Wow! It's PINK!

Posted by dixonm on Jun 2, 2008 8:02 AM EDT
LXer Linux News; By Meredith Dixon
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LXer Feature: 02-Jun-2008

Where computers are concerned, I like to think of myself as cool, calm, and technically proficient. I got my first microcomputer (a Color Computer with 16K RAM) in 1983, and before I moved on to a bigger and better machine I'd learned to program it in assembly language. I've given up on learning assembly since then (the chipsets keep changing) but I still build my desktop computers from scratch. So I'm a tad embarrassed to report that when I first saw an ad for the Eee, in NewEgg's Valentine's Day newsletter, my initial reaction was, "Oh, wow! It's PINK!"

Where computers are concerned, I like to think of myself as cool, calm, and technically proficient. I got my first microcomputer (a Color Computer with 16K RAM) in 1983, and before I moved on to a bigger and better machine I'd learned to program it in assembly language. I've given up on learning assembly since then (the chipsets keep changing) but I still build my desktop computers from scratch.



So I'm a tad embarrassed to report that when I first saw an ad for the Eee, in NewEgg's Valentine's Day newsletter, my initial reaction was, "Oh, wow! It's PINK!"



Hardware and Software



Further investigation revealed that, besides being pink, it had a 900 mhz Celeron (underclocked to 630, but I figured I could fix that if necessary) with 512 MB RAM (DDR2), built-in Ethernet (10/100) and WiFi (802.11 b/g). When I found that I still wanted it after a month, I went ahead and bought it.



The day it arrived from NewEgg, I took it eagerly out of its retail box. Once again it was its essential pinkness that struck me first. I was dismayed to find that it was the precise shade of pink that I've always associated with late 1950's refrigerators.



A friend of mine made me feel better. "No, no, you're looking at this all wrong. That color pink is cool. It's retro!"



With the cover open, it was not pink but white. The keyboard was compact, but the only keys I had trouble using were the number keys. The 1 key was flush with the left edge of the keyboard, directly above the Tab key, which was far enough over that I kept hitting 2 whenever I tried to touch-type. (Two months later, I'm still not used to that, even though I've been using the Eee a lot.)



I noted approvingly that it did indeed have three USB ports, one on the left and two on the right, and an SD slot. I noted less approvingly that it did not have the promised modem. There was an RJ-11-shaped hole in the case, but nothing more. This, I learned, was normal for later versions of the Eee 4G, and I had the very latest model.



Unfortunately, the software as well as the hardware had been changed in the latest model, and the wiki at Eeeuser.com didn't yet reflect that. The next 48 hours were a thoroughly frustrating time of patiently following customization suggestion after customization suggestion, only to have most scripts fail or backfire and most third-party applications fail to run.

Customization



And while the Eee was a wonderful little machine, it cried out to be customized. Although Linux Eees are shipped with a Xandros install, most preinstalled programs are inaccessible by default. Instead, the out-of-the-box user only has access to Easy Mode, a tabbed interface running on top of ICEWM. To make matters worse, although FBReader was supposed to be one of the programs accessible through the tabbed interface, it wasn't. It turned out that some Asus programmer had made a typo in the tabbed-interface script.



The first thing I did was to edit the startup script to enable "Full Desktop Mode," which is Asus' term for KDE. (I'm not sure why Asus is so insistent on not using programs' names: FBReader is described as "E-book Reader" in the tabbed interface; Firefox is "Web".) This was easy to do because Asus actually provides a script that switches between the two; that script just isn't used in the default configuration.



Of course, as I should have foreseen, KDE didn't work very well, since it expects 1024x768 and the Eee is 800x480. Presently I pulled out of KDE and focussed on modifying Easy Mode.



By editing the ICEWM config file, I restored the taskbar, a normal Start menu, and access to four desktops. These things were all superimposed on the Eee's tabbed interface, making its appearance at bootup odd but practical.



I was reluctant to edit the tabbed interface too drastically, at least at first, but Asus offers a Favorites tab which is semi-customizable by design, allowing the user to copy icons for preferred applications to it from all five of the other tabs (Work, Play, Learn, Internet and Settings) I edited the interface's script to put the Favorites tab first rather than last, so it would be the tab that was open upon bootup.



Uses



Having Wooted a 2 gig SD card, I loaded the card with the library of Project Gutenberg plain text e-books I'd collected for use with my Nokia 770 Internet Tablet. Then I added another thousand or so books, including some PDF's and a few downloads from Baen, and popped it into the Eee's SD slot. FBReader won't read DRMed books, so popular titles are hard to purchase in a usable format, but fortunately there are many 19th-century authors I like. The Eee handles the FBReader software very well. It is easier to use than my Nokia 770, and much easier to use than a printed book, since I can lie in bed and read simply by tapping an arrow key, without holding the Eee at all.



I also put DOSBox on the Eee. It runs PC-XT games easily and 386/486 games slowly but playably. Pentium games are far beyond its capabilities. Arcade games are difficult without an external mouse, though of course one could easily be added.



Disaster and Recovery



A month ago, I took the Eee out for its first real-world test with Internet connections other than my home network. It handled the motel's Ethernet connection very well indeed; I didn't try wifi, since Ethernet was available, because the wiki had warned that some wireless networks confused it. (I should add that it had handled my home LAN's wireless network perfectly well.)



Unfortunately, just as I was using it, the motel experienced a partial power failure. One phase of the three-phase power cut out. The Eee's adapter was unable to deal with such an irregular power supply. The Eee itself was unharmed, but the adapter overheated and fried.



Asus' warranty includes damage from power failures, and I was still in my first month of purchase, so I was able to get a new adapter free of charge. Although there was a little initial confusion because my tech-services call, made in the wee hours of the morning, was handled by a tech at the company's Asian home office who sent me an RMA form with a space for my signature in kanji, a second call at a more reasonable hour cleared everything up. They sent out a new adapter as soon as they received the old one.



Conclusion



It's been two weeks since the adapter arrived. I haven't done much with customization since then, being content to read Ebooks, surf the Web, and play the occasional DOSbox game. Eventually, I hope to edit the tabbed interface to include new icons for some of the programs I'm now invoking in a terminal. It's amazing how many programs, included in the Eee's base Linux install, are inaccessible via the default Easy Mode interface. And of course there have been some programs I've downloaded as well.



I like the Eee. I'm using it a lot more than I thought I would when I bought it. It works as a real laptop, not just as a toy.



And it's still pink. It's very pink. Quite eye-catching, really. Now, if only no one mistakes it for a 1950's refrigerator....













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Hoping for colors for the Eee 900 kingttx 0 1,300 Jun 3, 2008 12:54 PM

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