Monday, February 23, 2009

Zoho Vs. Google Docs

My faith in Zoho is renewed ten-fold. Here's a quick time line that should explain why everyone should be using Zoho for online computing.

10:00am - I log in to Zoho to find that events on my calendar have disappeared. Frustrated, I submit a complaint using the feedback link at the top of the page, and then begin writing a negative blog post about the incident.

11:30am - I get an email from Bharath stating the problem had been corrected and apologizing for the inconvenience.

11:32am - Raju Vegesna leaves a blog comment also apologizing.

12:32pm - Sasikumar Shumar leaves a blog post explaining the error and assuring that the problem was fixed.

2:50pm - @arvindnatarajan apologizes via Twitter and says that my blog will help them resolve any future problems with Zoho on the Eee PC.

I don't know about you, but I consider that pretty impressive customer support. I doubt you'd get the same response from the folks at Google Docs.

In Need of A Zoho Support Group

Day 1

Now that I'm well rested from a week off with the wife and kids, I'm ready to jump into my cloud experiment. Even though I posted the intro last week, we're going to call today day 1 since no school meant no need for cloud computing.

Things have gotten off to a rough start. To take full advantage of everything Zoho offers, I decided to throw away (well, hide behind a cabinet) my desk blotter calendar and use the app bundled as part of the Zoho Personal suite.

My first impression of Zoho Calendar was that it did not seem unlike other programs I've used in the past (most notably Sunbird). The small Eee screen didn't affect things much, but I did have to move the Xandros task bar to add/edit events. After transferring all my important dates from the blotter to Zoho, I figured I was all set.

When I logged in an hour later, all of my hard work had mysteriously vanished. I could add new events to my calendar, but all the previous were gone. I clicked on the Zoho desktop tab and then back to the calendar, and got a nonsensical error message. Hmm.

Assuming I did something wrong, I went to the Zoho Forums (a link conveniently located at the top of the page) in search of advice. I guess I had just grow accustomed to the incredible Eee PC help on, because I was dumbfounded to find hardly any topic threads with more than one post. Indeed, there were several other Zoho users who voiced concerns over disappearing calendar events, but none of their posts contained any answers. The best I could find was one user who stated that Zoho only worked well with Internet Explorer/Exploder on a Windows machine. It read in part:

"I am using Ubuntu 8.10 with Opera 9.63 as well as Firefox 3.0.5, and I am unable to add events to the calendar. If I click on Create Event and put in minimal information, the event is created. However, when I start modifying the Start/End Dates, Repeat, etc in the Create Event dialog, nothing seems to happen and no events are created on the calendar."
Could Zoho be just as glitchy with Xandros Linux as it is with Ubuntu?

I'm still excited about the possibilities of using Zoho on my Asus Eee PC, but it's clear that diving headfirst into this pond may not be a good idea. What's just under the surface is yet to be discovered.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

2009 - The Year Technology Broke (Experiment 2.0)

Day 1

I'm a huge Green Day fan, and have been since I was in 8th grade when they released their breakout album, "Dookie." Like all teens, my bedroom was wallpapered with magazine clippings of my idols, and many of these were of the three guys in my favorite band. In addition to having a successful career for more than fifteen years now, Green Day is also awarded the distinction of bringing punk rock music into the mainstream. While this will always be fiercely debated (Ramones and Sex Pistols fans fight relentlessly to claim this distinction), there's no denying that something happened the year Green Day hit it big.

I remember one of the wall clippings in my room was from the cover of Rolling Stone that featured the three rockers with a banner proclaiming 1994 as the "year punk broke." And that banner is the reason why I'm writing this.

The year punk broke

Historians are going to look back on 2009 through similar lens, only with technology instead of punk rock music. The Internet as we know it (loosely defined as Web 2.0) is no longer an exclusive stomping ground for teens and trendy college grads. Important people - CEOS, businessmen, educators, even the president - are realizing its full potential. The fact that WGRZ, the local news channel in Buffalo, NY (my hometown) uses Skype for live reports and has a Twitter account is indicative of the times.

