Dell XPS 13 and HDMI Sound

When players collide Nathan Rupert via Compfight

I’ve recently taken to watching movies on line through Amazon’s streaming video. I can watch them just fine on my Dell XPS with Ubuntu. However, I wanted to try and push them to my HDTV and watch them on a large screen.

When I tried it, the video was fine, but no audio. Then I found this blog post. Your mileage may vary, but for me, I just told the audio settings to use the HDMI output and it worked fine. Now I can watch movies on my big screen TV.

I did need to purchase an HDMI rat tail adapter and some HDMI cable, to make this possible. That was not inexpensive. I was able to get these items at my local Best Buy.

Another thing I did related to this, was purchase the NFL pre-season pass for $20.00 so I can watch all the pre-season games on demand. Normally I’m not that big of an NFL fan, but so many of my favorite BSU football players are on different teams this year, I wanted to see how they did in professional football. This too works fine on the Dell.

Dell XPS and Ubuntu Update

I’ve had a couple of weeks now using the new Dell XPS laptop with Ubuntu and figured it was time for an update. In short, I’m loving it. The laptop is thin and light weight, as you’d expect an ultrabook to be. But unlike a netbook, there is plenty of space for my fingers on the keyboard and the screen is a nice 13 inches over the too small for my aging eyes netbook.

There is really only one major physical flaw with the XPS and that is the lack of a groove to slip your finger into to open it. It is unusually difficult to open this laptop as a result. If you have longer fingernails, it comes apart easier, but my nails are short so I have to pry it open. It’s not hard to open, just more awkward than it needs to be.

The battery life is around five hours, but to be honest, I don’t go for anywhere near that long on the laptop, so I’m a horrible judge of that. The longest I’ve gone is about three hours. Not too many modern computers do less than that.

The screen has been just fine for me too. Again, I don’t need bleeding edge resolution to write books or watch a streaming movie. I did finally watch a movie on it this weekend and it looked great.

The bottom does get warm after an hour’s solid use. But what laptop doesn’t? If you keep it on a desk, like every manufacturer recommends, you should be fine.

I’m also loving the latest Ubuntu operating system on this laptop. It’s fast, smart and let’s me do what I need to do. What else can a writer need? Oh yeah, it looks pretty sweet too.

I wish more manufacturers would put their trust in Canonical and work with them to ensure their laptops run Ubuntu. What say you Samsung, HP and everyone else? Because right now, Dell is the only company and this XPS is the only ultrabook that I can personally recommend to you.

 

Trackpad Sensitivity in Ubuntu on Dell XPS 13

The biggest annoyance I have found since I moved in to this Dell XPS 13 laptop running Ubuntu is the over sensitivity of the trackpad.When I was typing, just the slightest touch of my wrist pads on the trackpad made the cursor jump around to some random place in the manuscript. It was becoming quite annoying for someone who spends a great deal of time writing on their laptop.

Then I came across a web page that recommended a program to download that would help tweak the trackpad’s sensitivity. I gave it a try.

From a terminal:  sudo apt-get-install gpointing-device-settings

palmdetection

Here’s a screenshot of my settings. After I used this program I was able to type without changing the cursor’s location all over my manuscript. I’m not sure if the settings will hold after a reboot. But things are running much better using this handy GUI. There is no About menu to tell me who is responsible for this handy app, but I really appreciate their efforts.

Now back to the novel.

Loading the Dell XPS 13 with Ubuntu

What follows is a step-by-step look at installing Ubuntu on a new Dell laptop. If that’s not your bag, check out some other posts listed on my About page. 

I purchased the base model XPS 13 from the Dell website and paid the $25.00 for next business day shipping. It was worth it. I ordered the laptop on the 4th of July, an American holiday and it arrived at my door on the 6th. Fantastic.

In the day and a half prior to its arrival, I downloaded the 64 bit version of Ubuntu 12.04 LTS and used the Pen Drive Linux’s Windows USB creator program as suggested by this page on the Ubuntu website. This information was simple to follow and resulted in a USB stick that was ready to install Linux.

When I unboxed the laptop, it was fully charged. As a precaution, I plugged it into the wall charger for the duration of the install. I then plugged in the USB stick to the Left side USB 2.0 socket. This little tidbit was gleaned from a forum on the Ubuntu site. Don’t use the right hand side’s USB 3.0 for booting.

I then turned on the laptop, and pressed down on F2. This brought up the firmware boot loader. I changed it to boot from the USB stick. Otherwise, it would have booted into Windows. It worked flawlessly on reboot. The Ubuntu installer came up and I started the installation. It was fast, both due to the speedy processor and it being 64 bit. Part of the installation was to set the WiFi connection. Easy and it worked perfectly. Before rebooting into Ubuntu, be sure to change the boot loader back to boot from the Hard Drive.

