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Computers Linux Ubuntu

Ubuntu 8.10 (Intrepid Ibex) on the Eee PC 701

I did it. I wiped Mandriva clean off my computer, backed up my important files, and installed Ubuntu 8.10 beta on my Eee PC, and so far the experience has been wonderful. There were a few bumps along the way, of course:

Other than that, it has worked a dream. I’m very happy with Intrepid on the Eee. I did one update and left it at that (if I did daily updates, I’m sure one of them would break things, and as the Eee is my main computer, I can’t afford to have that happen).

To anyone who says I should file bug reports on this stuff while Intrepid is still in beta, bug reports have already been filed on all of these, so the developers are quite aware of these problems. I don’t know if they’re a top priority to be fixed or not, though.

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).

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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).

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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.

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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.