School of Computer Science THE UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM tuxmobil

This part of my linux laptop web site

UPDATE: 27 Jun 2010: Moved more stuff from main file to here, below.

CONTENTS-- FEDORA (5, 7, 8, 9)
(Latest first.)

UPDATE 22 Jun 2008: Fedora 9 on my desktop

My desktop PC had lagged behind the laptop, and was still running FC6, so I decided to install F9, though usually I don't like to use a distribution that is so new. I did not wish to try F8 because the problems caused by Pulse Audio made that a nightmare on my laptop (see below).

F9 installed very easily from a DVD except for my typing the wrong DNS server address, and foolishly clicking on the optin to install some items over the internet. So everything froze when it tried to use the connection and got no response. I think there should be a button giving the option to abort the use of the internet or to change the settings, if it tries two or three repositories and fails to connect. That would have saved me the hassle of having to start from scratch again. (Including the very tiresome and slow process of selecting among the options available on the DVD. -- Partly made worse by the fact that many of the rpms are simply described by the name of the utility they provide, saying nothing about their functions -- eg. Tomcat, Smolt, ... so, in order to decide, you have to look them up on the internet using another machine.)

Apart from that I think everything installed more smoothly than using F8 (e.g. I did not have to add the "acpi=off" boot parameter to stop the installation freezing).

Added 1 Aug 2008:

There's a very useful collection of tips and links relating to Fedora 9, by Gregory R. Kriehn here
Heed especially his advice on repositories:
His own Fedora 9 repository is here:

Nasty interaction between Firefox3 and Network Manager
(Added 25 Jun 2008)
I had recently started using Firefox 3. After switching to Fedora 9, a very nasty thing happened. I often use windows and tabs too keep hold my working memory (papers partly read, things still to be read, etc.). Normally I hibernate (using SWSUSP 2) and resume instead of shutting down and rebooting, so Firefox keeps its state. However if doing experiments, e.g. with a new graphic driver I have to kill X11 and that means killing Firefox. But the wonderful ability to restore all its windows and tabs meant that was not a problem. It worked well while I was running FC 6, and works with Fedora 8 on my laptop.

But after I converted my desktop to Fedora 9, Firefox3 always restarted in offline mode. I had to go to the 'File' menu to set it online, and then laboriously click on the 'reload' button on every tab. I did find a very nasty workaround: instead of starting Firefox3, just start Firefox2 (which I still have available). Then kill it and start Firefox3. That opened all the windows, but was not a satisfactory procedure. So I used bugzilla to report a bug in Firefox, and learnt that lots of people were suffering from this, and there were various theories about what was going on. Eventually I found a page explaining that it was due to Firefox3 interrogating Network Manager (if running) to determine whether the system was online or not, and if, as in my case, the network connection was static, Network Manager gave wrong information, since I was not using it. So I disabled Network Manager and since then Firefox3 always starts up properly. So beware if you run F9 and don't use Network Manager: it will run anyway by default and may screw some things up.

For further information see the buzilla page

Pulse Audio problems again
Unfortunately, as with F8 on my laptop, I found I could not get sound to work at all (using an old but adequate Soundblaster card). There seemed to be permissions problem associated with Pulse Audio.

Having struggled once in vain, I decided not to trawl through web pages with suggestions that did not work, and went straight to the final solution that had worked in F8, namely

Reinstalling mplayer after removing pulseaudio
After removing pulseadio packages and rebooting, I re-installed mplayer (and its gui and skins).
I was alarmed to find that that required one pulseaudio package to be installed,
but I typed 'y' and the installation went ahead.
This time, after rebooting, sound worked for everything except skype, which I can now run only as root.
Other things that work include BBC iplayer, flash videos with sound, realplay and mplayer.

For mplayer I found a useful tip: start mplayer, then right click. Select Preferences in the menu, then click on Audio. It lists available sound drivers.
Click on 'Configure driver'. You'll get options for Device, Mixer and Mixer Channel. I ended up with 'default driver' for the first two and 'pcm' for the third, without understanding anything about what I was doing. But that works fine on the videos I have tried so far.

I have found that there are several web sites complaining about problems with pulseaudio, and in particular skype users are bitter.

The fedora installation process should provide the option to use pulseaudio or not, with a warning that it does not work with skype and can cause problems for other packages requiring sound. Having the same serious problem in two releases (F8 and F9) is inexcusable.

