Running Ubuntu Linux on Acer Tablet PCs Part III

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Installation

Installing Ubuntu was a snap. Since I had chosen to completely get rid of Windows altogether, instead of dual booting, I backed up all my sensitive data, music, Word documents, photos, etc., to my external NTFS hard drive. It is crucial to note that Ubuntu 6.06-6.10 can only read from NTFS natively and writing to NTFS drives is a bit trickier. Apparently, if your hard drive is in FAT32, it isn’t a problem at all and Ubuntu can talk to FAT32 perfectly. When I was sure I had backed up all my data, I inserted the x386 disc (for all Pentium processors) into the drive and booted into the Live CD. On the Acer c310 series, the default way to boot is into the hard drive. You must press F12 at the BIOS post splash screen in order to boot to the CD.

ubuntu

The icon on the desktop of the Live CD labeled “Install” is the key to the whole process. Installation was step-by-step at first, but then unattended for the majority of the time. The entire install took approximately one hour. Ubuntu can be installed on its own partition; can reallocate free space from another partition such as a Windows one for Ubuntu or wipe the entire hard drive clean, creating one giant Extended 3 Linux partition. I chose the last option.

MediaCenterLinux?

Linux is not that friendly with running media just after installation. It seems that the legality surrounding playing file formats and DVDs have not been sorted out and so this functionality has been restricted until the user enables it. Enabling MP3 playing means installing extra packages through Applications > Add/Remove > Sound & Video. This is the standard method, although there are better methods I will outline.

Enabling encrypted DVD playback via command line is annoying and does not work. It can be time consuming as well. The details are below. There are multiple programs that will play DVDs and one is tempted to download them all. The only ones that really work well with commercial DVDs (after installing libdvdcss) are Mplayer, Xine and VLC.

Office

Most people might wonder, how can I type documents without Microsoft’s Office? Ubuntu offers OpenOffice.org’s office suite, which includes programs comparable and maybe even better to the Office 2003 and upcoming 2007 suite. OpenOffice can read and write Microsoft .doc/.ppt/.xls for Word, Power Point and Excel files. I think OpenOffice is better because it is supported under Windows and Linux. It is much lighter than the Microsoft suite. It supports open file formats and is open source. Finally and maybe most importantly, it has built in support for conversion to PDF (Adobe Acrobat) and .FLA (Macromedia-Adobe Flash).

Drivers

All the drivers were present when Ubuntu was installed to the hard drive. This includes the Wacom pen driver and my Creative Soundblaster Audigy 2ZS PCMCIA card – native support!

Bluetooth

No luck with Bluetooth, then again no luck with Bluetooth in Windows Vista either. Without Acer’s ePM, it seems that the Acer’s Bluetooth radio is defaulted to off. Obviously ePM is not designed for Linux distros, but I have not attempted to run it under Wine either. I am still working on a native Linux solution to this problem and will keep you informed if any solution can be implemented.

Getting Commercial DVDs to Play in Ubuntu

Download a package called “Automatix” or “EasyUbuntu.” These packages are readily available via a Google search or at the official site for those tools. These tools accomplish the same tasks – they ease the codec installation process for reading DVDs, MP3s and MIDI files.

Enabling DMA for DVD Drives

DMA is a feature of most modern drives that allows DVDs to be read on-the-fly as opposed to being preprocessed before sent to the screen. Ubuntu defaults DMA to be off, but this is easily amended. There are no clear instructions online for this procedure. Here is how to do it without spending the time I had to:

1. Open a Terminal via Applications>Accessories>Terminal

2. At the prompt, type in $sudo gedit /etc/hdparm.conf, then type in the password you use to login.

3. You should get a screen with some writing on it. Scroll down to the bottom of the page until you get to something that looks like this (it’s possible yours is a bit different – look for the ‘cdrom’)

#/dev/cdroms/cdrom0 {

#          dma = on                      

#          interrupt_unmask = on

#          io32_support = 0

#}

4. Remove all the pound symbols (#). By doing this you uncomment the field in order for the lines to be parsed during the bootup process. Remember autoexec.bat files?

