Help improving the Debian experience on a Thinkpad?

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Help improving the Debian experience on a Thinkpad?

Postby Chicken76 » 2018-07-20 12:36

I have a Lenovo Thinkpad T440s, and while I'm not new to Linux, I'm new to running Linux on a laptop.
I have just installed Debian with XFCE on it and find using my laptop not so comfortable. Let me list the things that are bugging me:
  • modifying the display brightness. It's at 100% constantly and it's not comfortable to watch. Is there something I need to install to be able to easily modify it?
    I'm not afraid of the command line, but a graphical tool would be preferable. There are even dedicated keys for it on the keyboard that work in Windows. Making those work would be perfect.
  • configuring the touchpad. It works for basic stuff, but the Windows driver has so much more features, like scrolling edges, right-click by two-finger tap, acceleration/sesitivity, etc.
  • disabling and enabling radios (wi/fi, bluetooth) with a push of a button. Keyboard has a key for airplane mode and it works in Windows.
  • is there a graphical tool for changing the power saving features? Cpu frequency governor comes to mind, and while I can change it via command line, it is a bit cumbersome. Are there other 'knobs' besides the governor?

So, has anyone run Debian on a Thinkpad and can share some tips and advice?
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Re: Help improving the Debian experience on a Thinkpad?

Postby bw123 » 2018-07-20 13:02

I don't have thinkpad, or use xfce, but I went through all the same issues on my dell yrs ago on both kde and fluxbox. All these issues are usually solved with a little research. Each desktop environment installation on debian is unique as far as software included, and software you can install afterwards.

There may be default tools installed on xfce desktop that will take care of all your list, and there are surely many other tools you can install and setup to do the same tasks. Hardware of course is different on every computer, so some tweaking should be expected.

I would not do the "on windows" comparison and try the solution of just installing software randomly and expecting it to work. It's better to research the machine and understand how it works and how each of those items on your list can be solved with a solution that you like.

Instead of a list, I think you should take each item individually, and use a websearch with the words debian+thinkpad+backlight +xfce +touchpad +buttons +keyboard etc... and see the different ways others have solved the issues.

I know there is an excellent article in arch wiki on backlight for instance, that is definitely worth a read. Easy to find on a web search engine.

Solving all of these issues in one thread might be a little difficult.

Good Luck
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Re: Help improving the Debian experience on a Thinkpad?

Postby arzgi » 2018-07-20 13:33

Chicken76 wrote:I have a Lenovo Thinkpad T440s, and while I'm not new to Linux, I'm new to running Linux on a laptop.
I have just installed Debian with XFCE on it and find using my laptop not so comfortable. Let me list the things that are bugging me:
  • modifying the display brightness. It's at 100% constantly and it's not comfortable to watch. Is there something I need to install to be able to easily modify it?
    I'm not afraid of the command line, but a graphical tool would be preferable. There are even dedicated keys for it on the keyboard that work in Windows. Making those work would be perfect.
  • configuring the touchpad. It works for basic stuff, but the Windows driver has so much more features, like scrolling edges, right-click by two-finger tap, acceleration/sesitivity, etc.
  • disabling and enabling radios (wi/fi, bluetooth) with a push of a button. Keyboard has a key for airplane mode and it works in Windows.
  • is there a graphical tool for changing the power saving features? Cpu frequency governor comes to mind, and while I can change it via command line, it is a bit cumbersome. Are there other 'knobs' besides the governor?

So, has anyone run Debian on a Thinkpad and can share some tips and advice?


I don't have Thinpad, but xfce on all my computers.

1. I have xbacklight installed, it's not xfce spesific, but that enables to changing brigthess from cli. In xfce panel I have plugin, which shows brightness and let's you adjust it.
2. You should read boot messages, lspci, and others, and find out wich vendor and model your touchpad is, before going deeper.
3. Debian has many packets, which enable you to change your keyboard map to almost anything. man keyboard for start, it has good info and links.
4: xfce4-power-safe. Do 'aptitude search xfce4' and you find many useful programs. Previous requires you have installed aptitude. I use xfce4-power-safe from panel plugin, it is also accessible from Settings.

Debian wiki has also Thinkpad pages.
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Re: Help improving the Debian experience on a Thinkpad?

Postby KBD47 » 2018-07-21 01:13

I have a T420 & X220 which are slightly older than your Thinkpad. Brightness works fine for me. I like Xfce, but wonder if you might be happier with Cinnamon as it has a bit more gui control over everything. It might also be worth trying the 4.16 kernel from Debian backports if you are on Stable. That kernel might benefit your newer Thinkpad.
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Re: Help improving the Debian experience on a Thinkpad?

