot by itself? That's not meant as a slur on Linux, just a reminder that Linux is only a kernel. The FreeBSD team does a lot of the work of the distro-creators like RH, Fedora Core Team, and Ubuntu's creators. I have my l/t set up with one-button mount and unmount of my key, and I prefer it that way. If I wanted auto-mounting, I could easily add that feature, because, yes, I do know a little bit of programming. I could also load Gnome and have my little key automagically appear as well.

        I do not know why I couldn't su on Ubuntu. It wouldn't let me log in as root, su, or sudo the way it was set up, and I doubt I mistyped my password all 40 or so different ways I tried.

        It's not my place to tell you not to love Ubuntu. Go right ahead. I do like Linux a lot more than I used to, and I'm sure that if I had the time to learn it to the degree that I know BSD UN!X, I could tweak it just as much. Certainly Linux has matured a whole bunch, and its end-user install experience (as implemented in Fedora and other desktop-oriented distros) is much superior to FreeBSD... for desktop users who want to stay casually acquainted with their OSen. As I said, for such users, the subject of the OP's quest, Fedora is a better choice, even in my own biased opinion. Certainly there are times when I want to act like a casual user and have things 'just work' myself, too. :D

        Don Wilde
        "There's more than one level to any answer."
        I made it sound like I was comparing BSD to Linux on the dual core. Mia culpa. I still think FreeBSD will be faster, especially after tweaking, but not THAT much faster. :)

        Don Wilde
        "There's more than one level to any answer."
      Did you try PCBSD? I actually prefer to compile from src, but I have read good things about PCBSD. Right now I am running 7-STABLE and PCBSD is based on 6.3 (I think)
        I used to do source compile for everything, too, but now I only do it for things like Apache that I need source for. How's the 7-STABLE package / port tree? I actually d/l 7.0-RC3 disks, but decided against it. This is a multi-use laptop that has to have most of the bells and whistles.

        Now that I've got it loaded the way I want, I'm not going to dump and reconfigure until I go to 7. I looked at the PC-BSD site, too, and saw that their mailing lists are just as sparse as DBSD... virtually non-existent. I know that some of this is due to the fact that FreeBSD is so complete in its support, but it put me off that nobody except the committers are talking there.

        I guess there'll never be a herd ("Hurd?") of FreeBSD users, but there sure are some very happy FreeBSD users. :D

        Don Wilde
        "There's more than one level to any answer."

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