Today I got the Vostro 1400. Starting it up and getting Vista going wasn’t bad, but it took a while. I had opted to get rid of most of the software bloat that Dell usually includes, but still had to set things up, download updates, etc. Vista is the slowest thing ever.
After I got everything set up, I decided to try installing Ubuntu (see Linux, Part 1 where I downloaded and tried out the installation CD). I knew the first step was shrinking the main hard drive partition to free up room. But Vista doesn’t make this easy. I still don’t know how to get to that control panel other than by searching Help for “partition” and then clicking on a link that opens the utility. I struggled with that for a while before I went back and read the article that said I didn’t have to do anything but free up the space (not create a volume, which I couldn’t do). The Dell came with the hard drive already partitioned into 4 parts. I think one is for a quick-booting media player, the other is a recovery disk, one is diagnostics, and the other is the rest of your hard drive with Windows on it. (In Ubuntu they are called MEDIADIRECT, RECOVERY, DellUtility, and OS).
Next I booted up from the Ubuntu CD I had made and installed on the free space I had already created. This went pretty smoothly, but took about 20 minutes. Finally I was able to boot Ubuntu from the hard drive. Now when the computer starts it gives you a menu right after the BIOS loads to choose an operating system. This is kind of clumsy in my opinion. I have an old PC set up to boot in either Win98 or Win2000 and it is pretty easy to set the startup disk to either C: or D: Then you boot up into that one all the time until you change it.
Anyway, this boot menu is called GRUB. And once it is on your machine there is no getting rid of it (well, there is, but it isn’t easy; more on this later).
Ubuntu loaded okay and it would hook up to the internet over an ethernet cable, but it had no idea I had a wireless card installed. I followed some very, very lengthy instructions I found that involved typing in all kinds of crazy Unix commands. Everything seemed to go all right, except towards the end when you test the driver it is supposed to say the driver is installed and the hardware was detected. Only mine just said the driver was installed. The hardware wasn’t detected. I tried all kinds of different things and couldn’t get it to find the wireless card (note: I got this to work in Linux, Part 3).
So I decided to delete the partition. Back to Vista and the disk management panel. I right-clicked the 40 GB volume I had freed up (now separated into a 38 GB volume and a smaller one which Ubuntu used as a swap file, but I right-clicked the bigger one) and choose Delete Volume. The smaller partition stilled showed however if you get out of disk management and back in I was back to my 39.06 GB of free space (due to the fact that there are 4 partitions, for some reason I am unable to extend my main partition into this free space without getting an error that there is no space available on the disk; this is a Vista bug). However now when I started, my BIOS looked for GRUB and, when it couldn’t find it, just gave up completely. I couldn’t boot up the computer at all.
I eventually reinstalled Ubuntu so that it would rewrite the partition and rewrite GRUB. So now at least I can boot up, but I’m stuck with GRUB until I can make some kind of recovery disk that will let me overwrite the master boot record to get rid of GRUB and restore the Vista boot loader.
I eventually figured out how to get rid of GRUB. Fortunately the Dell came with a recovery disk “reinstallation DVD”. I booted from the DVD and then followed the instructions from Microsoft ultimately only needing to type: bootrec /FixMbr at the C: prompt
I hate the way they have the recovery CD set up. Not only does it take a long time to boot up, but about 15 seconds after you start booting from CD (I’m hitting F12 during normal boot to select Boot from CD/DVD instead of from the hard drive) when you think everything is going good and you can go get some coffee, a question pops up that asks you to hit any key if you want to boot from the CD/DVD. If you don’t do anything (because you are getting coffee) it boots up normally, which in my case was back to GRUB which after 7 seconds goes ahead and starts Ubuntu. So I kept ending up in Ubuntu. It seems like GRUB would have a way of uninstalling itself (which I could have done from Linux), but if it does I couldn’t find it.
During my searches for a Dell wireless driver I found an Ubuntu disk image (for 7.04 instead of 7.10) customized for certain Dell laptops, mine not included, but it would work on very similar laptops with much of the same hardware. I downloaded the disk image, burned it to CD like I had done before with InfraRecorder and booted from the CD. It seemed to work fairly normally, but at some point while the CD was booting, it gave me a graphics error and I didn’t know how to recover from that. Game Over as far as I’m concerned.