Moving on with Linux, a "Man Bag" and the Repurposing of Older Computers and Laptops

Bill Loguidice's picture

After repeated abuse from our daughters - mostly our one and a half year old - my wife's expanded Twinhead Durabook (Intel Pentium M 1.73Ghz Celeron) running Windows XP wasn't doing so well (toughbook indeed), so we went to our local office store a few weeks back and picked her up a nice 17" widescreen HP Pavilion dv9812us AMD Turion 64 X2 running Vista. This left us with two unused laptops, the Durabook and her laptop prior to the Durabook, the HP Pavilion ze4430us AMD Athlon 4 2400+, which originally ran Windows XP.

Without restoration discs for either laptop (a practice from manufacturers that I don't care for -- I tend not to buy systems any more without proper factory restore discs), I decided to install my CD-based Ubuntu distribution specifically for 32-bit Intel machines (I also have the 64-bit Intel version and a PPC version for Macs) on the HP machine, wiping the drive. The Ubuntu install went beautifully with the caveat that I couldn't properly see or configure the built-in wireless Internet adapter. I also couldn't get it to properly register a wireless PC card adapter either. With some sadness in my heart, I decided to get an old copy of Windows XP installed and just activate the wireless adapter from there.

XP loaded up pretty much without issue, but I DID have to get various drivers from the HP Website to properly register various items, including the video card and that finicky built-in wireless network adapter. In fact, I needed to do a few driver upgrades in order to get it to even talk to the WPA-based security on my wireless network (a security system that does not play nicely with older hardware). Nevertheless, it ended up, after the usual heartache, working just fine. So now it's a standard Windows XP machine with minimal updates due to the expired license (Microsoft doesn't let you apply most updates to an install with an expired or invalid license), meant for browsing the Internet (via Firefox) and occasionally pulling media from my media server. That's it. No office install, no nothing, since I'll just use Google Notebook and Google Documents for all of my needs, which basically boils down to book writing (more on that in a future post soon once the ink dries on the contract). So now it's a perfectly nice bedroom PC that my wife and I can use when we want to do some basic computing late at night. She still has her main new 17" HP laptop and I still have my main Gateway Tablet PC. A game-only older Dell is in the basement in the office along with two RISC-based Mac Mini's, one fairly loaded, the other a more basic model which will hopefully become that sought after Ubuntu box.

Even though two (unimportant luckily) keys have been yanked off the Durabook, I'll reformat that with Windows XP and put some games on for the girls and they can use that as their laptop, which they enjoy (they like going to Nick Jr and various other Websites).

I take a large laptop bag back and forth to work, but rarely have my Tablet PC in it because I'm not allowed to use it at work and it's not worth the extra weight just to occasionally use it in the car during work. I do have quite a bit in the bag though, including various headphones and power supplies and cables, which are necessary for my use both at work and home. Wanting a more compact solution for taking to lunch with me, I picked up a small black zippered and pocketed folio from "RoadWired" that I can carry around with me easily when I'm not taking the full laptop bag (or even if I am). In that I have my PDA phone, my Sony MP3 audio recorder (plus a small attachment for recording phone conversations), a self-contained docupen pen scanner, a Sony PRS-500 e-book reader and secondary stuff that would normally go in my wallet if I still carried one (I just have the essentials in my pants pocket, including cash, check card, ID, etc.), as well as my bluetooth stereo headphones paired with my phone attached to the folio's snap loop. So what was missing in the ultimate road warrior "man bag"? Some type of PC of course...

While my Windows Mobile 6 PDA smartphone does a fine job with pulling e-mail, browsing the Web, playing TV, etc., it's just not a full-fledged computing device. That's where my decision to get an Asus Eee PC 2G Surf running Linux came in (which is supposed to arrive tomorrow).

I figured that would be an excellent companion to my "man bag" (it obviously won't fit inside but can be carried comfortably with it) and allow me to easily work on book stuff any time any place via the aforementioned Google Documents and Google Notebook. It's a bit toy-like and underpowered, but not for what its intended purpose is, which is a take anywhere mini laptop I can quickly and easily "compute" on as needed. It will also be my first full-time Linux system (since I have yet to convert the basic Mac Mini), though obviously a very conservative version intended for speed, simplicity and ease-of-use (for obvious reasons when you look at what it's running on).