Last updated: 1 August
2003 -- addendum March 2005
My trials with Linux on the Latitude X200
I bought a Latitude because it was really really light, and because
have a great reputation for service, and used to install linux for you,
are slightly less evil than all the people who wouldn't dream of it (I
I also bought a media slice with a floppy & a CD RW --
thought about the DVD, but figured I could buy a writable USB one for
they were asking, and CDs might still be useful.
I should say that Dell's service reputation seems well deserved.
in Bath, England, when my backplane failed in May or so they came out
fixed it within 24 hours! No data loss.
RedHat 9 Executive Summary (July 2003)
I currently have absolutely everything working as far as I can tell --
including X, wireless, the media slice, power management, the works.
can get the vast majority of the scoop from HvR's page.
Here are the quick steps:
For a little more gory detail see Trial 5 below.
- To get linux on a dual-boot with XP, I installed linux (wiping
partitioned the drive, installed windows (which wiped linux), then
linux. I don't recommend doing this, it just sort of happened
below.) Also note you can't do this with the XP disk Dell gives
that disk fully "restores" your hard disk. You need a proper
- I installed RedHat 9. Everything worked except for sound,
DHCP for DNS, and wireless.
- Lucky me: a friend
installed alsa (here are some instructions
by him) dhcp-3.0, kernel-source-2.4.20-19.9, and xmms-mp3-1.2.7-21
- I found HvR's
page and did the sound thing twice & it worked. To get
wireless working, I had to set the channel & ESSID right (duh!)
SuSE Executive Summary (March 2003)
I currently have X, USB, wireless, conventional ethernet, and most
but not all sound working. I am using SuSE 8.1. I've got
to the floppy on my media slice now (just 'cause SuSE got better!), but
still haven't got access to my media slice cdrom, nor do I have power
management working. I do have Windows XP running in a small
partition as an alternative
boot, but I did this by reinstalling both windows and then linux.
Here's how to get as far along as I am:
Here's the SuSE
download page and their FTP ReadMe.
Below is far more information than you probably want, including why I'm
using Red Hat or Debian, links to other related pages, why I can't
buying SuSE (at least, not to
get them to give you support, though I
don't mind supporting them!)
and other silly things.
- Download & burn the SuSE ftp CD.
- Put it in your CD drive & boot the laptop somewhere where you
are plugged into an ethernet.
- Pick the 1024x780 option on the very first screen, before you
really boot: otherwise X will never work!
- SuSE will find almost all your devices, except for the networking one. So before
choosing install, choose kernel
modules (hardware drivers), then load
network card modules, then 3Com 3C59x.
Then exit back to the top menu and start installing.
- You will need an IP address for whatever mirror you are going to
use. Pick one from the
SuSE FTP mirror page,
then click through it until you find the directory "current" under your
You will need that full path (ending in "current") for the next
Having picked a server, use a real computer (unix, linux, OSX) to
the ftp server, this will print out the IP address. (There may be
way to do this from MS, but I don't know it.)
- Being a little bit of a
I haven't tried automatic partitioning yet, so I don't know if there
any gotchas there to look out for. Doing it by hand is very easy.
In general, the SuSE install system is a dream. Also, I am using
not KDE, because I think it's prettier. I am using grub as the
boot loader, that is default.
- Go ahead and enable 3D for your video. Accept the graphics
configuration (if you paid attention to point 3 above!)
X conventionally will crash your computer.
So if you want to exit it, do Ctrl-Alt-F3 , which normally in
gives you another console, but on your SuSE latitude will soon crash X
send you back to your original console. How's that for a
This works best if you first change
grub to initialize "safe" (that is, old-fashioned non-X) linux login
by default, rather than having it start up X prior to login. On
8.1 install with my configuration this means changing default
(from 0) in /boot/grub/menu.lst. To figure out the number you
to count down from the top of the list of boot options starting
with 0 until you get
to safe mode.
- Getting Wireless to Work
takes a little bit of doing, but it's getting easier. Yast will do most
but not all of the work. Go in to Network/Basic -> Network card
If it hasn't detected your card (it didn't mine in March 2003)
the configure button under "other (not detected)" and tell it you have
wireless pcmia card. Exit Yast, and then edit the first three
of /etc/sysconfig/network/wireless Make sure it has the "wireless" variable
"yes". Then just reboot your machine and it should all work.
Trial 1: Red Hat 8.0
- Don't buy
the Wiley book, thinking it's a Red Hat distribution. You
get no support and only 2 of 5 disks. In particular, you don't
FIPS, so you can't partition your disk (if you want to keep XP...)
- Don't buy
/ burn CDs anyway. Although RedHat boots off the first CD,
it then can't find the CD
drive to do the rest of the install! However, getting booted is a
start, so burn the first CD (buying from Red Hat turned out to be a bad
because either I paid $40 extra for import & shipping (from RH
or $40 extra for living in Europe (buying from RH Ireland).