Part of this technology revolution comes in the form of the netbook, which this blog has been devoted to thus far. But what about the applications and services that are being designed for just such a machine? Ignoring that is like buying a HD television so the static comes in more clear. To enjoy HD TV, you must also enjoy the programming, and to truly embrace the netbook revolution - and the year that technology broke - you need to also embrace the future in the cloud.

Despite some serious opposition and a bit of conspiracy theories, cloud computing is the future of netbooks and computers as a whole. Instead of fighting it, let's see its possibilities.

For the next 100 days, I will only use services that fall under the definition of a cloud application. The only obvious exception is a web browser - primarily Firefox. For this experiment we will loosely define cloud apps as any service that can be access from any computer where all files, settings, etc are stored remotely.

Here we go!

Friday, February 13, 2009

The End of the Eee PC Experiment

Day 100

100 Days have come and gone and I have successfully made it through my Eee PC experiment. The purpose of this blog was to see just how far netbooks could be pushed. I must say, it was far easier than I imagined to give up all other computers in favor of the Eee. To be fair, the journey wasn't without roadblocks and potholes. So for the final post (or is it...), the 100th day with the Eee PC, I give to you my final list of Pros and Cons.


1. Portability - Over the past three months, the Eee has traveled with me daily to and from work. It has also been carried into the auto repair shop, my Mom's house for Thanksgiving, and countless fast food and coffee spots. The ultra small size simply can't be beat. Also in those three months have I never had the battery completely drain. I typically get at least 3-4 hours with all the bells and whistles enabled (wifi, screen brightness, sound, etc.), and I have never had the battery completely drain. Unlike Dells which are notorious for giving about a dozen seconds notice before shutting off, the Eee's low battery warning seems to be more than several minutes - plenty of time to fetch the charger from under the bed in the other room.

2. Versatility - Since purchasing my Eee, I have put it up against challenges it simply was not intended to handle, yet it chugged along unphased. I have used it for audio recording, LCD projection presentations, media downloading, and even for keeping the kids from crying while my wife was sick in bed. Around Christmas I convinced a colleague at work to purchase two Eee PCs for her kids (11 and 7 years old), and they too are happy as can be about the laptop. Their priorities - Webkinz and word processing for school - are much different from mine, yet the Eee accommodates everyone.

Even my 19-month-old participated in the experiment.

3. Xandros - If you have been following my blog you'll know that Xandros is one aspect of the Eee PC that I have thoroughly explored. I've tried three different operating systems (UbuntuEee, MintOS, gOS) but returned to Xandros every time. It's not without it's flaws, but then again, neither am I (and I still consider myself something of a catch). For the Eee, Xandros is the way to go. Basic mode fits the true purpose of a netbook while the advanced desktop provides the control and power that people find so favorable with other Linux distributions. While there are parts of Xandros I never figured out (like setting up Compiz Fusion, for example) they are all secondary when you look at it from the perspective of an operating system that is capable of tackling nearly every task that can be thrown at it.

4. Community - I couldn't say goodbye to my experiment without first giving props to the community of Eee PC users, programmers, and enthusiastic that have helped me either through direct contact, blog comments, or forum threads. Specifically, Eeeuser is essential for anyone looking for help with the Eee PC. 90% of my accomplishments with my Eee came from the Eeeuser forum. So thank you, everyone!


1. Limited Resources - At one point I compared Xandros to a donkey - not because I was suggesting its programmers were sterile - as an analogy to explain why it is so difficult to find packages that are compatible with the Eee PC. This was a problem that plagued my experience. Not only were there programs that I simply couldn't get running, there were those like ktorrent and VLC that worked for a while, but then developed some irritating dependency issues when they needed to be reinstalled. Not only are resources limited for Xandros, they're actually decreasing as packages are updated (and therefore no longer work on the Eee).

2. Web Browser - I think the current browser wars is a good thing and I'm a willing soldier in the battles. Before switching to the Eee, I took a liking to Google Chrome for Windows and previous to that I was an avid supporter of Firefox. Even though I missed Chrome (which will most likely never be ported to Linux), I was okay with the idea of Firefox on the Eee. But the more I use it, the more I'm reminded of my experiences with Internet Exploder. Sites with embedded objects cause Firefox on the Eee to crash. Not all the time, but enough to make it irritating. I tried Opera and lesser-known Galeon too, but I just can't find anything that I feel works great with the Eee PC. For now, I'll stick with Firefox, but for no reason other than I can't find something better.

