I’ll see your eee and raise you One

My good friend Dougal got himself an Asus eee pc (relatively) recently. He likes it a lot. I like the idea of it, but not so much the implementation. On his version at least, the screen is too small for me, and the later versions are a bit too pricey. I love the idea of a small, light and eminently carriable laptop though. It’s the premise I originally bought my MacBook under, but I found even that machine to be too bulky and heavy to carry around constantly. The MacBook Air might work, but it’s very expensive (from the direction I’m looking at it from, anyway) and not really something I’d be prepared to pull out of my bag and start working on while sitting on the Meadows.

So I bought myself an Acer Aspire One. I like it quite a bit. I was worried about the size of the keyboard, but it’s fine; I’m typing this on it right now. The fact that I don’t (deliberately) touch type is probably an advantage in this case. I comes with 8 GB of SSD (hard drive, basically) which doesn’t sound like a lot these days, but I’ve already bought an extension to this (just waiting for it to arrive). The RAM is also a little low, so I’m thinking of upgrading that. It’s not expensive at all, but it is very fiddly, so I guess we’ll see. I don’t like laptop touchpads in general, and the one on the one is particularly lame, so I have a two part plan to help with this. The first part is software based and I’ll come to that later. The second though is yet another fiddly hardware upgrade (how exciting!), namely the installation of a touchscreen. Battery life isn’t great, so I might get a spare, or an external backup.

The next concern is software. This machine is basically intended to be a glorified word processor, so most of what I want it to run is writing software. Writing in this case means:

Blogging (like this)

Work (Thesis, papers etc)

Screen Writing (be nice to get back into this)

General Purpose Writing (of course)

and also:

Keyboard Control

Synchronisation with my real computer

The first obstacle here is the operating system. It currently runs Limpus Light Linux, which I recently heard referred to as “Linux for Pussies”. Unfortunate turn of phrase aside, this description isn’t too far off the mark. It’s very simple, very easy too use and boots in about ten seconds. But it’s also not as easy to customise. It seems that it is possible to install OSX on the One (always my first choice of operating system these days), but due to the lack of Apple hardware it would be crippled to some extent. Even so, it would make finding the other software I need a lot easier, because Open Source and Graphical User Interfaces DO NOT MIX. It’s one of those instances where to get what you pay for. Open source command line applications are almost uniformly fantastic, but anything with a GUI will probably look like the developer just shat on the floor when asked and then got his dog to do it while he cleaned up the mess. The two serious open source advocates I know both confess to a dislike of doing anything graphical, so maybe it’s symptomatic. I dunno. There are exceptions, of course. Eclipse is one, to a lesser extent so is Firefox. Also an exception is the currently gestating Netbook Remix of Ubuntu Linux, which might just be exactly what the doctor ordered, operating system wise. As far as I can tell it’s not quite ready for public consumption yet, though. As soon as it is I’ll probably switch, but for the time being I’ll hack away at the Limpus until I get something workable.

I’ll probably use Open Office (with actually runs quite quickly on this machine) for most of the writing, with Celtx (surprisingly good and free) for the screen writing and maybe Kyle for Latex formatting.

Gnome Do should take care of the keyboard control. It’s a clone of Quicksilver on OSX which works pretty well. It’ll never work as well, since the architecture of OSX supports this sort of thing better, but it comes close enough. For the synchronisation I’ll try and set up a custom rsync script to move things back and forward between this machine and my Mac, and then I’ll do most of the heavy formatting and posting and such from there when possible.

Speaking of which…



  1. #1 by Dougal on August 19, 2008 - 9:01 am

    Well, having used a great deal of commercial software, I would argue with “you get what you pay for”. I think it’s more accurate to say “you pay for what you get” but what you get could be anywhere from the iPod interface to Quicktime. I understand that Oracle’s software is horrendous compared to freely available graphic database management software. Clearcase, despite the money you pay for it, is wrong in every way.

    I think user interface design happens well almost entirely by accident in most companies – even ones like Apple which make it a priority.

  2. #2 by harveynick on August 20, 2008 - 11:36 pm

    After the fact disclaimer: I wasn’t considering Windows software, and I was specifically talking about the kind of apps whose main function is user interaction (word processors and that)
    Also, that’s a really old version of the Quicktime interface, and Quicktime is free, anyway.

  3. #3 by Dougal on August 25, 2008 - 12:07 pm

    I saw a One at the weekend (they have one of each OS in John Lewis, maybe you knew that?). I’m pretty impressed (and quite jealous, to be honest!). The screen wsa bigger and glossier. The keyboard also gave the impression of being larger, but I may have been imagining that. Does it weigh about the same?

  4. #4 by harveynick on August 25, 2008 - 4:56 pm

    It’s about the same weight (just under a Kg), but a bit longer and so does have a slightly bigger keyboard (a think it’s about 85% the size of a real keyboard).

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