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Isthmus Isthmus is offline
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Default My Experiences with Linux Distros on the Dell Mini 1012 - 07-08-2010, 05:18 PM

Hi everyone. The following are some musings cataloging my experiences with different distributions on my Mini 1012. Hopefully you guys can chime in with some of your own experiences and maybe this will be of use to someone.

A little over three months ago my wife decided that she had had enough of my Frankenstein-like computer experiments and decided to replace the aging main computer I've been rebuilding over and over since 1998 with something shiny and off-the shelf. Seeing that the cost of upgrading the computer was no longer worth its replacement value, I went ahead with the deal. She decided that she wanted a 27" I-Mac, so I figured I'd take this as an opportunity to try out something I've been wanting to do for a long time, LEARN DESKTOP LINUX. She got the I-Mac and in exchange I got a testing computer for me (which I sold to her as a platform for teaching our daughter about computers).

I knew I wanted a net-book, as I loved the concept of a very small, full featured, truly portable computer with long battery life. I also wanted something that my little girl could learn on (she's 2 and a half), and something that we could load with her videos and games and take on trips. I spent the next month researching net-books and driving the guys at Best Buy crazy while I tested their display models (sorry fellas - I hope you learned as much as I did). Eventually I settled on the Mini 1012, largely because of its very solid chassis, integrated battery, full sized keys, almost full sized keyboard, the mat surface of it's touch pad (I hate the textured and/or shiny ones), Dell's warranty, Dell's free recovery CD's (Best Buy sells them), and Dell's deep discounts (mine ended up costing $233 before the $50 ram upgrade). At the same time I started asking friends about Linux distros and got a few recommendations to get started. I downloaded Linux Mint 9 and installed it on my aging desktop, and used it as a testing rig for a few weeks, until the Mac arrived. I ordered a refurbished 1012 with a 325GB hard drive from the Dell outlet, and upgraded the RAM to 2GB once I got it (this is a standard 1012 and not the one with bluetooth and the HD video card). Here is a link to a great article and video that will walk you through the process of installing RAM and other upgrades on the 1012:

How to dismantle and upgrade the Dell Mini 1012

Almost immediately, I wiped out the bloated Windows 7 starter editiona and replaced with Linux Mint 9, which I really liked after testing it on my old rig (more about Mint 9 below). I've also kept an old Dell Inspiron 700m running XP so as to not fully cut my ties to Microsoft (sadly, for now it is a necessary evil). For the past month I've been downloading distros and running live USB's and live CD's of everything I found interesting, while using both computers to test on.

For those interested Live CD's are an easy and cheap way of testing a distro. However, short of installing it, I find that nothing works as well as a live USB. Heck some distros are so small they are designed to run fully on RAM and from a USB thumb drive. Most distros call for a 2gb thumb drive, but I preferred to do a 4gb drive and give myself the room to try larger live DVD ISO files on the USB. Amazon.com is lousy with very cheap 4GB USB thumb drives (I went with Kingston) and they are very easy to reformat and reuse if you want to try different Distros. If you're interested in creating a live USB, download and use the following Windows based program (Unetbootin is also available as a Linux package):

UNetbootin - Homepage and Downloads

If you would still rather run live CD's and live DVD's, then download the following windows based program:

ISO Recorder v 2

Please note that Unetbootin doesn't default to some distros and creating a live USB of some distros is not for the beginner, so sometimes your best option will be to run a live CD/DVD.

Also keep in mind that Most ISO files are large (between 500 and 700 MB's on average, with most falling in the +/-600mb range). Most offer download mirrors, but those can take the better part of an hour to download on a fast internet connection. Consider downloading a torrent client (I recommend µTorrent and downloading your ISOs with that - it should make the process much faster.