3. Speed - The Eee PC is what it is - an underclocked 900Mhz processor with 512MB of RAM. It doesn't have much issue with surfing the web or basic office documents, but its shortcomings become quite apparent when you try to do anything with media files (audio/video editing, file downloading, etc). Granted, the Eee isn't intended to do these things, so it's kind of like complaining that a bowling ball makes a mediocre doorstop.

So there you have it - these are the findings of my Eee PC experiment. Does that mean my Eee will now be turned off and tossed into the closet? Or used to prop up the bum leg of the sofa? Probably not. All nit-picking aside, I enjoy using the Eee PC and it suites my needs well. The only problem with ending my blog here is the simple fact that I would miss writing in it.

What direction will this blog take? I left a hint at the top of the page. And if you're still not sure what I'm getting at, don't worry - you have the next 100 days to figure it out.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I'm a Dad! (Again)

Day 99

On every blog how-to site I've read, it warns not to apologize for lack of posts, but I figure I have the best excuse possible. Where have I been, you ask? On February 3rd, my wife gave birth to our second child – John Michael. We're now a family of four, and although our daughter is acting a bit needy, everyone is happy and healthy.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Best Twitter App for the Eee PC

Day 91

I made a Twitter account a few years ago when it was a reletively unknown site. I gave up soon after though because I simply couldn't convince my friends that they needed another site (Myspace, Facebook, Blog, FriendFeed, Livejournal, Flickr, Etc...) to update.

But now all that has changed. A few weeks ago, curiosity got the better of me and I created a new Twitter account. I've been slowly adding friends - both personal buddies, and folks that seem to have common professional interests as myself. I'm quickly seeing how fast Twitter allows for the spread of information. As a teacher and technology enthusiast, this is important.

I was getting tired of stopping my regular browsing to update my account, so I decided to see what kinds of add-ons Firefox had to offer. I installed a few to try out (In the Firefox menu, tools-->add-ons), but many added an additional toolbar to the menu. Like I've mentioned before, I have a hard time giving up screen space on the Eee. I deleted those, and instead settled on TwitterBar.

TwitterBar adds a tiny icon at the end of the address bar in Firefox. While browsing, you can type your tweet into the address bar and then press the icon. It updates Twitter without ever leaving the page that is currently being displayed.

I think this is the best Twitter add-on for the Asus Eee PC because it adds functionality without taking up any space. Oh yeah - you can follow me on Twitter here.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

How Not To Set Up Beryl on the Eee

Day 88

One of the things that originally hooked me on Linux was the eye candy of Compiz-Fusion. It didn't really make me more productive or the machine more capable of doing anything, but it sure was cool to show to friends and then mockingly compare to their lame Windows computers.

Today I decided to get Compiz working on the Eee. I checked Synaptic and Compiz was listed, so I installed. No errors, no dependency issues, no problems. Until I tried to configure it. In Ubuntu, Compiz-Fusion would install an advanced desktop settings panel, but this was missing in Xandros. I've already had to restore my Eee 3 times due to botched experiments, so I decided to play it safe and head to Eeeuser for some advice.

I found directions for Beryl that seemed pretty easy to follow. I'm not real clear on the difference between Beryl and Compiz, but I know that they are both a fancy windows manager and that was good enough for me.

I went through all of the instructions and ran into zero snags. The last step was to change a file to start Beryl instead of the regular X window manager. After I did that, I crossed my fingers and rebooted the machine.

I must have crossed the wrong ones because something went horribly awry. I saw the loading screen, but only caught a glimpse of my desktop before the entire screen went grey. I could still see and move my mouse, and it would change from an arrow to the hand when I moused over things, but I couldn't see them.

StEeevie Wonder.

My best guess is that there was a driver issue that wasn't cooperating with Beryl - I could see the screen for about a second before Beryl loaded. I didn't want to restore, but without the display there was no way for me to reverse the steps I had just taken to install Beryl.

