RPI instituted a manditory laptop program last year. The school issued ~1400 IBM Thinkpad 600e model laptops to the incoming freshmen. Many of these students decided to install Linux, but the process was rather agonizing, due to lack of hardware support under Linux distributions at that time. An IBM 10/100 etherjet cardbus PCMCIA ethernet card was the worst offender. Toward the end of the year, most of the hardware was finally supported, but the most functional installs were still 'messy', and far too complicated for the average user.
This year, RPI has decided to roll out ~1500 IBM Thinkpad T20 models to the incoming freshmen. I fear that history may repeat itself. A large portion of the hardware is very difficult to get working under Linux and FreeBSD. The sound card requires ALSA, the video card requires a special X server, lilo requires special arguments to boot linux above the 1024 cylinder mark, and last but not least, the fully supported miniPCI EtherExpress Pro that ships with most T20 model Thinkpads was replaced with a rather unsupported 3com miniPCI card. Getting this straightened out is going to be some work.
My goal is to lead the RPI-ACM into providing customized installs of Linux and FreeBSD for the Thinkpad 600e and the Thinkpad T20 laptops distributed at RPI. I've been working on the 600e for a few weeks now, and I have a customized redhat distribution almost ready to roll. FreeBSD is going to have to wait on the 600e, due to some problems with the cardbus ethernet. Jon Chen, an RPI upperclassman, is working on the FreeBSD cardbus driver, but it still needs some work.
I just got my hands on the RPI model of the T20 two days ago. Jon visited my apartment yesterday, and managed to patch the FreeBSD 3com 575 driver so that it works with the miniPCI card. I haven't had any luck with Linux support so far, but it looks like there might be something written already. Looks like it could be a little messy, though.
Here I am, a week and a half before the start of the next semester, and I'm going to try to get two or three distributions of software configured and tested for several hundred people. I'm not sleeping much. Jon, who has borrowed the loaner T20, tells me that the ethernet card in the T20 has ceased to function, and it might be a hardware problem. I have a life I have to worry about, one of these days.