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Vespa: My Pink Dell Mini9 w/ Ubuntu

I’ve wanted a pink laptop for ages, this Christmas a few of my friends got together and pitched in to buy me the pink Dell Mini9 I’d been drooling over for months. Wow! Thanks again guys, you rock.

First off, here are the specs. Which makes it twice as powerful with many more features than my current laptop.

As a whole? I love this netbook. It’s fast, it’s light, it’s silent, it’s pink and coming preloaded with Ubuntu 8.04 was quite nice. I named it Vespa (after Princess Vespa from Spaceballs). The screen is 8.9″ viewable and has a default resolution of 1024×600 which makes for a very usable amount of space, and the fact that it’s backlit makes the display itself brilliant and clear. The touchpad is appropriately sensitive and nice to use. When I close the lid it suspends properly. Out of the box everything works, I just tested my camera with skype this afternoon (it also came with a program called “cheese” that the camera works with).

As you can see above, it comes with a little book about Ubuntu published by Dell. It’s copyrighted so I can’t scan and share the contents without permission, but it’s a cute little 20 page booklet that goes over the basics of how to get going with Ubuntu. Dell customizes Gnome a bit, but switching back to regular Gnome is as easy as a menu option to “Switch Desktop Mode” (you choose either “Dell” or “Classic” Desktop).

Now that all that “Yes, it’s awesome!” talk is out of the way, I do have a few gripes, some of which are pretty major.

The keyboard (Ubuntu casebadge is my addition, alas, Dell has no Ubuntu sticker for their Ubuntu Mini9s):

Honestly? As a whole it doesn’t bother me. I’m used to hunting for insert and home keys on a laptop keyboard. Having the tilde and pipe and others, and all f-keys usable via the function key hasn’t annoyed me nearly as much as I feared it might. It’s all quite usable except for one thing – the location of the apostrophe. Rather than being between the enter and ;: key, it’s next to the space bar and the enter key is next to the ;: – this means that I’m happily typing along and keep hitting the enter key to enter an apostrophe, gah. I’ll probably get used to it, but it really was a poor design choice, maybe I’ll try some fancy key remapping to try and solve this.

Wireless worked out of the box, which was great. But while the machine is packed with Intel parts, and then they had to go and do this:

03:00.0 Network controller: Broadcom Corporation BCM4310 USB Controller (rev 01)

Broadcom? Why oh why!? I’ve already run into a bug where the wl module hangs upon sshing to other machines, which is a primary function for this netbook (I’m connected to at least 3 servers via ssh 24/7). I was able to find this bug, which they’ve released a fix for, but until I can snag that release, the problem is fixed via issuing this command each time I connect to a wireless network:

sudo iwpriv eth1 set_vlanmode 0

Which leads me to my next gripe… why don’t I have this fix on my Mini9? Because this machine ships with the “dell-mini.archive.canonical.com” sources.list which is not kept up to date with all security patches and fixes for Hardy. This is really quite worrying, and is making me seriously consider wiping the install and installing things myself, perhaps Xubuntu Intrepid – and fighting with it to get all the hardware working again, knowing that since restoration is via the Ubuntu 8.04 DVD + a drivers disk, that I’ll need a USB dvd-rom (or some other trickery) to restore to factory settings.

There are also a couple little things – like FireFox being covered with Yahoo! stuff, the default page is yahoo.com, there is a Yahoo! toolbar by default, the default search engine is Yahoo!. Easily turned off and changed, of course, but being in Linux for so long I’m not used to a fresh install so blatantly advertising like that (reminds me of AOL icons on the desktops of old Windows installs).

With the exception of the apostrophe and broadcom chipset, the issues are pretty much just software related. Tossing a vanilla install on here would be where I’d begin with an eeePC (ships with a version of Xandros I dislike) or an Aspire One (AFAIK only ships with Windows, which I wouldn’t use). Having the Mini9 shipped with a decent Ubuntu install where all the hardware works is great – if I really can’t be bothered to take the time to reinstall and fiddle with hardware, I really could go on with this factory install without too much headache (or heartache). Plus I’m happy to support Dell shipping with Ubuntu releases, I believe having big companies make steps like this is vital to the growth and success of Linux on the desktop. Hooray Mini9!

29 Comments

  • Juanjo

    My Acer Aspire One 110 came with a Linux called “Linpus” that is a heavily modified fedora core. You can install almost nothing before problems because of RPM dependency problems.

