Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Upgrades to Mint 4.0 Home Linux Desktop

I recently updated my Mint 4.0 office machine to have dual monitors, which I noted in my post called "Two Heads" over at TalkBMC. I have to say is turning out to be a huge time saver for all sorts of things. The other day I was looking at the wide spreadsheet while on a conference call, and was able to see the whole thing at once, and not have it be ultra-tiny fonts I could not read. There is no substitute for resolution and square inches!

That experience made me feel pretty good about the prospects for success of a weekend project at my brothers house. He wanted four things:

  1. A new video card so Google Earth would work better

  2. His old email back from his old hard drive and Thunderbird

  3. A new printer for school work

  4. A scanner

I had an Epson 1240 scanner I was going to give him, since I knew it worked well on Linux.

Video Card

Like the upgrade at BMC I went with a GeForce chipset-ed unit. The video card we selected came from the going out of business sale at CompUSA, and had the nVidia 5700 chipset on it. It pretty much had to work, since CompUSA would not be there to return it to.

We pulled out the old, cheap, and feeble video card, and inserted the new AGP unit in its slot. A quick reboot, and it was clear that all was well so far. Screen was there and at the old resolution: I think the cheapo card had been driven by the generic VESA driver and this one was OK with that. I fired up Envy, and it did its thing, downloading the same pile of packages it had on my work system. When it was done, I rebooted, and was greeted with the oddest looking screen: The center of the desktop. No amount of jacking with the resolution or position buttons would return the far right or far left of the screen. I added a Gnome menu to the center of the task bar, and went into the nVidia setup utility to figure this out, and it appears that it was incorrectly detecting the Compaq P900 monitor as being wide screen, 1600 x 1050 or thereabouts. I forced it into 1280 x 1024, and exited X and re-logged in.

It went back to wide screen. It overrode my override!. Doh.

I thought about hand editing the /etc/X11/xorg.conf to force the resolution in, but pondered for a second to be sure there was not some not some easier way I was overlooking. Then a light went on. I went into the Mint / Ubuntu provided 'preferences / screen resolution' and overrode it there instead, and that took. Then I remembered that at work I had to run the nVidia setup widget *as Root* if I wanted stuff to stick. /usr/bin/nvidia-settings is the location of that widget, for future reference.

Google Earth was now as smooth as silk. One down.


As was suggested to a comment here to my "Repairo" post, the problem of the missing email was in the dot file. It was not quite what was suggested, but it was close. It was very simple:

  • Old Ubuntu based 7.04 Thunderbird put email in ".thunderbird" hidden file

  • New Mint 4.0 (therefore Ubuntu 7.10 based) system put Thunderbird email in ".mozilla-thunderbird"

I do feel silly to have missed that! I moved the new file out of the way (mv .mozilla-thunderbird .mozilla-thunderbird.new), then moved the old file to the new name (mvthunderbird .mozilla-thunderbird).

Mail now back where it belongs. Easy. And of special note: *recovered from an otherwise failed hard drive!*. I love Linux.

I do not know if it was Ubuntu 7.04 to 7.10 that changes the name of the dot file, or if Mint versioned it to be different.

Printer / Scanner

I start this part with an "Opps", as in "Opps I forgot to bring the scanner with me."

While we were at CompUSA with all the other vultures (that is what it felt like), we looked at printers. My son pointed out an HP F4180 Multifunction Printer / Scanner / Copier. It was nearly twenty USD less expensive as CompUSA corporate carrion than its regular already reasonable price. We talked about it for a sec, and went with it.

First off, I usually only buy printers from Epson and HP. Their Linux support is always terrific. Lexmark, as much as I love their keyboards, is a non-starter because they are very bad on Linux, and by extension, Dells printers are off my list, since they are LexMarks. Brother says it has Linux support, but I have just never tried it to be able to say. Getting a printer from a soon not-to-be company was not the time to be trying new things like that.

My default is always Epson. Six colors, color stable ink, separate color cartridges for each color so I only replace the color I am using, and so forth. HP has color stable ink, in some models, and at a premium price. Most of the HP consumer grade stuff is three colors in a single cartridge plus a separate black cartridge.

The big advantage of HP printers: They put the heads in the cartridges, making them easy to refill. If the head clogs up, you just have to replace the cartridge. With Epson, the cost of fixing the heads means that you might as well replace the printer. Still, I have two Epson R380's at the house and like them well. They work on both Linux and the Macs. In fact, the central printer server at my house is an iMac. But I digress.

The HP F4180 plugged in to the Mint 4.0 computer, turned on, appeared in the printer setup menu, configured, and printed all without issue. I clicked on the "Share this Printer" option in the printer setup menu, and then went to my brothers iBook, and set up the printer over there as well, so that now he has a printer for both of his computers.

I installed the Sane stuff with Synaptic, and the scanner checked out just fine as well. Both Xsane and GIMP were able to scan things and save or edit them. Now my forgetting the Epson 1240 was moot.

CD Writer

The CD writer inside the case had failed, and we were using an external, USB attached, generic CD Writer to do that work. My brother wanted to simplify the desk though. Fewer wires laying about. Most of these external USB CD writers are really internal PATA CD drives in a special case, with a special power supply and USB to PATA converter in them. I thought this cheapie CD writer would be like that, and it was. I pulled out the broken CD writer, took the case off the USB CD writer, pulled off the USB to PATA adapter, and installed it in the internal rails. Everything checked out immediately. My operating assumption was that if Linux drove it via USB then via PATA cables was not going to be an issue, but it was nice to see that born out. Now he has a USB/PATA adapter for use with draining data from PATA hard drives, should the need arise.

And Now, the Point

All of this work happened in one day (one small part of day in fact), and was almost trivially easy. Sure, I knew what I was doing going it. I had tried that chipset on Mint already. I knew what kind of printers worked on Linux already. My experience as a Linux person made these upgrades a non-event for my brother. He will now return to happily being a user that can surf the world with Google Earth, print out things, and scan things, and never really know anything about the underlying complexities of it. To him, it will just be a simple computer that does what he needs it to do.

Any vendor supporting Linux can do the same thing, and do it more easily than other OS's because they will have the source code to see how it all works (See my most recent post over at TalkBMC for some thoughts around that).

More evidence that Linux is ready.

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