Thursday, April 12, 2007

Slackware Linux & IBM Thinkpad R51

The IBM (Lenovo) Thinkpad R51 (2888-47u) is OK. While it is well engineered and fully functional it is not out standing, over the top, the be-all-to-end-all of laptops. Perhaps that is why this one was lovingly referred to as a 'Stinkpad' by its previous owner.

The Lenovo site says that this R51 model OEMs with the following...

P M 1.5GHz, 256MB RAM, 20GB 4200rpm HDD, 14.1 XGA(1024x768) TFT LCD, Intel Extreme, 8x-3.3x DVD, Wireless upgradeable(MPCI), Modem(CDC), 10/100 Ethernet(LOM), UltraNav, Secure Chip, 6 cell Li-Ion battery, WinXP Pro
Emphasis in this case is mine because I want to acknowledge that this laptop is very well engineered (OEM) for WinXP Pro. Special note of this will be taken during the installation of Slackware.

Why Slackware? It is simple.

Simple and Slackware on the same line??? Get real... Slackware's installation, albeit a bit Console&NCurses, does not insist that it knows more about how I want this installation to go than it does. Other distros that I have worked with in the past would take off flying and I would end up with a dual-boot, multi-partitioned, multiple file system, three headed monster. Slackware leaves me in control of an involved installation by not making all the critical decisions for me. It is that simple.

This is not a Slackware installation tutorial ( Here is a very good one posted on BitBenderTech. )

There are a couple of points that I want to make clear. First is that careful measures should be taken to preserve the 'OEM Partition'. In addition to just being a good practice in general this partition is the "resale value of the laptop". The next person to own it may not be a Linux fan but would be willing to pay more if it had Windows on it.

The second point that I make when installing Slackware on a "work" system is to install EVERYTHING. A "work" system is not a user/customer desktop/laptop setup or a production server configuration. A "work" system is the computer that I maintain as a resource. It has everything on it so that I don't have to install it later if my experimentation takes me into a new area.

So far we have...
  1. IBM/Lenovo R51
  2. Root ( / ) partition and swap partition. (And the preserved OEM Partition.)
  3. FULL installation of Slackware 11.0
With the normal installation settings (most are DEFAULT, the rest are clear choices) this is a vanilla install of linux.

When the system comes up I have a fully functional laptop running Slackware 11. I always take a moment to create at least one user account [Papa] as soon as I can so I don't have to work in the system logged in as root.

If I didn't do the network configuration during the install I can configure the network connection using the 'netconfig' command and then restarting* the system gives me network access.

Logging in as 'Papa' gives me a fully appointed and a 'working' secured system. Issuing the 'startx' command gives me a fully functional windows GUI, no extra configuration required.

So now we have...
  1. IBM/Lenovo R51
  2. Root ( / ) partition and swap partition. (And the preserved OEM Partition.)
  3. FULL installation of Slackware 11.0
  4. 'netconfig' + 'reboot' gives us ethernet connectivity
  5. 'startx' gives us windows GUI
What is left? What is missing?

Any laptop is just an expensive desktop if it can't me mobile. In order to be functionally mobile a laptop has to be able to connect wirelessly. The R51 (2888-47u) does not have built-in wireless capability so I rely on a wireless PCMCIA adapter. Here I had to choose carefully. I chose Proxim LAN Gold ORiNOCO 11a/b/g ComboCard. Which did not work vanilla right out of the box.

WHAT?!?!? Then why choose that one? Because there are open source drivers for it that do work very well. I went to MadWifi and downloaded madwifi-0.9.3.tar.gz. Using my favorite file manager 'mc' I extracted the source to a working folder. Once inside the folder I did a 'make'. When it finished compiling I did a 'su -' to obtain root privs and then did a 'make install'.

Rebooting the laptop with the Proxim PCMCIA card in the slot and I have an 'functioning' wireless device. In order to make it operational it requires a bit of configuration. In a followup article I will detail that configuration as well as 'Simple, Quick & Dirty reconfiguration for mutiple network sites'. For now just a teaser to show how few CLI commands wireless connectivity requires...

root@laptop: ~# iwconfig ath0 essid MyWifiNet key s:asciipasswordgoeshere
root@laptop: ~# iwpriv ath0 authmode 2
root@laptop: ~# ifconfig ath0 192.168.1.100 netmask 255.255.255.0 up
root@laptop: ~#

So to sum it all up...
  1. IBM/Lenovo R51
  2. Root ( / ) partition and swap partition. (And the preserved OEM Partition.)
  3. FULL installation of Slackware 11.0
  4. 'netconfig' + 'reboot' gives us ethernet connectivity
  5. 'startx' gives us windows GUI
  6. Wireless connctivity
Obviously I have glossed over some of the steps. (I have given up trying to write for first-time Slackware/Linux users.) This brief overview is to show that with an absolute minimum of work I now have a fully functional and well appointed IBM Thinkpad R51 running Slackware 11.

Articles to come...
KDE Tweaks for Thinkpad
Simple, Quick & Dirty reconfiguration for mutiple network sites

* "Restarting" or 'reboot' is one way. The system could also be 'init 1' and then 'init 3' depending on the user's comfort level.


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