Saturday, April 26, 2008

ASUS Eee PC, First Impressions

I took the plunge and bought an ASUS Eee PC, mainly for the option to take a very small, very light laptop with us to Costa Rica. I have read a lot about this new crop of mini-notebooks (I call it a knee-top!) and the top contenders of the moment seem to be the HP mini-note and the Eee PC 900 (with the larger 8.9” screen). I ended up getting the cheepy cheap Eee PC 701 because it’s a full $200 cheaper than its more impressive brothers. $341 for a refurbished model is down in impulse-purchase territory, whereas the $550 versions make me want to wait until the processors get faster and the batteries last longer.

I thought I knew everything about this machine when I bought it, so here is the list of things that I hadn’t already gleaned from the interwebs:

  • It was not really usable out-of-the-box. The trackpad was set to minimum sensitivity, and before I figured that out, I was afraid I had a lemon; the trackpad basically would not work at this setting.
  • The mouse button looks like one smooth button, but is in fact a rocker-switch, meaning that you push on the left side for a left click, and the right side for a right click. If you press in the center, you get nothing. This confounded both my four-year-old and my wife.
  • Unlike the various MacBooks in my life which renew my love every day, the Eee PC does not instantly wake from sleep when you open it. It’s a minor thing, but it’s a refinement I have come to take for granted.
  • It does not close Firefox gracefully when you shutdown or restart, which means you are frequently looking at the “Restore Last Session?” dialog. Luckily, Firefox allows disabling it like this.
  • The default terminal application is pretty lousy, but it includes a better one called konsole. Making konsole the default (among other things) is described here.
  • It took some doing, but I learned how to customize the menu screens. I made a special page for Graham with all his favorite movies, web sites, and of course, Tux Paint. You can learn about customizing your Eee PC desktop over here.
  • Unfortunately, some of Graham’s favorite web games use Adobe Shockwave, which does not have a Linux version, and probably never will. The Eee PC does have the Flash player, but not the latest version, so I had to do an upgrade.

In short, the Eee PC demands tweaks before it will purr like a kitten. Lucky for me and about ten million other geek dads, tweaking is fun! Still, it makes me wonder how this is supposed to be a computer for children and seniors who don’t have a Linux-mad nerd standing by to recompile the kernel for them.


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