    I’ve installed a Foresight Linux Mobile and 95% works out of the box (I’ve not tested the card reader and other minor things, but the important stuff -wireless, atheros chip!!!- works like a charm).

    So overall I’m very satisfied with the Acer Aspire One, but it’s white and I think you can get it pink ;)

    Thanks you for your impressions about the Dell mini. It’s the first report I read from a Linux user.

  • Saint Peter

    I also have the mini 9, I got it a month ago. The original Ubuntu install didn’t last one week. The mini is now running Intrepid very happily and I would suggest you just do the same, everything works out of the box.

    One caveat however, my mini is white not pink, but I’m sure yours will work fine as well :-)

  • Jacob Hume

    I purchased one of these on Black Friday, and have had a very similar experience – like it quite a bunch, really miss the hyphen key being in a normal spot, etc.

    Also, I was just trying to SSH into my desktop last night, which kept hanging on authentication. I’ll try the fix you described in your post. Thanks a million, would have never found that out myself!!!

  • Zac

    Nice review. I would like to get one if they sell them in Australia. Brown for me to match my Ubuntu. :)

    It seems like Dell should of gone with a stock Ubuntu install, and maybe using the Ubuntu Netbook re-mix home screen, then have a CD containing drivers etc, and a booklet having instuctions to add Dell’s repository. Something like that. It seems, according to Saint Peter above, that Ubuntu 8.10 works out of the box.

  • Debianist

    Oh my… why there’s a fu**ing winblows key in that beautiful machine?

    Bad Dell, very bad.

  • Fabian Rodriguez

    Wow I wish I had friends like that!

    As a Mini 9 owner you’ll probably want to read this wiki page and subscribe to it:
    https://help.ubuntu.com/community/DellMini9

    The lack of updates is also a reported bug:
    https://bugs.edge.launchpad.net/dell-mini/+bug/301489

  • Fabian Rodriguez

    Oh and BTW all the docs that came with your Mini are available here:
    http://support.dell.com/support/edocs/systems/ins910/en/index.htm

  • Kevin Lange

    Thanks for the fix for SSH, that was driving me crazy after I had switched my wireless network to a separate subnet and couldn’t SSH into my server (doesn’t look like it affects the local subnet).

  • Frihet

    On the Mini 9 theme — I bought a Yellow Sylvania g Meso with Ubuntu NBR. It worked fine out of the box — and it has no MS flag key. I have found nothing that won’t work. I’ve installed several aps from the Ubuntu repositories. No problems.

  • Brady Merriweather

    I think Mark Shuttleworth needs to sit back down with them at the Dell & persway them to either work more closely in relation to security patches, or state they can do it better. This is a REAL true test to the public, and if Dell neglects it as they obviously are, the appeal of a possible switcher will get the wrong impression from a Dell OEM. That as Ubuntu as a product headliner promoting the device is Critical for both parties.

  • Hub

    Manufacturers never learn. Using a Broadcom chipset on Linux laptop, that’s the dumbest idea.

    BTW it is believed that shipping the machine with the binary wireless driver installed is a violation of the GPL.

  • matthew

    Very nice! Congratulations. You have some great friends! :)

  • Alasdair Lumsden

    I got a Dell Mini 9 for Christmas as well.

    My radio does not work at all, I have to use a dongle to get a connection. :( I wanted to like it. I thought “A Dellbuntu will be a good idea. All the hardware will work without hacks, that will be why Dell chose that hardware.” My mistake was thinking that they were competent.

    I do love it though :)

  • Sarah

    Must admit it was a toss up between a mini9 and an MSI Wind clone; ended up with a Medion Akoya from Sainsburys ^_^ If you’re lacking a USB CD drive I’d suggest following the Ubuntu USB install guide to generate a USBKey to boot from and install a vanilla flavour on there.

  • Douglas

    So, how did you get Skype installed on yours?

  • pleia2

    @Sarah Yep, that’s the plan for a vanilla install, the concern was if I wanted to put it back to factory settings and so HAD to use the DVD that was shipped with it.

    @Douglas Downloaded the .deb from the skype website, then installed it with:

    sudo dpkg -i –force-architecture skype-debian_2.0.0.72-1_i386.deb

  • LinuxLover

    For the record, Juanjo, dependency problems aren’t an RPM thing, and actually happen in Ubuntu and Debian, as well. Synaptic is just much less “in your face” about it and they’re a lot better with the repository than Linpus. Also, dependency hell has nothing to do with the package type at all. Just try installing an application in Ubuntu with dpkg (Debian equivalent of RPM) and see what happens. It’s Apt that takes care of that, and other package management apps such as URPMI do just as good a job of it in an RPM environment.