__________________________________________________ ____


NOW TO THE REVIEWS:


PCLINUXOS 2010 (in KDE, Gnome and E17): All I can say about this Distro is WOW. To create a live USB, I chose Mandriva in the list of distros on Unetbootin and picked the latest version. If you are looking for a truly beautiful, extremely well integrated and solid distro, then this is the one for you. All I can say about PCLOS is WOW!!! This is easily the best integrated distro I've tested. Everything (and I mean everything) has the same look and feel and worked right out of the box on the 1012. The distro uses KDE as its default desktop, and like LM9's Gnome edition, the other versions just are not as well designed. I found that PCLOS looks a lot like a blend of Windows 7 and OSX, while using a lot of original Linux ideas and solutions (that have since been borrowed by those two commercial OSs). If you are a windows user, you'll feel right at home here. Unlike windows, however, PCLOS is equally powerful, but with a much smaller footprint. Its widget panel is completely graphical and very similar to Mac OSx's (this is a good thing). Personally, I loved the KDE version and would have installed it on the net-book, but sadly it didn't render correctly to the screen resolution and was a bit of a hog on the limited resources - lag was very noticeable and battery life was under 3 hours. I would highly recommend it on a higher end machine (a regular laptop or a desktop); though at this time it is not available in a 64 bit edition. On higher end hardware, this is truly a difficult distro to beat. It is easily the most professional and best finished distro I've seen. Alas, it is not 1012 friendly so I passed.

LINUX MINT 9 (Gnome, KDE, LXDE and XFCE): Second only to PCLOS in terms of rendering and integration. I find it to be much more user friendly and noticeably more flexible. In a way I would say it is a more powerful distro than PCLOS in terms of what can be done with it. That said, program integration is a bit heavy on the green "mint" theme, which can be a bit grating and it would be nice if they didn't take it so deeply. LM9 is more powerful and flexible than PCLOS, uses resources better, and in many ways more user friendly. However, it is not as polished as PCLOS or as well integrated. As mentioned above, LM9 was my first choice. I picked it because I had already tested it and others on the old rig and this was my favorite for my needs. More specifically I'm talking about the main edition of LM9 running Gnome (I tried the others and didn't find them as well executed, though they were all just as useful and user friendly). LM9 is a beautiful distro. It is Ubuntu based and is released typically a few weeks after Ubuntu releases their latest version. Where Ubuntu is user friendly, LM9 is polished. I would argue that it is easily one of the most polished and friendliest of all the Ubuntu (and most Linux) distros I've seen and/or tested. Mint is not just Ubuntu with a pretty face. They have added a number of modifications which make it far more user friendly. From a user’s point of view, my favorite is the new scrolling gnome menu (absolutely brilliant) and the new software installer with corresponding reviews. On the mini 1012, just like Ubuntu and other Ubuntu based distros, everything but wireless works out of the box. Looking under hardware drivers immediately gives you two options (you want the "broadcom-STA" driver). Keep in mind you'll need to be connected to an ethernet line in order to update your drivers and download the initial batch of updates. Once you’re up and running, you'll find that everything works perfectly, but the screen feel a little cramped. If you're like me and prefer a clean screen, you'll need to play with settings in order to scale everything down to a more balanced size. I found that making the main panel hide, goes a long way toward making the screen more usable. I'm a HUGE fan of app docks (my all time favorite being Rocketdock for windows), so after some evaluating I installed Cairo-Dock, flipped the panel to the top of the screen, and configured the dock. The dock comes with a number of effects if you're into the eye candy. If you want them, you'll be prompted to turn on OpenGL. Running this will eat into your system resources a little bit. In addition I'm a fan of some composting effects, such as cubical desktops (what can I say; I'm an android user as well). LM9 comes preloaded with Compiz, which I believe you will need to activate to run the effects on Cairo dock anyway. Compiz works perfectly, but just remember that the more effects you turn on, the bigger the load on resources. The end result is a beautiful distro that is wonderfully integrated and at least for me, is very complete. My only gripes are that like Ubuntu, LM9 places it's brand in firefox's Google search results (something I find terribly annoying), and because of the things running on startup (gnome, Compiz and Cairo dock - plus a number of subroutines I have not yet explored), the system is showing a little lag (though it is still blindingly faster than windows 7); also because of all the stuff running on the background, battery life is down to a little over 5 hours, as opposed to the 8+ hours Dell advertises with the system. To be honest, as much as I like LM9, IMHO it isn't perfect for the net-book. I would have preferred to use something lighter, but I just can't find any distro that works with the 1012, that is as complete and well done, and I don't want to use a distro that is cut down, abbreviated or fully cloud based (not a fan of cloud computing as my main source of services and storage). LM9 is not perfect, but it is a wonderful introductory distro - especially when other sessions are added (more on that in the Qimo review below).

