Over the last while, I’ve using my laptop a little more often than I used to – it’s a company-supplied
Toshiba Portégé M100
and fits all my needs for a portable machine : 12″ screen, long battery life, a nice keyboard (with the Ctrl and Caps-lock keys in the right place, dammit) It has built-in video, ethernet, modem & wireless connections and DVD drive. It’s small, and not too heavy (~4lbs) – pretty important when you’re lugging it around the place. The lack of a trackpad is a bit annoying, but I’m getting used to the eraser-head pointing device. It has an analogue volume control, a couple of USB ports and a little hard-wired switch to turn the wifi radio on and off. Nice little machine – not perfect, but it does the job quite nicely.

Last year, I carried it from Dublin to Galway and Edinburgh, from Belfast to Paris, Berlin and Norway and it’s still hanging together just fine so far (well, okay, it’s a bit scratched on the outside, and I think I’ve dinged the display a little bit, but it’s not a big deal)

Software-wise, I’m also happy and getting happier. The first thing I did when I got my hands on the laptop was to nuke the Windows XP professional installation – well come on, wouldn’t you ? I just checked the “Software” section on the Register, and I read that Microsoft have finally dropped their Itanium support (what took them so long?), are dumping Passport and are continuing to speak out against open source and every other day I read about security problems with Windows. I installed Solaris instead.

Back in April last year, this probably wasn’t a good move. I instantly lost the ability to run a higher resolution display, I effectively turned the wireless card into a piece of cardboard and lost all semblance of power management, so I saved my files early and often. Could I have installed Linux ? Sure I could, but the good-corporate citizen in me wanted to see what the life of a Solaris laptop user was like. Well, here’s a confession – a while ago, it sucked a bit, for all the reasons I’ve just gone into.

Now, full disclosure : I’m also a Mac user. The first computer I ever used that I felt comfortable with was an old Mac Classic that was on loan for a year to my brother while he was at college. Apple hardware is really really nice – if you haven’t already, try to open one of those old Apple boxes – they’re very well designed. The only machines I’ve seen that I think come close, are certain bits of Sun hardware. No, not the old Ultra 5s and 10s – instead try looking inside just about any other Sun box, and you’ll see what I mean (I was always a fan of the IPX and Classic form factor : a computer sturdy enough to use as a stepladder when you weren’t quite tall enough to reach stuff on the top shelf in the lab, very very well built hardware) Even the more recent boxes, like my desktop in the office are well designed : don’t take my word for it, find one and open it up to see ! So, a while back, not being able to afford a SunBlade 2000 of my own, I bought a Mac.

Why do I use a Mac ? Well a couple of reasons, but the form-factor of the old lamp-style iMac was hard to argue with. OSX is a pleasant OS to use, and the machine is quiet and has enough oomph to do everything I need. Now, while the OS looks nice, it’s not quite as stable as I’d like it to be, though I’m not using the most recent release : still stuck on 10.2.8 because I haven’t bought the upgrade to 10.3. Realising though, that being tethered to a desk wasn’t feasible for too much longer, I had started to look more towards Apple’s iBook and Powerbook laptops, as I think they probably make the best mobile computing products out there at the moment. Of course that is, assuming that there isn’t the infrastructure yet for a bunch of SunRay terminals in every airport, bus station, library, hotel and phone booth in the land – if there were, I’d stop carrying a 4lb laptop and start carrying a 3 gram smartcard instead : seriously, I’ll be the first in the queue (I really will, those things are fantastic)

Recently though, thanks to the massive efforts of hundreds of people across Sun, I can say with confidence, that I’m not thinking about buying a Mac laptop anymore. There are things I can do on my desktop now that I couldn’t do, even with a Mac laptop (correct me if I’m wrong). I haven’t managed to crash my Toshiba laptop in a very long time : and that’s even with the fact I’m running a beta version of an operating system that’s still going through QA. Likewise, there’s some fantastic stuff in Solaris that I haven’t seen anywhere else : as Stephen pointed out, using
ctrun I can run applications and not have to worry about restarting them should they crash. Of course, I’d prefer a more stable app, but in the absence of that, this feature is a God-send. Other reasons to use Solaris ? I’ve mentioned these before, but for a desktop user, well – I believe Solaris is certainly ready for the desktop

The GNOME desktop as shown through our editorial style is excellent, and the gui tools that people are starting to write using Zenity (nice appp Glynn!) integrate really well (I’ve written my own one around a 3rd party battery status driver I found floating around) There’s more and more focus on the desktop these days, and with the security problems still plaguing Windows, there’s never been a better time to run UNIX.

This is a fast moving world : a few days ago I was complaining about device support on Solaris, but today I’m running on an alpha version of a driver put together by the x86 group in the Beijing office that gives me wireless support ! On the same day, I was sent an updated driver for my little Dell Optiplex GX110 upstairs (256mb ram, but it runs Solaris fine too) to allow it to run at 1280×1024 – it previously could only manage 1024×768 on Xorg on Solaris. That was all in the space of a single day. It’s only been 9 months since last April when I removed Windows from the machine, and I now have a perfectly capable laptop OS.

What’s my point ? Well, I’m running a pre-release of an operating system that’s rock-solid-stable and about to ship to customers. What’s more, they don’t have to pay anything in order to run it, and by the sounds of things, people who want it will be able to get the source code for it as well if they’re interested. In less than 9 months 90% of my complaints about the lack of support for the hardware I care about have been addressed – and I’m confident that the remaining niggles I have will be fixed at some stage. I think 2005 is going to be a pretty good year for Solaris on the desktop.

At the beginning of this post, I was talking about some hardware that has met my portable-computing needs. Well, I’ve also got some software that runs fine on that hardware. And they say it’s a server OS ! Here’s some news folks – it works fine on desktops too.