Fortunately for me, I have a shortcut to the console on my desktop. I was able to blindly find it with my mouse and open it. I typed xkill and aimed at the Beryl icon in the task bar. The screen flashed and I thought for sure that I would be spending some time digging out the restore disk from under the bed. But then something interesting happened. The computer rebooted into easy mode.

I was able to open the console in easy and retrace my steps. The only thing remaining now is a angry pop up every time I start my computer. Something is still looking for Beryl, but this is better than nothing.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

How to Install Fonts on the Asus Eee PC

Day 87

On day 15 I wrote about how easy it is to install fonts on the Eee, but tonight I ran into a little snag. After downloading about 15 zip files from 1001freefonts, I was faced with the arduous task of unzipping each and then manually right-clicking on each font file and installing. Each zip archive had several files (italic, condensed, sans serif, etc), so I was looking at probably close to 50 files that needed to be installed.

Here's how to install multiple fonts on the Eee PC in about 30 seconds.

First, unzip all font files. Mine were saved to the desktop, so my commands looked like this:

cd Desktop
unzip '*.zip'
At this point my desktop was covered with files. Instead of dealing with them, I opened the font installer:
kcmshell kcmfontinst

From there, all I had to do was click on "add fonts" and highlight the files from my desktop. Super easy.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Is Delicious down?

Day 84 @ 7:22pm

...Because it is for me. Is this a global issue, or an Eee PC issue?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Pros and Cons of Galeon

Day 83

Pro: Galeon is equipped with a favorites tool bar similar to IE and Firefox. I'm the type who checks blogs/social networks/email constantly during the day, so this is an essential requirement for the way I surf the web.

Con: I have grown accustomed to Firefox's keyboard shortcuts, particularly ctrl+click to open links in a new tab. Galeon can't do that, so I'm stuck right clicking and instructing it to open in a new tab.

Full screen and size adjustment
Pro: Because of the Eee's limited screen real estate, every pixel needs to be put to good use. Galeon has a full screen button in the tool bar (F11 does the trick too) that let's you quickly remove unnecessary junk at the top and bottom of the screen. There is also a percentage indicator to quickly increase/decrease text size.

I'm not sure why it's a dead link icon, but the full screen button is a welcome addition to Galeon.

Con: Depending on the site, Galeon sometimes gets confused and puts the cursor in the text adjustment box in the tool bar. Twice already I've tried to scroll down a page only to make the text become nearly invisible. Oops.

Pro: One of my favorite things about Opera was its speed dialer. Galeon comes with a “My Portal” screen, which is a text-based equivalent.

Con: I can almost be single-handedly to blame for the occasional slowdown of my ISP, and that is because I tend to refresh each page I go to at least twice – double that if it's email. The reload icon is in the tool bar, but the familiar F5 refresh does not work. Of the disadvantages of Galeon I have spotted so far, this is of biggest concern to me. How am I suppose to participate in the next WootOff if I can't frantically press f5 every 6 seconds?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Choosing a Browser for the Eee

Day 83 - The Mini Experiment Begins

I have yet to find an ideal web browser for the Eee. The default is Firefox, and while it has some fantastic features, it seems to freeze far more often in Xandros than with Ubuntu or Windows. And that's Firefox 2.0 – the beta 3 is molasses slow. I spent some time this weekend exploring my options in search of the perfect web browser for the Asus Eee PC.

The choices

I ran into the Firefox 3 slowdown when I was running gOS, so I installed Opera. It was quite fast, but many sites that I use in my professional life don't support Opera. It did all kinds of weird things to cascading menus, login screens, email pages, ect. I found myself using Opera for general surfing, but resorting to the slow Firefox when checking my mail. It got the job done but wasn't ideal.

Last year I inherited an ancient Sony Vaio laptop that could barely run Windows 98. I restored it with a copy of Damn Small Linux, and the machine enjoyed a brief stint as my laptop of choice. DSL comes with Dillo – a tiny and lightning fast web browser. It worked, but I missed the added features of Firefox such as integrated spell check and tabbed browsing. Although Dillo is available in Synaptic, it's shortcomings removed it from the running to be my browser of choice on the Eee.

