Our laptop took an unfortunate tumble the other day; it turns out that it’s not the best idea to pick up a laptop from a high shelf while carrying a dog in the other arm. Most of the laptop survived the journey, but the CD drive tray snapped in half; oops.

So I went to Dell’s web site, looking for a replacement drive. After a bit of clicking on links, I think I found the page that should list optical drives for an Inspiron 8200; unfortunately, no drives were shown.

Which annoys me; I guess Dell is of the opinion that I should have to replace my laptop every few years. (Which is consistent with other problems I’ve had with it recently: it doesn’t seem like it was made to last forever.) But I thought I might be missing something, so I tried to find an address to e-mail them to ask.

And I couldn’t find such an address; the only e-mail addresses they publish are for stuff that’s under warranty or for orders that you’ve already placed. Which is crazy – I want to ask a question which might (depending on the answer) cause me to give them money, and they don’t want me to be able to do so?

So it seems unlikely that our next computer will be a Dell.

Which raises the question: what should that next computer be? Some constraints:

  • It has to be able to run Linux.
  • It should probably be able to run something other than Linux. The main reasons here are that Liesl would prefer that, and that there are some video games that I’d like to play. (Civilization 4, recent Mysts, and Spore, when it comes out.)
  • At some point soonish, Miranda will want to start using the computer. It’s not clear if Linux would be adequate for her needs; it would be nice if it were hard for her to infect the computer with viruses, spyware, etc., though.
  • It would be nice to have a relatively lightweight, WiFi-enabled laptop to bring on trips, etc.
  • It would be nice for it to be easy to, say, add large hard drives.
  • It has to be able to drive my iPod.
  • It should be powerful enough to last for a few years.
  • Wireless networking will be increasingly important at home, as I buy new WiFi-enabled video game consoles.
  • I don’t mind spending some amount of money, but I don’t want to go overboard.

When I put this all together, it looks like buying a desktop as well as a laptop makes sense: the desktop machine is good for cheap power and expandability, the laptop is good for portability (and use in the den), and it will probably be cheaper and more satisfactory to buy two machines with different strengths than to try to buy one machine uniting their strengths. Plus, there will be more and more times when multiple people want to use a computer simultaneously.

I’m pretty tempted to get an Apple laptop: they’re some of the best designed laptops out there, I get the feeling that the operating system is good, and it would probably satisfy our desires for a non-Linux OS. (I think the video games that I’d want to play are popular enough that they’d be available for the Mac.) Of course, there’s Apple’s x86 transition coming up; I’m not sure which side of that fence I’d want to be on. (This purchase probably won’t happen for another year or so, so I really will have a choice.)

As far as a desktop machine goes, Sun’s Ultra 20 is pretty nice, and I can get a 35% discount on it. (Whether it will look so nice in a year isn’t so clear; I hope so.) It should satisfy my computing power needs for the time being. It can run Linux and Windows if necessary, but having it Linux-only sounds good to me. And the laptop can be MacOs-only, since I can run Linux applications remotely on it with X. (Which is another reason to make the desktop machine Linux-only, so people aren’t tempted to reboot it to run Windows while I’m in the middle of using it remotely…)

There’s no cable connection in the room where the desktop machine would go; I guess we’ll buy a wireless router and put it downstairs, and put a wireless card in the desktop machine?

It’s not clear how I’d migrate my existing music library to either Linux or MacOs to drive the iPod, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it; that’s certainly not a good reason to stick with Windows.

This is all a bit pie in the sky for now: I want to milk my existing setup until either the machine breaks or some external factor (Miranda, lack of disk space, whatever) makes an upgrade more urgent. On the other hand, judging from past experience, the machine could break at any time, so I should be prepared.

Suggestions, anybody?

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