Portable Linux for Everyone – Introducing the Asus Eee PC

February 16th, 2008

The Asus Eee PC is a diminutive sub-notebook computer that comes pre-installed with Linux and a host of installed applications including a web browser, anti-virus, Skype and instant messaging software.

There have been some very comprehensive reviews of the Eee written and rather than write another one, I wanted to look at who would actually use the Eee and perhaps answer a few questions specific to Windows users.

Let’s start off with a few cold, hard facts…

Features of the Asus Eee PC (4G model)

  • 900MHz Intel Celeron M processor
  • 512MB RAM
  • 4GB solid state disk (SSD)
  • Lots of connector ports: 3 USB2 sockets, ethernet port, microphone and headphone sockets, VGA output, and SD card reader.
  • Built-in 802.11b/g wi-fi for wireless Internet connectivity.
  • 7-inch, 800 x 480 resolution TFT display screen flanked by stereo speakers.
  • Xandros Linux operating system.

The Asus Eeec PC is very different from most other laptop computers and yet it still offers a similar set of benefits:

Benefits of the Asus Eee PC

  • Relatively cheap – At £220, you get a lot of functionality for your money.
  • Small and light form factor means it’s very mobile. On the road, the Eee PC does a good job of being an all-in-one piece of kit. Back at the office, you might like a bit more screen real estate or have a larger keyboard at hand. Well, the built-in VGA port means you can connect the Eee to your desktop monitor and work at a higher resolution (up to 1024 x 768). The USB2 ports allow you to connect all sort of peripherals such as keyboards, mice, graphics tablets, printers, scanners, etc. So it’s small when you want it to be small and can play big when you want the extra size.
  • Very easy to use out of the box – Compared to an equivalent Windows-based computer, the Eee is much easier for the average user to start being productive as a good selection of application are installed by default. Any further software maintenance is carried out from a central point so there’s no need to keep watch over dozens of websites for updates to installed software. Connecting to my wireless network took very little time and the built-in wireless transceiver is sensitive enough to give me a high-quality connection from all over my house.
  • Starts up quickly – You can’t use a computer until it’s started up and whilst Microsoft may have reduced the time it takes to boot up a Windows computer in more recent versions of the operating system (OS), booting up the Asus Eee PC takes a fraction of the time compared to almost every Windows computer I’ve come across. A cold boot takes 25 seconds from pressing the power button to being presented with the login screen and then a further 35 seconds to present itself in a usable state with Firefox open. From off to web browsing in just 60 seconds!

Who is the Eee Suitable for?

  • Children – Yes, children! There’s a lot about the Eee that makes it a great computer for kids. First of all, its physical dimensions make it easy for smaller hands to use. Secondly, there’s a lot of learning software pre-installed as well as a handful of games to entertain. Thirdly, the lack of a spinning platter-based hard disk means that it’s able to withstand rougher handling. It’ll still break, but you don’t have to worry about the effects of knocking the Eee whilst it’s switched on. Asus even have a picture of children using an Eee on their Eee home page.
  • Students – It’s cheap and equipped with almost everything a student might want from a personal computer. One low-cost purchase buys everything you need to organise your studies, carry out research online, produce essays, and most importantly build your social network!
  • Mobile workers – With OpenOffice for editing Microsoft Office documents, Firefox for web browsing, Thunderbird for email, and KOrganizer for managing personal information (think Outlook in Linux garb), the Eee is a fully-fledged mobile office. If you ever feel the need to teleconference then look no further than the built-in web cam and microphone which can be used in conjunction with the pre-installed Skype.
  • Non-technical users – I showed my Eee to a very non-technical relative and she was most impressed by just how easy it was to use. The Eee is marketed at children , amongst others, so you’d expect it to be easy to use and it is. The easy menu system organises the different applications into 5 main categories; Internet, Work, Learn, Play, and Settings. Each category has its own tab and selection of applications. To access the appropriate application, just choose its tab and click on the relevant icon. Alternatively, the voice recognition software allows the user to issue verbal commands in order to tell the Eee what applications to open.
  • Internet entrepreneurs – Time is money and the Eee cuts to the chase. Everything you need to manage your online empire is already installed, you’ve got OpenOffice to create your PDF ebooks, a voice recorder to record your audios and even video recording software to use in conjunction with the built-in web cam.
  • Windows users – If you can find your way around a Windows computer then using the Eee will be a cinch. There’s a familiar looking start button, but it isn’t displayed by default because there’s simply no need for most users. Let’s look at this aspect in more detail…

How Different is Using the Asus Eee PC Compared with a Windows PC?

Although they are completely different operating systems, there are actually quite a lot of similarities between the look and feel of the Xandros OS when compared to the likes of Windows XP. For example, both have graphical user interfaces, both have a task bar to allow switching between open applications, both have many of the same or equivalent applications used by the majority of computer users. You can even use the same key combinations to copy to the clipboard (Ctrl + c), paste from the clipboard (Ctrl + v), switch between open applications (Alt + Tab), and rename files (F2).

For all its differences, using the Eee feels remarkable like using any other Windows computer. After all, how much time do you actually spend using the OS? Probably very little as most of your computer time will be spent actually within applications. So when you’re using Firefox, it’s very difficult to tell what the underlying OS is (apart from the fact that some of the menu items appear in different locations). Likewise, when you’re typing out an email in Thunderbird, composing a letter in Writer or working out your expenses in Calc, you could very easily forget you were in a Linux environment.

