For quite some time, I have desired a portable Internet device that i could carry when I traveled, as I admit to being such a hopeless Internet junkie and I much prefer to have my own computer for such activities. (My PDA/Mobile is an Internet device and useful in a pinch, but it’s not really the best application for serious websurfing or journaling.) Using other people’s computers is like using other people’s kitchens. You can get done what you need to, but nothing is where you expect it to be and you have to rummage about to find anything.

tarkrai kindly donated me a couple of ancient, but working, laptops from his collection of derelict computer parts, but for various reason neither was able to transform into what I really needed. Then baiku announced his intention to divest himself of a similar crop of old tech for anyone who’d be willing to come take them away. Since I had a DVD full of 2006 Doctor Who episodes for him, we made arrangements to meet up and he handed me two Dell Inspirons of unknown status. Neither of them turned out to work, but I figured it was worth the $30 that Ginstar would charge me to find out what it would take to repair one of them. So the Inspiron 4000 went into the shop, was determined to have a bad motherboard, and completely repaired for $200.

When I got it back, I ran diagnostics and found that the hard drive had bad sectors, so I pulled the hard drive out of the still non-functional 3500, and found it was perfectly ok, so I transplanted it into the 4000 and installed Ubuntu Linux 5.10 on my now fully functional Death Star laptop computer.

I have to say that Ubuntu has impressed me greatly. I’d already been using it for sometime on my workstation at the office, but given the horror stories I’d heard about getting Linux working on laptop computers, I was unprepared for how utterly seamless it was to install. I didn’t have to recompile any thing, hunt for drivers, twiddle with my settings. It installed, brought up the X display, let me log in, and *everything worked*. Well done.

Having gotten the laptop up and on the network, there was one last critical accessory to make this laptop perfect. I wanted to install a WiFi card. Even with the tremendous ease that I got the base OS installed on the machine, though, I wasn’t expecting this to be easy. Everything I’d read about getting wifi to work on Linux laptops led me to anticipate a lot of fiddling ahead.

I got some advice from fleetfootmike and rinioth, who said that my best bet was a card with a PrismII chipset. rinioth also sent me a great chart with pretty much all the cards that were on the market and the state of drivers for each of them. So I printed that out and headed down the local Best Buy. Unfortunately, none of the cards they had in stock were PrismII cards, but I did find a Netgear WG511T, which uses the Atheros chip and which the chart said had a good driver. Knowing I had 30 days to try it and bring it back if I couldn’t make it work, I decided to take a chance.

Brought it home, plugged it in. Booted up. Ubuntu recognized the card immediately. Is that supposed to happen? Interesting. Looked up the commands for configuring the card. Attached to my AP, got an IP from dhcp, and was surfing. Just like that. I didn’t have to install any drivers. I didn’t have to struggle or swear or do anything at all. it just plain worked the way it was supposed to. I even found that the GUI Network Configuration tool in Gnome already knows how to talk to it and feed it its necessary configurations.

I believe the appropriate word is “squee!!”

I now have a working wireless laptop. I am a happy cat.