Nvidia driver for F9
My desktop uses an NVidia VGA graphic card (GeForce 6200). I normally download the latest driver from the nvidia web site and run the script to compile and install a module. However, unusually, this failed on Fedora 9, presumably because I had the wrong version of gcc or some other library. (I assume nvidia will fix that). However I then discovered that there is an nvidia package, which I fetched using 'yum install kmod-nvidia'.

F9 Gripes (nothing's perfect)

I was amazed to find that 'xterm' is not included in the F9 rpms. However I was able to fetch one (xterm-235-1.fc9.i386). I do most of my editing, reading mail, programming in xterm windows. (The vt100/xterm emulation of gnome-terminal is seriously buggy, making it unusable for the purpose. 'rxvt' is also inadequate as a substitute, though useful for saving memory.)

I don't like running gnome or kde (the ctwm window manager is very small, robust, tailorable, and does exactly what I want). So I was annoyed when editing /etc/inittab to specify "id:3:initdefault:" failed to make F9 boot up in console mode.

For some reason that worked after I fetched the 'hensler' swsusp2 kernels

(I much prefer the 'tuxonice' hibernate to the default in linux: e.g. with SWSUP2 you get a simple graphical indication of what is happening, and I think it is faster. Also it seems to be better at restoring wireless connections and other things after resume than the default pm-hibernate.)
Missing pdftk
I could not get pdftk to compile on F9. However, it turns out that there's an rpm for Fedora 9, provided by Gregory R. Kriehn:
Title bar puzzle in F9
For some reason, in Fedora 9 title bars of windows when running the ctwm or twm window manager, were much deeper than previously, so they waste a lot of space. The same was true for the entries in the iconmanager.

On a hunch I altered the file /etc/sysconfig/i18n to contain the following, which I had in an earlier version of linux:

instead of the default contents inserted by the F9 installer:
I don't really know why that fixed the problem.

Note added 25 Jun 2008: tgif problem
Even more puzzling: I was having font troubles with tgif

Fatal Error in OpenFont(): Cannot open the RulerFont '-*-courier-medium-r-normal-*-10-*-*-*-*-*-iso8859-1'. Tgif aborted.
despite having all the required fonts installed.

In desperation I tried reinstating the i18n default, in case the tgif problem had something to do with that.

To my surprise the titlebar problem did not recur with the restored i18n file, but it did not fix the tgif font problem. It must be an X11 problem not a tgif problem, because I can log in to this machine from my laptop running Fedora 8 and run tgif OK. But if I log in to the laptop from the Fedora 9 machine and run tgif I get the same error message.

A workaround to fix tgif(4 Jul 2008)
I fetched the sources for tgif-QPL-4.1.45 (available here), and changed one line in the file font.c. Namely I replaced

    ruler_font_size = 10;
    ruler_font_size = 11;
and then followed the standard instructions ('xmkmf; make').

The resulting executable works, and is available here as a gzipped binary file: tgif.gz

Since doing that I have written to Bill Cheng, the author of tgif, who pointed out that I could, instead, have put this in my .Xdefaults file:

    Tgif.RulerFontSize: 11

Both kudzu and hwconf not in F9
There must be a new mechanism for detecting changed hardware: kudzu is no longer available, and the file /etc/sysconfig/hwconf no longer exists. (Apparently HAL has made kudzu redundant.)

A partial replacement is in the two commands 'lspci' and 'dmidecode' (the latter requires root privilege).

15 Apr 2008: Installed Fedora 8 (F8) on my Dell D610

UPDATE 27 May 2008: Suspend/Resume problems
(using swsusp2/tuxonice on Fedora 8)
Using the latest kernel (with SWSUSP2 included) I found that hibernate/resume works once, but after that the resume does not complete properly and there are error messages, apparently relating to the ipw2200 device. I had found the same problem with, so I abandoned using that.

Going back to the earlier kernel avoids the problem, but I have also found that doing this seems to fix the problem:

    Put this line (or uncomment it):

        ProcSetting full_pageset2 1

    in the file

I had previously had to use this fix in an earlier version, namely 2.6.18-1.2869_1.fc6.cubbi_suspend2.

I don't know what this is about. Can someone enlighten me?

UPDATE 11 May 2008: found wlassistant on F8

Discovered that Fedora 8 on my laptop included a new (to me) utility 'wlassistant', which has proved very useful for temporary wireless connections while travelling. For my regular WPA access I prefer to use scripts as described here.

Although 'wlassistant' is a kde tool it does not require kde to be running. I use 'ctwm' as my window manager and ran 'wlassistant' (as root') in an xterm window.