5. At the end of the page, add the following information: /dev/hdc {dma = on}

6. Save the page and exit. After a reboot, you should now have DMA enabled.

Wacom Driver – Enabling Pen, Writing Software

I mentioned that the Wacom pen driver for the Acer c310 series installs automatically. Although this is true, the pen does not function immediately. The process is very easy.

1. Go to System > Administration> Synaptic Package Manager"
2. Click "Search" in the search field type in "wacom-tools"
3. You will have one result right click it and choose "Mark for installation"
4. Click "Search" in the search field type in "xinput"
5. You will have one result right click it and choose "Mark for installation"
6. Click the "Apply" button on top.
7. Open up a Terminal Applications>Accessories>Terminal ($sudo gedit /etc/X11/xorg.conf)

Find this area:

            Section "InputDevice"

           Driver        "wacom"

           Identifier    "stylus"

            (….etc….)

Cut that section out and replace it with this:

  Section "InputDevice"

  Driver        "wacom"

  Identifier    "stylus"

  Option        "Device"        "/dev/ttyS4"

  Option        "Type"          "stylus"

  Option        "ForceDevice"   "ISDV4"

  EndSection

  Section "InputDevice"

  Driver        "wacom"

  Identifier    "eraser"

  Option        "Device"        "/dev/ttyS4"

  Option        "Type"          "eraser"

  Option        "ForceDevice"   "ISDV4"

  EndSection

  Section "InputDevice"

  Driver        "wacom"

  Identifier    "cursor"

  Option        "Device"        "/dev/ttyS4"

  Option        "Type"          "cursor"

  Option        "ForceDevice"   "ISDV4"

8.Now on the top panel click on System> Preferences> Sessions> Startup Programs
Click "Add" to paste the following string /usr/X11R6/bin/./xinput set-button-map stylus 1 3 2 4.
9. You can re-login, reboot or restart the server via cntrl+shift+backspace.

Battery Life

Ubuntu does a decent job of handling DC power. I was able to get around three hours of battery life on my fairly worn out c314 battery. This improves with added packages that handle power management. Ubuntu 6.10 seems to have a built in ACPI capability for battery usage.

VGA Out Issues

Maybe you have a massive external LCD monitor or you teach a class using a projector, but for whatever reason, you will want the VGA out on your notebook to function perfectly. Without any alternation, the Acer outputs multicolored “static-snow” that is useless for all purposes. This is resolved upon upgrading the driver using “Envy” outlined below.

1.Screen Issues > Video Driver Upgrade

2.You can download and follow the script’s directions: "Envy" Driver Update Script for NVIDIA GPUs.

Tablet PC Buttons

Many of the hotkeys near the keyboard are already supported under GNOME. They just need to be properly configured via System > Preferences > Keyboard Shortcuts. Getting the tablet rotation buttons and some of the other unsupported buttons to work is a little trickier and needs some compiling to be done. You need to install the “build-essential” package, which has multiple dependency files. This can be done via a search in the Synaptic Package Manager. There is a method for getting all the buttons including rotate and the mail LED to work, but for me that’s still a work in progress.

Wine

Wine is the Windows emulator. It will attempt to run .exe Windows files and fake a Windows file system. You can download it via Synaptic Package Manager. I was able to get the essential Windows programs that I need up and running through Wine. These include Macromedia’s Studio 8, Flash, Fireworks, Dreamweaver and DVD Decrypter. You can find out more about Wine and what Windows programs have seen success on Linux at the Application Database. http://www.winehq.com/

Conclusion

In the end, it was completely worth the time and effort put into getting all the tablet and computer features offered under Ubuntu. The stability of Linux and its memory management ability alone convinced me to switch. Of course, there are hundreds of other benefits. Since this guide was written for Ubuntu 6.06 LTS, the procedures may be different for 6.10 and future versions of Ubuntu. Apparently people upgrading from Dapper Drake (6.06) to Edgy Eft (6.10) have experienced a lot of problems and undoing of their tweaks. It’s hard to imagine what is available for free out there and with just a little effort, you can run all your applications without spending a dime.   

If you missed any part of this article’s series you can click here and start from the beginning Part I or Part II.

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