Thinkpad X61s

Progress with significant costs.

Operating Systems Used

I had an epic seven years and three Debian releases with the X61s at UOSPC and home. I retired my trusty X30 from work duty at the end of 2010, because my boss wanted me to have a laptop that could run Windows. I bought a second X61s when the first needed a new fan and I wanted a backup. I retired the X61s when I got an Gluglug X60 in late 2013, and finally in 2016 when I bought a Taurinus X200, both FSF Respects Your Freedom certified laptops. I gave Elizabeth an X61s as a replacement for her failing Toshiba laptop, and explored Debian Stretch with the other. My cat destroyed the video ribbon cable for hers, so I moved her drive to the other so she could keep using the same model. Eventually, I moved her to my first X200 and retired the remaining X61s to media playing with GNewSense. The other X61s was being repaired at FairhopePC from scrap parts, which also gave me a US keyboard for my Gluglug x60.

This machine's powerful hardware did all the things I had done with the X30 and then some, but there were both hardware and software reverses. This was my first ACPI laptop, something I was hoping to avoid. I would later learn that the hardware more malicious than I had imagined. Squeeze and Wheezy were solid Debian releases, but I was unable to use Jessie. Squeeze brought KDE 4 with many improvements but suffered several important losses. Wheezy was a little worse and Jessie was unusable because of losses in KDE 4. Eventually, I got back my favorite software, E16 and KDE 3.5. The X61s did movie editing, virtual machines, and other heavy tasks with ease. They ran hot and had a tendency to overheat. This was my first Thinkpad model to ever die of hardware damage, something I attribute to bad cable placement, and I think it would have happened earlier if I had not favored larger batteries.

I bought my first X61s and named it Diplomat because I planned for it make a good impression and be able to cage or talk to non free software. IBM certified used people shipped it to me on December 22, 2010. I immediately removed the Windows drive and installed Debian to a larger hard drive, intending to run Windows virtual machines. I kept the unused Windows XP drive for about two years and learned to run things in Virtual Box.

Diplomat was a technical success but a political failure. I had quick and impressive success at running in Virtual Box and using terminal emulators to organize things. My boss either did not notice or did not care. He refused "freeware," by demanding VMware rather than Virtual Box, even as vendors were obsoleting his equipment and he looked for ways to hold onto older, better functioning software versions. I never had the time to explain why I was doing things and why that might be better. I have tried to explain that I use my personal computer like he uses his cell phone, that it has tools that are simply better at many tasks and that his cell phone and my laptop have more software in common than our laptops do.

With each new release, KDE 4 proved complex, slow, and error prone. While there are many excellent features and it is beautiful, unreliable PIM exhausted my patience. I simply quit using Kontact and my Handspring Visor from April of 2010 until October of 2012. This insidiously ate into my productivity and organization. I immediately felt the loss of the Kicker and several other pieces of software. Konqueror is still my favorite browser. Dolphin, Digikam, KDEnlive, Amarok and many other KDE programs are still best of class. The problem is Akondi and a growing list of applications that start and use unreliable databases. This clumsiness surprised me because the Amarok database was fast and reliable. It still is. The nadir of it all was when Kmail 2 in Jessie ate all my email. That was the last straw that drove me to the Gluglug X60 and the Trinity Desktop Environment. The slowly tightening noose was suddenly unbearable.

The transition to Gnome 3 also brought some minor pain. In August of 2013, I asked for help when tsclient vanished and noted the decay of systray services. In another conversation, Aaron Seigio told me that people were moving from systray to newer Freedesktop notification mechanisms. I later learned that Ubuntu decided to abandon systray in 2011.

The move from DCOP [2] and Bonobo to Freedesktop D-Bus was supposed to make gnu/linux desktops work together better but the results look like a step backwards to me. Where I was once able to run any part of any desktop in just about any Window manager, I'm not sure I can anymore and many older desktops have been left out all together. Databases pose another problem. A naive user who installs multiple desktops will get multiple databases and file miners running at the same time and they are all difficult for users to control. As these become more of a core service, it becomes Perhaps I'm not watching new desktops closely enough.

For all of that, Squeeze, Wheezy,and Jessie brought amazing new software and the hardware could do more. On this laptop, I grew in all the ways I was on the X30 at UOSPC. I had already organized all my work on my the X30. The X61s was given ever larger hard dives to carry everything. I learned better how to go between home and two offices. Remote access got easier until they were ended by entirely non technical problems. Dicom reading and other medical software got better with each release. Open Office, then Libre Office looked and worked better. KDenlive had more features than Kino and it was able to work with clips that would have choked the X30. There was a whole new world of virtual machines to explore. My job demanded that I use non free software. The free software world built cages for it to minimize harm.


December, 2010 to December, 2011

With the kicker gone, I turned to Cairo Dock as a launcher for E16. It was beautiful but a little heavy. I missed KDE 3 right away, but did not have time to document many of the differences.

At work, the uses were apparent enough that I called the machine "Diplomat." Virtual Box, Wine, and Tsclient were all put to work talking to Windows and other non free software. Within a week I had learned to use all of the treatment planning and quality assurance software and I could access them through secure shell from anywhere in the world. Surely, I thought, this excellent performance would win the hearts and minds of my employers.

