Dell is shipping docking stations for it’s Latitude Laptops. I’ve tested a D/Dock and it does work with Linux. The only real problems have their roots in Linux’ shortcomings.
My new laptop has docking station support, and since these docking stations can be bought second hand at very reasonable prices I got myself a D/Dock.
It worked out of the box: the laptop, plugged to the docking station, just works. External devices connected via USB or the external monitor also work as they would be plugged directly to the laptop. I didn’t test the media bay, the DVI connector or the additional PCI slot, so I’m not sure if they would work. However, since there were no other problems I would at least be confident in trying these.
Hotplugging is also not an issue: the laptop can be plugged on or off the docking station while it is running. Of course, mounted USB devices connected to the docking stations should be unmounted before plugging off! But besides that there are no real problems.
The only real disadvantages of the docking station itself I was so far able to recognize are that it has too few USB ports and that it is a bit noisier than I would have expected.
There are just 3 USB slots at the back plus one at the side (which is a bit extended to work with Dell stuff, but still works as a normal USB slot), but I would have preferred to have at least 6. Mouse, keyboard, external hard disk, webcam, USB stick and a MP3 player are not uncommon devices these days.
The other problem is the noise of the docking station fan: while it is not really disturbing and far away from the fan of my former laptop it is at least noisier than the laptop’s fan. But since the docking station was quite cheap I might open it to check if I can do anything about it.
So basically everything works very well – however, there is one problem due to the shortcoming of Linux – or X to be more specific – itself: the external monitor is not detected and activated automatically. And the other way around, if the external monitor is activated alone and the laptop is unplugged, the laptop screen stays blank and there is no way to bring it back.
So the actual shortcoming is that, while the basic hotplugging support is available, there is too little automation there: X should make clear that at least one connected output device is active all the time! Also, there should be easy ways to define specific situations: if monitor xyz is connected, switch to xyz only, if monitor abc is connected, switch to abc and laptop monitor. The first one would be the external monitor of the docking station, the second one could be a projector.
But again, this is a problem due to Linux, not due to the docking station. I guess this will have to wait until the proprietary drivers deliver XRandR 1.2 support and until the distributions ship XRandR 1.2 GUIs at a larger scale and really implement these into the system. Fedora 9 will ship with a Gnome interface, and afaik KDE 4 has basic XRandR 1.2 support anyway. Still, I’m not aware of any demon like capabilities to enable automatic device selection as mentioned above…