UPDATE 15 Apr 2008: Fedora 8 (F8) on my Dell D610

I'll add more details later, but here's the summary

UPDATE 21 Dec 2007: Tips on burning DVDs (use growisofs)

There are various tools for burning CDs on Linux including cdrecord, xcdroast and others. Burning a DVD is another matter.

Note Added 21 Dec 2007

I have now found that the program 'k3b' makes it very easy.

I have been using xcdroast to burn CDs but found that in order to use it for burning a DVD I would need to fetch a new version of cdrecord which includes the utility cdrecord.prodvd. Using k3b did not require that:

I previously wrote (7 Aug 2007):
I had much grief trying to do it until I discovered that this command could be used to burn an isofile called 'file.iso' onto a DVD+R:
    growisofs -use-the-force-luke=dao -dvd-compat -speed=4 -Z /dev/dvd=file.iso
Alternatively, put that in a shell script replacing 'file.iso' with '$1'.

The source of my information was this very helpful web site:

UPDATE 1 Aug 2007: installing Fedora 7 (F7) on the Dell Latitude D610 (long)

Before installing Fedora 7 it is a good idea to look at
o the release notes
o the installation guide.
o The F7 FAQ list.
Additional documentation can be found at
Installing F7 while leaving /home and /usr/local untouched
I had previously installed FC5 about a year ago using the FC5 kernel with software suspend 2 prepared by Matthias Hensler, and was fairly happy with that configuration, except that occasionally I had problems with wireless connections.

Instead of attempting either an upgrade, or a full installation, I decided to do a pseudo upgrade by keeping my /home partition, which included /usr/local intact and installing everything in the old root partition, after making backup tar files of several key directories, especially /etc.

Installing F7 on the D610

I downloaded the DVD Iso Image for Fedora 7, and the live rescue CD, from and burnt a DVD and CD respectively. Installation was in some ways easier than any other system I had tried.

I had five partitions on the 60GB drive,

  1. a 6GB NTFS partition for Microsoft XP which I hardly ever use, apart from testing hardware and getting pictures off a NEC E540 phone.
    (If anyone knows how to do this using linux please tell me: it is not a standard USB drive interface.)
  2. a 2GB swap partition,
  3. a small (about 140 MB) linux ext3 /boot partition (using grub),
  4. a 8.5 GB linux ext3 root (/) partition,
  5. and a 40 GB ext3 partition used for /home and also /usr/local and a few other things.
    I.e. I mount /home/usrlocal as /usr/local, using this entry in /etc/fstab
        /home/usrlocal       /usr/local               none   rw,bind 0 0
    This enables the /usr/local directory and the /home directory to share a large partition while appearing to be separate.
So I allowed the Fedora installer to take over the the boot and root partitions leaving everything else untouched. I could later then remount the other partitions, once F7 was running.
Another option would have been to tell the installer not to touch the /boot partition, and to install everything in the root partition.
After installation, I could then have copied the new kernels and grub.conf entries from the new /boot to the temporarily mounted old /boot then removed the new /boot or renamed it as /fc7boot temporarily, before deletion. I could then create a new mount point
    mkdir /boot
with an entry in /etc/fstab to mount the separate /boot partition:
    LABEL=/boot1            /boot               ext3    defaults      1 2
I would still have had to tell grub to use the old boot partition instead of the root partition. See note to Fedora developers, below.

I chose to install a basic workstation system to be upgraded later across the internet (in Ubuntu fashion), instead of choosing everything I needed from the DVD. It all worked very well, especially as getting wireless working was so easy, as explained below.

Firmware for ipw2200 wireless card installed automatically in F7

One of the earliest pleasant surprises was finding that the latest firmware for my Intel IPW2200 wireless card was automatically installed with F7, whereas with earlier versions after every installation I had to use a cable connection until I had manually fetched the firmware and set up the wireless card. (I still had to copy over saved settings from the old /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/ifcfg-eth1 file and the WEP key stored in etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/keys-eth1.

This time, although I started off using an ethernet cable connected to the router I quickly disconnected it and continued the installation using wireless.

(I eventually changed to using WPA2 for my wireless connection at home late in 2007).

Improved radeon graphic driver in in F7

Another surprise was that I did not have to bother getting the graphics driver from ATI for my 1400x1050 display (using ATI Technologies Inc M22 [Radeon Mobility M300] graphic card). The 'radeon' driver installed by F7 and referenced in the default /etc/X11/xorg.conf works very well, even allowing the 3-D glxgears demo to run, which was not possible with the previous radeon driver provided by However I had to download and install RPMs for openmotif and openmotif-devel because these are no longer provided with Fedora, and Lesstif still has some bugs.

