Tag: laptop

Father of the laptop dies

The British bloke who is credited with inventing the first claim shell laptop has died. John Ellenby was 75.

Ellenby managed the development of the Alto II before starting the company that built the world’s first successful “clamshell” laptop.

Ellenby played a critical role in paving the way for the laptop computer. He saw his pioneering work came to fruition in the early 1980s, after he founded Grid Systems, a company in Mountain View, California. As chief executive, he assembled an engineering and design team that included another Brit –  industrial designer William Moggridge.

The team produced a clamshell computer with an orange electroluminescent flat-panel display that was introduced as the Compass. It went to market in 1982. The Compass is now widely acknowledged to have been far ahead of its time.

In the 1980s, NASA used the Compass as backup navigational devices on the space shuttle. One survived the wreckage of the Space Shuttle Challenger and John Poindexter, America’s national security advisor during the Reagan administration, described them as “built like an armoured tank.”

In those days the data storage cost $8,150 which has the buying power of $20,325 today.

Booting Linux bricks Samsung laptops

Booting Linux using UEFI just once on various Samsung laptops is enough to brick them.

According to reports on the Ubuntu bug tracker, the report appears to be caused by a kernel driver for Samsung laptops.

The situation is so bad that kernel developers are currently discussing a change which would disable the driver when booting via UEFI.

What happens is that the machine freezes shortly after loading the kernel and the user then powers down by holding down the power button. Afterwards, the laptop refuses to boot and the firmware does not even show basic startup information. Samsung has to replace the motherboard when the machine bricks.

According to H-Online, the Ubuntu bug affects 300E5C, NP700Z5C, NP700Z7C and NP900X4C series laptops. It only happens when Linux is booted using UEFI and it does not matter if the Secure Boot is on or off. The work around is to boot Linux using the Compatibility Support Module (CSM).

Installing Linux alongside a Windows installation using UEFI mode is, however, not straightforward when booting using CSM.

Samsung has told Ubuntu that the kernel’s Samsung-laptop driver is the prime suspect as this driver has previously had caused problems for other Samsung laptop owners when booting Linux using UEFI.

Intel developer Matt Fleming posted two kernel changes for discussion a week ago which ensures that the Samsung driver is not activated if Linux is started using UEFI.

But these two patches have not been merged into Linux yet.

According to Canonical’s Steve Langasek, Samsung developers are developing a firmware update to prevent the problem and have been at it for several weeks.

He suggests that users should start Ubuntu installation on Samsung notebooks from an up-to-date daily image, in which his team has taken precautions to prevent the problem from happening. 

Linux on a Microsoft Surface is highly unlikely

The Open Sauce community apparently licked its collective lips when Microsoft put out its Surface tablet.

The theory was that while the Surface was built by the hated enema of all Open Saucers it was based around the ARM chip. Therefore it should be easy to free from its closed source shackles and install with Linux goodness.

If they succeeded, then there would be an attractive bit of hardware running Linux.

According to Linux expert Matthew Garrett, the problem was that the Surface had locked-down firmware that will only run signed binaries. Normally ARM chips do not have it, and it was run  using an existing standard (UEFI Secure Boot).

Writing in his bog, Vole provides a signing service for UEFI binaries, the thought was that all you need to do to get around this restriction would be to take the existing Linux bootloader, signing it and then booting.

However, it appears that Microsoft already thought of that one. Vole’s signing service signs binaries using a different key to the one used to sign Windows, and the Surface doesn’t carry that key.

To get Linux to run on the Surface, a developer would have to find a flaw in the firmware and using that to run arbitrary code.

This should cause the same problems with x86, Garrett wrote, but Microsoft does not enforce it mostly because it would mean that any third party expansion hardware will then fail. With x86 PCIe or Expresscard slots need to have this key.

It seems that Open Saucers are a bit shocked by the fact that Microsoft has done its closed source walled garden of delights rather well with the Surface. 