PEPPERMINT: This is an LXDE desktop project based on LM9 that is made to specifically target net-books. To create a live USB I selected LM9 from the Unetbootin list and chose the LXDE edition. I must state that I have not tested this distro as extensively as I plan on doing it so my opinions are bound to change. As with other Ubuntu based distros, everything but wireless worked right out of the box, but the fix for that is the same as in Mint and Ubuntu. The distro borrows several of Mint's custom tools and builds over Ubuntu and the LXDE desktop. It is interesting in that it comes with cloud based apps preinstalled, but is NOT an OS specifically designed for Cloud based applications. in other words, the OS allows you to use a mix of cloud based apps and locally installed ones, and allows you to configure the two as you like (very nice touch). In addition it comes preloaded with a program that allows you to run online programs independently of your browser and allows you to add icons to the links you create, so that they look like free standing local apps (not unlike what you see in many smart phones). As mentioned above, Peppermint is relatively light, peppy and integrates some of Mint's nice custom tools (sadly the beautiful start menu is not one of them) into a lighter package. That said, part of the reason the package is so light is because it removes things like Compiz and other programs that gnome runs in the background. In other words, this is a working distro, not one for eye candy, but work it does and it does it very well. It is definitely faster than mint, but not as thoroughly integrated. As I understand it, because it is lighter n resources, it is also better on battery life (I have not yet tested this though). I'll report back after I've had more time to play with it.

MACPUP: Nice Puppy Linux based E17 distro. It is rendered to look like a Mac, and it runs on Puppy Linux's minimalist architecture. A lot of people really like it, but I found that PL suffers from much the same issues as Peppermint (packages are not complete) and adds much less flexibility than even peppermint. Pretty, light, powerful and very fast, but again not to my liking as I'm not trying to recreate Mac OS and I find Puppy's purpose built architecture a bit constricting for my uses.

MoonOs: Another E17 based distro. This is one has gorgeous artwork, but not a particularly well done integration (the prevalence of green backgrounds and black letters coupled with e17's default small sized fonts, make for difficult reading of menus. About mid way in terms of size for an E17 distro. Unlike other E17 distros, Ecomorph (their version of Compiz) is not available. I thought it was OK, but felt somewhat unfinished, and from what I hear it is not the most stable of packages.

OpenGeu: Another beautiful, if buggy, E17 based distro. I found it to be extremely similar to MoonOs and equally buggy. That plus I found no way to run a live USB of it so I wasn't able to get the full experience from its live CD. Unlike MoonOS, this one does include Ecomorph, though I've read numerous reports that activating it has caused some systems to crash or freeze up.

Qimo 4 Kids: This is a really cool Xubuntu based distro for kids 3 and up. I got it as a way of introducing my daughter to computers and specifically to run on the 1012. It has unique artwork made for the little ones and replaces most apps with kid oriented learning apps. My 2.5 year old has played with it and enjoys it, but to be frank, the OS is really more for older kids. I think a 5 year old would have a blast with it on his own, while younger ones will require a parent to supervise. This is a really well done distro for its target audience and really well integrated. The coolest part is that it does not have to be installed as a dual boot. If you are running an Ubuntu based distro, you can download Qimo as a session package from the Ubuntu repositories. I did and have it running as one of my session options within mint (as well as Xubuntu and Mint 9 XFDE). I added my daughter as a user on Qimo so now when she logs in; the computer automatically goes to Qimo, without giving her any other session options. She gets her own unique OS and UI interface which I can control directly or from mint. Very nice. The only down side I found with Qimo is that the default we browser (Firefox) if not really made for young kids and as installed, has no parental controls. Qimo offers no way of controlling web access for little ones that I could find. Thankfully, however, when installed as an Ubuntu session, you can add parental controls to a user's account. As a result, my opinion is that if you want to run Qimo for your young kids (which I highly recommend), do so as a session and not as a stand alone OS. BTW, if you have any questions or support issues, Qimo does not have a forum, but it does provide the developer's contact info, and he is extremely helpful, polite and responsive.

