Ubuntu on Dell Inspiron 6400

I wanted to get myself a Linux laptop for work, and Dell had the perfect product: A Dell Inspiron 6400 preinstalled with Ubuntu Linux. Unfortunately, just when I decided to place the order, the line went out of production. As it happens, I own a Dell Inspiron 6400 with Windows Vista, so I decided to try installing Ubuntu alsongside Windows in a dual boot set up.

I did some research into it and the main issue seemed to be the drivers for the graphics card on my Inspiron, an ATI Mobility Radeon X1300. But having downloaded the latest Ubuntu (7.10, or Gutsy Gibbon), burnt it onto CD and run it as a live CD (see also Knoppix on Dell Inspiron 6400) with no evident graphics problems, I decided to go ahead with the dual boot and installed Ubuntu in a 20GB partition.

I first tried to install Ubuntu without preparing any partitions for it as I had read that the installer on the live CD can set up a partition for you. However, this failed when I tried it and I aborted the install process. I booted back into Windows and shrank my OS partition there, creating about 20GB of free space (I wasn't allowed to set aside any more). I then booted back into Ubuntu's live CD and allowed the installer to select this free space for the installation.

During the installation I set up my personal user account, but I was not asked for a password for "root". As a result, by default, I can't log into the machine as root. To execute commands with root privileges I have to "sudo" and enter my personal account password, which isn't that much of a hassle when you get used to it. This behaviour can be changed, however, making it possible to login as root or "su root" if desired.

Installation went smoothly on this second attempt, with both Ubuntu & Windows being found by the boot loader on restarting the computer. The only warning message I got from Ubuntu was to notify me that it was using restricted drivers for the wireless network connection (though not for the graphics card, for which a restricted ATI driver was availble but disabled).

Ubuntu does not seem to install a lot of the software available in its repositories by default, which keeps a base installation lean. There are a few different options for installing software from Ubuntu's official repository, of which I find the Synaptics Package Manager to be the most convenient. It is a GUI based system for searching, downloading and installing packages and makes doing so a breeze. Once you get accustomed to this system, it is easier to install supported applications on Linux than on Windows, where (at least by default) there isn't such a standard and consistent method of obtaining software.

So far I'm very happy with Ubuntu 7.10, a.k.a Gutsy Gibbon, and look forward to using it as my main operating system!