- Anyway, FIPS
won't work! Argh, may as well have kept the Wiley book --
except of course for the
lack of tech support or being able to read the CDs. Anyway, if
`nice' person has preinstalled HPFS/NTFS instead of FAT partitions,
you are hosed & have to either buy a commercial partitioner or just
MS away (you can reinstall it later --- probably). Anyway,
did the latter with relish, not realizing how the trial would progress.
thought linux was getting easy to install??? (Note:
Apparently HPFS/NTFS is smaller & more secure than FAT, so
this is why my sysadmin
favours it. But I think Linux not only can't partition it but
read it. Further, Dell no longer sends
you the Microsoft disks! They just send some lame recovery
disk that wipes
& returns it to how you got it from the factory!!! So you
easily reinstall MS on a partition you leave for it (unless you happen
work for an institution with a site license & disks lying around.)
this legal??? Grrrr!!!)
- So I did an install off FTP. All seemed
to go fairly swimmingly, (although it couldn't probe the screen so used
old pseudo-graphics GUI with no mouse) -- except it couldn't
Yes, I tried rescue mode & running grub-install
things. The most annoying thing is that if you try to upgrade
than reinstall) it figures out the loader is screwed up & says it
fix it, but then afterwards says "no kernel modules updated, loader not
or some such. Even if you ask for more packages! It's like
only screen with only button, you have
to say "OK". Grrr...
- Reading around a bit, I found:
- someone else on either the Dell
`community forum' or google's
usenet archive that he only got this to work after a complete
reinstall -- which takes ages by FTP. But worse...
- if you write to the MBR on the `old' latitude C400 (which is
much like the X200) then apparently you can't get some saving thing to
So I tried to install grub or lilo on some other partition for a
but then I noticed that...
- in fact, in general, redhat has all kinds of `issues' with
latitude hard ware. But...
- this page,
seems to solve them, especially the special notes at the end
essentially said to me "Go SuSE"
Trial 2: SuSe 8.1
Here's the SuSE
download page and their FTP ReadMe.
- Again, I couldn't find SuSE for sale around me. And SuSE
give away CD iso's! Most annoying, since RedHat will, but can't
the CD player. SuSE can find the CD player, but won't give you
disks... (yes, I know they need to make money -- I'm happy to buy
but not to pay shipping charges for the privelage of waiting around for
post office! Especially since it's christmastime...)
- So to FTP again. SuSE does let you burn an install disk,
it then has no trouble finding. It's install program is much
than the (old, to be fair, but all I could get) one I was using on
- Be sure on the first screen to pick the
1024x780 monitor setting! Otherwise you'll get crap X much later!
- SuSE find almost all of the devices (accept what it
suggests). Except you have to install the network device before
doing the install. Fortunately you can go back back back when you
you need this, and SuSE actually remembers all the previous values you
in (unlike RedHat!) Choose kernel modules
(hardware drivers) and then load network
- The network card you need is currently the first one listed, for
the 3Com 3C920 chipset.
(SuSE lists this as `3Com 3C59x',
with no parameters. Anyway, I only found that information later
on the euro
dell latitude page. I found out which one to use by randomly
trying the various 3Com entries after having read the USA
dell latitude page, which says someting about `3Com 10/100', which
other brands do have that make as an option, but not 3Com.
- The first time I tried to install it, SuSE crashed -- it couldn't
any program packages to give me! It was also going to give me
then. So I had to bail & start over.
- From here on in I asked for the FTP site
not [whatever]/8.1 . I read
this somewhere online & since the second time worked better, never
- The next time it gave me the options (but now the booter was grub
I couldn't change it!) But then -- 100 packages returned errors,
all seemed to be around some library that wasn't installed.
I tried to reinstall, and my laptop hung! SuSE takes
of the on/off switch, so I had to unplug my laptop & remove it's
to get control back...
- So I tried to install again this time using Safe
Settings, while it was FTPing I wrote this page... now you
are in real time!
- I also gave up on not letting grub / the
bootloader install on MBR. So I wound up accepting the booter
- Oh my gosh -- it just rebooted itself! It's up! It
asked me for a login or anything -- but if you type "root" it just puts
in with no password. And at a bash prompt, not in X.
the OS for an old hacker like me (or any security hacker, hmmm...)
- If you try to run startx, it tells you a program to run (SaX2 or
which makes a kind of crappy X run. Apparently SuSE also can't
the monitor, so if you want to configure it, you have to do it by
LCD->1024x780 looks like it should work, but craps out! I saw
briefly doing the right thing, but then it started crapping out
is addressed by doing #3 above --yep, you guessed it, another install!
KDE looked too shiny to me, & I wanted my Gnome back...
- There doesn't seem to be a way to do an
how it says "Install/Upgrade" at some choicepoints, I couldn't
change packages & screen size, I had to reinstall everything.
if there is a new version, SuSE would detect it & offer an upgrade,
what if I want to downgrade? (I've often wanted that!) The
options reinstall or just boot up your old system.
- For some reason, this
it's giving me a lot more stuff in the startup! Like root
addusers, configuring X. Maybe it's the 1024x780 thing -- it for
reason triggers a better startup program.
- Way! It works & it's pretty!
