Categories
Asus Eee PC Linux Ubuntu

Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron) on the Eee PC

Geek Warning: If you don’t use Linux or Ubuntu, a lot of this will sound like gobbledygook.

As much as possible, I wanted to give the Asus Eee PC’s default operating system (a tweaked Xandros Linux) a chance. If I were another user (my mom, for example), it would be sufficient—good even. And that’s how Asus wanted it. The simple interface is meant to be like a kiosk or appliance.

So I gave the simple interface a God’s honest try for a little less than a week and already started tweaking it. I took away simple mode. I changed the IceWM theme, replaced Konqueror with Thunar, added in various keyboard shortcuts. I used Xandros for almost a month and then got fed up with it. The fact of the matter is that it works well for what it is, an internet appliance. I want more than that, though. I got frustrated with the fact that FAT32 was read-only in Konqueror but read/write in the terminal (I tried just about everything—believe me), and I didn’t like how you can’t get sudo to require a password (no, editing the /etc/sudoers file doesn’t help).

Despite reported problems with Ubuntu on the Eee, I decided to take the plunge yesterday. Bottom line: Ubuntu itself is smooth, but the documentation for it is rocky. First of all, for Ubuntu 8.04 specifically on the Eee (as opposed to Ubuntu 7.10), the documentation is scant. But even some of that is out of date. Here are the three main pages I was able to find on Ubuntu for the Eee:
The EeeUser Wiki
The Ubuntu WIki
The Ubuntu Eee Website.

If you’re planning to install Ubuntu 8.04 on your Eee, I would say take those pages with a whole shaker of salt. If you believe those pages, on a default installation, the screen resolution will be off, your computer won’t shut down, you have to do something special to get rid of the battery warning, you have to unplug the battery to get ethernet working, volume hotkeys work, madwifi is the best way to get wireless working, and certain config file tweaks will get boot time faster.

None of that is true. Here’s what really happened.

First of all, lacking an external CD-ROM drive and not really wanting to buy one, I sucked it up and followed these instructions for installing Ubuntu to a USB stick. My choices for “USB stick” were a bit limiting. First, I tried to do it with a partition on my external hard drive, and that didn’t work, for some reason. Next, I tried to do it on an actual USB stick, but then I realized it was only 512 MB (not enough to fit Ubuntu on). So finally, I tried my 2 GB Sansa Clip—which worked out perfectly. Under ordinary circumstances, the invincible/invisible Sandisk firmware would be annoying, but its invincibility in this case is great. Once I copied Ubuntu’s Desktop CD to my Sansa Clip, I was still able to listen to music and all my settings and favorite radio stations were preserved—so now I have Ubuntu live “CD” that also doubles as a portable music player. So I used my Sansa Clip to boot into a live Ubuntu session on the Eee and backed up my Xandros Eee to an external hard drive using the dd command (sudo dd if=/dev/sda of=/media/disk/eeexandros.img), and I installed Ubuntu.

First of all, I was amazed at how much stuff worked right away. I didn’t have to install the 915resolution package to get the screen resolution correct. The little up-and-down scroll on the trackpad worked. Desktop Effects were on and working without having to do anything (I promptly turned them off—I prefer metacity). Sound worked. The brightness hotkeys worked. I did notice that (considering I have 1 GB of RAM on my Eee) the live session took a really long time to load up… even though it was snappy once loaded up. That first part with the little dots after vmlinuz took at least two minutes.

So I erased all four Xandros partitions and made one 4-GB ext2 partition with no swap. Then I installed Ubuntu on it and rebooted. The reboot took a really long time. With Xandros, I was used to getting to a working desktop within 30 seconds of pressing the power button. Ubuntu took about a minute and a half. That was to be expected, though.

What wasn’t to be expected was how difficult wireless was to set up. First of all, pretty much all guides for Ubuntu on the Eee tell you to install build-essential and compile madwifi drivers to get wireless. They tell you all you need to do is reboot and wireless should be working. Not so on my Eee. The only thing I could do to get wireless working was to use ndiswrapper.