Fixing problem booting with grub (my mistake)

There was a small (or big, depending on your viewpoint?) blip because during installation I somehow chose the wrong option regarding booting, so that after installation grub had not been properly installed on /boot and the machine would not boot.
The Fedora installer should not have allowed me to do that without any warnings.
(See note for Fedora developers, below.)
So I booted up the F7 rescue CD, and gave grub commands to set up booting from the /boot partition, using suggestions helpfully provided here:
I hand-edited the /boot/grub/grub.conf file (linked to menu.lst) so that it gave me the options of booting either F7 or XP. I had previously saved the contents of /boot before the upgrade, just as I had saved the contents of /etc and various other things, so it was easy to copy over some of the text from the old grub.conf.
More information on fixing booting is available here


The on-screen installation instructions about booting options should be made much clearer for people who really don't know anything about boot loaders, MBR, grub, etc.

The instructions could separate different cases that are likely to arise, described at a high level (e.g. which partitions are used for which operating systems, etc.) and provide instructions to select one of the cases, and perhaps fill in a few options, such as whether the new OS should be made the default boot option in grub.conf or not.

E.g. one of the important cases that should be handled explicitly would support people who not only have a windows installation but also want to run more than one linux installation (e.g. Fedora and Ubuntu, for testing). This would specify use of a separate /boot partition that should be USED for the new installation but NOT completely overwritten. I.e. the new kernel files should be installed there along with the old ones (which might be used for another linux installation, using a different root partition) and instead of the grub.conf file being totally replaced, the installer should merely insert (at the top, as the new default) an entry for the newly installed kernel. That's what kernel upgrade RPMs do anyway, so the code for editing grub.conf must already exist.

Of course, if there is an existing entry for a windows partition that would also be left untouched.

Specifying an option at that level of functionality like that would be much better than asking people what they want to do about MBR, grub, etc. I suspect it would prevent a lot of grief (expressed in many online pleas for help with booting problems after a new linux installation which is why there are web sites like ).

It would be particularly useful to ask whether you want the old grub.conf to be used with a new entry for the latest installation.

For most people the instructions here in the Fedora installation guide will not tell them what to do as it presupposes far too much low-level technical knowledge:

Serious problem with freshrpms for F7 users

Another, more serious, blip came a few hours later. I had added the livna repository as recommended for installing mplayer using yum:
    yum install mplayer mplayer-gui mplayer-fonts mplayer-skins
That worked fine. However, at a later stage gmplayer stopped working and further attempts to upgrade or install software by using 'yum' or 'pup' kept generating errors, including
    "Error: Missing Dependency: is needed by package mplayer"
I soon discovered that there were lots of users reporting this problem. Eventually I read that the cause was an inconsistency between the F7 packages provided by freshrpms and by the livna respository. The freshrpms site had provided an upgrade for the lib libdca which both overrode the one previously installed from livna and moreover broke many things because it did not include the required library. So
  1. I used 'rpm -e' to remove mplayer, mplayer-gui, mplayer-fonts and mplayer-skins
  2. then used 'rpm -e' to remove the newer version of libdca
  3. fetched from the livna site this package, and installed it:
  4. Then used yum to reinstall the four mplayer packages.
After that everything worked again, including yum and pup. However I fear that some automatic upgrade may reinstall the buggy libdca from freshrpms. I must find a way to prevent that. (I have to watch carefully what the automatic update program 'pup' offers for update. and always say no to libdca from freshrpms).

The people responsible for the freshrpms web site should remove their version of libdca: it causes many problems.

NOTE (9 Aug 2007):
I have found an inconclusive discussion of some of the incompatibilities here:

That web page refers to a project to merge the different RedHat/Fedora 'third-party' respositories:

Installing swsusp2 in F7

I installed the kernels with Software Suspend 2 available from Matthias Hensler's web site by following his instructions. To make yum work follow instructions in this file
In particular you can copy this file edit out the 'developers' section at the end (unless you want to test development versions) then install the file in
You can then do
    yum install kernel-suspend2 kernel-suspend2-devel
(Sometimes installing a package that has to be compiled requires the kernel '-devel' extension to have been installed even though it is not needed for running the kernel.)

Suspend to disk 'hibernate' works in F7 but not suspend to RAM (pm-suspend)

Suspend to disk (hibernate and presumably also pm-hibernate, which I have not tried) works fine. (I had to put an entry in /etc/sudoers to make it possible to run hibernate without becoming superuser.)

