I recently traded my old Dell XPS Gen2 for a Panasonic ToughBook CF-28. I was really looking for a laptop that had a serial port (USB dongles just don’t work as reliably), and since I wanted to be able to use it out in the field, a ToughBook seemed ideal. I didn’t want to spend any actual monies, but luckily a local independent repair shop agreed to do a trade. It’s a great little laptop, even if it is a bit on the slow side (PIII-800, 512Mb RAM), and with the dual batteries, touchscreen, and completely solid-state construction (swapping the HD out for a 64G PATA SSD removed the only mechanical part), and titanium body, it promises to be great little machine for everything from HAM radio events to datacenter work, to the occasional bit of programming.
Since I don’t have an internal CD/DVD/floppy drive for it though, I had to get inventive when I installed the new SSD. I was going to install XP so I could use several pieces of Windows-only configuration applications for my radios, but given how difficult it is to netboot a windows install, I decided to start with Debian. I did a standard netboot from my lan server, as described in the Debian Install Guide, and quite quickly had a working OS. All the hardware was detected out-of-the-box, although the network card requires firmware (putting a firmware tarball on a USB key and plugging it in during install allows the installer to set it up for you properly (this is also documented in the (excellent) Install Guide))). After starting X for the first time (with fluxbox) I realzied that the touchscreen was not calibrated properly, but luckily there is an easy to use program to fix that.
To get the touchscreen calibrated, simply install xinput_calibrator (and its required libraries, all of which are available in main), and then run xinput_calibrator. It will print out some lines to add to an X config file.
I’m waiting on some time so I can take the laptop apart, and install a mini-PCI wifi card and antennas, but for now, the PC Card one works fine. Now to figure out how to get my APRS software working!