ELIVE: Here is the most interesting distro I have yet tested and the one that I've liked the most in terms of speed, integration, resource management and overall eye candy. Elive is a bit of an odd duck. This is a Debian based E17 distro that has been worked on extensively to the point that it is uniquely different from any other e17 distro I've seen. It is also stable and extremely well integrated. Unlike most e17 distros it doesn't rely on the e17 task bar and has a bunch of very unique solutions (for example, it disables desktop icons as a default and the developer admonishes you in his how to for wanting to enable them). The appeal of Elive is that it is extremely light, yet very fast and if full of graphical effects. It runs beautifully on older hardware or most net-books, and unlike many light distros, this one is full featured (not cloudbased at all). IMHO, Elive is truly a beautiful distro. However tings are very wrong with Elive that turn a LOT of users (including myself) off. Unlike the overwhelming majority of Linux distros, the developer of Elive charges $15 to install the OS. Apparently he is making a living off selling the OS and the token sum is small enough (and the OS unique and interesting enough) that most folks don't mind paying the charge. The problem is that the developer is not very upfront about the charge. When running a live USB (Elive comes with a custom version of Unetbootin for creating its live USB's, though the standard version of Unetbootin also lists it), Elive allows you to run the prior (unstable) version of the software (1.9), but if you wish to install the latest stable version, it prompts you for a payment only after you are well into the installation process and makes you download an install module and a key to activate the program after you've paid. Nowhere on the install process is this announced before you start installing and unless you are reading the release notes on the Elive site, you just don't know to expect it. As a result many folks feel broadsided by what comes of as a cheap attempt at making a buck and move on without giving the distro a chance, which is a real shame. As you can imagine, the number of people who choose to install is not large and the resulting community is a ghost town. It doesn't help that the developer if not around much and the site staff even less so and that contacting them is not exactly easy. As a result, you are largely on your own should you need support. I would have loved to have installed this distro on the net-book as it really IS, IMHO, the perfect net-book distro if you are looking for a powerful full featured and fast OS. However, but no amount of fiddling would get Elive to recognize the screen on the Mini 1012 (not even Vesa or manually configuring Xorg). I managed to get the developer involved and he too gave up and recommended that I wait for the next Elive release. It's a real shame, since other net-books (such as the Eee's) seem to run it perfectly without any problems, as did my 700m testing rig. In fact, when I tested it on my old Dell 700m, it worked beautifully and I plan on installing it there as soon as I get a chance. IN short, Elive is one light, powerful, elaborate, and generally beautiful Distro. It is by far the best current e17 distro out there. It's a shame that support is so bad, as I can really see this one being a beloved alternative to a whole bunch of other distros out there. If anything it is definitely blazing a path for others to follow and do as well or better. I would love to see a mint e17 based distro similar to Elive.

Ubuntu Net-book Edition: This is one of the latest batch of OS, specifically made to target net-books. This is made to run light and treats the desktop not entirely unlike that of a smart phone (a place to place organized App icons and run web-based applications). As with other Ubuntu distros, everything but wireless worked out of the box (same fix listed above), and Unetbootin listed it so making a live USB was straight forward. If you want your net-book to be a basic computer for using mainly web based applications, but still retain the ability to run native apps, then UNE is a very good option. However, keep in mind that it is hardly customizable and it is not flexible at all (as far as I could tell). It is made to make net-books usable and little else. I found it to be very similar in look and feel to Jolicloud, but lacking the cloud computing only emphasis. Personally I would much rather use Peppermint than UNE, as I feel Peppermint gives you the same types of apps as well as the flexibility and power of a traditional computer set up. However if you just want something that works or are just someone without a lot of computer experience (kids or older folks for example), then UNE's simple and very straight forward graphical interface should be perfect for you.