Also, there are various tweaks to get the boot time faster. I’ve tried all of them, and I swear the boot time is slower now. One of the tweaks can’t even be done—it refers to files that don’t exist (the one where you move some files in /etc/rc.2 somewhere).

I can’t get the sound hotkeys to work, and aumix has no effect on the volume, but with a quick test I did against my wife’s Macbook Pro, Skype Beta seems to work just fine (again, the Wikis are wrong—they say the microphone doesn’t work without some config file tweak).

I may reinstall just to get a fresh start and not bother with any of those boot-time tweaks. Is it worth all this trouble? I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll go back to Xandros eventually, but as someone who’s used Ubuntu for the past three years, I have to at least give Ubuntu on the Eee an honest shot. My guess is that by Ubuntu 8.10, the Ubuntu developers will have made Ubuntu a bit more polished for the Eee.

Categories
Asus Eee PC

Is the Eee PC for you?

If you read as many reviews of the Eee PC as I’ve read, you’ll know that many of the negative reviews come from people who mistake the Eee for a notebook or laptop. Granted, it looks like a laptop (albeit one hit by a shrink-ray) and does a lot of things a laptop does, but it is not a laptop. People are calling it a subnotebook, a netbook, or UMPC (ultra-mobile PC) replacement. Who knows what name will stick? But this isn’t a total computer replacement any more than your cell phone is (think iPhone and not Macbook).

I was able to replace my desktop computer with an Eee, because I also happen to share a household with my wife, who has a regular laptop (a Macbook Pro), so when I wanted to give a CD mix to a friend, I burned it on my wife’s Macbook Pro (the Eee has no optical drive). The screen on the Eee is tiny—you won’t be doing any heavy graphics editing on it.

The Eee is an internet appliance that also happens to do a few non-internet-related things as well (it has a word processor, a spreadsheet program, a sound recording program, and a music organizer). Mainly, though, it’s great for browsing the internet, emailing friends, and Skyping (I just yesterday tried out video Skype on it, and the webcam and microphone work quite well). There is the occasional website I have to do some side-scrolling with (using the Right arrow key), and if you want to watch YouTube videos, you may want to use Firefox in fullscreen mode (press F11 to toggle back and forth), but it’s a nifty little appliance I’ll think nothing of toting around.

It’s actually made doing laundry bearable (I love reading books in the bathroom or on the bus, but for some reason not while doing the wash), and I’m looking forward to taking it on the plane with me when I visit my parents for Christmas—I won’t have to worry about it weighing down my backpack or being too much trouble to take out for the security check at the airport.

If you find yourself in coffee shops using wireless to blog or check out the latest news feeds and are tired of hauling your 15″ or 17″ laptop around, you may want to check out Asus’ Eee PC (or its upcoming rivals from HP, Dell, and Acer in the upcoming months).

Categories
Asus Eee PC

The Eee – a week later

It’s not difficult to get overexcited about a new product when you first buy it, especially if it’s been one you’ve been eyeing for months. Now that it’s been a week, and I’ve had time to use the Eee extensively and tweak it some, I can honestly say I’m happy with my purchase.

Are there things that still annoy me? Hell, yes! But for a product relatively new to the market (think iPods of 2003 or cell phones in 1999), it’s pretty solid. I have finally gotten used to the placement of the right Shift key, but the numeral 1 being so far to the left still throws me off. And, yes, the keys on the keyboard feel as cheap in construction as they did last week, but I’ve noticed that the Eee’s keyboard isn’t as susceptible to cat fur infestation as my old desktop computer’s keyboard was. Plus, for the non-keyboard part of the Eee, since our cat is mostly white and the Eee I bought is black, it’s very easy to notice right away any fur that drifts on to the screen or casing, and I can blow it away immediately.