MoD lost over 200 computers in the last year

The Ministry of Defence had 206 computers stolen in the past year, along with a number of BlackBerry phones and other mobile devices, department figures have revealed.

As well as the loss of computers, 34 BlackBerry devices went missing during the financial year 2011-12, as well as 24 other mobile devices.

The number of PCs and laptops being lost or stolen from the department is lower than the previous year, when 371 hardware items went missing.  There was an increase in the number of mobiles that were unaccounted for, including BlackBerry devices used by civil servants and Ministers for departmental business.  

MoD minister Mark Francois said in a statement that the department is looking at new ways to prevent the theft or loss of devices.

“The Ministry of Defence takes any theft of, loss of, attacks on, or misuse of, its information, networks and associated media storage devices very seriously and has robust procedures in place to mitigate against and investigate such occurrences,” the Conservative MP said. 
“Furthermore, new processes, instructions and technological aids are continually being implemented to mitigate human errors and raise the awareness of every individual in the Department.”

TechEye has approached the MoD to find out whether this includes the use of device tracking software, but is yet to receive a reply.   

Francois added that there has been no reason to believe that any sensitive information has been accessed as a result of the theft or loss of IT equipment.

“Following thorough investigations, the Joint Security Co-ordination Centre has not received any evidence that demonstrates that the information has been compromised,”  he said.

“A significant number of the incidents involve information that had been encrypted to government standards and, while the data was lost, the chance of compromise of encrypted information is deemed to be minimal,” Francois said.

Stable Linux kernel is bugged by idiot on a bike

Linux kernel developer Theodore “Ted” Ts’o has found what he has dubbed a “Lance Armstrong” inside the code.

A Lance Armstrong is a reference to a US cyclist who managed to avoid being fingered for doping. In Linux terms it means code that never fails a test, but evidence shows it’s not behaving as it should.

According to Ts’o  it all started when a user had reported a problem that caused them to lose data.

The kernel developers found a fault in the ext4 implementation that was introduced with the release of Linux 3.6.2, just over a week ago.

But the data corruption bug was hard to track down because it only happened when a system is rebooted twice a short period of time and when the file system’s starting block is zero.

The kernel apparently truncates its journal when the file system is unmounted so quickly and does not get a chance to be written completely.

When the hardware is booted the first time the ext4 driver can recover the journal which will not lead to any ill effects. But if it happens twice then data from the newer mount session will get written to the journal before data from the older one which leads to a bloody mess.

So users who shutdown and boot their laptop instead of hibernating them were likely to be hit by this bug more often.

Ts’o, who works for Google, was a little embarrassed he did not spot the bug earlier and has released a patch. But this did not appear to work so Ts’o has now published a second follow-up patch.

But the mess is not completely over – the code was also backported to the stable 3.5.x branch of the kernel. It is currently not known when it will be fixed. Apparently Linux developers are working to fix it. 

British laptop designer, Bill Moggridge, signs off

The man who gave the world the first modern laptop with a foldable design has died.

Bill Moggridge, a British industrial designer came up with an early portable computer with the flip-open model that is common today. He was 69 and had been fighting cancer.

According to the BBC, Moggridge designed the Grid Compass, a computer with a keyboard and a yellow-on-black display.

You could pick one up for £5,091 in 1982. The device was encased in magnesium, and it was used by the US military. It was also aboard the shuttle Discovery in 1985.

Grid Systems Corp won the patent because it had a clamshell design with a foldable screen hinged toward the back of the machine.

Moggridge worked it out when he realised the flat-panel screen, keyboard and circuitry could fit snugly together.

Before that, portable computers were huge and weighed more than 9kg.

Moggridge wrote the books Designing Interactions, which was published in 2006, and Designing Media, published in 2010.

Handbags drawn in dawn war in the Linux world

As the Gnome interface becomes about as popular as scurvy, the makers of the system have been looking for someone to blame.