When I tried 'suspend to RAM' (pm-suspend), the machine would not resume and I had to reboot. There is probably a fix that involves changing a configuration file somewhere. However that is of less importance for me than suspend to disk, which works very well.

One of several web sites suggesting things to try to get suspend to RAM to work is here

Unfortunately, it did not help me. With some of the suggested commands I managed to get pm-suspend to work once, but after it resumed, the next time I suspended to RAM it would not resume.

However since suspend to disk works I can shut down the machine at night, and then wake it up in the morning with all the previous windows open. My virtual desktop is an extension of my memory, with various partly completed tasks in different windows.

Battery life using F7

With FC5 I had good battery life (with a second battery replacing the removable CD/DVD drive). For several years, one of my reasons for using the Hensler kernels with SWSUSP2 included was that in addition to suspend and resume being noticeably faster, I also found that batteries lasted longer without AC power.

After installing F7, I did my usual test: removing external power with both batteries fully charged and screen brightness set to the minimal level, and the wireless card turned off. I then left the machine doing nothing. The time was 14:33. At intervals I checked, and eventually found the battery warning light flashing at 20:41, with a total of 568 mAh left. So it can run for over six hours, without recharging, a record for this machine. That was using two-year old batteries. Of course, if I had been using the machine to do any work, the time would have been considerably shortened. Leaving the wireless connection running, and having more daemons running, could also add to battery consumption.

On previous tests I got under 6 hours, usually closer to 5.5 hours.
During the test I was running the X window system with the ctwm window manager, which is small and fast (I don't like either gnome or KDE, though I use some of their utilities). I had three xterm windows open, one of them running the poplog editor Ved, but not doing anything.

New default date format for 'ls' command in F7

I found I could no longer compare output of ls -lt in xterm windows logged in to different machines because in F7 the default format for date and time has changed. OLD FORMAT
    drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 4096 Dec 26  2006 cbq
    -rw-r--r-- 1 root root  177 Dec  3  2006 clock
    drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 4096 Nov 28  2006 console
    -rw-r--r-- 1 root root  512 Feb 26 16:32 crond
NEW FORMAT (Fedora 7) (Also in more recent versions, e.g. Fedora 9)
    drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 4096 2007-07-31 17:35 cbq
    -rw-r--r-- 1 root root  178 2007-08-02 21:57 clock
    drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 4096 2007-06-25 17:57 console
    -rw-r--r-- 1 root root  512 2005-02-25 18:41 crond
There has apparently been much discussion of the change, e.g. here
It turns out that you can easily get the old format restored in F7 globally or temporarily by setting the environment variable LC_TIME E.g.
    for csh/tcsh shell: setenv LC_TIME POSIX
    for bash/sh  shell: export LC_TIME=POSIX

Problem with java on F7
Even after fetching the latest Java from Sun I could not get java to work. I noticed there were complaints about missing

I found these installed

But not the required version. So I looked at a machine running FC6, and found these two (the second is a link to the first):
I copied those across to the laptop, and after that Java worked, including the java applet test here:

If anyone needs those two files I have made them available in a tar file here

To install, just untar that and move the file and link to /usr/lib.

You will have to restart browsers like firefox before they can use this.
[There is probably a more principled solution! I did not try 'yum install']

For more information regarding Java on Fedora 7 see



What follows is a collection of items mainly relevant to older systems (RedHat 9, Fedora Core 3, Fedora Core 5). Some of the items are OS independent and I have moved them higher up the file.

UPDATE 18 Jan 2007: problem with swsusp2 (using FC5) -- and a workaround

After I upgraded the kernel on my desktop PC to 2.6.18-1.2869_1.fc6.cubbi_suspend2 (a Fedora core kernel packaged with sofware suspend 2 available from Matthias Hensler's web site) the hibernate command stopped working. It complained about a wacky driver, and told me to read the dmesg file. But nothing made sense. Fortunately a colleague had read the answer somewhere, so I am posting it here:
> Put this line into your /etc/hibernate/suspend2.conf
>   ProcSetting full_pageset2 1
> to prevent the "clearing" of pages
Here's some googlebait to help people searching for a solution:
 - Suspend was aborted (see dmesg).
 - Freezing processes failed. Wacky driver problems :( (see dmesg)
 Couldn't extract useful information from dmesg. Not logging here.

UPDATE 20 Aug 2006: Moving to FC 5

Notes on upgrading to Fedora Core 5 (with Software Suspend) on my Dell Latitude D610
I installed FC5 (using the DVD iso) and had good results, though some additional work was required to restore my previous environment and get everything working, as described below.

Entries before installation of FC5 on D610
The rest of this file is concerned with earlier linux releases.

