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Eeeasy Rider

Saturday 6th September 2008

As you may recall, a few months ago I bought myself an Asus Eee. I said at the time that it was great – almost perfect in fact. And I stick by that statement. I bought it just as a toy really, a pure impulse buy; but for a toy it’s been spectacularly useful. Combined with blanket Wi-Fi coverage across the various Uni buildings, a small notebook (“Netbook”, I think the preferred term is) is absolutely ideal for looking something up quickly, or having access to all your lecture slides/past papers/tuition sheets when revising.

I said when I got it that the biggest flaw was the screen. So, when the new wave of netbooks trickled onto the market – almost all of them with larger screens – I was intrigued. The other week, I splurged on an Acer Aspire One. It’s very closely based on the Eee, but with an 8.9″ screen running at 1024×600. It also has a slightly better keyboard, which is useful.

In terms of hardware, this thing is probably better than the Eee. It’s much more usable, which isn’t to say that the Eee was unusable, just that this one is slightly better. The only thing that lets it down is the software. One of the things I really appreciated with my Eee is that everything was really well thought out. For instance, there was a command on one of the menus in the file browser thing to mount network shares from Windows-based machines. That makes it so easy to use the Eee as part of a network, which is probably a vital part of a machine like that.

On the Acer, you get the feeling things were rushed slightly in development. The biggest error that I can see is that an old driver was used for the graphics which meant that dithering didn’t work properly, meaning that fewer colours were displayed. That was really noticeable as banding on gradients, such as on the BBC website I use as my homepage. Or the menu screen that the thing initially boots into… It also doesn’t have an easy way of seeing Windows shares (to use winsock names you have to edit one of the config files. And even then you have to mount the share from the terminal, rather than a nice friendly window). Once I’d mounted my shares – so I could listen to music from my desktop – I discovered that the included media player is the biggest pile of shit ever. So I had to install something else to do the job (incidentally, Amarok is now my new favourite player and I wish I could use it in Windows too). Oh, and while I’m talking about the media player, I should mention that it doesn’t support DivX/Xvid natively. Also, at one point it stopped loading the network manager tool at boot (purely randomly), and I had to run it from terminal if I wanted to connect to a network.

One thing I will say in favour of the software is that the “easy mode” is based on XFCE, which is probably my favourite WM (from my previous brief forays into Linux). I turned easy mode off fairly quickly.

Now, I don’t mind having to do all these hacks to get the system working as I want. Actually I quite enjoy it – I’ve learned much more about Linux by tweaking this than I ever did from using the Eee. But I can just imagine someone non-techy getting one and having all these issues with it, would make Acer look fairly daft I think. Which is a shame, because it really is a good device – the screen is absolutely stunning (now that I’ve updated the graphics driver…). A worthwhile upgrade from the Eee, I think.

I have to say, I really love devices like this. It just makes sense to have a small, light device that boots up quickly (about 20 seconds) and can do simple things like get online, or quickly edit a document. Actually I’d happily work all day on the Acer, the keyboard/screen are that good. I can imagine that for schools, it’s be really great to give kids one each instead of textbooks and whatever, and throw a wireless network across all the school. They’d be able to access all their books at once then, as well as get online to get other info. Of course, it’s completely unrealistic to do that, but even so.

Anyway, it makes me wonder why someone didn’t come up with the idea sooner. It’s just pure brilliance.

/waffle

Posted at 2:58 am | Posted In: GeekSleepTechnology

4 Comments:

Lucy

Saturday 6th September 2008, 10:04 am

Sounds good for techies such as yourself :-) Enjoy the Linux-ing. I hope you can imagine the pure horror on my face as I read your suggestion about such computers replacing books in schools, however…

And HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

Flitterbee

Saturday 6th September 2008, 8:16 pm

Happy Birthday? Happy Birthday!

I have no clue about so much of that entry. I went see a techie about setting up a new website, and so much of what he said just went *whooosh* over my head. I wish I knew more about computery stuff. Joomla to me sounds like a game you’d play in primary school…

Also, the bit about books vs computers reminded me of the sony book thing which does not appeal to me at all. Though probably will in like ten years time. We’ll see.

hannah

Saturday 6th September 2008, 8:22 pm

Birthday?! Merry Birthday!!!

With regards to the content of the blog I’m afraid I’m going to have to plead utter ignorance :o/

Dickie

Saturday 17th January 2009, 3:43 am

I was looking back at this entry to write another, and remembered that I meant to comment back…

“I hope you can imagine the pure horror on my face as I read your suggestion about such computers replacing books in schools”
Why? In terms of being able to access a huge amount of information, whilst only having to carry a relatively small item, it’s great. And of course you could update textbooks and stuff to include multimedia. Videos, animation etc. We’ve talked before about the importance of teaching to different learning styles, this sort of thing is a great way of doing that. Not to mention the fact that internet-based resources (as this sort of thing surely would be) can be updated regularly with little/no cost (imagine a sort of subscription-based service), and it makes perfect financial sense too. And the easy internet access allows easy access to other resources, meaning research comes into the classroom too.

Man, I should sell these things, I’d be a bloody millionaire.

Of course, I’d hate to see electronic books, of the sort Flix linked to, replace every book. I dunno why, but having proper books is great; I treated myself to the latest Autocourse the other week and found myself engrossed in it for days. I don’t think it’d have quite the same effect if it were an eBook…

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