Already top former  Gnome Miguel de Icaza leaked a story that Apple was replacing Linux on the desktop, which was dutifully reported by the Tame Apple Press  now it appears he is going for the creator of Linux itself, Linus Torvalds.

Writing in his own bog, Miguel de Icaza waded into St Linus claiming that it was his attitude which prevented  Linux moving to the desktop.

“Linus, despite being a low-level kernel guy, set the tone for our community years ago when he dismissed binary compatibility for device drivers. The kernel people might have some valid reasons for it, and might have forced the industry to play by their rules, but the Desktop people did not have the power that the kernel people did. But we did keep the attitude,” he moaned.

He claimed that it was the kernel people who forced them to write crappy code, because they were changing things too quickly and were doing too much to support the best distributors.

“This killed the ecosystem for third party developers trying to target Linux on the desktop. You would try once, do your best effort to support the “top” distro or if you were feeling generous “the top three” distros. Only to find out that your software no longer worked six months later,” de Icaza muttered.

Needless to say Torvalds was not going to put up with that sort of thing. He dashed off an angry missive claiming that he was responsible for Gnome going badly was laughable.

Right the way through the development of the Linux kernel was the rule that you never break any external interfaces. He said that the fact that Linux breaks internal interfaces that are not visible to userland is totally irrelevant, and a total red herring, he snarled.

“I wish the gnome people had understood the real rules inside the kernel. Like “you never break external interfaces” – and “we need to do that to improve things” is not an excuse,” Torvalds said.

Torvalds said that the reason the Linux kernel has been so successful was the fact that he didn’t have a huge vision of where he wanted to force people to go.

While he wanted “unix” he didn’t want to enforce any particular world-view outside of that generic pattern.

Gnome however had a “we know better” mentality, and it forced Corba/.NET down your throat whether you like it or not. It was also particularly nasty if people complained saying that they were “against progress, and cannot handle change”.

Torvalds said that Gnomes were in total denial about what their problem really is and were blaming everybody except themselves.

De Icaza puffed that his involvement with Gnome stopped about five years ago, so it is unfair to the Gnome guys to attach my position to their project.

But he claimed that the fact that kernel guys ruled Linux did stuff up everything for the rest.

He said that Torvalds had a strong personality, and so do a lot of the people that surround him and like it or not, that influenced the attitudes of people.

“My take is that you are brilliant, clever and funny, and you can also be mean and harsh. Many people tried to imitate you, but they were neither brilliant, clever or funny. They just turn out to be mean and harsh and this attitude spread on the mailing lists,” he wrote.

He agreed that when it came to CORBA, both the KDE guys and GNOME had it wrong and the same applied to .NET. 

Dell gets back into Linux in the US

Tin box maker Michael Dell has decided to give the Linux laptop a second chance in the former British colony of Virgina.

Dell has launched Project Sputnik in the US which graduated from Dell’s internal incubator program into a real product.

Project lead Barton George has confirmed to TechCrunch that Dell will sell a special “developer edition” of its XPS13 Ultrabook after summer.

Each Ultrabook will come pre-loaded with Ubuntu and will not be allowed to dual boot Windows. If you must have dual booting then you will have to buy the Windows version of the Ultrabook and then install Ubuntu.

George said that the developer version will be the high end configuration of the XPS13, with 4GB of RAM, an Intel Core i7 processor and a 256GB solid state hard drive. While Dell sells this for $1,499 the Ubuntu version will be a bit cheaper.

Dell dumped Linux in 2010 saying that it was too confusing to average users and was not reaching the right audience. This was only really a problem in the US, as Dell was selling a lot of Ubuntu laptops outside the land of the free where they are not so easily confused.

What differs is that Project Sputnik is more for power users and these tend to know what they are doing. 

Dell sells Ubuntu computers in India

Tinman Dell is elbowing its way into India by pushing Dell laptops wih Ubuntu Linux under the bonnet.

Canonical and Dell have announced that Dell laptops preloaded with Ubuntu will be sold in 850 retail outlets in India.