Through extensive web browsing, I have finally come across some websites that require horizontal scrolling, which has prompted me to install Opera (which allows you to scale pages to fit the width of the screen). I may end up doing a little back and forth switching between Opera and Firefox.

I’ve also realized that I really don’t go out that much to coffee shops and such. It was handy having the Eee with me while I did laundry; but when I’m hanging out with friends, I don’t really need an internet appliance. Mainly, I just use it at home on the couch while watching TV, and it’s nice to have a computer that doesn’t take up so much space (my old desktop had a tower, separate speakers that needed to be plugged in, an external monitor, an external keyboard, and an external mouse). When we do end up traveling (if airlines’ flight prices go down), it will be nice not having to haul a huge 5″ laptop around.

This Eee will serve me well for a while, though it’ll be interesting to see what’s on the horizon for subnotebooks / “netbooks.” HP is supposed to have one coming out soon with a slightly bigger keyboard (with spill-proof keys) and a much bigger hard drive. I think Dell and Acer are supposed to have things in the works, too, to compete with the Eee. And Asus itself will be releasing a new version of the Eee soon, too (larger screen, higher resolution webcam, larger hard drive, more memory, higher price).

Categories
Asus Eee PC

When it comes to electronics, size is relative

If you’ve been following my blog the past few days, you know that I’m excited about my new Eee PC, but you may be wondering why I haven’t posted any pictures up of it. After all, isn’t that what people do when they blog about new gadgets they’ve purchased?

I would post up a picture, but I don’t think pictures do this little-engine-that-could justice. Its main appeal is its cuteness, its tiny-ness. And size is relative. That’s why, after getting a big TV, my wife and I now think every normal-sized TV looks puny. And that’s why all of the pictures floating around web of the Eee PC right now all make hands, other laptops, hardcover books, etc. look huge instead of making the Eee PC look small. We’re used to seeing laptops a certain way, and so they become a point of reference, much like the model skyscraper next to the clay King Kong.

Well, it finally happened: after only three days of use, I’ve adjusted to the size of the Eee, and when I went to use my wife’s Macbook Pro, the screen looked enormous, and I couldn’t type properly because the keys seemed to far apart. I’m now a munchkin, thanks to the Eee PC.

Categories
Asus Eee PC

How I’ve made myself at home with the Eee

I like the Eee’s default simplified GUI (graphical user interface). I think it’s cute but professional-looking, and it has a kiosk feel to it that would make it easy to use for Windows, Mac, and Linux users alike.

Still… as a Linux user of three years, I do like to customize, so after only three days with the Eee, I have it set up very much like I did my Ubuntu computer before this.

Even though the interface itself doesn’t advertise the fact, the Eee actually runs the IceWM window manager and then has the simplified GUI run on top of that. Since I like keyboard shortcuts, at first I used the IceWM configuration files to use the Windows key (on the Eee, it looks more like a house than a window) in combination with other keys to launch applications. Then, I got annoyed that pressing the Windows key would show the simplified GUI before I hit the second key in the key combination. So I changed my key combinations to Control-Alt-key, but that was annoying, before I don’t like having to press three keys at a time to launch frequently used applications. Then, I tried to move the toolbar to the top of the screen instead of the bottom of the screen, but that covered up the tabs of the simplified GUI. So the bottom line is that the simplified GUI was annoying me, so I following a tutorial to get rid of it and get back to a regular IceWM configuration.

The Eee has some good prepackaged software, but I wanted to add a few things. The tutorial on adding extra Xandros repositories didn’t really work out for me. I kept getting error messages, and then there weren’t that many software packages available afterwards. So I just added the Debian Etch repositories (temporarily—only to add packages, afterwards disabling the additional repositories again). That was nice. I was able to replace Konqueror with Thunar and Kolourpaint with GIMP.

I haven’t tested this out myself, but the general consensus seems to be that the sleep mode (when you close the lid) sucks the life out of the battery quite quickly and won’t last the night, so I followed a tutorial to get the Eee to shut down if the lid is closed when unplugged and sleep if the lid is closed when plugged in. That’s been nice. I don’t mind shutting down this thing, since it takes anywhere between only 24 and 30 seconds to go from a cold boot to a usable desktop.

