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Monday, 1 March 2010

Acer Aspire One D150 + Windows 7 Ultimate: 6 months on ...

I've spent the last year or so hopping from one operating system to another in a quest to find what works best (for me) on netbooks in general and specifically on the Acer Aspire One(AAO) D150 that I bought in May 2009. That journey took me from the default (as it was then) Windows XP build, through a number of Linux Distributions, to Windows 7 RC, and now to Windows 7 Ultimate.

The thing that is most telling is that I haven't changed my installed operating system in 6 months.

Right from the first boot (half the time taken to book Windows XP) it was obvious that Windows 7 was a different prospect to it's predecessors. It is well thought out, robust, friendly, not a resource drain (despite a number of posts and articles recently trying to imply the opposite). Simple things like the integrated device driver database now mean you can plug in any common USB device - that printer in clients office that you have never used before - and be able to use it straight away, no drivers to download, no reboot required.

Windows 7 has worked so well that I am comfortably sat in my office writing this post with my AAO plugged into an external mouse, keyboard and monitor and having a very comfortable and productive experience. These peripherals aren't essentials either - my AAO has been a more-or-less constant companion since I bought it and I would estimate it gets 12+ hours use just about every day.

Don't think that I only use it to surf and handle my email: I'm launching my new communications agency on the 18th March (PH Digital Communications - take a look at http://www.ph-digital.co.uk) and the brand design, 3D animation, Flash and website programming including some AR (augmented reality work) were all done on my netbook. My installed software ranges from the expected (Firefox, Thunderbird, Skype, Sky Player, MS Office) through to the more exotic (Flash 8, Flash CS4, Adobe Creative Suite CS2, Dreamweaver, Blender, Second Life amongst others).

I've made only one hardware change to the netbook - I've swapped it's 1GB standard RAM module for the maximum 2GB, but that's it.

Will I need a more powerful computer? Yes - I'll undoubtedly need a more powerful desktop for animation rendering and larger scale 3D work, and I have an old desktop configured as a server, backup and printer host. Will I trade my netbook up for a laptop? Not in the near future. My AAO has served me flawlessly through buiness presentations and anything I have needed to do whilst out on business and it's 6 hour battery life has been a great help. All from a computer that a grand total of about £300. The extreme portability coupled with enough power and the broad features and stability makes this a winning solution for my needs.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Jolicloud - may just become the best Linux for your netbook?

I've been waiting to write this for about 6 months, since I first heard of Jolicloud, a revolutionary new linux based OS for netbooks.

The fact that Jolicloud is based on Ubuntu stands it in good stead already. But Joliclouds developers have invested a significant ammount of effort in changing the way the the OS approaches applications and - the clue is in the name - takes a more cloud computing friendly approach to their deployment.

Installing the alpha was completed in about 25 minutes from a 2GB USB stick and was a very simple process. Clear instructions were provided on the site for both creating the USB and running the installation. The installation is also familiar - it's the same as the standard Ubuntu installer and making the same choices delivers an installation.

So what's the difference? Well, Jolicloud is designed to take a much more web-based / cloud computing approach to delivering applications and services to your netbook. After the install has completed, you have only a relatively basic set of applications in place, and, on first inspection no obvious way to add them (Synaptic doesn't appear in the application menu as it normally would) ... then you follow the instructions and log into the Jolicloud and it all starts to make sense.

This is where the key difference between Jolicloud and other Linux distributions shows up. Synaptic is now replaced by a much more visual and interactive menu that includes updates, application installation as well as including notifications, profile management and (in the future) community elements. It's this that helps to make Jolicloud such an interesting package.

Where have I go to now? Well. I have the usual Firefox / Mozilla / OpenOffice combination installed. In addition, I have Wine and Winedoors (the latter had to be downloaded and installed manually), and running on that I have Flash 8, Dreamweaver 8 and Photoshop CS2. The only thing that I needed to install by hand with Synaptic was Rhythmn Box. A music player is available, but just wasn't what I wanted. I think the key point of this is that should you need to do something by hand, you can, and it doesn't break everything.

I've been running for over a week now, and it's all good. It's easy, even for an Alpha, I haven't yet found something that doesn't work. I like it, and by the time this has reached a final release I suspect Ubuntu 9.04 is going to face a serious challenge (if not and outright winner) in the netbook market.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Installing Windows 7 RC on an Acer Aspire One D150.....

Ok. I'm more than a little invested in Linux - I think it's an amazing alternative to MS Windows and has recently upped it's game to deliver something that is as easy to use and install as Windows XP (and takes considerably less time fixing once it has been installed).