After I rebooted, I started the updates and waited for several hundred packages to download and install. This also went flawlessly and was super fast. The final step was to install the special XPS fixes that Ubuntu and Dell developed as part of their Sputnik project. This also was super easy and went flawlessly. After the reboot, the computer was working perfectly including the track pad. (LINK UPDATED: 13 SEP 2012) Here is the forum post that tells you how to use the PPA’s from Kamal Mustafa Canonical that let the track pad work. The install went off without a hitch and I never had to see Windows. ;-)

I’ll have more to say about the laptop itself and how well it works with Ubuntu in future posts. My initial impression is pretty positive. I like how small it is and I love how fast Ubuntu is on the machine.

Laptop Decision

I’m going forward with purchasing the Dell XPS 13. My Macbook is dying and I leave for vacation next week. I plan on loading the special version of Ubuntu that the Dell project Sputnik has created. My reasoning for this is that they have worked closely with Ubuntu and the hardware manufacturers to guarantee that Linux works with every component of this laptop.

There might be better ultrabook laptops on the market, but none of their OEMs are actively supporting Linux in any meaningful way. I’d have to settle for less than usable components if I put Linux on one of them. I prefer to have my Linux ultrabook actually work with Linux. There are OEMs that make Linux specific laptops, but none of them make a thin, light weight and powerful laptop that doesn’t look like a brick. The XPS is many things, but ugly is not one of them.

This will be my first Dell computer. I’m already dreading the looks I’ll get on the HP campus but you know, HP is not supporting Linux on their ultrabooks. If they were, I’d be getting an Spectre XT laptop. I think it’s important to support venders that support Open Source and in particular, Linux. Without putting my money where my mouth is I can’t really call myself an advocate of Open Source. Right now, Dell is being a responsible vendor, so they get my money and my support.

     

Maybe in a few years time when this new XPS 13 is ready to be replaced, more vendors will be supporting Linux and I’ll try another vendor’s laptop. But until then, I’m getting a Dell. I’ll be documenting my adventures with this laptop here on the blog. So if you find yourself curious about how my experience goes, do come back and find out.

(I work for a contractor at HP Boise. I do not work for HP.)

Linux Laptop Search

My current writing laptop is an old, first run Intel MacBook. The track pad button is dying and so is the screen. I don’t have very long to search for and replace it with a new laptop. Luckily, I’ve started writing my files to Dropbox; so I shouldn’t lose any data when the HDD crashes.

My search for a replacement laptop has been on for many months now. I keep going back and forth between a MacBook Air and a Windows laptop that I can wipe and run Linux on. The only viable reason for me to go with the MacBook is that I really love using Scrivener. Linux support for that application is pretty much non-existent. I’ve never been an Apple fan and my dislike of Microsoft is legendary. Meanwhile, nothing has given me more pure joy in the past ten years than using Linux.

This weekend I ran across an interesting article while Googling for Linux compatible ultrabooks. Apparently Dell has started a black ops project (now in the white world) with the objective of getting Linux developers to use their laptops, specifically the new XPS 13 ultrabook. The project is known as Sputnik and it involves hardware manufacturers and of course Canonical, who make Ubuntu Linux. You can follow the blog of Barton George the Sputnik leader. Here is a short interview with Barton.

It’s a little odd that they picked an ultrabook to showcase as a developer platform, I think future versions of Sputnik will run on more robust laptops. I love that they did start on the XPS 13, because that’s the type of laptop I was looking to purchase. It’s good to know that Ubuntu 12.04, or at least their image of it, works fine with all the hardware on that laptop. Including the touch pad as of a week ago.

I still have not made up my mind, but as of today, I’m leaning heavily towards the Dell XPS 13 for my next writing laptop. You can check out reviews of this laptop everywhere, but two of the best are here and here.

As for not being able to use Scrivener, well you know, life existed before that program. I don’t really need the hand holding it offers writers. Let’s face it, I use Linux. I’m not going to whimper about much when it comes to software. I’ll probably use a combination of Focus Writer, Open Office and Sigil to get the job done. At this point, I’m really looking forward to using Linux full time again.

You must create a USB boot disc with the Sputnik ISO. Here is a program to assist with that. Also, Ubuntu has a forum dedicated to Dell installations. The later entries have some information about the Sputnik ISO.

Mixed Bag

String is king
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: fixlr via Compfight

Book Sales Numbers

My April sales numbers are not in yet, being this is the last day of the month. But I thought I’d ball-park the numbers for you so you can see the difference from last month. Reason being, last month my novels were selling for $6.99 and this month they are back to $2.99. April’s numbers were comparable to March’s total number sold. Both months I sold around 35 books. Of course I made much more when the books had a higher price tag, but in the end, both months were pretty even in total books sold.