I also uninstalled the Asus mouse theme package, as the default mouse pointer is huge! So now I have nice, small, unobtrusive mouse pointer.

Now I feel at home with the Eee and less inclined to put Ubuntu on it. Maybe in a few months I’ll get restless and install eeeXubuntu anyway. We’ll see!

Categories
Asus Eee PC

Sum-up Review of the Eee PC 4 GB 701 Model

Even though I’m going to go over all the pros and cons of the Eee PC, the bottom line is that the product is worth getting if you want a cheap, portable internet appliance, and it’s not worth getting if you need a large-screened full-blown laptop.

What’s bad

  • The keyboard keys feel cheap.
  • The mouse button and Control key have to be pressed down hard to be acknowledged.
  • The placement of the right Shift key and numeral 1 key make touch-typing difficult for those used to a normal keyboard. The screen dimmer hotkey is too close to the hotkey that turns off the wireless connection.
  • Security is terrible—you can perform administrative tasks without password authentication; though, I guess Windows XP users won’t mind this.
  • Asus decided to use a Linux distribution called Xandros, which has very limited software repositories selection. If they had gone with Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, or one of the more popular distributions, it’d be a lot easier to install software without worrying about breaking your system.

What’s So-so

  • The battery life could be better. If you disable certain items in the BIOS (webcam, wired ethernet), dim the screen, and turn off the wireless, you can add a little more time, but the max you can expect is a little over a few hours.
  • Asus lies in their manual about whether you can use in other computers the memory stick that comes with the Eee. You can use it in other computers after you upgrade the RAM. That said, even though I feel good about having upgraded my RAM from 512 MB to 1 GB, my actual RAM use rarely goes above 400 MB.
  • Wireless connection is easy, but a little confusing. If you want to connect to a regular network (one you’ll use often), you’re supposed to connect through the Network icon. If you want to connect ad hoc to a wireless network (say, at a coffee shop), you’re supposed to connect through the Wireless Network icon. I don’t know how anyone would know this without experimentation or research.
  • Considering how much space the speakers take up (making the screen only 7″), the sound quality is only good and not excellent. Not being an audiophile, I don’t really need my sound to be excellent (not tinny is okay with me), but I feel as if good sound could still have been achieved with smaller speakers. There are two speakers on either side of the screen, and each is larger than a pack of chewing gum.

What’s good

  • The size is good. Yes, it’s small. It’s supposed to be small. That’s the whole point. Its small size is its appeal. It’s cute.
  • Although the screen is small (800×480 resolution), it’s usable, and has a high-quality display (and I lucked out by having no dead pixels—I’ve read some reviews from people who had one or two dead pixels).
  • It’s quick to set up and quick to boot up (less than 30 seconds).
  • The default simple interface is intuitive (apart from the Network / Wireless Network icon confusion) and would be suitable for all users, no matter what their computer backgrounds.
  • It comes with everything you expect from an internet appliance, and more! Windows and Mac users may not be used to this, but the Eee comes with not only an email client (Thunderbird), a web browser (Firefox), an instant messenging program (Pidgin), a music player (AmaroK), a sound recording program, but also Skype, an office suite (OpenOffice), Adobe Reader, Adobe Flash Player, Java, and much more. Although it’s difficult to add software, the software that comes with it should satisfy most users’ needs.
  • It’s easy to tweak. If you are a power user, the documentation on the web for tweaking the Eee is phenomenally extensive and easy to follow. Just go to EeeUser.com.

I’m on day three of using this and still loving it. My next entry will be on what tweaks I’ve done since I got it.

Categories
Asus Eee PC Computers Linux

Welcome to the Eee: My computer just got downsized

Since the Linux model isn’t sold in stores, and the Windows model is supposed to arrive about now but reports are mixed about its actual availability at Best Buy (brick and mortar, anyway), I’m starting up a little section here devoted especially to the Eee, because I feel this is where computers are headed.