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There are other Distros that I looked into but from some reason or another decided that they were not for me. Among those were Mandriva, OpenSusse and gOS. I also have a few more that are on my list to try, such as Ubuntu Light (a super fast cloud based OS run from a Unity-based web interface - very similar in concept to Google's upcoming Chrome OS), and the Unity based bleeding edge distro Unite17, which looks (in theory) to have the potential to offer much of what I was looking for in Elive, but in a friendlier package and community.

__________________________________________________ ____


So what do you think of my testing thus far? I'm still not 100% happy with Linux Mint 9 on the net-book, mainly because it is a little resource heavy for the hardware, and would gladly change to something else should I find something I really liked better. Peppermint looks like it might give me most of what I want, including the Qimo session, but not everything, so for me the search continues.

I'll keep reporting my experiences with different distros on the 1012 on this thread. In the mean time, I would love to hear about your own experiences with some of the distros discussed above and others I have not tried on the 1012. Please chime in with your experiences. I'm sure all of us would benefit greatly from others who have already been in the trenches.

Thanks for reading and thanks in advance for your reviews,

Isthmus
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reflex reflex is offline
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Default 07-08-2010, 06:33 PM

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

If the repos have the software I want, I'll be pretty happy with any distro. Since I'm most comfortable with Debian-style package management, I use Ubuntu (Debian's own repos are missing alot of useful software and drivers compared to Ubuntu's).


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grassle grassle is offline
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Default 07-08-2010, 11:01 PM

Thanks for that overview and insight.

I tried Mint after Ubuntu, and got enthralled, the eye-biting green notwithstanding. After some tweaking the appearance I'm kinde i love with the new look -- it's amazing what some combinations of theme, color scheme, window border, font size and icons can do! And the developers made it soooo easy to get some good artwork.

The ease of software handling is also great. I wanted something to configure the iptable/firewall -- just installed a few packages/apps, tried them, removed the unwanted ones, done. Even the Retrospect Client that was only issued for Red Hat Linux eons ago could be massaged (thanks to alien) into full service!

The only issues I find with Mint on a Min(t)i 9 are that a) some dialogs are too high for the screen and one has to guess the buttons at the bottom and operate them via keyboard, and b) the taskbar's auto-hide does not always work. In light of the overall stability, ease, and elegance, these are minuscule nuisances imo.

For this time it's decided. But afer what you said about PCLINUXOS and ELIVE, I will have a look at them the next time an OS needs to be chosen. Thanks again!
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Isthmus Isthmus is offline
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Default 07-09-2010, 12:53 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by reflex View Post
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

If the repos have the software I want, I'll be pretty happy with any distro. Since I'm most comfortable with Debian-style package management, I use Ubuntu (Debian's own repos are missing alot of useful software and drivers compared to Ubuntu's).
Very good point and I wholeheartedly agree that access to packages and their management is of very high importance. Still for me, the overall environment (its speed, flexibility, stability, ease of use, support and responsiveness ) are very important. On a normal computer the list of solid distros would be long, but when you are using the limited resources of a netbook, finding that perfect balance becomes somewhat more elussive.
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Isthmus Isthmus is offline
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Default 07-11-2010, 07:50 PM

well some more news on the distro front. I decided to try a few more desktop environments. More specifically LXDE vs XFCE. Thankfully, I had a copy of Peppermint which is LXDE and had a session of Xubuntu and XFCE already loaded with Mint.

Here is what I've noticed thus far. LXDE is noticeably faster. in fact it is much faster than Gnome. However, it is a distro for work, and customization is minimal at best. This killed the Peppermint for me. Yes, Peppermint's performance and stability is excellent, and I love the mix of local and cloud based apps (adding prism was a stroke of genius). However I am a firm believer that once excellent and efficient utility has been achieved in any design, a clean and aesthetically pleasing design should follow. This is where LXDE falls short. I'm not saying that it should be packed with eye candy, but there should be better controls for the environment and they are just not there. BTW, this is a complaint I have of all the LXDE distros I've tried (of which Peppermint is the best). Basically if you want a fast, powerful and efficient desktop that utilizes low resources well, then Peppermint is for you. however if you need to modify it in any substantial way without having to type in command codes, then you're out of luck.

