Thursday, February 15, 2007

Antique Gadgetry and Software

I recently downloaded a build of Ubuntu Linux to test-run as a Live-CD on my old 2001 iBook. Version 6.10 ran much better than 6.06, which I test-drove last summer. Touchpad movements moved the cursor normally, vigorously, not in millimeter increments, and the wireless card was recognized, loading the latest crazed astronaut news from BBC in Firefox. I would have installed the OS on the hard drive, just for the hell of it, but I would need to partition the hard drive. I had just reinstalled an impersonal version of Mac OS X 10.3 with none of my data, and various software, after cloning its personality into a MacBook and wiping iBook's drive, so I hesitate to partition it and start over on all that. This machine is being retired due to a fault in the screen, the dreaded screen-blacks-out-if-opened-wider than-45-degrees fault common to many of this model. It already had the defective logic card problem, and the delete key fell off and is taped on. Strangely, when running Ubuntu, the screen no longer blacked out when opened! What? So is it a software problem, not hardware? No, instead of blinking out instantly, the screen froze and slowly stepped down the contrast until it had grayed out completely and then went black. Different, but still bad. Perhaps part of the inferior power management of Ubuntu relative to Mac OS. So it is not that the power or signal to the screen shorts out, but that the wire that tells it that the lid is open shorts out. (?)

I am planning to take the iBook apart to fix the screen glitch. I may change the form of it, taping it (or nailing it?) to a piece of plywood, for example. It's not so much a repair mission as a dissection. Other possible uses besides experimenting with Ubuntu are to use it to pick up my wireless connection and share internet with my non-wireless iMacs upstairs, to run it in target disk mode to give an old Mac a bigger hard drive to use (30 gigs vs 6 on my candy iMacs), or to cannibalize it in some other way.

Practically speaking, I think the functionality and bundled iApps of the Mac OS are superior to what comes with Ubuntu, although Ubuntu is spiritually better. I hope the MacBook doesn't have all of the problems of the iBook, or I will abandon Apple for Ubuntu (when it gets a little better) on a Lenovo (or whatever). Apple should license their OS to at least a few other makers or models; one company can't cover all configurations. Apple has no ultracompacts, for example.

In other news of antique, defective, and broken gadgets, I found (when packing it up to throw it away) that I had purchased a 3-year warranty on the POS (Piece of Sh-crap) known as the Rio Karma when I purchased it in March, 2004! It was expensive, so I had figured I could use the insurance. Later, I was gifted with an iPod Shuffle (which I use every day) and an early generation of Nano (-still way underutilized-), so I stopped using the Karma, realizing I didn't need a big device with 20 gigs of music for everyday use. By the time it developed the battery defect, I had forgotten the warranty.

Although Rio as a music-player maker is out of business, it seems that I will be given a Rio Unite 130 2G, a device dating to 2005. It was a Japan-only product, and although it is only 2 gigs, has line-in and voice recording capability as described in English here. I see that the price was about the same as the Rio Karma was. I am looking forward to getting an actual working device with recording capabilities to replace to bad Karma that was collecting dust.

Update 20070216: I initialized the drive, again, and installed Ubuntu 6.10 on the iBook. I have other computers with Mac OS on them anyway. It is hard to judge it fairly when I can only open it 45 degrees, but it seemed to run well, and updated itself with lots of free software. In some ways it is better and more configurable than the Mac OS. However, the Music Player didn't work, crashed, and wouldn't import tracks from an mp3 cd. The CD tray had to be opened with a clip, as the open tray button didn't work. There is no Skype that runs on this version, either. There is a Skype for Debian flavors of Linux which should fit the bill, but maybe it is the PowerPC processor that it doesn't work with. With no iTunes, Skype, and CD tray problems, I'd say OS X or even 9 is better. I will leave the Ubuntu OS on until after the operation to dismantle it. Uli will be my guide.

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