Charles' Blog

General ramblings of a tech geek.

The Galago Arrives...

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Today, when I got home, the first thing greeting me was the box containing my new Galago Pro. Very exciting. I’ve just started at Meducation so I needed to get a new development machine. The Galago is from System 76, a Linux-only laptop supplier that ship machines pre-configured with Ubuntu.

Actually, I was a bit apprehensive about the purchase. In terms of spec, and money, the machine is awesome. However, the keyboard has attracted a significant amount of criticism on Internet forums (see here and here). I didn’t know if I would find the keyboard annoying or whether it would be fine. I’m not a particularly demanding user, I spend the majority of my time in the console and I don’t have a particular need for typing at a high RPM. In fact, this blog post is the longest continuous bit of typing I’ve had to do this week.

So, the keyboard? Well it’s not too bad. It’s got chicklet style keys, and probably doesn’t have an experience anything like a MacBook Pro (which, incidently I also find I miss keys on). At first, it seemed that certain key strokes didn’t register. For me, the key missses tended to be alpha keys near the edge of the keyboard (A, S, M etc). I don’t think there’s anything technicaly wrong with the keyboard, it’s probably because my fingers strike those keys with less force. To be honest, I tend to struggle with most new keyboards I try, it’s one of the things I find difficult about frequent pair rotation. In fact, when I think about my old favorite machines, they all had sigificant burn in. I still harken after my old Sony Vaio, I wrote my PhD thesis on that, and I adore my little Asus netbook with it’s diddy Atom processor and I wrote my book on that. However, with no immediate writing projects on the horizon, the Galago keyboard will not have to endure all that hammering. Maybe I should blog more? If I can get through this post without falling out of love with the laptop, then I’ll probably be ok going forward.

Right. So that’s the keyboard issue discussed – with a final judgement due later. Now to describe the rest of the machine. The Galago is, I think, the best looking laptop I’ve ever bought. It’s sleek and solid, and even with the extra hard disk I fitted, it’s pretty light. The screen has full HD resolution and is bright and sharp. The rear cooling grills also seem to work very well – no overheating so far. One or two reviews I read before buying the device expressed concern that the rather narrow hinge between the screen and the keyboard was rather narrow, it doesn’t feel overly fragile, but I am pretty rough with my kit so time will tell there too.

Initially I thought that buying a System76 was a bit gimmicky. The machine itself is actually manufactured in France, and I’m in the UK, so I could have got the same box from a European supplier. Even with shipping, System76 was actually marginally cheaper, but I have to admit that deep down I wanted that Ubuntu key. Yeh I know, it seems petty, but I’ve been using Ubuntu for about 7 years, and before that I was a RedHat and Solaris guy. So it’s been 13 years since I last used Windows as my main system and that makes me wondern why I must have that Windows key? Stickers are all well and good, but finally I have the proper solution.

The other thing that’s amazing is the way the hardware just works. I powered on (very quickly, thanks to the SSD) and went straight into the final configuration screens of the Ubuntu setup process. No need to download and configure an ISO – the System76 guys had sorted it. For the first time ever, I was able to go from unwrapping a UPS parcel to typing in a shell within minutes.

It’s also fantastic that I can use and rely on all those ‘function’ keys that I’m usually scared of. During installation I playfully hit func+F4 thinking ‘I wonder what this key with the Moon symbol does’. Immediately, the laptop suspended to disk and switched off. I confess that I was mildly concerned, thinking I’d suspended mid installation and would be forced to rebuild from scratch. Far from the disaster I anticipated, the laptop resumed in exactly the same state. I know it’s probably not that awesome to all you Mac and Windows users, but I’m sold.

All in all, it’s a fab machine, that I think I’ll enjoy using. And the keyboard? Well, since I haven’t missed any keys in the last few paragraphs. I think we’ll get along just fine.