XFCE on the other hand is a bit heavier on resources, though not as much as Gnome, and definitely not as much as KDE. On the same 1012, I found that all 3 XFCE sessions I tried where snappy and full featured. Because they were running as sessions of Mint, Mint's tools where also available to all of them (nice touch). There is a lot more modification control here, though nothing as extensive as with Gnome or KDE. on the plus side, XFCE was very responsive and personally I didn't notice much of a performance difference between it and LXDE. In addition, XFCE allows for compiz effects and docks. however something happened that makes me give you a warning about docks.

I had been running cairodock on my LM9 session and for some reason it suddenly started appearing in all my other sessions. I was never 100% satisfied with CD so I uninstalled it. almost immediately, the full feature LM9 with Gnome sped up quite noticeably. It is still not faster than XFCE and definitely not faster than E17, but it is most defintely much more usable than it used to be. The problem is that now I'm without a Doc, so I'm searching for something usable and light weight (so no more CD or AWN). I'll Give Simdock, Docky and Engage Dock (If I can find it) a try.

On the distro front I tested the following Unity based distros running mostly E17:

Granular (KDE and E17): Granular is a nice distro based on the super efficient Unity windows manager. It is offered in a two session package containing a KDE and an E17 session. I really want to like this distro, but sadly the KDE version suffered from the exact same problems PCLinuxOS 2010 suffered (improper rendering and too much resource consumption), while the E17 session didn't seem to offer much more than what MoonOS and OpenGEU already do, in not as aesthetically pleasing a package. this distro is still under development so I suspect that things will improve.

HUMANity
:
This was suggested as a Humanity based distro with E17 that had Ecomorph enabled. Sadly no amount of fidgeting could get it to boot on any of my computers (I'm starting to think that this is an Enlightenment issue).

Unite17
:
Couldn't get this one to boot on the 1012, but did get it to boot on the 700m. This is easily one of the most beautiful distros of any kind I've seen in a while. a lot of thought has gone into the artwork here. Very very nice. This distro is still firmly bleeding edge and is nowhere near finished, but damn is it nice. I'll be watching the devlopment of this one closely, as it is the only E17 based distro I've seen that seems well placed to out-do Elive.

Well, a bunch more distros tested and LM9 is still the main distro on the 1012, albeit minus cairo Dock now. I'm really starting to think that the best distro for the 1012 just isn't out there, and I might have to build my own. If anyone is interested in taking a crack at building one, I have some ideas I'd like to run by you.
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Teoljungberg Teoljungberg is offline
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Default 08-08-2010, 08:27 PM

Jolicloud is turning out great!
If you havn't tried it out more thorouly, you can set the partion size so you can store files locally also (in a larger scale).
I'm running Jolicloud on my Dell mini 10v, but did it work on your 1012?
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grungysquash grungysquash is offline
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Default 08-25-2010, 11:24 PM

Fantastic review - and I thought I was brave with LM9!!!

Will be interesting to see what you think of other distro's as if you like them I many just give them a spin
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Shooter Shooter is offline
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Default 08-26-2010, 04:40 AM

I'm really digging opensuse 11.3 KDE.

Actually since this was posted and the announcement of Fedora 14 alpha I have decided to go back to Fedora.


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Isthmus Isthmus is offline
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Default 08-28-2010, 06:24 PM

hey shooter, can you give us a review of the new fedora? it would be nice to hear other's experiences to see if it's worth checking out.
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Shooter Shooter is offline
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Default 08-31-2010, 04:11 AM

Hey Ishmus, unfortunately I had to go back to Fedora 13 so I can't give much of a review. I ran into a network manager problem I couldn't overcome and since I was in single boot set up I couldn't afford to be down while I figured it out.

The one thing I can tell KDE 4.5 is sweet. It boots faster and everything seems much more lively unfortunately I can't count on having a lan line all the time so never saw it's full potential. When they get the network manager figured out I'm sure I will go back. Actually I shouldn't blame NM for my troubles problem was trying to get kmod-wl from non-free repository with the latest kernel.

Of course I put snow leopard back on and went back to dual boot so I may go back to 14 at alpha 2 since I have SL as the workhorse.


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