UPDATE 30 Jul 2006: Firewall scripts added

Although this has nothing specific to do with the laptop, I've added two files containing firewall scripts originally given me by Simon Thompson, which can be used in a linux machine acting as an internet gateway separating a private network from a connection to the external world (e.g. via cable modem). The files are I put those on my laptop as a precaution, since I sometimes use it while travelling and connecting to hotels (remember to edit the firewall script if using eth1 as your interface to the internet e.g. via wireless).

UPDATE 19 Mar 2006: problems with saved images on Fedora Core 4 and 5

Problems due to Poplog saved images randomly not starting up on FC 4 and FC 5 as a result of security measures added by RedHat have a solution described here

UPDATE 14 Nov 2005: Comments from Liz Hays on various problems with 2.6.12-1.1380_FC3 on D600.
Problems with mouse pointer lost and wireless not working after hibernate on FC3 with SUSP2.

UPDATE 8 Oct 2005: Acquired Dell D610

I have acquired a Dell Latitude D610 with 2ghz Pentium M, ATI X300 Graphics, 1400x1050 screen, 2x512GB SDRAM, 60GB 5400rpm drive, Intel ProWireless 2200 802.11b/g mini PCI card. Because I was buying through a university account Dell were able to sell it without an operating system. So I installed FC3 as described for the D600, and everything has worked perfectly including Software Suspend, USB connection to external hard drive (see Freecom problem using D600 below).

On the D610 with the more recent ATI card, the radeon driver worked perfectly and whereas I never managed to get more than three resolutions on linux with the D600 (1400x1050 1152x864 640x640), I get about 12 different resolutions on the D610 (1400x1050, 1280x1024, 1280x960, 1152x864, 1152x768, 1024x768, 832x624, 800x600, 720x400, 640x480, 640x350, 640x400) and I can switch between them instantly using xvidmode (with commands mapped to a mouse menu in ctwm).

The only (nasty) problem in the D610 [Now fixed in Fedora 7] is that the two mouse buttons above the touch pad do not work (whether in windows XP or linux), though the two below the touch pad work, albeit rather clunkily. All four buttons worked on the D600. I have taken to using a Microsoft cordless USB mouse, which works very well. (Microsoft seem to be much better at making hardware than software.) I think the problem with the D610 mouse buttons above the touch pad is that they work only if pressed hard. It seems to be a hardware problem, not a software problem.

In general I would say that the D610 is the machine Dell were trying to produce when they produced the D600!

UPDATE 19 Jun 2005: Created web file with information on how to deal with problems copying, reading or writing ISO CDs. here.

UPDATE 30 May 2005: Now using Fedora Core 3 with Software Suspend.

Suspend and resume now work fine with a pre-packaged 2.6.11 kernel including the software suspend mechanisms. FULL DETAILS HERE

UPDATE 22 May 2005: Web Cams

The following reports my experience with three webcams, drivers and other tools

UPDATE 29 Mar 2005: Shell script to check battery status regularly

Having lost work more than once because I forgot to plug in the AC adaptor when starting up the laptop I decided to write a little script that occasionally checks the battery status and issues warnings or reminders as appropriate, and if either battery is critical and lid is shut, then invokes hibernate.

A first draft version of the script is in this file

UPDATE 5 Mar 2005: Use of Freecom FHD-2 Pro 60GB USB-2 Drive

The combination of the 2.4.26 kernel and SWSUSP 2.0 described below has served me well since about October 2004. I hardly ever reboot the D600 now: I merely suspend and resume.

Having previously discovered using a USB pen drive how easy it was to replace the Windows file system on a drive with linux ext3 filesystem, I bought the compact (127x79x15mm) Freecom FHD-2 Pro 60GB external USB-2 drive. On my desktop linux machine I deleted the windows (FAT32) partition supplied, and replaced it with two linux ext3 partitions (30GB and 25Gb) leaving just under 5GB for a FAT32 partition for compatibility with windows users. Having found how well this worked on my desktop machine, I was very disappointed to find that the USB power supply on the Dell D600 was unable to get it working, even with the extra cable supplied to provide power from an additional USB port.

The documentation claims that a free AC adaptor is available, and I've written to claim one, but that will reduce the usefulness of this drive in connection with a laptop. However USB memory sticks/pen-drives work perfectly so most of the time one of those will suffice (e.g. I recently bought a 1GB lexar USB pendrive for under GBP 50 and converted it to use ext3 filesystem.)

I would be interested to learn if anyone else has the same problem with the Freecom external drives using the D600.

