Asus Eee PC Linux

What’s so bad about the Eee PC Xandros anyway?

Since I’m a regular on the Ubuntu Forums and, like some other forum members, I have an Asus Eee PC and decided to install Ubuntu on it, I do every so often get asked the question, “What is so bad about the Eee PC Xandros anyway?” I recently did a reinstall of Xandros, so after playing around with Xandros for a while again, it’s fresh enough in my mind that I can talk more specifically about the pros and cons of Xandros.

Xandros Pros

  • Hardware support. Yes, many distros have come pretty close to full hardware support or there exist some tweaks to get everything working, but Asus customized Xandros to work exactly with the hardware in the Eee.
  • Fast boot time. Likewise, there are some hacks to make Ubuntu or other distros boot a little more quickly (maybe 45 seconds instead of 90 seconds), but Xandros boots in 12-30 seconds, and that just can’t be beat. I understand some people have done some experimental fast-booting projects for other distros, but all of them have huge disclaimers about them being experimental for a reason.

Unfortunately, that’s about it. I can think of absolutely no other advantages to Xandros over other Linux distributions.

Xandros Cons

  • Annoying simple mode. At first glance, simple mode (the one with the tabs and huge icons) looks good or at least easy to use for beginners. It’s not a well-thought-out interface, however. The difference between Network and Wireless Networks isn’t readily apparent (Network is for frequently used connections you want remembered; Wireless Networks is for ad hoc connections). There’s also no easy way to make the Favorites tab the default, which would make the most sense. If my most-used applications are on two separate tabs, that’s kind of annoying. And if I have to click to a separate tab every time I want to see my favorites, that’s also annoying.
  • Too much QT dependence. If you’re a Gnome fan or generally favor GTK applications, there’s only so much you can strip down the KDE libraries and QT dependencies in the Eee Xandros. The essential-to-functionality programs all depend on KDM and KDE libraries. I don’t have a huge problem with mixing QT and GTK, but when my hard drive is only 4 GB, having double the libraries takes up almost double the space.
  • Limited repositories. When you load up Xandros, you’ll notice that the software available for installation is pretty much what comes on the Eee PC by default and little else. And some of the software updates actually take away functionality (for example, the update to the usb storage applet makes it so you can’t turn off the device dialog when you plug in a USB device). It is possible to add repositories, but there aren’t extensive repositories that can be used without adding potential conflicts. There are some small community-maintained repositories you can add. Or you can add Debian ones and make sure to pin versions of applications so that the Debian versions don’t replace the Xandros versions.
  • Mounting like Windows. When you plug in a USB device, instead of appearing as a normal drive name, you get all the weird D:\ and E:\ stuff as you would in Windows.
  • You can’t add a password to sudo. I’ve done extensive research on this at the Eee User Forums, and no one has successfully been able to add a password to sudo, so for almost all intents and purposes, you are running as root all the time. I can understand if this were only the default, but if you edit the /etc/sudoers file so as to require a password for sudo commands, you render the Eee unbootable.
  • No Quicktime. Yes, it’s great that Xandros comes with MP3 playback and Flash installed by default. But you’d think they would also give you the codecs you need to play Apple Trailers. No dice. The workaround is that you add Debian repositories and force and lock a downgrade to the slightly older version of MPlayer that apparently has the proper codecs.
  • Old versions of software. People often complain about Ubuntu updating its software versions only every six months with a new release. Xandros doesn’t do even that. There are some really old versions of applications that I don’t think have been updated since last year.
  • The username is always user. So in a regular distro if you say your full name is Carol J. Clover, the distro will make your username carol, as would make sense. In Xandros, no matter what your full name is, you’ll always be called user and your home directory will always be /home/user.

I think that pretty much sums it up. So the next time someone asks what’s so bad about Xandros, I’ll just point them to this blog post.

Asus Eee PC Linux Ubuntu

Should I trade my Eee PC 701 for a Dell Inspiron 901

I saw Leaked: Dell Inspiron 910 (Mini Note) Specs and Release Date today and I’m intrigued, but I’m not excited yet.

I tend to be pretty cautious about computer purchases. I’ve heard rumors that the base model is supposed to be US$299, but I’m not sure what specs that’ll be. By the time you jack up the specs to be something reasonable, it may be over US$600, which I’m not willing to shell out.

I also find it odd that a couple of months ago, Dell hinted at the netbooks being announced in August. It’s almost the end of August now and it’s still just “leaked… specs” a few days before the supposed release date (August 22). If Dell is releasing the netbooks on August 22, shouldn’t they have released the full specs and pricing (not just “leads” and speculation) a lot earlier?

Well, I’m curious to see how this all turns out. I love my Eee, but I don’t love its Ubuntu-unfriendliness (I don’t think I can go back to Xandros at this point). If the Dell Inspiron 901s are priced reasonably, get good reviews, and come preinstalled with a Ubuntu version that boots up within seconds, then I may just regift my Eee to a friend who doesn’t mind Xandros and who also travels a lot.

Bring it on, Dell! Let’s see what you got.

Asus Eee PC

Back to Xandros with tail between my legs

Well, my enthusiasm for Ubuntu was a bit hasty, I guess. Everything was good for a while, but then I saw the extent to which things weren’t working. I though the microphone and video in Skype were working, but they weren’t, and the boot time was just too long (and suspend didn’t work). Worse yet, the sound controls are not integrated. The volume applet and the volume controlled by the keys defined in System > Preferences > Keyboard Shortcuts didn’t control the actual master volume. The whole experience of getting things to work was too frustrating, so I’m very happy I had imaged Xandros and put Xandros back on for now.

Eventually, if I get restless again, I’ll probably try out eeeXubuntu 7.10, or I may wait until Ubuntu 8.10 (Intrepid Ibex) to see if the Ubuntu developers have worked to make an Eee-friendlier release; I realize it’s tough for them since Asus uses some proprietary components.

Well, it was worth a shot, and I may shoot again, too.