Linux on a Sony C1VN Picturebook

The Picturebook is still one of the coolest gadgets around, but as a notebook, by today's standards it is severely underpowered. Installing Linux on it makes sense, because by tailoring the operating system to the it the its capabilities you can still make the machine a pleasure to use.

For maximum control, I decided to go with Gentoo with which I had no previous experience. THis way the whole boot-up process takes less than a minute. The following are a couple of useful things I found out on the way, by no means a step-by step giude.


If you want to install from the PCMCIA CD-ROM, boot with gentoo ide2=0x180,0x386 docache Once the bare bones system on the CD has loaded, my wireless card worked immediately after saying

modprobe orinoco_cs
cardmgr -f
iwconfig eth0

You won't be able to see the CD any more, though. That's why the docache flag was important.

In general, the Gentoo Handbook is an excellent guide through the long list of tedious steps. I suggest one important departure from the Handbook. Do NOT say emerge --sync. If you do, you might not be able to install binaries from the accompanying packages CD, because portage will have it in its head that newer packages are available and insist on downloading them and compiling them from scratch. Use emerge -K to install packages from binaries.

Kernel Configuration

There are far too many options to list here. Use common sense. Don't forget to enable Crusoe support, sonypi and everything you need for your PCMCIA wireless or network card.

X windows

If you are lucky, you can install xorg-X11 binaries. If you are not, like me, emerge will download the files from the net and compile everything, which takes more than 3 hours.

You need to put ModeLine "1024x480" 65.00 1024 1032 1176 1344 480 488 494 563 -hsync -vsync in the monitor section of /etc/X11/xorg.conf and correspondingly add "1024x480" everywhere in the display section.


FVWM2 is still my favorite window manager, because it's so simple and is so easy to configure. It's becoming more and more difficult to get it to work with the various modern distros. FVWM is particularly well suited to the Picturebook because it is so lean and so fast. emerge -k fvwm installed it straight off the bat (only 25 minutes of compilation this time). Simply put fvwm in ~/.xinitrc to tell X to use it instead of its default.

Further packages to install

  • Wireless: wireless-tools
  • LaTeX: tetex