The Linux Guy

“Linux laptop” should not be an oxymoron.
Over the summer, I decided to return to the corporate world after ten years as an independent consultant. One of the many perks of going to work for a giant information technology consulting firm is getting issued a new laptop. The awarding of the laptop is like anointment: Go forth into the world and do our customers’ bidding. Oh, and by the way, stay in touch with the home office to get your assignments. Mind you, I don’t mind traveling — I get to see new things (and eat my way across the country). However, I absolutely hate running Linux on my laptop. It’s a huge pain in the tookhis.
The company that I work for is one of the biggest consulting shops in the world, but it’s fairly new to Linux. I’m the designated “Linux Guy” who’s going to help break them into Linux consulting. That’s great, and I love my new job, but because a lot of the company infrastructure runs Redmondware, I have to run it, too. Stuff like Outlook, Internet Explorer, and Microsoft Office.
So, I need Linux and Windows on one machine.
Sometimes I run VMware. I run Windows XP and its applications in it, including my VPN client. Simultaneously, I can use it to prototype Linux systems for customers. VMware is an awesome product and quite invaluable.
However, it takes a ton of memory to run optimally, and to run multiple virtual machines simultaneously, you need some decent CPU horsepower as well. And there’s the rub: most laptops on the market are limited to 2 GB of RAM, and now that Intel and the various “Tier 1” laptop manufacturers are focused on battery conservation with laptop chip sets and laptop hardware designs, effectively every portable computer on the market today is woefully underpowered. The bottom line: the standard, company-issue, business-class Dell Latitude 810 notebook, with its 1.6 GHz Speedstep Mobile Pentium — a perfectly good machine for running Windows XP — just doesn’t cut it for Linux Guy.
Sure, I could dual boot XP and Linux, but that makes my life a lot more complicated, and it makes prototyping stuff for customers very difficult, indeed.
So after some futzing, I got another laptop, the high-end Hewlett Packard nx9600, just for running Linux and VMware and creating prototypes. Why such an expensive machine? Well, It’s one of the very few business-class (read: not designed for consumers) laptops on the market with a 3.6 Ghz Pentium 4, a 100 GB hard disk, and 2 GB of RAM. (Everything else out there is designed for gaming, and I can’t exactly issue a purchase order for an Alienware, VoodooPC, Tadpole, or Acer Ferrari, because those companies aren’t approved vendors. Believe me, I tried.)
Did I mention that the nx9600 weighs ten pounds and you can fry an egg on it when it’s running? Frankly, I’m afraid of the type of laptop that’s going to be needed to run Windows Vista in VMware or Xen. It’ll probably need a set of castor wheels, a freon coolant tank, and a nuclear power source.
I’m hoping that building para-virtualization into the next generation of processors is going to help lighten the load somewhat, but I’m not really seeing the light at the end of the tunnel here. AMD is leading the charge in paravirtualization, but let’s face it, while AMD is making great strides with its Opteron in servers and performance workstations, the Tier 1 laptop manufacturers aren’t exactly buying lots of mobile AMD chips. I honestly wish they would: the AMD chips can accommodate a lot more RAM, making them ideally suited for Linux Guy’s consulting work, and AMD is a much more Linux-friendly company than Intel is.
And did I mention that the built-in wireless stuff on these laptops don’t work correctly in Linux? Why does Intel manufacture mobile chip sets that are so difficult to get working correctly? Do I have to go out and buy a separate wireless card just for running Linux? Do I have to pay for software from Linuxant (http://www.linuxant.com/) so I can use my Windows wireless drivers in Linux?
The Tier 1 vendors need to acknowledge that legions of Linux Guys exist and start building some large memory, desktop replacement laptops. Linux Guy needs oodles of memory, VMware, and wireless to get his job done.
Somebody, stop the insanity, please.

Jason Perlow is a longtime contributor to Linux Magazine. He writes the magazine’s” Desktop Linux” and” Shutdown” columns each month. Jason can be reached at class="emailaddress">jperlow@linux-mag.com.

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