Tuesday, August 11, 2009

WEeeePC!

Some years ago -- nearly 10 by now, I think -- I had a Sony Vaio laptop. It was the thinnest, lightest laptop I had ever seen, and everyone who saw it stopped to gawk. It had one major drawback, which was that it didn't have a cd-rom drive (and we didn't buy the external one), which made it hard to install software. Oh, one other drawback: it broke several times, and eventually BestBuy replaced it with a new one of a different kind.

I always liked that laptop, and now I have one much like it: the Asus EeePC 1000. The 1000 has a 10" screen, which means it is quite a bit bigger than earlier versions of the EeePC. I chose this size not for the screen, however, but for the keyboard: I wanted a computer that I could type at with ease, and those smaller versions just didn't work for me. Although the keyboard on the 1000 is still not 100% the size of a regular keyboard, it is close enough that I can type easily with few mistakes.

The screen came as a bit of a shock to me. I knew it was smaller, but somehow it didn't sink in just how much smaller until I actually started using it. I don't have too much trouble viewing it, but sometimes I wish things were bigger. Unfortunately, changing screen resolutions from the native 1264 x 600 or whatever it is to 800 x 600 makes everything look distorted. You can still zoom in on many applications (web browser, word processor), so it's not that big a deal.

I do have one confession to make. I'm ashamed to admit this, but I bought my EeePC with Windows pre-installed. It's not that I wanted Windows -- I quickly installed Ubuntu Netbook Remix on it as my standard OS -- but I was concerned that our 3G wireless internet wouldn't work on Linux (it hasn't worked on any of our other Linux computers), and I thought that might be an important feature on such a portable computer. Not only that, but we actually don't have any Windows computers any more, and sometimes we need access to one (for example, for the cheat that my son bought for his DS, which I can't get to work with Linux). I really hate spending my money on a Windows computer -- the last couple I bought have had Linux pre-installed -- but I thought it was the best option on this occasion. But only with a heavy heart.

Ubuntu looks really, really slick on the EeePC. The interface is not only stylish, but also significantly easier to use with a touchpad and small screen that the same old tired interface that Windows provides. Wireless did not work right away, but I didn't have too much trouble installing ndiswrapper and an updated kernel. The hardest part was figuring out where to find the right packages, since the wired NIC also didn't work, so I couldn't use the good old apt-get interface (or Synaptic); I had to download the debs to a usb drive and copy them over manually. Now, however, it is working fine. I haven't had any problems with Adobe Flash, either, as some users apparently do (although I was annoyed to find that my whole Firefox profile was wiped out when I installed it! -- thankfully there wasn't much to wipe out at that early stage). The camera also appears to work fine. The one current issue is the microphone, which none of the fixes I have tried actually works. Linux has always given me a heck of a time with microphones. Normally I wouldn't care so much, but I was hoping to use the Eee for video Skype calls, so I may be restricted to Windows for that.

Battery life is not extraordinary -- 3 to 4 hours -- but the battery seems to outperform the estimated time remaining consistently, which is nice. I can pretty much use it all day, sleeping when I'm not using it, and not have any problems. Interestingly, Windows doesn't provide a hibernate option (suspend to disk, using no power), whereas Ubuntu does -- and it is the only time hibernate has ever worked for me under Linux.

The Eee is light and thin, no doubt about that. It is actually sort of wedge-shaped, with the larger side toward the back. For some reason, this annoys me, but I don't think there's any serious practical disadvantage.

Boot up times are a little faster than for desktops, but nothing super-fast. I'm looking forward to installing a version of Puppy Linux on it to see how snappy that will run.

I managed to stretch the life on my old laptop a little by running Puppy Linux from the cd drive after the hard drive ceased to work, but that only lasted until the cd also broke. I haven't had a really functional laptop in several years, and I'm excited now to have one that is smaller, lighter, and faster than any I have had before. Although Asus makes a point of saying that netbooks are useful for lighter tasks like email and web surfing, in fact the Eee has more ram and as much speed as my current desktop, so I'm not sacrificing anything by using it.

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