First and last steps with Ubuntu

First, a note: I want to make it clear at the outset that my situation was unique, that if it wasn't, System76 would have gone out of business long ago, and the good people at System76, Tom in particular, were the soul of helpfulness. What follows should also not take away from the fact that I had direct assistance from one person who knew my computer, knew my situation, and actually gave a damn. Try that with Dell.

So, what happened next?

OK. Not to go into unnecessary detail, I started exploring. I set up Evolution to handle my Google Apps mail account in IMAP, tried to find out how the camera worked, set up a new theme for GNOME, and played with the fingerprint reader. I set the time and weather for my local area. In short, I did the usual things one might do with a new toy--er, computer. Ahem.

Then I decided to see how suspend worked. Bad move.

Networking problems began. Kernel panics. Freezes that would only respond to a forced shutdown. All the godawful horror stories you've heard about Linux started coming true, and it wasn't fun. Sometimes it remembered my WPA2 password, sometimes it didn't. Sometimes it got it wrong. Sometimes it didn't see any wireless networks at all.

I went on the System76 forum and asked for help. A few things were suggested, then Tom at System76 tech support suggested we take it private over email and get down to business. We did so.

Just about everything was tried. Things were uninstalled and reinstalled, at the command line. He had me take the back off the computer to reseat the hard drive and memory cards. I ran Memtest86 for fifteen bloody hours, overnight. I booted from an Ubuntu live CD to see if the wireless would work any better. Nothing helped. I reset the CMOS according to his instructions, after which the computer was completely dead--black screen, blinking cursor. Oh dear.

So, he emailed me a UPS mailing label to send it in for repair (this was Thanksgiving weekend). I mailed it on Monday, it arrived there on Tuesday, was mailed back Wednesday and I got it on Thursday. A new motherboard had been installed, and the BIOS updated.

I took it out of the box and fired it up. It connected to my network, so I opened Firefox to check my email. I logged onto my Google Apps account, and…Firefox froze. I closed the window, and opened a terminal to run top to see what processes were running. When I closed the terminal window, it (terminal) became a zombie process and I got a dialog box telling me I needed to quit the process or restart to get a new window. When I tried to restart, it hung at "shuttting down ALSA". Then it gave me this:

[773.587862] iwlagn: Microcode SW error detected. Restarting 0x2000000.

Then it froze completely. Another forced shutdown was necessary.

It was at this point that something snapped inside me. It had been thirteen days since I got the computer, and I had had maybe an hour of normal uptime, tops. Having installed (and used) Linux on an iBook several years ago, I was well aware that it wouldn't be a seamless Apple-type experience, but I did expect that certain basic things would work, like connecting to the Internet and using Gmail. I'm not doing video editing, and I'm not trying to network it to an antiquated Atari 800 or play World of Warcraft in emulation. I just want to get on the web. This is basic stuff, and it needs to work. Particularly when it's right out of the box after being repaired.

System76 tech support had me try one more thing, but at this point my patience had ended. To their credit, when I told them I just wanted to call it a day and get my money refunded, they agreed to do so, and they waived the normal 15% restocking fee. Tom emailed me another UPS label, and the very same afternoon I packed it up and shipped it to Colorado, where they would credit my credit card upon receipt of the machine.

But first, I went to the Apple Store online and ordered a nice refurbished 2.4-GHz MacBook Pro with a 200 GB hard drive, 2 GB of RAM, an LED-backlit screen and AppleCare, the only extended warranty on the planet that's worth the money. Prior to adding the AppleCare, it cost about the same as the one I just sent back. The specs aren't quite the same, but I'm sure it will do just fine. It arrived the very next day.

Next post: Final reflections