April 18, 2005

Playing with Walmart's Linspired laptop

Author: Jerry Sharp

My wife and daughter recently ordered for me Walmart's $500 Bal^nce laptop computer, which comes equipped with a Linspire operating system. I had some fun putting both the hardware and software through their paces.

Upon receiving the laptop, I immediately fired it up and tried it out. The Linspire system worked pretty well, but of course there were some missing programs. I connected to Linspire's Click N Run software service and tried to register my free 45-day CNR account. CNR may be useful and easy to use, but registering to use it caused me confusion and a feeling of stupidity. After several attempts and failure, I gave up. I probably could have gotten it done, but it was sure a lot of stress for something that I would probably not like. Besides, you don't have to register to use apt-get.

Rather than mess up the installed operating system, I installed a spare hard drive (easily done on Bal^nce), grabbed a SimplyMepis CD, and installed it to the laptop. 55 minutes later, it was working with all functions. I was able to add programs with apt-get immediately.

I loaded Wine, and installed EchoLink, a ham radio program for Windows, in just under 6 minutes. Everything just worked. I did have problems at first using my NetGear MA111 USB wireless device. Eventually it started, and now works flawlessly. I have no clue as to why it didn't work initially.

The laptop uses a 1G VIA CPU and comes with 128MB of RAM. Increasing the amount of memory might add to the performance, but it runs pretty well now.

The Bal^nce laptop seems to be of adequate quality, although the touchpad mouse is totally non-intuitive. (Is touchpad the only reasonable option for laptops?) Incidentally, I tried booting Knoppix 3.7 LiveCD on the laptop and it did not find the touchpad.

Do I recommend the Bal^nce? You bet. Do I recommend Linspire? I would suggest that a newbie might better answer that question, but I find SimplyMepis much more responsive to my needs. And it was easy to install on the Bal^nce laptop.

Jerry Sharp is an old retired telephone technician with too many Linux opinions.