HP Mini-Note 110: Installing Ubuntu Karmic & Wireless Issues Tuesday, Dec 29 2009 

I have been monitoring the traffic on my blog and noticed an increase in interest in my post about helping my student install Ubuntu Karmic on her HP Mini-Note 110.  Apparently there are quite a few people who are experiencing problems installing Karmic on their Mini-Notes.  One issue that seems to be common is the Broadcom wireless card not working properly.  (Actually, the problem is getting the right driver installed.)  I don’t own a Mini-Note and have worked on only one, so my experience is limited.  Regardless, I have decided to share my sole experience in hopes that it can help any of you who are experiencing problems.

I want to be clear.  I am not a Linux/Ubuntu expert, and what I share here is based on my acquired knowledge (which isn’t a lot) and experience.  I do own a Dell Mini-9 which uses the same Broadcom card as the HP Mini-Note (as far as I know) and so have had to troubleshoot similar issues.  I don’t want to sound ominous; however, please use my suggestions at your own risk.

First of all, let me give you a list of hardware and software I used for the install.

  1. A 2 GB Kingston DataTraveler USB thumb drive,
  2. An ISO image of the Ubuntu Karmic (9.10)–I used the RC version of Karmic which may be the cause of the wireless issues,
  3. Unetbootin installed on a box–you will need this to make the bootable thumb drive,
  4. An active LAN connection,
  5. and the A/C adapter for the Mini-Note.

Step 1: Make a bootable thumb drive using Unetbootin.

  1. First, download the latest ISO image of Ubuntu onto your computer.  (You can copy it anywhere you want; I usually copy directly to my desktop.)
  2. Second, install Unetbootin.  If you’re using Ubuntu, you can find the package in the repos.  (Sytem > Administration > Synaptic Package Manager.  Search for Unetbootin, mark it for installation, and then install).  From the terminal, type: sudo apt-get install unetbootin.  If you happen to be using Windows, shame on you.  Nah, just kidding.  Install the package from this website.  I haven’t done this for a while, but I believe you install it by either running the program when you download it, or you can launch the .exe file after you download it.
  3. Once you install Unetbootin, place your thumbdrive into an available USB slot.  Launch the program.  In Ubuntu, from terminal, type: sudo unetbootin, or via the GUI by going to Applications >  System Tools > Unetbootin.  The app should launch and you will see the following below.

    Unetbootin

    Choose the second option: Diskimage.  In the dropdown box, choose ISO image since that is what you have.  Then, click on the browse button (the square box at the end with the ellipsis inside of it.).  Find your ISO image.  Insure that the Type at the bottom is set to USB Drive.  Also, insure that the correct drive is selected (it should say something like /dev/sdb1).  If you have more than one thumbdrive installed, make sure that you choose the correct one.  To make things simpler, I would suggest unmounting and removing all other unnecessary thumbdrives.  Click OK and wait.  The install shouldn’t take too long.  Once it is done, follow any instructions and remove the thumb drive.

Step 2: Installing Ubuntu onto HP Mini-Note

  1. Plug your newly created Live thumb drive into a USB slot on your Mini-Note 110.  Power it on.  As soon as the BIOS screen appears, press f10 to change the boot order.  Using the arrow keys, choose to boot from your USB drive.  Choose the default image and Ubuntu should load.  If you want to play around before you install Ubuntu permanently, you can run a live session.  (I did have some problems with the Broadcom card, so I wasn’t able to get very far during the live session.  As soon as I launched Firefox, the system froze and/or crashed the X session.)
  2. From here you can double-click the install icon on the Dekstop.  Make sure you have plenty of battery left or plug in your A/C adapter; the install can take a long time.  You will be prompted to answer some questions.  All are pretty self-explanatory.  However, when you are asked how you want to partition your hard drive, you should spend some time determining how you will be using your netbook.  You can install Ubuntu on the entire drive, or you can install it side-by-side with your original OS.  In many cases, the pre-installed OS will be Win XP.  If you need XP for any reason, you may want to choose the side-by-side install.  This  will partition your hard drive evenly between XP and Ubuntu.  You can actually manually partition your hard drive and give one partition more or less space.  It takes a little more work, but you can customize as you see fit.  Since I don’t need XP, I would just install Ubuntu on the entire drive.  (Although, I would consider setting up a Home partition.  See this helpful blog for more information on the best method for partitioning your drive.)