Fedora 11 is due out in a few days and it's my plan to review it soon after it is release, so I thought I'd take the next rew days to check out how well an old favourite, OpenSuse 11.1 worked on my nice new Acer Aspire One D150. Well, long story short, not that well ... install was easy enough, but no WLan after the install, so plugged in a cable an opted to install all the updates that were listed as pending. This didn't fix the WLan and nuked the X config - meaning I couldn't boot the machine and was faced with having to pick it apart and fix it. I have this Windows 7 RC disk hanging around so I thought I'd give it a go...

The install is as easy as you could hope for ... answer the questions and wait. All over and done with in about 30-40 minutes and it was good to see everything working from first boot ... all the aero effects work, WLan, Lan, Audio, Webcam ... even the pesky light on the front that shows WLan connection status. Very good.

So I start by installing the obvious applications (Firefox 3, Thunderbird 2, Open Office 3 + JRE, Skype and AVG Free) which all goes smoothly and performance is good. This is an (as yet) un modified netbook so it only has 1GB of RAM, but I haven't really seen it swapping to disk yet.

Boot times are OK ... not Linux fast but at about 1 minute 30 seconds to get to a working desktop are tolerable, and about 25 seconds to shut down is a good time.

I decided to take things a little further and tried Blender - works fine - and Second Life which promptly refused to believe that there was ebough 3D support to run. I find this a little odd, as the netbook has plenty of power to be able to run this. A little web research finds me this video review including the AAOD150 running Second Life. This led me to think that it's a Windows version compatibility problem and switching to running the application in XP compatibility mode as the administrator would solve the problem. For some reason that's not the case. I neede to download the original intel driver and install that (downgrading the one that came with Win 7 RC (build 7100). But that coupled with running as admin in compatibility mode *did* work.

I have a three.co.uk 3G USB dongle that works very well on a Windows Vista laptop that I use but this refused to work under Windows 7. This is down to how this particular device works. Rather than ship a separate disk of drivers, the USB device is dual mode and presents both the modem device and a data partition from which the drivers can be installed. It seems that he problem with Windows 7 is in switching modes - from data to modem - and the device consistently presents as a data device even after the drivers are installed. I'm working on an answer for this and will let you know when I find it ...

So far, I'm very happy with Windows 7. Easy, reasonably fast, works ... just need to change that screen resoultion thing and get my 3G modem working and I'll be happy!

Friday, 29 May 2009

Acer Aspire One D150 - Mini-review and Ubuntu 9.04 install

I've had an AAO D150 for 5 days now and I have to say that I'm entirely happy with it - my only complaint is that I wish I'd had more time to spend on it!

The unit itself comes put of the box with the usual manuals but does expect you to burn the reinsallation and drivers disks yourself. I've always though that this is a rather mean policy when you're selling a device that doesn't include an optical drive, but maybe that's just me.

The Aspire One is also not available as a Linux option - it's only available as Windows XP. If you're read my other blog posts, you'll already know that I'm not a fan and it won't suprise you to know that Windows XP didn't last 24 hours before I wiped it and installed Ubuntu 9.04 - my current favourite operating system.

OK. Other things worth knowing about the unit: the D150 comes with a 6 cell Li Ion battery that gives up to 6 hour use, the keyboard has a full right-hand shift key and (unlike my old EeePC 900) has proper page-up and page-down keys rather than function key combinations. The screen is nice and clear and bright, and the unit has all the expected ports 3xUSB, audio in/out and SD card. One nice touch is that the bios supports an additional function (you press F12 at boot up) that allows you to choose the boot device. Makes installing from CD or booting from a USB very easy...

... about as easy as installing Ubuntu 9.04. It really was as simple as: download the ISO, burn a disk (I have a USB DVD RAM drive), boot the disk, choose install, provide user info and select the simple options for everything else. Long story short - it just worked. Audio, USB, SD Cards, Wifi, Lan all seem to be working. The Wifi light on the front doesn't, but my experiences with an A110 lead me to believe that installing the backports will fix that - I'll post the results. The only untested things are the Mic and the WebCam.

As far as applications go, I'm running Firefox, Thunderbird, Skype, OpenOffice 3, Gimp, Inkscape and Blender as linux native. Blender is the only one that has issues and it looks like patchy 3D drivers, but I'll let you know when I find out more. In addition, I have installed Wine, and on top of that have Flash 8, Dreamweaver 8 and Photoshop CS2 all installed and running fine, which is very cool!

