Tag Archives: laptops

iPad2 supersedes an ancient Xubuntu laptop PC

photo: Apple
This 80-something lady moved to an iPad.


e upgraded an ancient Dell laptop (333 MHz Pentium, 256MB RAM, 4.7 GB disk) from its original Windows 98 to Xubuntu 8.04 in May 2009. (Resurrect old hardware with Linux) It worked well, for such a wimpy piece of hardware. It was destined for use by a lady who’s over 80 years old and non-technical. Initial reports were positive.

This weekend I learned that she has replaced this feeble laptop with a new Apple iPad 2. Seems like a smart move to me.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Increase battery runtime on your laptop.

Hibernate (instead of Standby) saves precious battery power.

When you shut down your Windows XP laptop, you’re presented with a choice: Standby, Turn Off, or Restart. Standby is convenient because it quickly shuts down your computer and resumes again when you next switch it on. Standby stores everything that you’re working on in memory, shuts down the hard drive and peripherals, but keeps memory and its refresh circuitry alive while the computer is in Standby. If you have plenty of battery reserve, that’s fine.

However, if you have a netbook with a small battery and need to extend its runtime, you can choose Hibernate instead of Standby. When the familiar Standby, Turn Off, or Restart choice appears, press and hold down the Shift key: now you’ll be able to choose Hibernate.

Hibernate is similar to Standby, but instead of writing your data and executing programs to memory, it writes them to your hard drive, and then shuts down the computer, without keeping anything alive in memory — which reduces battery drain. When you next start your laptop, it will load your data from the hard drive, which will take a few seconds longer than restarting after Standby.

On netbooks with small batteries, Hibernate will help you maximize battery runtime.

But my computer doesn’t present me with a choice to hibernate!

If, when you press the Shift key, you don’t see the Hibernate choice, go to Control Panel. Click on Power Options. Within Power Options, click on the Hibernate tab. Check the Enable hibernation box and press the OK button at the bottom of the Power Options properties sheet.

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Microsoft and Intel demo new portable computers

The demand for portable computing power just keeps growing.
Two leaders in the microcomputer industry have recently demonstrated prototypes that may include features that one day we’ll regard as essential.

Microsoft demonstrated a prototype portable tablet computer that it’s named Courier. It looks like it will meet the needs of netbook users who want something smaller and smartphone users who want something larger. Its user interface, once its clam-shell case is opened, looks very iPhone-like with a touch-screen . . . in fact, it opens like a book. In general, one screen plays the role of keyboard while the other is a display — but these roles are dynamic. Some of the handy Apple iPhone’s finger gestures are the same on the Courier.


Intel’s Tangent Bay looks more like a traditional laptop PC, but adds 3 small displays just above the keyboard and in front of the laptop’s hinge.   

Neither model is available for sale . . . yet.

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Resurrect old hardware with Linux

Dell Inspiron 3500
Xubuntu desktop
Say goodbye to virus, malware, and license problems.

A customer came to me with a low-mileage 1999 vintage laptop which she wished to use for occasional web browsing. (specs: Dell Inspiron 3500. 333 MHz CPU, 64 MB Ram, 4.7 GB disk. Every spec was about one-tenth of today’s PCs!). It was running Windows 98 Second Edition. Microsoft stopped providing Windows 98 updates years ago, and Windows 98 is now very vulnerable to attack. Worse, today’s anti-virus and anti-spyware programs won’t run on it. Shouldn’t she just scrap the laptop?

A very limited resource laptop, but Xubuntu runs fine

Since the laptop was in like-new condition, we decided to extend its life by injecting some 21st century blood into it. We topped up its memory slots with the maximum RAM (a mere 256 MB!) and replaced Windows 98 with Xubuntu 8.10. It’s not Microsoft Windows, but to a user it appears similar, and includes a word processor, spreadsheet, graphics / photo editor, and Mozilla Firefox web browser. I’ve not been able to get its onboard soundcard to work, but everything else works.

There are three big upsides to any Linux-based desktop operating system when compared to MS Windows:
  • It frees the user from constantly worrying about Windows Updates to patch vulnerabilties
  • No anti-virus or anti-spyware programs are needed (Yay! )
  • There are no Windows licensing headaches.
A potential downside is that Windows applications won’t run on Linux without the assistance of either Wine or running a copy of Windows XP within a virtual machine.
If you have a tired desktop or laptop PC — especially one without a legitimate Windows license — consider breathing new life into it with some form of Linux. Most are available for free, such as http://www.xubuntu.org/ I tried Damn Small Linux (too minimal for this case), Puppy Linux (it was okay, but just barely), and Xubuntu 8.04, 8.10, and 9.04. Xubuntu 9.04 added some features but did something to slow response to user inputs. I settled on Xubuntu 8.10. (Xubuntu imposes a lighter load on the hardware than Ubuntu because it has a leaner desktop.)

Try it before you install it

You can first just boot with the Xubuntu (or Ubuntu) Live CD, to see whether it’s acceptable and runs okay on your hardware. (Of course it’ll be slow when booting off the CD-ROM drive.) If so, you can install it on your hard drive from the same CD-ROM.

Oh — one caveat: Xubuntu and its siblings may not install without problems on all hardware. I’m now fighting to get it to install on a 1.1 GHz AMD Athlon desktop PC — I have no idea why it won’t install on this system, yet it installed with almost no problems on the old laptop. Let me know of your Linux adventures, please.
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Software helps recover your stolen laptop

I like the idea of having software installed on a laptop so that if (or when) it’s stolen, the laptop will assist in its own recovery. There are a number of commercial packages that will do this, and now there’s an open-source alternative that’s available at no cost.

One commercial product that’s available in a 90-day trial version at no cost is Laptop Retriever from Front Door Software. It will use a stolen laptop’s Wi-Fi network adapter to, in the background, sniff out nearby Wi-Fi networks and use them to report its position and attempt to locate the thief. It also allows some remote control of the laptop, including hard drive lockout,  by the theft victim. It’s priced at $30 for a 3-year license. There may be a free single laptop license for students. This article describes how it works: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/news/2008/may/11/software-locks-down-stolen-laptop/  Publisher’s website: http://www.frontdoorsoftware.com/

Other commercial products include The CyberAngel (http://www.thecyberangel.com), PhoneHome (http://www.pcphonehome.com), and Lojack For Laptops (http://www.lojackforlaptops.com).

Q: Dude, where’s my laptop?
A: The burglar stole it.

Open-source alternative
The open-source product, called Adeona, is developed by grad students at the University of Washington and is available in Windows, Mac, and Linux versions without cost. Read its FAQ: http://adeona.cs.washington.edu/faq.html I like the feature that allows its Mac version to use the Macbook’s built-in camera to capture images of the stolen laptop’s user (presumably the thief) and upload them to a server that may be accessed by the rightful owner. It lacks the remote hard-drive locking and Google mapping features of some commercial products, but its price ($0) is right.

Inside the Macbook Air

I recently mentioned that neither the iPhone nor the Macbook Air contains a user replaceable battery. The people at iFixit have examined the inner workings of the new MacBook Air. It required the removal of 19 tiny screws to remove the battery (which is by far the largest internal component). I’d guess that eventually we’ll see a supply of aftermarket batteries for both the iPhone and the MacBook Air. Just don’t expect to easily replace either battery.