At work with many new ways to quarantine non free software Necromancing Windows 98 with Virtual Box

The magic of virtual machines applied to free software as well as Windows. I built virtual machines from old disk images like my EEE PC and my old thesis drive. I had looked into Qemu before, but this was click and drool easy. The only drawback was that it was limited to x86 images.

It was like having a collection of old computers without all the hassle of storing them or keeping them running. Live CDs were just as useful for providing useful archiving and networking service to non free virtual machines as they are to actual boxes.

Sometimes it did not work. One copy of Windows 98SE refused to install to a Virtual Box. I was unable to clone an XP machine or two.

Kicker from a Virtual Box via ssh X11 forwarding Setting up Radcalc, an install that would last four years with next to no effort.

Of course, I was still enjoying E16. I was exploring panels as replacements for Kicker and having fun with beautiful background images.

Bumping into the soft switch for wifi devices gave me the creeps. I wondered if anyone should trust a "soft switch" but was happy that the rfkill package was available.

Enjoying E16 with XFCE4 Panel The joy of a Rotated Monitor WMbutton Facelift

The free software world had a wealth of low resource launchers. I learned how to start a new X11 session so more than one user could work on the computer and how to lock the screen with Xscreensaver and made buttons for WMbutton. XFCE4 and Stalonetray were fun.

Monitor rotation worked particularly well with Krandrtray in Squeeze. Simply clicking "unify screens" was enough to toggle between dual monitors and a laptop ready to transport mode. I would go on to write several how to articles about this.

Enjoying E16 with XFCE4 Panel Getting Ready to Rock with Sansa, Rockbox and Amarok.

Wheezy Testing

December 2011 through March 2013

I moved to Wheezy faster than I should have, but it was OK. A few annoying bugs would soon be fixed. Boot times were much faster and KDE was much improved.

Dealing with LibreOffice Crossout A Quick First Impression of Wheezy
Loving how Knetwork manager works after removing malicious wifi card Multimonitor howto for Wheezy
Howto make network manager work Gnome Power manager on XFCE4 Panel

I mostly overcame e16 composite problems by using Sun OS theme and had many peaceful months of running this way. E16 was no longer an official package in Wheezy, so I was using the Squeeze version. Changes to X11 wrecked many E16 themes by creating artifacts around the boarders when you moved a window. Square themes did not have this problem. I would later fix the problem by compiling a very much still alive and maintained E16 in my Trinity16 project. These images also show desktop scaling from small laptop screen to bigger dual monitor screen.

Composite Working Square Corners Leave no Artifact Trails in E16

This would go on for years. Debian on the X61s was stable through the beginning of Jessie. When Jessie broke things for me, I moved onto the Gluglug X60 and back to Wheezy.

I made a separate page of links like this, so I can concentrate on new things here.

VLC Plays ODF Pulse Audio Streams in Kmix
Scripts to Make Photo Albums Looking at Amarok Music Sources
Living on the Side of my Bed Running Mepis 8.5 in VM to get Google Street View

Google Streetview would be on my free software wish list for about two years. Google finally made a html5 version, but it too is non free software and should probably be run in a VM or some other sandbox. Maybe the folks over at Open Street Map will make a version that uses libreJS.

OLVWM on Multiple Monitors Paging through Google Maps on Many Virtual Screens

Running applications across several several virtual screens is a cool thing that E16 still does well. The pager can be set to always on top to act as a bird's eye view as you mouse through the large application.

Rediscovering Qcad as Librecad Geotagging Images with Digikam
Excel 4 under Windows 3.1, inside Debian Etch Dosbox, inside Virtual Box on Debian Wheezy. Word Perfect 5.2 Reviving and improving my old airfoil generating methods. I had a lot of RC Model Fun with this laptop.
Konqueror File List Filtering with Wildcards


Cairo Dock and Composite Again Overheating

At this time, my laptop started overheating when composite graphics were used. This problem would only go away when I cleaned the fan and heat sink very well. Eventually, I bought a spare X61s and had a new fan put in my old one.

Driving the New TV Elaborate Palm sync with Lenny Mac Mini and VNC
VNC Client Dealing with Windows Media.

Wheezy RC1

March 2013 through May 2013

Things just keep getting better with Wheezy.

At the same time I was finding out how Microsoft used digital restrictions as an excuse to spy on people, I was getting some nice hardware and software upgrades. Here's how to make vertical movies and display them on web pages with the html video tag. I got nice new drives, keyboards and monitors. Nothing I could do would make other people's Windows computers behave.

Unicomp Keyboard Review A 1.5 TB Disk Drive and Rebuild
Desk at Baldwin County Cancer Center


May 2013 through August 2013

I upgraded Wheezy soon after it became stable.

