Netbooks have become a bit of a haven of innovation when it comes to operating system user experience design. While proprietary operating systems have settled for just working or not being unusably slow on netbooks, Linux distributions have become drivers of change, questioning the traditional approaches to a computer desktop and designing new experiences like the "Easy Mode" interface on the Xandros Asus EEE PCs, Ubuntu's Netbook Remix interface and Intel's Moblin project. Jolicloud is a derivative of Ubuntu Netbook Remix that aims to bring "the cloud" and your netbook closer than ever before by keeping all of your data on the web and using the operating system simply as a launcher for web apps. It is still an alpha at the moment, so it might change quite a lot before release, but thanks to Dan Monsieurle I managed to get an invite (which was needed at the time) and decided to take it for a test drive on my Asus EEE PC.
Monday saw the release of Easy Peasy 1.0, a version of Ubuntu 8.10 adapted for netbooks like the Asus EEE PC. I've just installed it onto my EEE, and am looking forward to using it. It is essentially similar to Ubuntu, but has some important differences: firstly all of the drivers needed for the EEE are included by default, meaning, amoungst other things, that the WiFi will work straight out of the box.
It's a sad fact that most of the mobile operators, in the UK at least, sell their mobile broadband solutions with no support for Linux computers, despite the popularity of this operating system on netbooks.
If you own an Asus EEE PC or another machine running Ubuntu and a camera which is only supported under Video4Linux 2 (V4L2) you will have noticed that it not possible to get your camera to work under Flash. This will hopefully change soon, with V4L2 support in Flash 10. However, as Flash 10 is still a release candidate you might find that you still have problems when using a V4L2 camera.
Having Flash 10 on your EEE PC opens up some interesting possibilities. One of these is the use of Seesmic, a website currently in beta that is designed to allow people to have conversations via video. The idea of this is that people can just use the built in webcam of their computer to record a short dialogue, this can be much quicker for somebody to do than composing a written comment and possibly could speed up the flow of a web-based discussion. The problem for EEE users is that this site just isn't designed for this type of machine. Hopefully the rise of netbooks means that we will see less and less sites being developed that do not work on them (that would be sensible after all) and let's hope that Seesmic will be able to correct this problem once they are out of beta. The way that the site is currently set up means that it is not possible to use it with an EEE. However, this is not the end of the story, open source has a habit of providing amazing flexibility, and we can put this to good use to make this site work for us. You mileage may vary with what is written here, but I have had seesmic working on an Ubuntu-powered EEE. If you get this to work with a standard EEE let me know.
It's been a long journey to get full Adobe Flash player functionality on Linux machines, but now it looks like that journey is drawing to a close. I've just been playing with a release candidate of Flash Player 10 on my Asus EEE PC and am very happy with the results.
Back in December 2007 I installed SecondLife on a factory-standard Asus EEE PC to see if it would work or not, it did, even with just 512MB memory installed, but it was a little slow. So since adding a bit of extra power to my EEE by upgrading it to 2GB RAM and installing Ubuntu on it, I was curious to see how this might improve the experience.
Note to Ubuntu and Easy Peasy users: Your Huawei E169G should now work out-of-the box with later versions of Ubuntu (8.10 onwards) and derivatives. Lots of other modems work too, like the E160G.
Update: I've attempted to automate the steps above by using a package, have a look at: Huawei E169G - the easy way
Yesterday I treated myself to a new mobile internet "dongle" to go with my Asus EEE PC. I decided to go for the Huawei E169G usb modem as it matches my black EEE, however there is a small problem with getting this device to work straight away. The problem is that the E169G is a composite device, which basically means that it will ask as a USB memory stick until it is sent a command to tell it to be a modem. The EEE doesn't know about this so you can't use it straight away as a 3G modem in the connection wizard. Fortunatelty, back in April Dale Lane documented in his blog how to send the modem the right command to be able to use it wil the EEE, his blog post on the topic is worth reading as it explains the background to the issue. After experimenting with my friend Keren Mills' E169G (thanks Keren!) to check that I could get this method to work I took the plunge and got my own one. Following the instructions on Dale Lane's blog I was able to send some commands manually to the unit to get it to switch but what I really wanted to do was to get the EEE to recognise the device automatically so I can start a 3G connection without having to run any commands in the terminal. Fortunately this is possible.
If you've been trying to watch YouTube videos or use the BBC's iPlayer site on your Asus EEE PC you might have noticed that it it is not possible to use these services in full screen mode. YouTube videos just play in a bigger window when you try to activate full screen. Trying to watch the videos when embedded on their webpages can be a little frustrating as it wastes available screen space (on what is quite a small screen anyway). Fortunately, this is quite easy to fix.