    PCLinuxOS use Apt and Synaptic, just as Ubuntu, and is RPM based. I can’t tell you the last time I’ve gotten a dependency problem with it. My memory doesn’t go back that far…

    Most Linux users will dump the factory distro and put their favorite one on there. Ubuntu, being as popular as it is, may be the exception. However, Xandros (Eee PC) and Linpus (Aspire One)? Does anyone out there actually use either of these? I thought these distros were all but dead.

  • LeeNukes

    Urgh, I’d have it wiped and do a fresh install instantly, sounds like its gone Windows way with all the Yahoo nonsense.

  • gn0r33

    Upgrading to intrepid will fix the broadcom issues. something else to consider is adding the Ubuntu Remix packages:

    http://www.canonical.com/projects/ubuntu/nbr

    This works nicely on my Fujitsu lifebook u810.

  • andybleaden

    If you are worried about having to reinstall the iso image from your dvd there is another alternative assuming you have a usb pen. Forstly go to canonical and download the iso iamge for your system which I assume is still hardy? Go to your synaptic manager and seek out usb-creator which is an excellent easy to use live pen drive device which can you can use if you system goes pear shaped. You can make it persistent also so it can be used on other pcs should you need and store your profile.
    Click here for a (k)ubuntu guide (use synaptic instead of adept etc etc)

    http://kubuntuforums.net/forums/index.php?topic=3089474.msg161209#msg161209

    Hope that helps

  • andybleaden

    ps also have a look at the ubuntu mini9 help page

    https://help.ubuntu.com/community/DellMini9

  • oz_ollie

    You can use a new feature in Ubuntu 8.10 to install Ubuntu to a USB thumb drive, but you can select any Ubuntu ISO or CD. Theoretically this means you could make one with the Dell Ubuntu DVD for simple “disaster” recovery back to a “factory” install. I don’t have a Dell Mini9 because I have an original Asus Eee PC 701 4G and an external USB DVD burner, but I’m still interested if this works.

    You can also do this with a standard Ubuntu ISO and then add your own packages so you may be able to add the Broadcom support before actually installing to the Dell Mini9.

    HTH – a Happy and Prosperous New Year to everyone :D

  • davo

    Call me cynical, but I’ve always had a theory about Dell/MS/Linux. I think Dell has an agreement with MS that Dell will only install crippled versions of Linux. There will always be some nagging problems. That way Linux will get a bad name and users will be taught a lesson the hard way. That lesson is, stay with Windows and you won’t have problems. Surely a company the size of Dell has the technical expertise to avoid the kinds of problems mentioned in this article, if they wanted to.

  • Darren

    To get updates add the Ports repository:
    deb http://ports.ubuntu.com/ubuntu-ports/ hardy main restricted universe multiverse
    deb http://ports.ubuntu.com/ubuntu-ports/ hardy-updates main restricted universe multiverse
    deb http://ports.ubuntu.com/ubuntu-ports/ hardy-security main restricted universe multiverse

    The latest Broadcom driver is also in the proposed repo but I haven’t tested it yet.

    I am not sure why these updates are not mirrored to the Dell repositories hosted by Canonical but anyway…

  • Juanjo

    LinuxLover: I wasn’t blaming the RPM package format. I use CentOS in several production systems and there’s no problem with them.

    The problem was the Linpus customization of the Fedora core 8.

  • Francisco

    Soon I will recive my RED mini9 (2gb ram, 32 hd ssd, 1,3Mp camera, Buffalo extDVD, Screen Protector(the lest two from Amazon)). I was waithing for somting from Apple at MacWorld but no Netbooks from them. I come from MAC and I need HELP with Ubuntu. I’m also evaluating intalin OX10.5.6 on. But I dont Know yet. HELP ME. With Ideas. (p.s. By the way, they do Ubuntu for Doomies or Idiots? I qualify for both.)
    Thanks to All.

  • Bradley Thomson

    the design of the MSI Wind is similar to the basic netbooks you can find around. the price point of this netbook is cheaper than acer or dell netbooks :

  • Kim

    Just thought you might like to know someone is using your photo as their own.
    http://www.cafemom.com/photos/view.php?photo_id=13707647&ct=user

  • pleia2

    Thanks Kim! I’ll see what I can do to fix this.

    All my photos and content are licensed with a Creative Commons license and all I ask for is attribution so it’s unfortunate that someone stole it like this.

 




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