Tim's Ferrari Laptop

I haven’t had much time to write blog posts over the last while: at least none that were wildly off topic. Indeed some of my friends had been commenting on the extreme lack of recent updates, so here’s an attempt to rectify that.

After I moved from the Globalisation group at Sun, I had to return the little
Toshiba M100
laptop that I’d been using for a year or so – it was a tough thing to do. As I wrote before, I was pretty fond of that machine. Moving to OPG, there was a hint that someone would be able to sort me out with a laptop somewhere along the way, but I’d have to wait a while.

Not long ago, the wait was over and I became the proud recipient of an Acer Ferrari 3400 laptop, thanks to all made that happen – much appreciated!

My first impressions were “Wow, that’s shiny” – it really was, and indeed still is, as I seem to have developed this rather embarassing and possibly verging on compulsive habit of polishing the fingerprints off the bright red case (it’s a gorgeous paint job by the way, hats off to the brave souls at Acer who thought they’d be able to sell a red laptop – I think it’s a shame that the latest model, the 4000 has reverted to a more sedate black)

Its extreme colour is a good indicator as to how far this machine is from the M100 – apart from the bright, some would say garish case design, this laptop is large and heavy and very very fast. In fact, given the automotive connections here, perhaps a car analogy is appropriate. The Toshiba is a Smart car : economical, light, strong enough to do the job, easy to park. The Acer is, well a Ferrari – fast, powerful, fuel thirsty, heavy (well okay, maybe the analogy wasn’t as good as I thought, Ferraris aren’t that heavy).

The 3400 does belong in a different class of notebook, probably veering more towards the desktop replacement, rather than the ultra-portable end of the market. I mean, even the power supply is heavy! (trying to save some weight on the cycle in to work each morning, I bought one of these so I could leave one power brick in the office and one at home) Now, that’s fine on my daily commute, but it’s not going to help on business trips, but well maybe the exercise will be good for me.

I also found to a certain amount of dismay that the Ferrari doesn’t fit in the laptop case I’ve had for years (better not to get me started talking about luggage, just ask the missus – I can be a bit elitist about bags, carrying cases and other luggage) So I’m looking for something that would cope with both camera gear, and computer bits & pieces, I think I’m leaning towards getting one of these (to be truthful, I have a strong suspicion that Santa Claus might be good to me this year ;-) Fingers crossed this will allow me to get through the getting-more-strict-by-the-day airline carry-on luggage restrictions. We’ll see – I’m visiting Sun offices in Menlo Park and Broomfield in early January ’06, so if you see me there with both camera and laptop, then all has gone well.

As regards Solaris support, since the Acer was one of the few 64-bit laptops available for a while, quite a few other folks in the company have these as well, and Solaris runs really well on them. (many thanks everyone at Sun who made this happen: the upshot of this work meant that not only does Solaris run well on Ferrari laptops, it also runs well on lots of other laptops too…)

So far, some of the drivers for the Ferrari are still internal-only, but we’re gradually getting this support released into both Solaris, and OpenSolaris (wherever possible). Check out the OpenSolaris Laptop Community, and recent builds of Solaris Express, where you’ll find many of the drivers for this model (though at the time of writing, not the wireless network card, that’s in the works) It should be pointed out though, that some of this support is a bit bleeding edge, and shouldn’t be installed by the faint of heart. If ever there was a reason for the HTML <blink> tag, this is it! (though UserFriendly has other ideas) – when you install early access software, you need to know that you’re running software that may not have all the kinks shaken out. Once you can accept that, I think that the more people who do play with early access and bleeding-edge software, the better things get for everyone (I’m a huge fan of the Sun on Beta Sun initiative, where we try to run the company on early versions of Solaris and other Sun software in order to help development efforts – it’s a very worthy cause)

Other good things about the Ferrari which are definite improvements over the Toshiba, are the trackpad (nope, I never got used to the eraser-head pointing device in the M100) and the lovely large keyboard, which has made writing this blog post a lot less error prone (although my keyboarding approach isn’t ideal, I’ll admit)

That’s about it for this installment of me talking about laptops. I still remain firmly committed to my earlier thoughts about mobile computing. Given sufficient infrastructure (which isn’t yet in place in all of the places I want to use a computer), I’d much rather carry around a smartcard and have access to a Sun Ray server. So instead of spending my time worrying about battery life and computer administration, I could actually get on what I wanted to use the computer for in the first place. Perhaps next time I’m talking about mobile computing, the world will have caught up with what we’re doing at Sun ?

Oh, by the way, sorry if the title of this blog is misleading – I’ve not yet been to Lapland, maybe one of these days I’ll get there…