Not much can be made about those numbers. I expect that in May the sales numbers will rise a bit, especially since it will be the second straight month in which they were priced the same. There’s something to be said about consistency. So I won’t be tinkering anymore for the rest of the year. I’m sticking with the $2.99 price point until I can demonstrate consistently higher sales per month.

The New Ubuntu

I have a six year old MacBook that can’t be upgraded to Lion. So I reformatted it a month ago to dual boot Ubuntu Linux. Ubuntu upgraded in April and I let the installed version update itself. On that particular laptop, it was a huge improvement. Everything works better, including the twitchy touch pad drivers.

I downloaded the latest Linux Beta of Scrivener and called up my novel in it. That was Friday and I’ve not booted into the Mac side since. The Windows version of Scrivener is less feature rich than the Mac, but it works. It does the things I use Scrivener for and so far without error. As soon as they allow me to buy a Linux version, I will enthusiastically make that purchase. Until then, I get to re-install the beta every couple of months and hopefully get an even better version.

The new Ubuntu is really sweet. The best feature for me is making the Unity bar smaller so it takes up less screen space. Love that. It makes the OS look like its own unique desktop. I also updated the HP Mini laptop to 12.04 LTS and it’s doing well with it too. Double win.

So now we are back to two Linux laptops and a Windows laptop for the family.

My Next Laptop

When the old MacBook finally dies, and I have to replace it, I will most likely go with the new HP Folio 13. It has all the features I need, and with this latest version of Ubuntu, should work fine with all my applications.

Big Toe Woes

I was plate umpire for my oldest’s baseball team on Sunday. It was a good game, low static toward the umpires. Unfortunately, I took a fast ball to my left big toe. It still hurts today. My first umpire injury in two years. Small price to pay for watching the kids play the best game in the world.

 

Scrivener on Ubuntu

Occasionally, I will install the latest version of Scrivener beta for Linux. It really hasn’t been very useful to me until now. But in messing around with it over the past few days, I can see that it has reached a very usable state. This is important to me, because my MacBook is slowly dying and I don’t want to replace it with another MacBook. I’m just not rich enough for the Apple ecosystem. Besides, I really love using Linux. So every time I use my Mac, I feel like a betrayer.

Anyway, enough of my sad, computer-using angst. Here is a screenshot of the latest port from the Windows version of Scrivener, running on Ubuntu. (Click picture to enlarge.)

This is a scene from my current WIP – Starveyors. I don’t think it will give any spoilers, so feel free to read this unedited, first draft snippet.

This is a stripped down version of Scrivener if you are used to the Apple version, but you know what? It still does 90% of what most writers need from the application. So I think it’s a win. When my MacBook finally croaks, I’l be replacing it with a decent laptop running Ubuntu and be in Geek heaven. I really hope this goes final soon and I can actually buy it for Ubuntu. The beta expiration workaround is getting old.

Unity, First Impressions

Unity is the new desktop replacement for Ubuntu Linux. It takes a radical approach to the desktop, mixing elements of Windows, Mac and Linux to form a new interface. I applaud Ubuntu for trying something new and innovating the desktop space. This is exactly what Open Source software is best at.

With great change, comes great confusion and impassioned protests from those of us set in our ways. I am a daily user of Ubuntu. It runs on my secondary PC at work and my HP Mini netbook that I do all of my writing on. I really liked the old interface with Gnome 2. I was comfortable with it and it let me customize my computer for the way I used it. But no matter how much I liked the old ways, I was still open to change if I thought that change was for the better.

In many ways the new Unity desktop feels like a completely different operating system. It tries to introduce several new features at the same time and I think that more than anything is what’s confusing to long time users of Ubuntu like myself. But what we all have to remember is that change is the mark of innovation. If Linux is not innovating, than it is falling behind other OS solutions.

I won’t go into detailed descriptions of all the changes that Unity offers, you can find great videos and blog posts elsewhere. What I will offer over the course of the next few days and weeks is my personal opinion of these new features, as I use the 11.4 release both at work and on the Mini. Especially from the vantage point of a fiction writer.

My first impressions of Unity on my writing netbook are very positive. It looks slick and modern and still feels like Ubuntu. The launcher dock on the left of the screen gets out of your way when you open a program, so that saves desktop space on my ten inch screen. Each program that is active now has its menu on the main menu bar at the top of the screen. This is why Ubuntu moved the close and open buttons to the left a few releases ago. The new approach is very similar to how Mac opens programs. So a Mac user would be right at home. But for Windows users and users of KDE and the old Gnome, this will be confusing and irritating.

Unity was originally intended to be a netbook OS. So using Unity on a netbook should be ideal and it really is. Unfortunately I don’t have a desktop computer that can handle Unity, so I can’t say how it would behave on a bigger screen. But on the tiny netbook, it definitely works, once you get used to the new metaphors.

Next time I’ll go into how I use Unity when I write.