Saturday, November 03, 2007

Eee Pc impressions

The first impression you get from this machine is how small it is. I can use it comfortably between my belly and the steering wheel. The keyboard is small. The keys are small, and my fat fingers have some trouble typing. Not uncomfortably though. I have used small keyboards where my hands hurt after a while. Not this one.

The hardware is nice. Tidy, well put together. It doesn't feel cheap, in fact it has a nice feel. It is a pretty basic configuration. An Intel Celeron M, 900 mhz although it is stepped down to extend battery life. Intel graphics, an Atheros wireless adapter that is currently not supported in MadWifi. It has a video camera above the screen. It has 3 usb ports, an SD card slot, ethernet jack. The batteries seem to last quite well.

The screen is small, 7" diagonal, running at 800x600. It is very bright and clear. Easy to look at and read in various ambient lighting conditions.

The truly interesting part is the software. It runs a Linux distribution from Xandros specially set up for this machine. There are two modes. The default has icewm running with large icons that are either applications or buttons that load another icon window. Firefox is set up with a number of links to Google applications, Wikipedia and the like. This mode works well, and for the strange among us a terminal is available with a Ctrl-Alt-T. All the hardware buttons work nicely. The wireless works very well, if you plug in an ethernet cable it gets an ip automatically. A usb card or SD card brings up a dialog asking what to do. Amarok loads as a music player. MPlayer is used as a video player. It all works quite nicely if somewhat limited. There isn't a menu for selecting applications. It is all nice and tidy and controlled.

With a bit of hacking the advanced mode is available. It requires that you install kicker and ksmserver, yes, sudo apt-get upgrade and install, as Xandros is debian based. Once those packages are installed, when you shut down there is an option of booting into advanced mode. This loads a nice KDE desktop. The only problem is that when you shut down, it deletes all your desktop settings and reverts back to the simple mode. The solution is to back up /usr/bin/ to something, and copy /usr/bin/startkde to /usr/bin/ Then the KDE desktop is the default, and it works as expected. Very nice. It is an older version of KDE 3.5 desktop. Here the 600x800 resolution bites. Most dialogs are larger than the screen requiring an alt-leftmousebutton-scroll circus act to move things around.

So far I've been impressed with this machine. My needs are small and portable first, and it definitely is that. Carrying it around is like carrying a book. It is very comfortable to use for the common uses. The Xandros repository is limited in content, so it may be necessary to install something else, or mix distribution repositories. How can we live without CMake, cpp, Qt4?

My favorite part is reading the User Guide and seeing a chapter on how to install Windows. One can almost hear the gnashing of teeth.

Do you have access to the source code of the GPL and LGPL software provided?
I think most of it. Last time I looked the modules for the Atheros wireless and Attansic ethereal adapter weren't there. I'm not sure if all the interface stuff is there, I haven't looked.

The size of dialogs at 800x600 in kde has been a long standing bug. I hope it gets fixed in kde4 as it would make the use of kde all the more pleasant in this type of devices, which are now cropping up all over the place.

Otherwise, I have found kde to be very good when used in devices without a lot of computing power.

Let's hope the resolution issue gets fixed, particularly because a lot of these dialogs really do not need all the space they take up.
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