Step 3: Installing the Broadcom STA Proprietary Driver

  1. After you have successfully installed Ubuntu.  You will be prompted to restart your computer.  Make sure to remove the thumb drive when prompted.
  2. Next, once your system has rebooted, connect you live wired connection to the Ethernet port on the Mini-Note.  All I did to get the Broadcom driver to install properly was run an update (System > Administration > Update Manager).  There will quite a few updates to install, so this step may take awhile.
  3. After you run the update, you will undoubtedly be prompted to perform a restart.  Do so.
  4. Once the system restarts, log in, and then choose System > Administration > Hardware Drivers.  You should see a something similar to the following.  Yours should show the Broadcom STA driver however.  In my the following example, you see the NVIDIA driver listed because it is the one I use on my trusty Thinkpad.

    Proprietary Hardware Drivers

    If you don’t see the driver listed, follow the suggestions from the above mentioned blog.  Although the author’s blog deals with Ubuntu on the Dell Mini 9, the steps for installing the Broadcom driver should work on the Mini-Note too.

  5. You should be home free from here.  Disconnect your wired LAN connection and test your wireless card.  You should be able to connect to all open and encrypted networks.  (My Dell Mini can connect to WEP, WPA and WPA2 encrypted networks.)

Good luck!  I hope this helped…

*By the way, have you ever wondered what the numbering convention is for Ubuntu?  The first number tells you the year, and the second the month it was released.  Since Canonical has promised to release new versions every 6 months, you will usually see version numbers ending with .04 and .10…since the official cycle began on October 2004 (although, there has been at least one version that went beyond the 6 month cycle–6.06).  So Lucid Lynx, which will be released in April of 2010, will be numbered 10.04 (or 2010.April).  It will also be designated LTS…more on that another time…

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Karmic on a HP Mini-110: Murphy’s Law at Work Thursday, Dec 17 2009 

So my former student who was interested in Ubuntu came to see me Tuesday morning.  In her hands was a small, pink neoprene sleeve.  “I’m ready.  Can you install Linux on this?” she said as she passed me what she was carrying.

I unzipped the sleeve and found a pink HP Mini-Note 110 inside.  It still had all the static-charged plastic coverings on it.  I quickly searched the hardware support site on Ubuntu.com to see if there were any known problems with the Mini-Note.  I was happy to find the following entry: “The Karmic version “just work” with almost everything supported without tweaking. Wired nic works nicely. Sound works nicely. The “windows” key however does not work anymore, and the built-in SD card reader has no available driver.”  I asked my student if she needed her SD card reader.  “What’s that?” she said…so we continued.

“This will take about an hour and half or so,” I said to her confidently.  After all, I have successfully installed all the different Ubuntu variants, Geubuntu, Elive, Puppy, Damn Small, SuSe SLED 10, OpenSuSe 10, Moblin, and gOs on various boxes without a hitch numerous times (well, DSL and Puppy did give me a little trouble).

“Why so long?” she responded.  I went on to explain that I had everything set to install Ubuntu; however, that I wanted her to try a live version first.  I also wanted to test for any problems and run an update before I sent her home.

All things considered, I expected the install to be fairly quick and easy.  I should’ve known better….

When the live session finished loading, everything looked okay.  I clicked on the Network Manager applet to test the wireless capabilities.  Although the hardware switch showed that the wireless radio was on, the system didn’t recognize it.  I immediately suspected a Broadcom driver issue–call it intuition.  Before I went any further, a system window opened.  It automatically recognized that there were propriety drivers available.  Of course, the only one listed was the Broadcom STA driver.  I happily enabled it and within a few seconds, was able to get on to the campus’ wireless network.  Great, I thought, smooth sailing from here.  I launched Firefox, and as soon as I did the system froze.

I shut everything down and started a new live session, enabled the Broadcom driver, and launched Firefox again.  And guess what?  The system froze.  “Why is it doing that?” my student asked with a hint of agitation in her voice.