It still doesn't suspend when I shut
it, but I've shut it down & I'm going home. Good luck!
- Err... no it doesn't REALLY work... booting
itself it can't see the media slice! and indeed the suspend
work. Next guesses are firewire modules for the kernel &/or
problems solved on SuSE for the power PC.
- Getting Wireless to Work Takes a little doing. NB:
much of this was better when I tried again in March 03 - read the
summary above for the current instructions. Yast
will do most but not all
of the work. In the end, you need to make sure
/etc/sysconfig/network/wireless has the "wireless" variable set to
"yes" (duh!) and /etc/sysconfig/network/ifcfg-eth1 set up right for
your system. Yast will
set up most of the variables for dhcp, but To
get wireless working on boot you have to edit
/etc/sysconfig/network/ifcfg-eth1 so STARTMODE='hotplug'. This is
because the wireless card is pcmcia, which hasn't started when the
laptop tries to boot the network, but this command makes it wait
before starting eth1. YaST will overwrite
this and break it! So you have to reset this variable by
hand every time you edit eth1 stuff in YaST.
- Because X crashes
the machine whenever you logout of it
(apparently because the monitor
isn't really supported) I changed grub to initialize "safe" (that is,
old-fashioned non X) linux mode by default. Then I can check wireless
etc is working before going into X. On an 8.1 install this means
changing default to 3 (as of March, last January it was 2...)
- Don't buy SuSE for
(Maybe it's better if you are fluent in German...) I took a
& bought it (even though I'd already downloaded the OS), and, true
people say on usenet,
they got back two weeks later & said they didn't cover my questions
even though I read their pages carefully to see if they would.
did include a link to this
page about what they do and don't cover
(which doesn't mention either sleeping of firewire either way, but does
they cover laptops. Isn't docking & power management part of
laptop?) and two hints about firewire "for developers" (ieee 1394 for linux and some
documentation), and for the sleep / power management problem, a
suggestion that I read this german mailing
They also told me the link in number 17 above only applies to
and not to try it. Anyway, SuSE is very pretty & has cool
& I'm fairly happy with it, but next time I get a week off I may
- ACPI (the current trend in power management) is supposed to just work.
Apparently you can shut it off & try APM instead. This guy
has APM running under Debian. And Firewire "sort of". I may
to do what he's done under SuSE before wiping my disk again...
Trial 3: Windows XP and Debian
When last we left our heroine, she had been forced to wipe the evil
entirely off her hard disk. Unfortunately, one day she decided to
Windows XP on the partition she'd left for the purpose, (so she could
something to her students on a machine like theirs). I thought
all I'd have to do was reinstall grub. Ha! The evil empire
to screw up my partition table in such a way that linux thought it was
damaged. I decided to take advantage of this opportunity to
Debian, because that's the only thing (other than free BSD) that I've
of anyone getting the power management and CD working on. Friends
neighbors, this too is a long story, but in the end I have given up and
SuSE. At least this let me doublecheck my instructions here.
the SuSE installer is even nicer
than it was before, I must say it's incredibly impressive. But I
want Debian, because of their package management & the fact that
and Apple seem to be the only ones who have noticed that you tend to
laptops around, so switching network configs should be trivial.
Not so Trialsome 4: SuSE 8.1 (again)
SuSE has now somewhat fixed the media slice problem, but not really.
They did got sound
working well enough that real player worked sometime a couple months
-- I picked that up on an upgrade. One dumb thing -- the more
you find, the further down "safe" mode is in grub, so you have to keep
what number default is in grub
if you want safe mode... (yes, X still crashes!) I
wonder if my buying support actually did do something, or if they would
fixed it anyway? Hey, they also fixed wireless a bit so you don't
have to hack it yourself to get the hotplug to work.
I eventually switched to LILO though because I couldn't get Grub to
Trial 5: Debian fails again, and RedHat 9
Well, I still wanted Debian because I still wanted:
...and I still have my x200. If someone steals it, maybe I'll
buy a Mac since OSX does all of the above out of the box. Anyway,
nameless told me that she could install Debian on my laptop, but she
the same problems I had (see Trial 3.) Then I asked Owen Cliffe
any suggestions (knowing he was a keen hacker) and he said it looked
it would be too much trouble to get Debian working. He himself uses
even cooler but that takes a day's hacking to get up so I didn't get
-- TIME is my biggest issue. So then he just handed me the RedHat
CDs and I did that. See the executive
summary above for the few tweaks it takes to finish the job.
- working power management
- apget not rpm
- to be able to change network settings quickly on the fly,
I miss SuSE -- it was prettier & had cooler stuff on it. If
had handed me the SuSE 8.2 disks I would have tried that, but no one
But it is nice to have my laptop actually working. Still, RedHat
feel sadly like a compromise -- after all, XP had everything working
No More (Linux) Trials (March 2005)
I had email about this page:
I read your page:
Knoppix Linux works fine on my X200, and it's a Debian
you tried it?
Sounds interesting, but as for me, I have (as threatened) bought Mac OS
X. To see my excitement & issues over there, see my OS X page.