Meet the EeePC

Being in Taiwan, we swiftly got hold of an Eeepc.

Instead of installing Debian into it, we decided to keep the original system and see how it works. It's a Debian derivative, and the feeling inside a terminal window is quite familiar.

The boot is very fast. Two seconds after the video bios quickly shows on the screen, the X cursor appears. It's definitely worth having a look at how this devil boots.

The "Asus Launcher" is worth a look. IMHO it's nicer and more useful than the usual launcher menu that we get in Gnome or KDE 3, although it probably only makes sense on a small display. It replaces the desktop background, has tabs, no clutter and allows to launch applications. Turns out it's customisable as well.

What's on the system

KDE 3.4.2, with some applications renamed so that their names are more human. For example, konsole became console.

vim! \o/ But not emacs :)

mc! Someone out there wanted to make my life easier.

fbreader. I had never heard of it, but it's a very good discovery that I've now started to use it on my laptop as well.

Little howtos

To get to a terminal, hit Ctrl+T in the file manager, or Ctrl+Alt+T elsewhere.

The root password is the same as the user password.

To change the system language, I managed with a simple dpkg-reconfigure locales.

Ways they simplified the unix system

It's single user: I didn't find a way to create multiple users besides the terminal, and the login program does not ask for a username, only for the password.

The "win" key has a house painted on it, and it's used as "hide/show all applications" key. When all applications are minimised, the Asus launcher is visible instead of the X background: this behaviour basically turns the key into a sort of "run application" key. The key still works as a kind of shift, although it probably was not intended to.

The repository management is interesting. /etc/apt/sources.list contains:

deb p701 main
deb p701 main

which means they have a repository per eepc model and a subrepository per localised version.

The "Internet" group of applications has a Wikipedia toplevel application: it's nice to see the ecosystem of free software / free culture coming together to provide a nice user experience.

An extra link to the SD card mount point (besides the one in /mount) appears in the home directory automatically when the SD card is inserted. This means that when you do "save as" from all sorts of applications, the SD card is there, easy to reach. This helps if one decides not to use the internal flash for data, and just save everything in the SD card: I like doing this, as it allows me to quickly move the SD card with all the data between the EeePC and other computers.

Changes I made so far

Activate en_GB.UTF-8 via dpkg-reconfigure locales.

Add en_GB.UTF-8 to /etc/scim/global, to get SCIM input methods to work.

Little flaws

Virtual screens are enabled, so W+arrow switches virtual screen. The feeling you get if you hit W+arrow is that all your applications disappeared. This could be improved by having the vm keep the asus launcher at the bottom of the current virtual screen, instead of just at the bottom of the first screen. Or, to disable virtual screens by default.

It is possible to drag the lower panel around, maybe accidentally: that's another of our fancy default "features" that should be disabled by default.

It is also possible to remove applets from the applet bar by mistake: for example I wanted to disconenct the wireless, and I instead ended up quitting the wireless applet. Luckily, the next time I started the computer it magically came back.

~/.xsession-errors is continuously getting the useless stdout/stderr debugging flood of GUI apps. Noone bothers usually, except that in this case the file is on flash, where unneeded writes are also very much unwanted. I'm considering symlinking it to /dev/null, but ideally we should get GUI apps to only write out what is really important.

Battery charging doesn't show how long it is going to take until the battery is fully charged.

No capslock or numlock leds. This probably calls for disabling or remapping of capslock. Numlock is very hard to hit by accident, but capslock is.

Random thoughts

If you buy an eeepc, I really suggest you think of it a mass consumption appliance and stay on the original OS for a while. Most of what's in here is what we use everyday, just on a different context. Try to use it as an appliance and see if it is perfect, and if it isn't, try to find out what is missing. It is a fantastic way to find out important bits that are missing in Debian as well.

Also, if you're used to tailoring everything to yourself before starting to use a Linux system, this is a great way to try the usage experience that we can offer by default. The Firefox welcome page the first time you connect, for example, is surprisingly nice. Everything we know as doable comes a bit as as a surprise because this time someone has done it for us.

I wish that that someone can be invited to talk at the next Debconf: the possibility of having a look at the work that has been done in bending Debian to this nice little device is to me one of the most valuable things so far about the eeepc.

Help/About KDE/Credits

It's reachable by most applications, and says:

The development team would like to thank the following people and organizations for their contributions:

Linus Torvalds and the other Linux kernel developers, and Free software developers around the world.

I'm using an appliance that is thanking me, and others like me: priceless!