“Don’t worry.  I’ll figure it out.”  After three more failed attempts, I began to get a little nervous.  I suspected that I could probably get further if I did an install instead of trying to troubleshoot the wireless card in a live session  But since it wasn’t my netbook, I didn’t wan to render it unusable for any prolonged amount of time, so I decided to do something I had never done before, a dual-boot install.  I figured if anything went wrong enabling the Broadcom driver, my student would still be able to use her computer until I figured out how to fix the problem.

So I began.  After going through the install wizard, I sent my student off to study for her exam.  I hit “Install,” and I went to a meeting.  When I got back to my office about 45 minutes later, I was happy to see that everything went seemingly okay.  I began the shutdown process.  I pulled my Unetbootin thumbdrive from the USB slot when I was instructed to and waited for the system to shut down.  When it restarted, Grub came up fine.  I decided to test XP, so I launched it first.  Everything looked as expected, so I logged off and rebooted again.  Grub came up fine, but this time I launched Karmic.

I was relieved to hear the familiar sounds of drums and the sight of the Karmic splash screen.  As soon as the desktop came up, I went to work on the Broadcom driver.  I waited a minute to see if the system would recognize the Broadcom card; it didn’t.  I ran the Hardware Driver utility and was disappointed to find no available proprietary drivers.  My student, who had returned to my office, looked concerned.  “Is everything okay?  Is it done?  Why is it taking so long?”  After some explanation, she calmed a little.  I pulled my wired connection from my Thinkpad and plugged it into the Ethernet port.  Immediately, the system recognized the connection and established an IP address.  I looked for the driver again.  This time, it was there.  I enabled it, pulled my wired connection, restarted the wireless radio (it was smart enough to shut down when it realized there was a hardwire connection), and connected to the campus wireless network.  I ran ifconfig from a terminal, and saw an IP address.  Relief.  I crossed my fingers and launched Firefox.  It opened fine.  Just to be sure, I navigated to a couple of webpages; I felt more relief when it did without issue.

“Almost there,” I said to my student.  I launched the Update Manager.  Since the image I was using was the Karmic RC (which was probably the culprit for the aforementioned problems) there were over 200 updates.  I ran them and restarted the system.  I crossed my fingers again and hoped that the wireless card would automatically connect…it did.

Before my student left my office, I installed the Compiz Config Manger and the simple version (CCSM), so I could configure Compiz.  After all, she wanted the cube.  After some quick instructions on how to use the managers, I set her virtual desktops and the cube.  She thanked me and promised to go home and test everything out.

When she left, she was smiling.  She told me she would let me know if there were any problems.  It’s been a couple of days and so far, I haven’t heard from her.  I guess things are going well.  I’m glad.  For a minute, I thought I was going to lose a convert.

It really wasn’t a bad install.  Only a few minor problems.  I just wished things went a little smoother for my student’s sake.  You should’ve seen her face when I opened a terminal session.  Just goes to show that you can never get too cocky.  I’m glad I was able to figure things out, but the experience was a nice reminder to always expect the unexpected.  Good old Murphy is always lurking around a corner…waiting to strike.

*For a how-to on this install, please go here.

The Children are the Future…for Linux Wednesday, Dec 16 2009 

Whenever I read articles or hear discussions about Linux’s ability to take over the desktop market, Whitney Houston’s song “The Greatest Love of All” comes to mind (actually, I think of Arsenio Hall’s–aka The Sexual Chocolates–rendition in the movie Coming to America).  “Why?” You may ask. Because the children are the future in so many ways, but especially for Linux.

I’m certain you’re all familiar with that old cliché, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”  Although this is not the case for every old dog (OD) (after all, I get my technology butt handed to me on a regular basis by some pretty old dogs), it is true for many who don’t have interests in technology.  ODs like this yearn for familiarity.  They don’t like change–not even from one version of MS Office to another.  “Why did they move that thingy from here to over there?”  “I don’t understand why they changed that.  Everything was working fine until now.”  “Why would I want to give up this big, shiny tower that takes up almost half of my desk for that tiny little laptop.  Bigger is better, right?”  All right,  you get the idea.  Enough geriatric bashing; I’m not getting any younger and will probably be just as stubborn and more cantankerous in my golden years.

