Dell Inspiron Mini 9 Ubuntu Review

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I’ve wanted a pink laptop for ages, this Christmas a few of my friends got together and pitched in to buy me the pink Dell Mini9 I’d been drooling over for months. Wow! Thanks again guys, you rock.


First off, here are the specs. Which makes it twice as powerful with many more features than my current laptop.

See how Dell Inspiron Mini 9 is loaded with Mac OS X Leopard here, but if you are not fun of Linux neither Mac OS then you can go back to the friendly and easy Windows XP.

As a whole? I love this netbook. It’s fast, it’s light, it’s silent, it’s pink and coming preloaded with Ubuntu 8.04 was quite nice. I named it Vespa (after Princess Vespa from Spaceballs). The screen is 8.9″ viewable and has a default resolution of 1024×600 which makes for a very usable amount of space, and the fact that it’s backlit makes the display itself brilliant and clear. The touchpad is appropriately sensitive and nice to use. When I close the lid it suspends properly. Out of the box everything works, I just tested my camera with skype this afternoon (it also came with a program called “cheese” that the camera works with.


As you can see above, it comes with a little book about Ubuntu published by Dell. It’s copyrighted so I can’t scan and share the contents without permission, but it’s a cute little 20 page booklet that goes over the basics of how to get going with Ubuntu. Dell customizes Gnome a bit, but switching back to regular Gnome is as easy as a menu option to “Switch Desktop Mode” (you choose either “Dell” or “Classic” Desktop.


Now that all that “Yes, it’s awesome!” talk is out of the way, I do have a few gripes, some of which are pretty major.

The keyboard (Ubuntu casebadge is my addition, alas, Dell has no Ubuntu sticker for their Ubuntu Mini9s):

Honestly? As a whole it doesn’t bother me. I’m used to hunting for insert and home keys on a laptop keyboard. Having the tilde and pipe and others, and all f-keys usable via the function key hasn’t annoyed me nearly as much as I feared it might. It’s all quite usable except for one thing – the location of the apostrophe. Rather than being between the enter and ;: key, it’s next to the space bar and the enter key is next to the ;: – this means that I’m happily typing along and keep hitting the enter key to enter an apostrophe, gah. I’ll probably get used to it, but it really was a poor design choice, maybe I’ll try some fancy key remapping to try and solve this.

Wireless worked out of the box, which was great. But while the machine is packed with Intel parts, and then they had to go and do this:

03:00.0 Network controller: Broadcom Corporation BCM4310 USB Controller (rev 01)

Broadcom? Why oh why!? I’ve already run into a bug where the wl module hangs upon sshing to other machines, which is a primary function for this netbook (I’m connected to at least 3 servers via ssh 24/7). I was able to find this bug, which they’ve released a fix for, but until I can snag that release, the problem is fixed via issuing this command each time I connect to a wireless network:

sudo iwpriv eth1 set_vlanmode 0

Which leads me to my next gripe… why don’t I have this fix on my Mini9? Because this machine ships with the “dell-mini.archive.canonical.com” sources.list which is not kept up to date with all security patches and fixes for Hardy. This is really quite worrying, and is making me seriously consider wiping the install and installing things myself, perhaps Xubuntu Intrepid – and fighting with it to get all the hardware working again, knowing that since restoration is via the Ubuntu 8.04 DVD + a drivers disk, that I’ll need a USB dvd-rom (or some other trickery) to restore to factory settings.

There are also a couple little things – like FireFox being covered with Yahoo! stuff, the default page is yahoo.com, there is a Yahoo! toolbar by default, the default search engine is Yahoo!. Easily turned off and changed, of course, but being in Linux for so long I’m not used to a fresh install so blatantly advertising like that (reminds me of AOL icons on the desktops of old Windows installs.

With the exception of the apostrophe and broadcom chipset, the issues are pretty much just software related. Tossing a vanilla install on here would be where I’d begin with an eeePC (ships with a version of Xandros I dislike) or an Aspire One (AFAIK only ships with Windows, which I wouldn’t use). Having the Mini9 shipped with a decent Ubuntu install where all the hardware works is great – if I really can’t be bothered to take the time to reinstall and fiddle with hardware, I really could go on with this factory install without too much headache (or heartache). Plus I’m happy to support Dell shipping with Ubuntu releases, I believe having big companies make steps like this is vital to the growth and success of Linux on the desktop. Hooray Mini9!

Written by Princess Leia via Pleia2's Blog

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