Sunday, April 02, 2006

The saga of the misbehaving laptop continues

I did about 6 solid hours of work today. This is unheard of for me for a Sunday. And I might have been able to squeeze in another hour if it wasn't for...

My misbehaving laptop. Remember this story? Today it froze three times, two of them happening in a row. I was afraid for a moment that it was indeed dead, that the class notes I had been working on (and saving often) would be irretrievable and that I would have to redo them from memory. Luckily, I did get it to restart, finally, and the first thing I did was MAKE A BACKUP. Just in case.

In addition to the weird freezing issues, it's also starting to not play nice with the programs I use most often. Mainly email. I use Thunderbird, and thought the problems I was having were server issues, but now I'm not so sure.

I think it's time to bite the bullet and get a new laptop...which means I finally have to decide: Windows or Mac?? (Rest assured that I will consider all the helpful comments from the last post on this issue!) It seems like it will come down to whether I want to dual-boot Linux and Windows, or spend a bit extra for the Mac and have all the Unix-y stuff alongside the nice intuitive interface.

I feel a bit bad, abandoning Linux on the laptop. I've had a Linux laptop of one kind or another for about 8 years now. I did it at first because I was using Linux on my home desktop system and at work and liked it, and wanted to see if it could run on the laptop. At the time, it was still not the prettiest nor easiest thing in the world to use, but I thought that it showed promise. "Just wait a few years, and this will be great!" I thought. And Linux has come a long way since then.

But part of me is sick and tired of wrestling with it to make it do...well, almost anything on my laptop. It took herculean effort to get my wireless card to work with more than one wireless network, and even now, it doesn't work perfectly. (For instance, I have to completely obliterate my "home" profile, including the encryption keys, if I want to use my machine on a wireless network away from home. It took me almost 2 years to figure that one out.) And I still remember the conference I went to last year, where the laptop *completely died* while I was trying to get it to connect to the hotel's network on the first day. (By some miracle, we got it to start back up once I returned, thank god!) There are certain pieces of software that I would really like to use---some of them relevant to my research, no less---that I cannot for the life of me install. Now, I'm no dummy, and I am very stubborn, so believe me when I say that I've tried. I'd rather spend my time and energy wrestling with research problems, not with my laptop!

I realize that switching systems is not going to solve all of my problems. I will still no doubt have problems installing software, or getting certain things to work. But my hope is that the day-to-day things, like connecting to wireless networks, accessing audio and video (don't get me started on how poorly Linux does on this), checking email, and so on, are easier with either the Mac or PC laptop, and not such a colossal struggle. It will seem like a luxury to start up my laptop and have things *just work* from the outset!

The timing on this is not so good either: this is a busy week, made busier by guests coming in mid-week. But I will have to make time, because I really don't know how much longer I can keep this laptop going before it just stops altogether.


Traveler, not tourist said...

You should buy a Mac. You can do EVERYTHING you can on Linux (I've used Linux for 3 years before I bought a Mac), and everything is so easy. Especially, you'll never have to worry about installation, connecting to the network or e-mail. Mac wins the competition hands down.

There are some Linux programs I'm used to (Kile for Eg.) and KDE runs seamlessly on the Mac. So you're not losing out on anything. Mac also has real cool programs for making diagrams and publishing. You can chat in Math (there's a built in Latex engine). Try doing that on any other platform. I could go on and on, but you should seriously consider a Mac.

You'll still have issues with installing software from source like you had on Linux. Some packages give weird error messages, that will take forever to understand. But that's something that happens with Linux too.

Vito said...

Yeah, definitely mac. Especially if you want things to "just work". Windows has gotten a lot better, and I'll admit that it handles some things (like RW as opposed to R discs), but frankly it's so much easier to do things like burn a CD of data (or music) on the mac, that we just don't do it on my wife's PC laptop.

angrygrad said...

If you use a Linux and are debating between a PC or a Mac, Mac is the way to go. I successfully transitioned from a Linux Workstation to a Mac with very litte trouble. It has all the compilers and good programming support. I have used Latex and the assorted tex family without trouble. Plus it has the ubiquitous Office. There's lots of good stuff on if you do end up using it and are looking for tips.

Stefan said...

You could, of course, get the Windows laptop, and use Cygwin ( ) for all the "Unix-y stuff". Not to say that Macs aren't great, but I find that my university doesn't have software licenses for the Mac versions of Matlab and Mathematica, for starters...

Tristram Brelstaff said...

The random freezes that you describe sound very like some memory problems that I had a year or two ago. Have you tried replacing your RAM card? You could also try running Memtest86.

Jane said...

traveler, thanks for the hints! It looks like most of what I'd use is either available natively or via ports; there's maybe a handful of things I'd have to install from source, but as you point out, it can't be any worse than installing from source on Linux! :)

vito, I was also amazed at how easy it was to burn a CD on a Mac the first time I did it...I'm so used to wrestling with Linux (though it's gotten much better lately).

angrygrad, I will definitely check out that site!

stefan, the license thing does worry me too, but it sounds like I should be able to get Mac versions if I go that route (and it looks like Matlab releases are somewhat consistent across platforms? not sure what the typical lag is, if any). And I have Cygwin installed on my token Windows machine at school and am playing around with it, just in case I end up doing the PC thing. (cygwin is a neat "little" program, I must admit.)

tristan, I hadn't thought about it being a RAM issue---I just figured motherboard immediately. Plus the other day it seemed like it froze because of overheating. But I'll look at the RAM angle and see if that's plausible. Thanks for the tip!

Need to learn to say no said...

I've been using a Dell laptop with SuSE linux, dual boot + win4lin program (<$100, highly recommended). I've had occasional freezes, yet memtest showed no errors and a motherboard replacement had no effect. I ultimately figured out that the less stress I put on the windowing system, the less it crashes, so nowadays I use icewm instead of kde, emacs -nw instead of a new window, etc., and I can't remember the last freeze. I've suspected that using a different X window implementation (rather than old version of xfree86) would solve the problem, but I've never taken the effort to pursue it further.