Back to my point.  To truly understand where I’m going with this, I need to redefine what I mean when I say old dog.  An old dog isn’t someone who is merely old, in fact, many of them are fairly young; rather, they are people who are stuck in their ways–the ones who will sacrifice faster, more efficient,  and secure technology for what is familiar because it simply works for their needs.  After all, no one wants to relearn how to do the everyday typical task. I know, I know.  I said in a former post that intuitiveness and qualitative measures of what is good or better is intrinsically linked to familiarity, and what is most intuitive, a lot of the time, is the one that is most familiar.  This is true; however, the true measure of intuitiveness is the ability to make changes while staying familiar.  How users adapt to the changes is a good measure–the quicker they adapt, the more intuitive the technology is.

Again, I digress.  Back to old dogs.  The problem with old dogs is that you can’t force them to change.  You have to let them think that they are dictating change.  That’s why it’s better to roll out changes slowly, so that the learning curve is flatter.  The less painful it is, the more welcoming ODs become.  But yanking the entire OS from under their feet is not a good idea.  Too much change.  Too steep a learning curve.  But why bother?  Why force ODs to change?  If Deepak Chopra’s Fourth Spiritual Law, “the Law of Least Effort,” is accurate, it makes little sense to force ODs to do so.  Too much effort.  Besides, it goes against nature’s flow.  Introduce new technology to them, show them how it works, and then, let them decide if they want to take the leap.

But the kids!  Ah yes, the kids.  They are the answer.  Today’s children have grown up with technology all around them.  Nintendos, X-Boxes, Playstations, iPods, iPhones, and so on and so forth.  At their age, they aren’t frightened of change.  They are just beginning life’s journey and are eager to learn new things.  These two factors combine to create the perfect storm for learning new technology. Today, children figure out new technology quickly without much trial and tribulation.  I’ll give you a personal example.  It took me three boot cycles to teach my 5-year-old son how to load Puppy Linux from the Grub menu, launch Firefox, find the bookmark for his favorite Spongebob game, launch the game, and how to shut everything down when he was done.  Three boot cycles…that’s it.  I know some adults who can’t even check their voicemail on their cell phones, or how to program the favorites button on their TV remotes after numerous attempts.

If the Linux community wants to see their market share increase, they need to go after the children.  I know that sounds insidious, but believe me, exposure to Linux is safer and more beneficial than McDonald’s, Barbie, and GI Joe.  Steve Jobs and his marketing team figured this out a while ago.  They don’t necessarily target young children; however, they have used a concentrated marketing strategy, and have gone after young adults and teenagers with great success.  Look around.  How many young people do you see carrying iThings?  iPods?  iTouches? and iPhones?  And now, rumor says that Apple will be releasing their first iTablet next spring.  (Sounds suspiciously like a bigger iTouch to me.)  I’m guessing it will be very intuitive and will be all the rage if the price is right.  Why has Apple become so ubiquitous?  Because they figured out which market required the least effort on their part.

Canonical has at least made an effort to reach the children with their Edubuntu spin.  It’s a good idea, and a nice starting point; however, it needs much more development.  Development in two ways.  One that creates apps that are more exciting, appealing, and educational for children.  And the other that creates apps for educators–e.g. gradebooks (like GradeL) and class management software.  A concentrated effort like this will help get Edubuntu in more classrooms, and hence, more exposure.

There are other distros and interface tweaks that seem to be targeting a younger and more mobile crowd.  Android, seems to be making some headway.  And although I’m skeptical of Google’s motives, I think their influence and marketing savvy will bring Android to more and more devices.  If the multi-touch tablet takes off, I’m sure the heavyweight distros will begin developing for this platform.

I once read a comment on some blog that stated that Linux needn’t worry about Windows, but instead, should set their sights on Apple.  I didn’t think too much about the statement at the time; however, in retrospect, that person was right.  Why worry about Windows?  Linux has overtaken Windows in so many ways, that the point of which is better between the two is moot.  But Apple on the other hand, is leading a revolution.  They have flooded the market with sophisticated and innovative peripheral devices that aren’t in direct competition with the desktop computer.  Slowly but surely, many of these device holders are more and more interested in Mac computing.  The iTablet will be another stepping stone to the promise land.