Postby oswaldkelso » 2018-07-21 08:06

I have a couple thinkpads. An old X60T and a T520

While the X60T is pretty well supported the T520 was such a pile of pooh I was at the point of dumping it on ebay.

The T520 was crippled when I got it. The bios was locked with a password and even after I got around that I discovered it had a "whitelist in it" This meant it would not even boot when I swapped the wifi card to one not requiring non-free blobs. Basically they lock down the hardware via the bios. In the end I had to install Windows to flash the bios with a modified version that removes the "white list" . Believe me I tried everything to avoid that. :mrgreen: Anyway everything now works on it fine even bluetooth and it's a great laptop and I learned to never buy a Lenovo again.
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Re: Help improving the Debian experience on a Thinkpad?

Postby Head_on_a_Stick » 2018-07-21 11:27

oswaldkelso wrote:In the end I had to install Windows to flash the bios with a modified version that removes the "white list"

:shock:

It should be possible to flash the firmware from FreeDOS, the grml live image has an option to boot that, if you ever get stuck again.

@OP: have you tried GNOME?

I find that the brightness controls and other niceties can work in that desktop but not elsewhere, the "live" image can be used to test.
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Re: Help improving the Debian experience on a Thinkpad?

Postby arzgi » 2018-07-21 13:42

Head_on_a_Stick wrote:@OP: have you tried GNOME?

I find that the brightness controls and other niceties can work in that desktop but not elsewhere, the "live" image can be used to test.


Maybe easier than others. I had a smooth beginning to xfce, when I found ready made keymap for my laptop from net. For other reasons, I've recently studied keymaps, and learn't that using Debian tools it's quite easy to remap. And to brightness control, there is panel applet for xfce, as I noted before.
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Re: Help improving the Debian experience on a Thinkpad?

Postby oswaldkelso » 2018-07-21 14:53

Head_on_a_Stick wrote:
oswaldkelso wrote:In the end I had to install Windows to flash the bios with a modified version that removes the "white list"

:shock:


I know, I felt dirty :lol: The only de-whitelisted bios for my machine I could find was an .exe. I did find some similar models and try using the free methods but I couldn't get them to work PEBKAC no doubt. I think RMS would forgive me :P

https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/is-ever- ... ogram.html

But there is one special case where using some nonfree software, and even urging others to use it, can be a positive thing. That's when the use of the nonfree software aims directly at putting an end to the use of that very same nonfree software.
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Re: Help improving the Debian experience on a Thinkpad?

Postby KBD47 » 2018-07-21 16:30

oswaldkelso wrote:I have a couple thinkpads. An old X60T and a T520

While the X60T is pretty well supported the T520 was such a pile of pooh I was at the point of dumping it on ebay.

The T520 was crippled when I got it. The bios was locked with a password and even after I got around that I discovered it had a "whitelist in it" This meant it would not even boot when I swapped the wifi card to one not requiring non-free blobs. Basically they lock down the hardware via the bios. In the end I had to install Windows to flash the bios with a modified version that removes the "white list" . Believe me I tried everything to avoid that. :mrgreen: Anyway everything now works on it fine even bluetooth and it's a great laptop and I learned to never buy a Lenovo again.


I'm guessing you bought a used company lease Thinkpad? I always make sure the bios is not locked/password protected on these or they are a major pain. It isn't Lenovo, it is what the company chooses to do security-wise with these machines. There have been lots of older Thinkpads come off of lease the past few years, great time to buy them, but never buy one with password protected, locked down bios :(
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Re: Help improving the Debian experience on a Thinkpad?

Postby arzgi » 2018-07-21 17:39

Please, don't steal the thread!
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Re: Help improving the Debian experience on a Thinkpad?

Postby arzgi » 2018-07-22 11:48

To OP:

Debian wiki has a page of touchpad configuration. https://wiki.debian.org/SynapticsTouchpad
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Re: Help improving the Debian experience on a Thinkpad?

Postby Chicken76 » 2018-07-23 11:19

Hello guys! First off, a big thanks to everyone who replied!

I have followed the recommendation to add the XFCE panel applets for anything power-related. Magically most of the keys started working, with on-screen feedback! :D
I can adjust brightness, sound volume, turn on/off wi/fi.
The only thing that is still sub-par is the touchpad. The XFCE controls are quite basic. I'll look into that wiki page arzgi, thank you.
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