Before installing anything new, I looked into using the Eee file browser, Konqueror, for the web. This can either be run by typing the name into the console, or by opening the home folder and then typing the web address into the address bar (add this by going to view --> toolbars --> address bar). I played with Konqueror for about an hour before abandoning it.

(Begin Analogy)
Every year my family goes camping to the Thousand Islands region of the St. Lawrence Seaway for a week during the summer. We spend several days floating up and down the river in a tiny aluminum boat we rent from a retired lady named Mrs. Trevor. The boat is barely seaworthy, but she only charges 50 bucks a day and we are always game from an adventure. The rivets that hold the three parts of the hull together are so old it was not uncommon for one to spring a leak mid-boating. But we were always prepared – before renting from Mrs. Trevor we made a trip into town to buy a box of saltwater taffy. Not only was it delicious, it plugged the holes nicely. By the end of the week, our boat was covered in multicolored wads of the sticky treat.
(End Analogy)
Using Konqueror for web browsing is kind of like using taffy to plug holes in a boat. It gets the job done, but it was definitely designed for a more specific use.

There were no more browser choices in Synaptic, so I turned to the web. There I found whispers of something called Galeon that I thought might be worth trying. It took a bit of work locating a repository for it and all I could find was one for Debian, so I was hesitant about trying to install it on the Eee. But I held my breath, added the repository, and installed Galeon (directions for doing so are found here).

It's not much to look at – reminiscent of Internet Explorer 5 - but it has tabs and seems to have no effort loading the pages that gave Opera a run for its money. It's lacking the built in spell check, but I think I can live with Galeon as a primary browser. For now, anyway.

So for the next five days, I plan to only use Galeon for browsing. If it can handle flash videos without freezing (like Firefox) and can be customized with add-ons (like Firefox), I might just consider Galeon for the long haul.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Back to Xandros

Day 77

I have seriously trashed the eee in the past, and I really don't want to have to hit the F9 key at bootup ever again. It just takes too long to get things set up again.
- John MacGibbon

John posted that comment last Thursday, and I know his pain all too well. I have removed gOS from my Eee, and am once again using Xandros in advanced mode. This marks the second time I have abandoned another operating system and retreated back to the default OS for the Eee.

Here's the strange thing - every time I restore Xandros, I fail to reinstall a program that previously had no problem installing. I already lamented in several posts about the loss of kTorrent after I wiped the Eee while trying to install Ubuntu-Eee. I am now experiencing the same frustrations with video/audio player VLC.

I had it installed before, and I know I'm installing from the same source because I used my original post as a tutorial.

So John, consider yourself lucky.

This is what it looks like when I try to install VLC on my restored Eee.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

At a Crossroads with gOS

Day 72

My wife is pregnant and ready to burst just about any day. This will be number two for us, and since moving into our new home last summer, I had successfully put off repainting the bedrooms. I came to terms that the task was inevitable, and pulled out my painting supplies over the Christmas break. It is obvious which room is for my daughter and which is for the new baby boy – one is sky blue, the other princess pink.

My wife has gone into full nesting mode, and every day there is a bit more done on the baby's nursery. The room looks great, but I grit my teeth every time I go in there. In one corner, there's an errant brush mark. In another corner, I got a speck of blue paint on the molding. And behind the door there's a spot I missed all together.

No one else would notice these things but me. My wife thinks I'm being neurotic, but I find flaws with my paint job every time I go in there. I know what I wanted the room to look like, and I know the spots that didn't come out the way I wanted.

This is how I'm beginning to feel about gOS on my Eee. If I handed my laptop to someone else, they wouldn't noticed the flaws this OS harbors. But I do, and just like paint on the molding, it drives me nuts.

I reached my boiling point today. Several of my students are planning on interviewing a contestant on this season's Ameican Idol. I was planning on using my Eee to record the conversation. Just a few hours before I was to make the call, I learned that the microphone does not work with gOS. I found some suggestions on the EeeUser forum, but none that guaranteed a quality recording. I had to postpone the interview.

I'm at a crossroads. Do I keep gOS or go back to Xandros? I'm going to try and reinstall Xandros onto an SD card so I can have the best of both worlds, but if that doesn't work, I think gOS is getting the boot.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Linux in the Real World

Day 70

Is the world ready for Linux?