My next tasks are to sort out my Three network 3G USB dongle and install and test the Second Life client. I'll let you know.

My over-all impressions of the unit are that is is well built, well spec'ed and very smooth to use. Exactly what I was looking for!

Friday, 22 May 2009

The death of linux on netbooks may have been somewhat exagerated.....

Having seen a lot of press about the 'death of linux on netbooks'. I've started doing some stats gathering myself, from everyone I know who's using netbooks plus some random polls on twitter. I appreciate that these results aren't totally solid, but I expect they offer a better idea of opinion than some of the sales based stats being chucked around at the moment.

Of 27 people polled, 6 of them run Windows XP on their netbooks. Of the remaining 21, one person is running Windows 7 and the rest are a mix of Linux distributions. That gives an approximate Linux adoption rate of 74%.

The statistics that are being used to suggest that Windows has regained the netbook market are all about sales - and a quick study of any of the online stores selling netbooks will show you why: the new generation of netbooks are mostly being sold with Windows. High return rates for Linux based machines have been quoted as a reason for this change, but I would suspect manufacturers only needing to make and suppliers only needing to stock a single version of each model (rather than a Linux and a Windows version) may also have been a factor.

What is significant, in my opinion is that these stats only describe the units as they are sold. I'm looking to buy a new netbook at the moment. The first thing I'll be doing is installing Ubuntu 9.04 on it, regardless of which OS it ships with. The current stats that are being used to indicate user preference fail to capture this and I would be interested to see the figures for the that are reinstalled to a Non-windows OS by their owners .....

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Windows vs. Linux on netbooks ... some mixed results

Well, I've done a number of tests around this and I have to say that I get very mixed result and it seems for a number of reasons. So what I'm going to do here is explain case-by-case what happened.

Case 1 - Business users:
In one of the companies that I work for we trialled a pair of EeePC 901s running linux as a cheap, long battery-life portable solution for getting people to work on trains without needing to carry a laptop and it's assorted clutter around. This worked reasonably well, but the thing that stopped it being a success was that the Linux OS stopped the users (non-techy, account managers) from feeling comfortable with the EeePCs ... they didn't treat them as laptops, but more like mobile phones or PDAs - as though they were inherently less capable than an equivalent Windows based laptop. So we installed Windows XP on both and immediately found that the users opinions changed and we started having problems getting them back.

Case 2 - Domestic user:
My wife changed jobs recently and needed a computer to take with her so she could make use of the time she would be spending on the train. So I installed Windows 7 RC on my EeePC 900 as my wife had expressed some negative opinions about using Linux (and we've heard a lot about Windows 7 being less demanding than Vista) and the end result was essentially useable. Boot times looked good (45 seconds for a login prompt, +50 seconds to get to desktop and able to start an application) but the problems came with the time taken to get out of sleep mode (several minutes) or to shut down (over 5 minutes). The following evening I replaced Windows 7 with Ubuntu 9.04 and the EeePC 900 went from dead-weight to useful (and incidentally, my wife has been getting on just fine with Linux).

What do I make of this? People like netbooks because despite lower performance and smaller size they offer increased portability and a superior user experience to a 3G phone or MID. The OS is still a key component to this user experience and the simple familiarity of Windows can make up for the other issues and present a viable proposition .... except Ubuntu 9.04 has rasied the bar on this, with much improved performance vs. Windows and a much slicker user experience. The gap between the two propositions (Windows and Linux) is diminishing and I hope to see this close further with some of the up-coming Linux releases - Fedora 11 and Jolicloud being two that I'm particularly interested in.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Window 7 RC public release - a bit of a dilemma

Now I have a dilemma. Microsoft have done the obvious and are working to build as much interest around Windows 7 as possible. Putting the RC out to the public is an obvious way of doing this and retaining control over it's distrubution (rather than the host of torrents for the betas that we have seen).

This does however leave me having to make a decision:do I test Windows 7, just to see, when I have to confess I am absolutly happy with Ubuntu 9.04.

That statement would benefit from a little qualification. I've been running Ubunt 9.04 from the day that it was released (some 3 weeks ago) and it has been a very welcome relief from the near-misses of many other distributions. Ubuntu has raised the game for Linux significantly with this, to the point where I would prefer to use that rather than any of the MS Windows based machines I also use. The *only* thing I haven't tried yet is my 3G USB modem. I suspect that that will just be a case of installing the drivers, but I'll confirm that later.

So I feel that I should give Windows 7 a go, just to see what it's like and how it deals with the challenges presented by the hardware constraints of netbooks, but I have to say, I just don't feel the need ...