Note added 8 Oct 2005: Freecom drive works on D610

Freecom have still not sent me the promised AC adaptor. I shall never buy anything from them again.

I recently tried the Freecom on a Dell Latitude D610, and it worked perfectly. I conclude that Dell screwed up with the USB ports on the D600. Is there any redress? I have been informed by another D600 user that even with an AC-powered external drive in an Nspire encloser the D600 could not cope (running windows XP). More evidence that the problem is a buggy USB interface on the Dell D600?

UPDATE Sep 2004 (modified 7 Oct 2004) [Out of date]

Installed the latest stable version of XFree86, namely V4.4
This was downloaded from the web site, and cured a number of resume/suspend problems described below.
  1. I can now use the latest version of Firefox, which, for some reason did not work previously.

  2. Screenblank now turns off the backlight. E.g. the command
    xset dpms 0 0 300
    makes the screen go blank after 5 minutes without activity, including turning off the backlight, saving a significant amount of battery power. I have set my window manager to make it easy for me to change the time before it blanks, so that I can prevent it blanking during presentations.

    NB: for that to work, the /etc/X11/XF86Config file has to include, in
    Section "Monitor"
    the line

         Option "DPMS"
  3. Playing videos (e.g. Xine) now almost always works after resume/suspend. If it doesn't, another resume/suspend fixes it without re-booting.

  4. Other problems requiring rebooting after resume have gone away.
More information is available at

Pre-compiled binaries suitable for linux on PC are available as described here

After running the 'check' test provided I fetched binaries from here
(I fetched all the compulsory files and some of the optional files).

Then, after making backup tar files for the directories involved, I ran the install script, which asked me various questions, to which I always answered yes. It installed the new system and the whole process took only a few minutes, and went very smoothly. The only minor glitch was that it could not insert a symbolic link in /usr/include/GL because the directory existed, so I subsequently renamed the directory and made the link.

I had to update the font settings in XF86Config, namely, replacing

    FontPath     "unix/:7100"
        FontPath     "/usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/misc/"
        FontPath     "/usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/TTF/"
        FontPath     "/usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/Speedo/"
        FontPath     "/usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/Type1/"
        FontPath     "/usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/CID/"
        FontPath     "/usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/75dpi/"
        FontPath     "/usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/100dpi/"

OUT OF DATE CONTENTS (Dell D600 using RH9 FC3 and FC4)

Introduction: my Dell D600

My first laptop, bought in October 1999, was a Dell Latitude Cpt with 400 mhz celeron CPU. At that time it was the fastest machine in my office. It mostly worked well, using first RedHat 6.2, then 7.2, then 7.3, then 8.0 then 9, each version giving noticeable improvements (e.g. Suspend to RAM became more reliable). When it developed an obscure hardware fault about a year ago, which eventually became intolerable, I looked for a replacement, and after reading many reviews concerning laptops running linux decided on the Dell Latitude D600, which was still a new model, and offered the promise of high performance along with good battery consumption, as it was based on the Intel Pentium M (as in 'Centrino', though this is not a true centrino model because it uses a Dell wireless card (TrueMobile 1300)).

At that time there were very few Pentium M systems with a 14inch screen and higher resolution than 1024x768. Most with so-called SXGA displays were 15 inch models, which I did not want. The only other 14 inch model was IBM's centrino thinkpad. However, that was ruled out by its cost, despite excellent reviews.

The D600 was acquired in August 2003 from Dell Outlet UK who claimed to be giving a £450 'promotion' discount, which I later discovered was much exaggerated, by comparing prices with normal Dell sales.

System Specification

Dell Latitude D600
[Note: since reporting this I have obtained a Dell Latitude D610, mentioned above, which is superior in several ways, except that that the two mouse buttons above the touch pad do not work unless pressed very hard.]

CPU: Intel Pentium M 1.4GHz (1MB on-die L2 cache)
Memory:    512MB DDR, 266MHz [1X512MB DIMM]
Hard Disk Drive:   30GB IDE Hard Drive (4200 rpm)
SCREEN: 14.1inch TFT SXGA (1400x1050)
ATI RADEON 9000 High performance graphics controller with 4x AGP support
    Video Memory - 32Mb DDR Video SDRAM

Integrated DualPoint - TouchPad & PointStick pointing devices
    (Two 'mouse' buttons below keyboard, and two buttons below touch pad)
    [I would have preferred a third button, though 3-button emulation
    works with linux: pressing both buttons emulates middle  button.
    I need to increase the default delay from 30ms to about 200ms to
    make it usable without mistakes.]