Dragon Player, Webkit and html5 in Konqueror Serial Pass Through to Talk to RFA 200
KDenlive Pan and Zoom Autotrace and LibreCAD
Desk at SMC A Movie of E16 Composite Rendering
How Amarok Deals with Portable Music Players Playing Games with 4ml games in a Virtual Box
Working an old GSPCA Camera Expanding into 1200x1600 Monitors
E16 Systray Loving Diaspora
Loving Diaspora and Eben Moglen Hating Mediacom

I lost tsclient here. When I finally did an apt-get upgrade for Wheezy, I got all of Gnome 3 and Gnome 2 applications were purged. Tsclient was gone. What's more, systray applets started to have problems. It's amazing how painful each of these little changes are. TDE would fix most of these problems for me.

Stalonetray Remmina not Ready


August 2013 through January 2014

Google's poor choice of MTP fools me into Jessie. I wanted to get pictures off phones and tablets. This was a bad move and I spent most of my time on it trying to figure out how to work around problems. Jessie worked a little better on a more powerful desktop, but had serious problems soon after systemd was pushed into it.

Getting Pictures from Android Systrays Start to have Problems

It's about here that I had a lot of trouble with Kmail2. I would try to make it work for a few months before giving up.

Evolution Moved from Mbox Movie of E16 to Windowmaker Switch and back
Krandrtray, Big Screen on Left Side Kbibtex Review
Typical GIMP fun Arandr Makes Xrandr Scripts and Krandrtray is Going Away
LibreOffice 4.0 Trying out IceDove


Printing from Windows with Dolphin, Samba and LPR

Back to Wheezy

2014 to 2016

At this point, I decided that my X61s' non free firmware was unacceptable and migrated to a Gluglug X60, which I loaded with Wheezy and Trinity16. The plan was to give the X61s to Jeannette and the kids for non critical tasks, so the X60 was a Christmas present for everyone. Sadly, the Gluglug died in just three months. [I thought it was due to shipping damage, but it turned out to be bad RAM, which might be the same thing.] When the X60 died, I moved the drive to an X61s and kept using it. Wheezy continued to perform for me.

Holidays in Trinity Organizer Distribution Lists in Trinity Mail
Xine, VLC and Dragon Player KIO and OpenSSH X11 Forwarding Demo
Save All Attachments in Trinity Mail Going Places with Google Streetview
Remmina and Vista7 Hating MediaCom
Luvcview Camera Software is Still Nice Movie of Konqueror PDF Handling
Trinity and KDE 4 Cross Talk E13, a Nice E16 Theme WM utilities Change
Xine, Draggon Player, and VLC Enjoying a Fresh Compile of E16
Remastering External Monitor Rotation with Arandr Free Music Tool Review - The Internet Archive, KGet, TGet, RockBox, KDE Audio Slaves, KDE CD Writing Software, Amarok and Others


Odd Sized Screen Export with TRDC Giving up TDE R14
Better methods to rotate video
A Nice XFCE4 VM Trinity IO Slaves, SMB to SFTP copy
KSnapshot Sendto List is Amazing Remmina Having Problems with Vista7
Modifying Trinity Pop Up Notification KDE Print Assistant Rocks
Expanding Desktop for Expanded Tasks More Font Mangling and Text Errors

Newfan, a Second X61s

I've had been getting a lot of hardware improvements with the help of FairhopePC. I got a new X61s so that the fan could be repaired on the old one, which they also sourced and installed. I also got a pair of nice monitors, one for home, one for the office.

Another 1200x1600 Monitor and New X61s A Larger Kicker
Installed Trinity 16 from Scratch
on a new X61s, Newfan
Looking at Quitter,
Revisiting GTK Record My Desktop

Having a second X61 gave me great freedom to experiment. I did a scratch install of Trinity 16 on both Wheezy and Jessie. Wheezy was a success, and Jessie was a failure. I think I nuked the Jessie install right after that.

Checking out Changes to Checking out Video Chat

The FSF had been warning about javascript as non free software, and "the cloud" for years.

About PDF Handling


Trying to run a Windows 7 Image in Virtual Box What's New, a Photo Album Script


It's here that I went to LibrePlanet and got Libreboot back. With better, more free computers available, I gave the X61s to my daughters as a step up from older laptops they had. They still served as backups for my work because I can easily move a drive or copy back my files if a Libreboot computer is damaged.

Hello Kitty Pink Laptop Where the surviving X61s lives.

Elizabeth used my old X61s for email, chat, and animation. Diplomat now lived on the dining room table until my cat damaged the VGA ribbon cable with his claw, rendering the display various shades of pink and red. I gave her Newfan which she used until I gave her a Libreboot X200.


These laptops came out of retirement and into regular use.

Newfan came to the rescue when I needed to find a copy of Wheezy that could compile E16. I had set aside an drive without updates in early 2016 and E16 compiles still worked while they did not on GNewSense and other Wheezy. Eventually, I compiled E16 on Trisquel and made Newfan into a media player with a GNewSense install.

E16 on Trisquel 7, thanks to a compile on X61s Trinity 16 on GNewSense as a media player.

It has been nice to have such a powerful computer as a media player and OCR system with Gscan2PDF. The PCIMCIA style network card now survives a suspend, so I can easily put it to sleep when I'm not using it. When it's awake, I can do OCR over the network by OpenSSH.

Encouraged by this, I had Diplomat repaired at Fairhope PC.

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