Monday, 18 May 2009

Dell Mini 10, gah

A couple of months ago, I received a loaded Dell Mini 10, running a version of Ubuntu from last year, loaded up with proprietary and custom drivers.

If you look at it without giving a second thought at the kit inside, it's quite nice: nice 10" glossy screen, integrated webcam, 3G modem with GPS-A, dual-DVB-T tuner, Bluetooth, WLAN/Ethernet, HDMI output, SD card reader.

Try to run anything other than the shipped Ubuntu (and that even goes for a newer version of Ubuntu), and you'll be in the mud.

The graphics card is the PR problem that's Poulsbo. The wireless card is a Broadcom 4322, with no free drivers, the modem gives Dan Williams nightmares (see the Swedish Invasion part), and the touchpad's driver never got upstreamed.

Adam had a bit of luck getting the Poulsbo going on Fedora 10. I haven't been so lucky under F11 yet, and the wireless card could apparently work with the kmod-wl package from RPMFusion. As for the 3G modem, I'm sure we'll be able to work something out to make it work as expected with a bit of work.

I'll leave others to complain about the «Poulsbong» (as it's been nicknamed) graphics card, and focus on the touchpad. The Elantech touchpad is the kind of touchpad that would make me want not to buy this laptop. No separate buttons, you instead need to click at the bottom of the touchpad area, and that gets awfully tricky for drag'n'drops. Right, this laptop didn't cost me much.

The real problem with the touchpad is that it work to its full capabilities with the stock kernel's drivers (it will even stop working when psmouse can't resync with it). But the shipped Ubuntu could, and the kernel logs seem to point at a modified psmouse. So I drop a mail to Jorge Castro, who passes me on to the manager responsible for the Dell OEM stuff.

After many attempts at getting the source code for that obviously GPL driver, I get the answer:
I believe you're mistaken in assuming that the code we have is merely a
modified version of the psmouse driver, e.g. there's a user space
component as well.

Arjan's code appears to be different.
Arjan is the kernel maintainer for the Elantech driver, on CC: at the time. Well, I was pretty certain it was a modified psmouse, and strings on the driver proved that. Thanks to Jorge not wanting to let me down, we finally found the sources for the Elantech driver in 2 separate commits.

Why did it take 3 weeks of arguing with some middle manager as to whether the code was GPL or not to find out that it was 1) freely available but unfindable 2) it had Arjan's name in the copyright, but apparently wasn't open source, 3) never upstreamed.

We were not amused.

To sum this up:
  • Dell, stop putting Broadcom crap in your Linux laptops (that also goes for the fingerprint readers)
  • Intel, please get Poulsbo drivers up-to-scratch upstream
  • Broadcom, don't put crap in Dell's laptop unless you want to start doing real Open Source
  • Canonical, apply a clue-bat to your middle management to stop lying
  • Jorge, thanks for being patient with me
  • And thank you unnamed provider of laptops, you gave me a reason to rant


Chris Hubick said...

I spent a lot of money on a Panasonic CF-U1 ruggedized UMPC, knowing it had an Intel graphics chipset, and thus expecting it to work great under Linux. At the time, I had no real idea what Poulsbo was, nor that it was separate from the regular Intel Linux graphics stack. I'm sure aware of that now :(

Francois said...

You want another annoying pb with Dell's Ubuntu? I really praise them for giving access to alternative OS on their netbooks and using a "standard" distro.


they are using some homemade repositories. Why not, it includes their custom menu. However, they have updated Network Manager to version 0.7, without including the same upgrade for the VPN plugins... As ALL our Mini9 require the VPN for professionnal work, it means that we have to lock the version of Network Manager to version 0.6.6. It sucks, it's uncessary complicated. It's LTS version, they should stick with the standard version of the softwares. Or upgrade them properly. They still need to learn a bit about how to manage a linux distro apparently.

Astron said...

Take a look at their current offerings in the UK: . That's right, there's nothing listed. I guess their offering Ubuntu desktops won't go on for too much longer.

L Lee said...

I just bought Dell mini 10 from Costco. The netbook sometime is not compatible with wireless network. I don't know why. I called a lot of techs. at dell company many times. So far, the problem still exists. Is it design problem or only my netbook problem?? I have to return the netbook to Costco since it is uselss if the wireless doesn't work.

thaddeus said...

ok, so how do I use this information to fix my touchpad? I have a dell mini 10 with stock ubuntu 9.04. The touchpad works, but I can't change any of the settings for it with gsynaptic, as it gets recognized as a logitech WheelMouse. I'd lie the system to recognize it as the elantech pad it is, and then I assume the X11 synaptic driver and config programs will work.