If you’ve been reading technology news the past two years, you know that the One Laptop Per Child XO Laptop, the Intel Classmate PC, and the Macbook Air have been a lot of the exciting developments in the area of home computing and/or education. Computer use recently has grown more and more dependent on the internet. These days, with Firefox (or another web browser), you can do your taxes, organize photos, listen to music, share documents, shop, connect with friends and family, get directions, buy concert tickets… you get the point (and so do computer manufacturers). The traveling internet appliance has arrived and are even starting to earn the nickname netbook.

Well, I’ve been eyeing these “netbooks” for a while now, and the Macbook Air is just too far out of my price range, and I’d been hearing good things about the Eee for months (the fact that it has Linux preinstalled on it didn’t hurt for me either as a selling point). After reading literally hundreds of reviews of it (blogs, videos, user comments, tech news articles), I took the plunge and got myself a Xandros-preloaded Eee PC, and I don’t regret it. More details later, but for now just know that it is cute, visually stunning, and does what it’s supposed to (email, web browsing, web camming, Skype, IM, word processing, time-wasting games, music management, photo editing) and in a very, very small package.

Categories
Asus Eee PC Linux

I don’t know about “the desktop,” but Linux appears to be ready for the ultra-mobile PC

I don’t like arguments about whether or not Linux is “ready for the desktop,” because I think that phrase is basically meaningless. What I have always contended about Linux, since I started using it in 2005, however, is that Linux preinstalled and properly configured is perfectly fine for most home users’ basic needs: web browser, email client, music, photos, and word processing. Before Asus’ Eee PC, there was little to support that contention. Now, though, the people speak.

Right now on Amazon, there are 124 reviews for the Asus Eee PC. Of those, 89 are 5-star reviews, 27 are 4-star reviews, 5 are 3-star reviews, 2 are 2-star reviews, and 1 is a 1-star review.

While I don’t agree with Asus’ choice of Xandros for its base Linux distribution (mainly because of its limited software repositories—many of even the positive reviews complained about the difficulty involved in adding more basic software), I have to say they have really made Linux user-friendly to the uninitiated.

Some of the reviews are clearly from Windows power users who intended from the very beginning to wipe out Linux and install Windows XP, and others are clearly from Linux veterans who bought the ultra-mobile PC because it had Linux on it. But many of the reviews are from people who had no idea what to expect from Linux and were pleasantly surprised. Here are some of those relevant excerpts (the bolded bits are for the extra lazy among you who don’t need context):

Great Product! The perfect little carry along computer. I wasn’t too savy with Linux at the beginning. But now I’m all about it. This pretty much handles anything you throw at it, but you may need to tweak it here and there (Linux that is). I recommend jacking up the RAM. Oh and this Eee is a Chick Magnet! Seriously. Walk into Starbucks and this thing sells itself…


I am thoroughly delighted with this product. It is everything their claims say, completely easy to use and does everything I could ask. Writing a doctoral thesis or editing a full length movie would be difficult but everything that a basic computer would do is right here plus portability, etc. I have been bragging about it to everyone who will hold still. The instruction book could stand an index, but most tasks are intuitive anyway. Just began using the built in Skype…what a deal! Everyone should have this rather than one with dozens of applications that will never be used, at 2 or 3 times the price. Was a little concerned about Linux (I am not a computer geek) but no problems at all.


With the size, all the different bright colors, and the low cost, I thought this Eee PC might be more gadgit than a usable tool. I was completely wrong.

The Linux software loaded on the Eee PC has a look of a child’s game, but it’s actually powerful and well put together. It can read and save in MS Word and Excel. I was very surprised.