The move is supposed to be Dell’s push for mobile computing in India. The idea is that Ubuntu will give Indian businesses a cheap PC with cheap software installed by default.

Canonical’s CEO, Jane Silber, announced the deal at the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network’ event in New Delhi.

She said that it would make computing more accessible and provide millions of people with the opportunity of an affordable, high-quality computing.

The announcement was short on mentioning Microsoft by name. Dell, which has long been Microsoft’s chum, was keen to emphasis that it was an “alternative.”

Sameer Garde, President, Dell India, said Ubuntu was compelling mobile or in-home computing proposition, with the benefit of Dell quality and security.

The retail outlets will display Ubuntu-branded marketing collateral in-store, with trained staff explaining the advantages of Ubuntu to consumers.

The machines, including the new Inspiron 14R and new Inspiron 15R, will be available with Ubuntu pre-installed from 21 June.

Dell has not had much luck selling Linux machines, but the fact that they are cheaper was always seen as a way of getting into developing markets. 

Never mind Linux on the desktop – what about on laptops?

If some weird and geeky reincarnation of Muddy Waters were to sing today “I’ll Put a Penguin On Your Lap” I’d probably say “thanks, but no thanks”. I wouldn’t want to cook my internal organs by Penguin Exposure.

With the introduction of the APU by AMD, which integrates a CPU and a GPU core on the same die, the netbook and laptop market has seen a small invasion of decent, sometimes great, kit powered by AMD’s C-series and E-series APUs. These offer a much better performance / value ratio compared to the previous generations, where the CPU and the GPU were two separate power-hungry, yet measly, things.

Sometimes, certainly more frequently than in the past, you can also find some of these notebooks without Windows pre-installed, thus saving another €80 or so.

So, if you’re lucky and a little careful about the specs, you can easily end up with a netbook sporting a nice 720p screen, only slightly larger and heavier than a tablet, for one half of the price. Oh, and with the capability to, say, develop & edit some RAW photos on the road, not just limited to Angry Birds or The Next Big Fad.

That same ‘book can also come in handy for long train rides or flights, when with a pair of earbuds you can isolate yourself from that noisy family sitting next to you and watch hours of your favorite TV show in HD – you did buy a six-cell battery ‘book, didn’t you?

The problem is – and please keep in mind that I’m talking about a product more than a year old – that simply slapping Ubuntu or Fedora on your Windows-free ‘book, simply won’t cut it. AMD releases updated, proprietary graphic drivers every single month (the Catalyst suite, called “the binary blob” by OSS purists). You’d imagine that in a year, without having to release any source code to anyone, it would have had all the time in the world to come up with something that can fully take advantage of those two great cores, sitting cozily on the same die, right?

Wrong. Even compared to an unfinished product such as Windows 8, both Developer and Consumer Preview, the performance and power drain delta is, simply put, immense. On Linux, HD Flash video is simply out of the question, while HD local content is barely viewable, if you can stand the “liquid redraw” effect that often occurs.

Heat and noise levels, inversely proportional to how long your battery will actually last, are uncomfortably high on Linux. Every Kernel version, every Catalyst version – I’ve tried them all in one year. On Windows, your favourite HD local content will barely stir the fan. Otherwise the general performance is snappy enough for a €240 netbook.

In one final attempt to give the Penguin another chance, I doubled the RAM bringing it up to 4GB, and replaced the slow HD with a smaller but far snappier SSD. Alas, as Led Zeppelin said, the song remains the same. In the process, my netbook has become a much more expensive little thing, thanks to the upgrades. Or, to put it in another way, it is still a warm brick, but now it cost me a lot more.

Never mind the infamous Year of Linux On the Desktop that never comes: on the AMD APU front, especially in its portable incarnation, the Penguin doesn’t stand the remotest of chances.

Finally – and sadly – realising this, last week I capitulated at last and bought a Windows 7 licence. And now I’m a happy Borg drone! And my first victim has been a cute little Penguin.