Sunday night I found myself kneeling in the driveway with my ear to a hissing rear-passenger tire. I had an appointment scheduled for the next day to renew my inspection, so I figured the tire could be fixed as well. The repairs would take some time, and auto repair joints aren't usually the Hilton, so I toted my Eee in with me to catch up on some blogs and hopefully snag an Internet signal (no such luck, though).

When I got there I dropped off my keys at the front desk, fired up my Eee, and got comfy next to the rack of greasy car magazines and a sad looking hanging plant. I was hardly a full paragraph into my work when I noticed the woman behind the desk glancing over at my laptop.

“Is that one of them teeny computers,” she asked? Her name was Barb, or at least it said so on her overalls. She looked to be in her mid 40s, and apparently was not awarded any luxuries because she was a woman - her hands were as black as those of the other mechanics.

Since there were no other patrons in the lobby, Barb and I struck up a conversation about the Eee. She told me her current desktop was outdated and she was looking for something that could handle basic word processing and office tasks like creating and printing labels. She also wanted to know how difficult it was to read words on a smaller screen. I opened a blank OpenOffice Writer document, and handed the computer over the desk to her.

She didn't seem to notice that she wasn't using Microsoft Word, but I figured that a win for OpenOffice. She said the screen was easy to read, and she didn't have a problem typing on the smaller keyboard (she was surprisingly good at touch-typing), then she asked where I got it. She wanted to know “how many programs it could hold,” but I wasn't sure how to answer that question. Regardless, she seemed impressed by my little Eee. I may have hooked another person on the Asus Eee.

But would it be a wise choice for Barb? Would she be able to handle the transition from Windows to Linux? On one hand, she didn't flinch at OpenOffice, but this is also the woman who seemed to confuse programs with memory.

If our conversation had ended here, the answer to the question at the top of this post would be easy. Basic users with little to no experience should probably not but jumping headfirst into a Linux system they know nothing about. But I stereotyped Barb, and I was wrong.

When she minimized OpenOffice, she looked at the desktop and said “This isn't Windows, is it?”

I feared making her head explode by explaining the ins and outs of gOS, so I fumbled through a reply about how it wasn't Windows but another kind of operating system that works in sort of the same way.

“I think it's called Linux,” she explained to me, and then continued to click around my laptop.

I had Barb pegged all wrong. Turns out she was a computer science major in college before deciding to follow a career in music. She worked at the shop during the day for extra money. During our conversation, another mechanic came out of the pit and joined in. He too knew what Linux was – he said one of his friends uses it. There I was, discussion netbooks and Linux with two mechanics.

So back to my original question – Is the world ready for Linux? My answer – beats the hell outta me. What do you think?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Keyboard Shortcuts - gOS and the Eee

Day 69

I'm beginning to see why people prefer the Eee-specific distro remixes. While gOS runs well on the Eee, has great wifi connection rates, and is far easier than the default Xandros to find repositories for, it has some major gaps. Perhaps this can be an open invitation for someone to make an Eee-gOS. In the meantime, I keep getting hit with small, inconvenient surprises around every corner. For example, most of the keyboard shortcuts are dead. Only the brightness function buttons work. I missed the volume controls in particular, so I set out to try and reactivate them.

It seemed easy enough. In the Preferences menu, there is a keyboard shortcuts option. When I opened it, I saw that the volume controls were assigned some nonsensical characters. I wanted to change them back to their Xandros defaults – Fn+F7, Fn+F8, ect. Strange thing though – gOS doesn't seem to recognize the Fn key. I settled on changing them to use the Ctrl key instead.

I did a quick test run, and I watched as the icon at the top right of my screen changed according to my keystrokes. How easy is that!?

A little too easy, apparently, because it doesn't actually work. The shortcut commands go through the motions, but it doesn't control the volume. I still have to click on the icon and manually mute the Eee. It's kind of like Bernie Lomax. He walked around. He threw parties. He even had relations with a woman. But he was still dead. And so are my Fn shortcut keys.