10/100/1000 Ethernet LAN on Motherboard (Broadcom)
Modem:     Internal 56K V.92 Modem on Motherboard (winmodem)

Installed operating System:  Microsoft. Windows. XP Professional (SP1)
    (using NTFS file system) [Not used by me. See below.]

DVD Drive:     8x DVD Drive (Media Bay Module)
'Smart' Advanced Lithium Ion 6 cell battery pack with ExpressCharge
Dell TrueMobile 1300 Wireless 802.11 b/g Mini-PCI card
    (Based on Broadcom)
Ports: Parallel, Serial, VGA, S-video out, 2 x USB 2.0,
    IR (IrDa v.1.1), RJ-11, RJ-45

Second battery: replaces DVD drive while travelling
D-Family Classic Nylon Carrying Case
3 years International Next Business Day On-Site service
(Free Second 65W A/C power adaptor provided in Dell outlet package)

Other combinations are available for D600, including faster cpu,
larger hard drive, more memory etc.

Initial installation of RedHat 9 mostly worked

I have no use for the Windows XP operating system except occasionally to check hardware and initially also for occasional use of the dial-up modem. So using 'partition magic' I reduced the XP partition to 6Gb leaving the rest for linux. I made a 1Gb linux swap partition, in case I later added more memory.

Installing RedHat 9 was easy, and basically I then had a usable linux laptop, including a Gbit ethernet card. I could get only three screen resolutions to work, but they were fine for me:

    1400x1050  1152x864  640x640
(With maximum resolution, most projectors seem to cope, slightly shrinking the display, but a few older ones complain that the scan frequency is too high.)

The machine was then usable, and surprisingly fast (the 1.4Ghz Pentium M cpu seemed to be approximately comparable to a 2.4Ghz pentium 4). However I had some disappointments most of which were eventually overcome as explained below.

Problems remaining after installation:

Solving the problems:

Addressing these problems required a lot of web browsing. I discovered that Owen Cliffe at Bath University had an almost identical Dell D600 and found his web page very useful:

He also kindly answered some of my questions, including telling me how to upgrade a kernel and install the SWSUSP package to provide 'Suspend to Disk'. He had additional requirements (3-D graphics) that were not relevant to my needs. As a result of his help and other things found on the web I now have the following very satisfactory situation.

Most of the problems are now solved

As a result of steps that I'll later put into a separate file (watch this space) I know have a working version of Redhat 9, upgraded with the 2.4.26 Linux kernel (which Alan Cox assures me includes all of his patches often referred to as the 'ac' patches on web sites). On top of that kernel I installed the CPU Frequency Scaling patches (CPUFREQ), to improve power management when running batteries, and the Software Suspend (SWSUSP) patches. The config file used (not claimed to be perfect) is here (last updated 13 Jun 2004). It's possible that you will have to change this if you have a different wireless card, or some other hardware difference.

Playing CDs and DVDs

Playing audio CDs worked fine with the 'cdp' command, though it required a symbolic link from /dev/cdrom to /dev/hdc

In order to get dvds to play I had to make a link from /dev/dvd to the same device

    ln -s /dev/hdc /dev/dvd
After that, I inserted a dvd, ran gmplayer, used the right button menu to select dvd, and it just worked. ('f' toggles full screen mode). The sound is not too bad for such a tiny machine. I have not tried earphones or external speakers.

Still unsolved problems

Installing a version of 2.6 with full support for software suspend and power management can wait. Later I'll switch, perhaps using Fedora Core 2, or SuSE 9.1 as a base, though some friends strongly recommend Mandrake!

I believe there are patches available to make the volume control buttons work, and I may try them later.

Things to be added

I use grub rather than lilo and having changed (I installed RH 9: which did everything for me) now prefer grub. There are a few funnies about what has to be specified in the boot configuration file.

On one occasion had a mysterious kernel panic ('no init found'), when trying to boot a new kernel. The cause turned out to be as follows:

This meant that the mechanisms for reading the startup files where not available when the kernel was booting. While trying to fix this I searched google and found that many people had reported this sort of kernel panic and asked for help, causing lengthy discussions about possible causes on mailing lists, most of which had nothing to do with the solution I eventually found (following one of the comments about journalling file systems). Maybe whoever is responsible for the 'panic' message should make it print out more suggestions, including the suggestion to check whether a journalling file system package (ext3, reiserfs, xfs) should be in the kernel not in a module.

Maintained by Aaron Sloman
Created: 14 May 2010
Last updated: 14 May 2010; 27 Jun 2010