I titled this review as a great second laptop because I really don’t think it would be enough if it were someone’s only computer. There are some great things that you can do with this, but definitely not everything most people would enjoy. It’s difficult to download new programs and the system is designed to be used for simple applications. I am not much of a techie and I have never used a Linux OS before, so maybe there are things that I just don’t know how to do, but for only $400, it’s a great way to get online, listen to some of your music (with a SD card) and take notes. As long as you don’t need a full computer, this laptop is perfect.


starts in 30 seconds, on the net in a minute. as i keep everything in the cloud, the 4gb ssd is plenty. took about a week to get the hang of the somewhat cramped keyboard, but once i got it it’s no big deal. fits in the outer pocket of my coat, but now that it’s warming up i use the bag. two novels, pens, notebook, smokes, and the eeepc fits perfectly well. shuts down in 10 seconds toss it in the bag and am out of there. haven’t bothered with the xp, tried a couple of things with linux that i found on the net and they worked fine. all in all it’s light enough to be there when you need it.


I love this little gadget. It does most of what I need it to do. I have a full-sized windows laptop as well but it is a nuisance to tote around the house. This does the trick nicely for e-mail, surfing, and yahoo messenger. Having no Linux experience whatsoever, I was pleasantly surprised to have this running out of the box in less than 10 minutes.


I gave this as a gift, and despite the cons, the recipient is extremely happy and satisfied with it. I felt the ability to switch to Windows XP would be a nice fallback plan in case the Linux OS and apps weren’t satisfactory. Since the OS and apps are more satisfactory than Windows, switching to Windows is no longer a consideration.


Honestly, this is an AMAZING product.
It is small, cute, light, and easy to carry, and use.

I found the Linux operating system pretty easy and yeah, it OPENS my Windows Microsoft office files.

I have no problem at all going wireless.

I like it and I recommend it to everyone.


The laptop itself is built very well. The linux OS it came with is enough for the regular user, but was too limited for me. I installed XP and love the eee even more now. It is fairly powerful for its size and has enough processing power to run any office app. I have had no problems with the laptop so far, it has not frozen on me once. The eee pc also has a big following online, so one can get help from forums fairly easy. This was a big help in installing windows XP.


I purchased the Asus Eee laptop from amazon about two weeks ago and have been using it on a daily basis. Now understand that I am not an expert in computers and have never used Linux before. After powering up this little thing, I was able to be on the web and use many of its programs in no time.


After a quick search, I found step by step instructions for downloading and enabling the “advanced” desktop. I’ve never used linux before (advanced Mac/PC user), and I was a bit intimidated, but was able to follow instructions, and the “advanced” desktop is just like XP, only quicker! I definitely recommend that any user intent on having XP put the advanced linux desktop on it for a few days first. Also, the 2G does not have java plug-in installed. That was another quick 5 minute install. I believe that the 4G Surf model has the advanced desktop and java plug-in installed, you just need to enable the desktop mode.


I purchased this machine as a travel pc and have to admit that it’s a fun little pc to use. The start up is quick – really quick. We needed quick directions. Got them in less than 3 minutes. The other laptop and desktop were still booting up. I was wary of Linux operating system having never used it, but it is so user friendly. It’s just like windows – only different icons. I connected it to my home and office network in a snap. In less than 10 minutes I was browsing the web. I thought the small 7″ screen would not allow full screen view and scrolling, but it does. I have only had a few sites where I have to horizontal scroll but i can live with that.


I was a bit apprehensive about the OS, since I have never had a linux machine, but it is super easy to use and very intuitive. Whew.


This is a very user friendly laptop (Targeted after all for your children and older adults). I was never a huge Linux fan but the version that they installed here is at par with xp, even surpasses it because of the tabbed interface that is similar to Firefox. You do not even need to read the manual or be an expert on Linux to figure the thing out. It is a great starter laptop, and at the same time a great secondary laptop for the road warrior or student.

Even though Asus is now starting to sell some Eee PCs with Windows XP preinstalled, I admire their bold move to put a less-popular operating system on a revolutionary new product, and I’m glad to see it having such commercial success. Maybe I’ll pick one of these up when the second-generation models come out.