This, I believe, is how an operating system should be. It should let you get on with actually doing stuff without having to waste precious time figuring out its quirks.

The likes of Xandros and Ubuntu have made it very easy for Windows users to transition themselves into a Linux environment by providing very modern-looking graphical user interfaces although the main striking difference with the Eee PC’s default desktop is how it’s been simplified to facilitate easy access to applications.

If you’re the type of person whose head gets foggy when it comes to working with Windows then you might find the Asus Eee PC like a breath of fresh air. In terms of using Linux and more specifically the Eee PC as a primary OS, I’m not quite ready for it to replace my XP desktop computer, but my XP laptop is getting quite dusty as it sits on a shelf!

Images from an Asus Eee PC

Here are some images of and from the Asus Eee PC. Apologies for the lower quality images, but I wanted to make sure the files were as small as possible in file size terms:

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To give you an idea of the dimension of the Eee PC, here it is placed on top of a sheet of white A4 paper.

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The Internet category.

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The Work category.

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The Learn category.

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The Play category contains shortcuts to multimedia and leisure applications.

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The Settings category. Similar function to Windows Control Panel.

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Favorites.

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Firefox on the Eee is virtually the same as Firefox on a Windows machine.

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OpenOffice Calc spreadsheet – The display is big enough to allow lots of cells to be visible at any one time.

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Plenty enough room to use OpenOffice Writer comfortably.

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Firefox at 1024×768.

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OpenOffice Calc at 1024×768.

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Flickr at 1024×768.

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YouTube at 1024×768.

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Software updates are handled from a single location.

Asus Eee PC: How to Upgrade the Memory

February 9th, 2008

The Asus Eee PC is a very capable machine, but some users might find the standard 512MB of RAM to be somewhat limiting in terms of the number of and the actual applications they can run or even the operating systems they can install. Fortunately, the Eee uses standard laptop memory and is easily upgraded.

At first, memory upgrades couldn’t be carried out by the user without voiding the Eee’s warranty, but Asus came to their senses and recently declared they would continue to honour any warranty even if an Eee had been fitted with extra RAM.

I don’t know about a picture painting a thousand words, but I found this video showing the Eee PC memory upgrade process to be very useful and I see little point in writing a detailed post explaining how to do it, but I will add that I also removed the Eee’s battery before starting the memory upgrade and that you can confirm you’ve installed the memory correctly by the following:

1. Boot your Eee PC

A non-booting machine is a sure sign of incompatible memory. If you get to the login screen then great!

2. Check the System Info

In the Settings tab of the main system menus, opening up the System Info utility shows you how much RAM is available to the operating system (OS). Here’s a screen shot from my Eee PC after upgrading the internal RAM to 2GB.

eee-1gb-ram.jpg

You may have noticed that the Memory Size is reported as 1GB. That’s because the Xandros OS supports a maximum of 1GB of memory so even thought I’ve installed a 2GB memory module, the OS can only make use of 1GB.

3. Run Diagnostics

From the Settings tab again, starting up the Diagnostics utility and looking at the System Info shows you how much RAM you actually have installed. On my Eee, you can see that there really is 2GB of RAM installed.

eee-2gb-ram.jpg

That’s all there is to checking your memory upgrade has been carried out successfully and you now should have an Eee PC that’s capable of having lots of applications open simultaneously and even installing a resource hungry OS such as Windows XP.

Footnotes

The memory I used for the upgrade was purchased from 7dayshop and was the 2GB SODIMM DDR2 667Mhz (PC2-5300) memory module.

I will post my opinion of the Asus Eee PC at some point, but as I just upgraded my Eee earlier this morning the process was still fresh in my mind and I thought it might be useful to someone.

[Edit: Here’s my initial review of the Asus Eee PC]

And that was January

February 5th, 2008

Are you like me, wondering what happened to January? Actually, I’m not really wondering about it too much as I know the first part of it was spent pouring over receipts and statements as I prepared for my tax return. All I can say is that I’m really glad I have an accountant to worry about getting the tax return filled in accurately whilst I just get on with business.

The recent news about the “Tax doesn’t have to be taxing” advert man wishing taxes were simpler made me laugh and the news about the online tax filing website going titsup on the last submission day before automatic charges are applied should have come as a surprise, but surprisingly wasn’t!

Automated income-wise, January was a great month. Post-Christmas blues didn’t affect what I earnt online at all. Link sales saw a marked revival after a slight dip around the time when Google announced the latest slap on paid link publishers, sales of my latest product, Affiliate Link Tracker, did well and my affiliate earnings shot through the roof! The great thing is that other than answering a few support queries all of my earnings required no direct effort on my part.

Just when I’m ready to start focussing more on the automated side of Internet business, demand for my web design and SEO services ramps up as though everyone’s made a new year’s resolution to get their businesses online. Whilst passive income has its benefits, I must admit that it’s very rewarding to work directly with such a variety of different people and being able to have a positive impact on their businesses.

It’s a shame that these positive experiences weren’t reflected on the global stock markets as they continued to feel the effects of the credit crunch and all took a dive. Still, it must be a good time to buy!