I have an old Dell Inspiron 1501 laptop computer. It had Windows XP installed on it, but I hadn’t fired it up in a year. I wasn’t even confident that the battery was any good. To find out, I plugged it in, fired it up, and watched the battery level climb to 100%. So at least it’s holding a charge while plugged in. Next, I needed to get rid of the Windows XP install, since XP is past its end-of-life cycle. Mind you, this is a very low-end laptop. It’s not just that it’s old, which it is, but it wasn’t even cutting edge when I bought it 8 years ago. It has a 200gb drive and only 2 gb of RAM in it. That’s hardly enough to run Windows 7 or Windows 8. Although they might install, they wouldn’t work very well on that hardware.
So I decided to install the latest version of Ubuntu Desktop (13.10). I downloaded the ISO from the site and burned it to a DVD. Then I put the DVD in the computer and booted. The nice thing about the Ubuntu Desktop install is that the DVD you create is also a live DVD, meaning that it will load and run Ubuntu without actually being installed. This is a great opportunity to see if it works on your hardware and if you like it before actually installing it and blowing away all of your old stuff.
As near as I could tell, everything worked except the wireless adapter. The wired ethernet adapter worked fine. No problem, I thought, as I could find a driver for it later and install it. Interestingly, if you are just testing, the Ubuntu DVD gives you the opportunity to install right from the live version. I did that, it installed fairly quickly, and it then rebooted.
When it rebooted, I noticed that the wireless light had gone out (it had been on before, even though the OS hadn’t found it). No problem, I thought, I’ll just get the driver off of the Internet and install it. Low and behold, however, my wired network was now not working either. A quick Google search turned up some options. One of them seem plausible and easy to try, and was a fix for the wireless problem. It was a two step process, but the second step required obtaining and installing some software. Since I didn’t have an Internet connection, that might prove difficult. But I surmised that the first step might fix my wired problem and allow me to do the second step.
I went to the terminal and entered the following command:
sudo apt-get remove bcmwl-kernel-source
Then I rebooted. After rebooting, my wired network connection was now alive. So I entered the second command:
sudo apt-get install firmware-b43-installer
I rebooted again. When the system came back up, the wireless light was on and the wireless was working fine!
I proceeded to install some software and explore around the new desktop. Even on this old computer, the system was snappy, easy to navigate, and visually pleasing. It allowed me to take an old laptop destined for the scrap heap and give it new life. I’ll use this one as a web-surfing machine, or maybe use it to do some development, or even as a media device. Remember, that most of the applications you’ll ever want to use are free and open source, and very easy (1 click) to install. It’s as easy as installing apps on your smartphone. Kudos to the Ubuntu team for this.