I had to get a replacement work laptop when my old Dell died suddenly. I went for the ThinkPad X230, not after any prolonged research, but because the Scottish Government have a bulk deal on that model which seems to extend to Universities.  As I usually do with computers, my first act was to put Debian on it. Now, there was a time when installing a Linux distro on a laptop was an adventure; doubly so if the distro was Debian. And one could write a long and informative web page or blog post detailing how you got this or that feature to work, how you had to re-compile the kernel to do so and hence how truly hard-core and elite you were.

Nowadays, however, you don’t seem to have to do much other than put the boot CD in, work out how to get the machine to boot from the CD drive, and then answer a few questions. I have yet to find an important hardware feature that doesn’t just work out of the box. The webcam works. The SD-card slot works. Suspend and hibernate both work. Wireless works. (OK, you do have to enable the non-free repository and install the firmware-iwlwifi package.) The trackpad works, including 2-finger scrolling: a feature that I instantly decided that I liked. (OK, so it insists on moving in 4-pixel increments; if this annoys you there is an easy fix.) Most of the special buttons (sound volume, mute, screen brightness etc.) work; the main exception is the microphone mute button. Meh.

There is a button next to the mike mute that also does nothing. I had to read the manufacturer’s manual to find out what this was for. I discovered that it has the ominous title of the BLACK BUTTON; I instantly found myself imagining the spacecraft captain’s sidekick in some bad 1950s science fiction film saying “It’s serious, captain. We will have to press the BLACK BUTTON.” With Debian installed, all that the BLACK BUTTON does is cause a black light to light up in black on a black background so that you know that you pressed it. (If you have Windows installed, it apparently causes a Windows-specific menu to pop up.)

Frankly, if we are not now in the era of Linux on the Desktop it is not because Linux doesn’t work on the desktop; it is more because we are in the era of smartphones and tablets; only old fogeys like me even care about the desktop any more.

2 Replies to “Debian on the ThinkPad X230”

  1. I did have one problem with this machine after I wrote the blog post: the trackpoint developed a creeping madness which caused the mouse cursor to move faster and faster towards one corner of the screen. I had to disable it in the BIOS to make the machine useable. I spent a while trying to work out what I had done wrong. But it turned out to be a hardware fault. Lenovo were very good about supplying a replacement keyboard. As the machine belongs to my employers I did not get my own screwdriver out to change it. But the technician who changed it for me said that it was a very easy keyboard to replace, much more so than most other current laptops.

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