Do I think Apple is on the brink of world domination?  No, I don’t.  But I have to say, they are surely working towards it.  What does Linux have to do?  Focus on the children.  The more young people who are raised on Linux and Linux devices the better it will be in the long run.  Build it fast, beautiful, and easy to use…and they will come.

I believe the children are our future.  Teach them well and let them lead the way…

Why I Use Ubuntu Sunday, Dec 13 2009 

A former student of mine noticed that my laptop looked different.  Well, maybe not the laptop itself, but the user interface.  She immediately inquired how I “did that” while she pointed at the screen of my Thinkpad.  “Did what?” I replied.  After some back and forth and a seemingly adequate explanation, she asked me, “So why do you use that (Ubuntu)?”  I had to think a while before I could answer.  I had been using Ubuntu exclusively for almost two years at that point and really hadn’t thought about that for a long time.  “Because it’s better,” I replied.  She nodded her head and said okay.  She turned to walk away, but stopped.  “If I want to do that, can you help me?” she asked.  I said okay.  She thanked me and walked away.

I started to think about my totally inadequate answer to her question, “Because it’s better.”  Had she given me an answer like that in class, I would have asked, “How is it better?”  So after a few minutes of thinking, I came up with the following reasons why I use Ubuntu.

First and foremost, Ubuntu (and Linux in general) is customizable.  Not customizable like in Windows terms: changing colors, themes, wallpapers, and screen savers (although you can do all of this in Ubuntu too), but in terms of interface, applications, and working environments.  I like the fact that I can find apps to do my regular work and special projects.  If I need a WSIWYG editor to work on a webpage, I can easily find and install one.  I don’t need to go shopping, and more importantly, I don’t need to shell out cash.

I also like virtual desktops.  I have become accustomed to having certain apps running on certain desktops.  I know where everything is and can easily navigate my workspaces.

I also like the fact that I can choose between eye candy and efficiency.  I use Gnome predominantly and use the Compiz Fusion special effects, so I can dazzle people with spinning cubes and 3-D effects.  I have enabled the 3-D effects in Open Office Impress, and believe me, people are impressed.  One student thought I was running Apple software on my Thinkpad.  I have used KDE a little but am not used to the interface.  KDE 4 is beautiful though, and one day when I have time, I’ll play with it a little more.

The second reason, the command line.  Yes, that’s right, I said it.  The command line is very useful.  I grew up with GUIs my entire computing life, so the idea of using the command line was something I would have never thought to be advantageous.  But in actuality, it really is.  Get to know some basic commands, and you can do a lot without leaving your keyboard.  I have even fell in love with keyboard shortcuts in all my favorite apps too.  Speed and efficiency is something beautiful when you need it.

The third reason, I believe in the philosophy of Linux and FOSS in general.  It’s open source and free for anyone to use.  You don’t have to have a lot of money to buy software and upgrades to ensure currency.

And the last reason, because it is simply better.  I remember the first time I decided to give Linux a try.  I was a little apprehensive and didn’t know what to expect.  So when I installed Ubuntu on my first machine, I expected the worst.  But what I found was that installing and running Linux was easy and painless.  I even tried a couple of other distros (OpenSuse, SuseSLED, and Puppy) just to compare.  My confidence quickly grew and in a months time, I had cut all of my machines over to Ubuntu.  (Well, I kept one running Windows, just in case I had compatibility issues for about 6 months.  It has run Ubuntu exclusively since.)

The experience hasn’t been perfect, and I have had my share of troubleshooting and tweaking.  But quite frankly, nothing that has shaken my faith in Linux.  I’m sold and will never go back to Windows (or Apple).  Not because of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, but because I like what I have.  I’m familiar with it and don’t see a good reason to use anything else.

The other day I had to help my wife with her work laptop.  It was really weird working in a Windows environment.  It felt very foreign, and I had to think really hard to find the right menus.  It felt clunky and slow.  I guess intuitiveness is somewhat based on familiarity.  If I can’t find a menu where I expect it to be, then it isn’t very intuitive.

So why do I use Ubuntu, because it’s better, and that’s that!