Katherine's father bought her mother a laptop for Christmas. I am ashamed to admit that although I was responsible for the specification it was purchased from PC World. There is a lack of shops in Northern Ireland where you can walk in and purchase a reasonably cheap laptop unfortunately. The model we ended up with was an Advent 8111 (Dixons link as it's saner than the PC World one). It's not actually a bad spec; Core Duo 1.6GHz, 1GB RAM, 80GB HD, wireless/ethernet/modem, 15.4" 1280x800 widescreen TFT. I think it claims up to 3 hours battery life and I certainly had 2+ out of it though not under heavy use.

I decided that it was getting Linux; Katherine's mum isn't used to any form of computer so there are no preconceptions about Windows to get over. While I'm a Debian person myself I felt it was time to give Ubuntu a chance; mjg59 (and others I'm sure) has spent a lot of time trying to get it happy on laptops and make sure things Just Work. I didn't have a lot of time to sit fiddling with the setup, so a shiny out-of-the-box distro seemed ideal.

I downloaded ubuntu-6.10-desktop-i386.iso and burnt myself a CD. Dropped it in the drive and it booted into the live CD installer fine. The install process was simple and it managed to resize the Windows partition without problems (I would have deleted it but I couldn't convince the Windows rescue CD creator to work and I don't want to burn my bridges until I'm sure Linux works out ok for the owner).

Rebooting into the freshly installed system I was surprised at the time the boot process took. It certainly felt a lot longer than it takes my (lower speced) laptop to boot to a GDM prompt under Debian. Also the display looked a bit fuzzy. Further investigation led to the discovery that although X correctly detected a panel size of 1280x800 it was only using 1024x768. Much searching found me i915resolution which did some magic that made things work. However this doesn't appear to be part of Ubuntu proper so I'm not sure if was the correct solution or if I should have done something else?

Getting to the point where I could download i915resolution was interesting too. My parents have a WEP encrypted wireless network (to prevent casual use rather than because it's secure). I was expecting Ubuntu (which detected the Intel wireless card fine) to pop up some sort of dialog saying it had found a network and would I like to connect (if I provided the key). Something network-managery. But no. Even when I went to the network control panel and added all the details the connection didn't seem to come up. I gave up and did it manually with iwconfig and dhclient (I needed it to work quickly and at present it won't need wireless usually).

Once I had the display working happily my other task was to tame the modem. It's an Intel HDA thing and I'd hoped sl-modem-daemon would drive it. Of course it didn't. Although it's an Intel chipset it has a bloody Conexant codec on it. Which of course there are no free or Free drivers for. I ended up trying the trial Linuxant driver, which did work fine at 14.4k, but that's really painful so I gave up and paid for the full version. I'd really rather have voted with my feet and ended up with some proper modem hardware, but it would have been an extra set of wires and cost more. I hate Conexant. Anyway, the drivers work (though seem to break sound; I haven't had enough time to prod this and the modem is much more important to have working).

Hopefully in time I'll convince them they really want ADSL, but at present I think it would be quite hard as they don't have a high expected use.

Once the modem was working I needed an easy way to dial up. I started playing with modem monitor, which had been installed by default. However I just couldn't figure out how to get it to allow me to dialup and dial down - the activate/disable options stayed greyed out. So I installed GNOME PPP which seems to work fine and be easy enough to drive - put a nice link to it on the desktop and stored all the details so it's a double click to launch and then a click of the "Connect" button.

My final issue was that once I actually took the laptop to Katherine's house to show her mum how to use it it started hanging on boot. Booting into recovery mode showed a soft lockup error message around the point where it was setting up the network interfaces. I think this might have had something to do with me hitting the wireless kill switch (no point having it on when there's no wireless in the house), as disabling the device in the BIOS made the problem go away. I didn't have enough time to do a fully exhaustive check, but will look at it in the future.

I wait with interest to see how use of the laptop goes. Expected usage to being with is mainly web and email (provided by the Ubuntu defaults of Firefox and Evolution) so hopefully it shouldn't be too problematic now I've fought the install process. I was really quite surprised at the problems I encountered (well, aside from the modem drivers); I'd expected a much smoother install that would leave me with everything working fine out of the box. I haven't yet filed any bugs or done more investigation - I only had about a day to setup the machine so couldn't prod it more just yet. I will of course try to do so when I get a free moment, but if I missed some obvious stuff please do point it out to me! (As if you wouldn't...)

Oh, and here's some lspci output for anyone interested in some more details about the laptop:

00:00.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Mobile 945GM/PM/GMS/940GML and 945GT Express Memory Controller Hub (rev 03)
00:02.0 VGA compatible controller: Intel Corporation Mobile 945GM/GMS/940GML Express Integrated Graphics Controller (rev 03) (prog-if 00 [VGA])
00:02.1 Display controller: Intel Corporation Mobile 945GM/GMS/940GML Express Integrated Graphics Controller (rev 03)
00:1b.0 Audio device: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) High Definition Audio Controller (rev 02)
00:1c.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) PCI Express Port 1 (rev 02) (prog-if 00 [Normal decode])
00:1c.1 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) PCI Express Port 2 (rev 02) (prog-if 00 [Normal decode])
00:1c.2 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) PCI Express Port 3 (rev 02) (prog-if 00 [Normal decode])
00:1d.0 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) USB UHCI #1 (rev 02) (prog-if 00 [UHCI])
00:1d.1 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) USB UHCI #2 (rev 02) (prog-if 00 [UHCI])
00:1d.2 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) USB UHCI #3 (rev 02) (prog-if 00 [UHCI])
00:1d.3 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) USB UHCI #4 (rev 02) (prog-if 00 [UHCI])
00:1d.7 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) USB2 EHCI Controller (rev 02) (prog-if 20 [EHCI])
00:1e.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 82801 Mobile PCI Bridge (rev e2) (prog-if 01 [Subtractive decode])
00:1f.0 ISA bridge: Intel Corporation 82801GBM (ICH7-M) LPC Interface Bridge (rev 02)
00:1f.2 IDE interface: Intel Corporation 82801GBM/GHM (ICH7 Family) Serial ATA Storage Controller IDE (rev 02) (prog-if 80 [Master])
00:1f.3 SMBus: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) SMBus Controller (rev 02)
02:00.0 Network controller: Intel Corporation PRO/Wireless 3945ABG Network Connection (rev 02)
04:00.0 Ethernet controller: Marvell Technology Group Ltd. 88E8055 PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet Controller (rev 10)
05:01.0 CardBus bridge: Texas Instruments Unknown device 8039
05:01.1 FireWire (IEEE 1394): Texas Instruments Unknown device 803a (prog-if 10 [OHCI])
05:01.2 Mass storage controller: Texas Instruments Unknown device 803b
05:01.3 Class 0805: Texas Instruments Unknown device 803c (prog-if 01)