Netbooks (Acer Aspire One) revisited…
A quite a while back, I wrote a bunch of initial impressions on a new toy I'd bought — the Acer Aspire One netbook. It's been more than six months, so I thought some people might find an update interesting.
My previous narrative left off with my having tweaked it enough to restore it to the standard XFCE configuration, instead of the rather bastardized and severely crippled Linpus Linux that it arrived with. Unfortunately this borked the auto-update functionality, since it ended up a mix of Fedora packages with some Linpus packages, none of which were entirely compatible with the standard repositories. OTOH I had access to the full Linux desktop, which was nice.
First, I'm still using it. It has found its niche — I surf the Net on it while drinking my morning coffee or before going to sleep. When we did some home improvement and got out of the way for a while, I took it with me. It's usually with me when we travel. I take it to meetings, and take notes on it. I occasionally make presentations on it too, using OpenOffice. The one thing I don't do is play games on it, because it's such a rinky-dink little machine and there aren't that many cool Linux games anyway. I do have NetHack on it, but that's about it.
Things I (still) like:
* It's small, light, and robust — been dropped twice, never the worse for it.
* The keyboard is very nice to type on; every bit as good as the MacBook Pro I'm typing on now (old model; the new Chiclet keyboard is nicer).
* The trackpad works very nicely, once I got the gestures "in my spine" — tap to click, drag the right or bottom edge to scroll; only right-click needs one of the awkwardly-positioned buttons.
* It's silent.
* It boots fast, sleeps relatively fast, and wakes relatively fast.
* Programs start up very quickly (generally speaking).
* The screen is nice — crisp, contrasty, colors look good.
Things I like less:
* The desktop is an uncomfortable fit for the screen. It's very wide compared to its height, so I put the taskbar along the right edge; this regularly causes windows to end up "under" it, and dragging them back out is… well, a drag. Similarly, many of the XFCE utilities don't entirely fit the screen (the bottom of a window might be sliced out etc)
* Some of the XFCE utilities don't do anything, or work. Which is presumably why Acer chose to disable them.
* Firefox 3 stu-tt-t-ers on it, despite my best efforts at fixing the problems with it. Flash-heavy sites kill it stone dead.
* The XFCE desktop is… well, not the prettiest, nor the most ergonomic.
* The battery life isn't stellar. It's not so bad I can't use it untethered at all, but it is bad enough that I usually don't.
I just made a leap into the unknown, and am installing Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope) Netbook Remix on it. I tried it a bit off the USB stick, and it appears to work like a charm; seems better in every way except boot-up speed, especially ergonomics, than the Bastard Linux that I had on it previously. If there's any interest, I'll report on how it shapes up, once I've got it working.
Walp, like it or not, here's an update — I got Jaunty Jackalope up and running with nary a hitch, and yeah, it is a much slicker experience than LinpusBastard. The UI is far more refined, more economical of screen space, and brings various netbooky things to my fingertips; I got Evolution mail and calendar synced with the Google ones I normally use, and generally everything's gone with truly minimal pain.
Despite the eye candy, everything appears to work at least as fast, too, and I have a feeling Firefox doesn't stutter quite as much either. Nice!
For the record: I'm reading this using a 18.3" monitor laptop. Very happy with it. And I've just discovered: YOU CAN GET DOUBLE SCREEN LAPTOPS NOW!!!
I hate to sound like a broken record, but you could always try ArchLinux - there's even a full wiki page (here) explaining the various nuances related to Acer Aspire One. If you've got a second computer around for the (rare) occasions something is messed up and you need to debug, there's really no reason not to run a rolling release distribution. For example, you could have kernel mode-setting right now (which I'm pretty sure Ubuntu doesn't).
In any case, the page is still worth a glance for the various hardware-related tips (like noatime, I really hope you set it). Running your logs in RAM is another cute way of saving up those SSD writes.
Horses for courses; I have another computer or two that I like to tinker with. With the AOne I just want something that works with a minimum of fuss. I think I'll stick to Jaunty for now, unless I suddenly run into some unexpected problems with it. But thanks anyway!
I am still thrilled with my Lenovo S10 running WinXP - was fiddling with the original Postal on there, as well as plenty of general light-duty stuff, and web browsing and article writing.
Another update — and this might be useful for anyone running on a low-powered netbook.
I just updated to Firefox 3.1 (or 3.5, as it's been re-versioned). The performance difference is huge. In particular, with previous versions of Firefox, I got relatively frequent "stuttering" — that is, the disk I/O light went on, and until it switched off again, the browser would become unresponsive — no scrolling, no tab switching, no pop-ups, nothing. This may have been a bit better between LinpusBastard and Jaunty, but with 3.1, this is as good as gone: the light blinks a lot less to start with, and the browser stays responsive even when it does. Major usability boost!
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