List of Things to Check on Live Install of Linux for Laptops

This isn’t going to be a very long or in-depth article, just some thoughts that I’ve had about the subject in the past and a sort of general history about Linux installations on Laptops. I decided to initially put this down for a couple reasons, first and foremost because I use these articles for cataloguing what I’m up to, and notes to act as a reference for things I may check up on again in the future (thus why I post code snippets and mini-howtos on here for the most part).

Regardless, I remember years ago when you had to do quite a bit of research on a laptop before purchasing to decide whether or not certain devices were going to be compatible with available drivers. Then you’d usually end up in some nightmare where you’ve gotten the laptop but the wifi device came with a different chipset than the first release of the laptop and you’re up till 4am compiling a fresh driver to insmod into the kernel while you’re having to use your desktop and usb sticks to ferry back and forth files or check websites. Whew!

Then we had that wonderful Knoppix distribution come out and really revolutionized everything. These babies actually auto-detected on boot what devices were being used and would then load up the appropriate drivers for your graphics card, sound card, network card, etc. It was amazing.

    Before Knoppix came out, installing Linux was always far more frustrating than installing Windows.In a Post-Knoppix world, however, Linux actually became easier to install than Windows. This remained true until only very recent versions of Windows (e.g. Windows 7).

It was at this point that we were able to walk into a Fry’s Electronics, or a Microcenter, or whatever, and be able to test boot a laptop with the live CD and be able to tell if it would work for use as a Linux station.

These days, with all the countless different distributions and flavors of even already distros, you rarely have to wonder if something will or won’t work, except for extremely rare distributions or the very, very latest laptop releases.

That’s not to say it still doesn’t happen. I am a huge fan of Kubuntu (waiting for 2018 when Ubuntu will finally get rid of Unity – Hallelujah!) and especially Linux Mint (simply a flavor of Ubuntu, which is itself simply a flavor of Debian). I tried installing both of the latest version last year on an older Dell laptop (about 2 or 3 years old at the time) and it was having an issue with either a driver or just booting up successfully into Live mode.

So anyway, my list of things these days is rather short. I usually stick to doing on USB installs instead of CD/DVDs just as a side note.

  1. WiFi/Network (remember to check both!)
  2. Sound
  3. Function Keys
  4. 3D Graphics (if intending to use for gaming/or features of advanced window managers)
  5. Camera (optional, if there’s even one builtin to laptop)

Not a very long list is it? Checking things like whether or not the USB ports work, or the CD/DVD rom drive (do they even still make those?) or most other things is pointless. So it really just comes down to my short list. They are the essentials and if they work, you’re basically good-to-go.

This is basically what I check when I’m doing a quick install for a simple laptop that “just needs to work” for basic computer usage (e.g. checking email, watching YouTube, etc.)

If there’s anything glaring you think I’ve missed or glossed over, or any other thoughts, let me know below!

Belisarius Smith consults as a software engineer, cloud engineer, and security adviser. He has a BSBA in Security Management and is currently completing graduate studies in the Engineering Department at Penn State University with a Masters of Software Engineering. When he isn't traveling, mountain climbing, or reading, he spends his spare time on personal side projects and studies.

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