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Preinstalled SUSE Linux ThinkPad is good, but not great
Feb. 15, 2008

Blog -- I use, on a daily basis, three different Linux distributions: MEPIS 6.5 and 7, OpenSUSE 10.3, and SLED 10 SP1. So, when I saw that Frank Ohlhorst, my colleague over at The Channel Insider, had gotten his hands on a ThinkPad T61 with SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 Service Pack 1, I was interested in what he would find.

I was also interested in how he got a review model to play with and I didn't, but that's mere envy.

Ohlhorst, who knows his way around Linux and the testing bench, had a pretty good experience reviewing the ThinkPad 61 with SLED preinstalled. For example, he "found that the USB ports, the integrated wireless (Wi-Fi and Bluetooth), the sound card, the networking and so on all were well-supported and work as expected." I would have expected the same from any up-to-date Linux.

He also found, and this I did find pleasantly surprising, that the fingerprint security reader worked. Now, that's neat. This is the first time I've heard of one of these working out of the box. Usually, in my experience, fingerprint readers require tweaking the hardware settings and playing with software. If you ever need to tinker with biometric security, especially fingerprints, I highly recommend the Debian FingerForce site.

But then Ohlhorst found some flies in the soup. First, one of the boot options was to bring SLED up with the Xen virtualization program. Whoops. It didn't work.

I'm not sure what Lenovo thought it was doing by making that a boot option, anyway. I mean, if you want to use virtualization, you're going to need to get in there and install another operating system and set its system settings first. Why not leave setting up Xen until it's time to set up Xen, or, as I'd be more likely to do, install and set up VirtualBox?

The real point is that putting a boot option on a PC that doesn't boot is not smart. In fact, it's dumb.

Ohlhorst also found that many features, from the minor, such as DVI out, to the major, such as ThinkPad Power Manager for SUSE Linux, were listed as not being supported. Say what? Why do you even have something called "ThinkVantage Access Connections for SUSE Linux" if you're not supporting it?

All in all, the ThinkPad worked quite well, but boy, that non-working Xen boot option and the lack of support for basic ThinkPad functionality leaves a bad taste in my mouth. If I were a Linux fanboy, I'd wave these problems away. The truth is that the ThinkPad and SLED worked well. But I'm not a Linux fan, I'm a fan of what works well. And it seems to both me and Ohlhorst that Lenovo could do a better job of delivering the SLED goods in its ThinkPad package.

I love ThinkPads. As a breed, I think they're the best laptops around. But, if I had to buy a high-quality notebook computer tomorrow with preinstalled Linux, I'd give the nod to Dell's XPS 1330n or Inspiron 1420.

-- Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

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