This is kind of what my keyboard shortcuts look like.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Themes and Missing Sound Controls

Day 64

For me, Ubuntu is kind of like that first love you never forget. It was my first experience with Linux. Sure, I was inexperienced and not very picky (I chose Ubuntu because it was the fist distro to appear when I googled). I was awkward and kind of clumsy trying to navigate around command lines, tarballs, and repositories - the computer equivalent of hopelessly fumbling to unlatch that first bra. But the time we spent together really opened my eyes to the possibilities of Linux. Sadly, we eventually parted ways.

Looking back, there were things that I disliked about Ubuntu, but I was too clouded by puppy love to acknowledge. Aesthetically speaking, the default brown and orange color schemes are ugly. I like the green gOS theme much better. It doesn't look like the couch my parents got as a wedding present, and the icons are sleek too. GOS is like upgrading on that first love to find something that makes you feel good and makes for some nice arm candy.

The only problem with the default gOS theme is that the volume control faders are mysteriously absent. Volume can be adjusted by clicking on the + and - buttons, but it's clear something is missing. Apparently the faders are invisible in the gOS theme. Here's how to fix that.

1. Go to system preferences --> preferences --> appearances and choose a different theme. Doesn't matter which - it can even be ugly Ubuntu orange.
2. Open Synaptic and search for gos-theme. Mark it for removal and apply changes.
3. In Synaptic go to settings --> repositories --> third-party and add a new source - "deb gadgets main"
4. Reload Synaptic, then search for gos-theme and reinstall. I was also prompted to update my system with a few additional files.
5. Go back into the appearance menu and select the default gOS theme. Your laptop will look just like it did before, only now your sound drop down will be equipped with a little green control orb.
A lot of work for a little green button.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Making Good on the Asus Eee PC

Day 63

During my recent attempts to begin networking my Eee with some other machines around the house, I decided to try and streamline the various operating systems that were in use. I have six machines running four different flavors of Linux, and two different versions of Windows. I read some release notes on Linux Mint, and thought to give that a go, but it was a catastrophic failure. I tried it on two different CDs as well as on a usb drive, but all of them froze up on each computer I tried. I was in the process of downloading the most recent Ubuntu .iso, when I stumbled upon Thinkgos. I have an older version of gOS on an old Compaq desktop, and it has always done the trick. The newest release, gOS Gadgets 3 looked fancier, so I figured I'd give it a go. And, since it's based on Ubuntu Hardy, I wouldn't be treading on entirely foreign soil.

The Download & Install
The .iso took much longer than I anticipated to download from the mirror link off the ThinkGOS site. Not a big deal – I left the laptop on overnight and started the install process the next morning. Using unetbootin, I created a usb for installation on the Eee. It let me take the operating system for a quick spin before commiting to the full install. I had pretty much bricked the Xandros install after tampering with some repositories and trying to install a Java player, so I just set Good OS, or gOS to install on the main SSD drive.

Replacing the Kernel
After installation, the only major glitch was the lack of wifi access. I found these instructions on how to customize the OS for the Eee by adding a new kernel. I was a bit intimidated by this (I equated it to fiddling around with a flux capacitor on a time machine), but the how-to was clear and surprisingly easy. After rebooting, wifi worked great – and actually connects much faster than it did under Xandros.

Updates and the Consequences
After enabling third party repositories in synaptic (settings → repositories → third-party), I was informed that there were about 200 updates available to my system. One of these was an upgrade to Firefox, which I soon found to be a bit much for the Eee. Firefox 3 (maybe because it's still in beta) was extremely slow and buggy, so I uninstalled 3.0 for the more stable 2.0 (instructions here). I also installed Opera – it's lightening fast, although not as reliable as Firefox. I'm finding myself using it for everything but the sites I know it doesn't load properly (my school email for example – the menus disappear).

The whole purpose for switching Linux flavors was to get the Eee to communicate with other computers. After installing gOS on two other machines, I decided to test out the networking capabilites. First, I had to allow myself permission to share a file. I went to system preferences → administration → authorizations and added myself to the list. After restarting, it was as easy as right clicking on a folder and choosing “sharing options.” My Eee was able to find and transfer files between the other two machines running gOS as well as the laptop with Windows XP, although the XP couldn't find the Linux machines. And to my advantage, gOS comes with VNC. This is an extremely easy-to-use remote access program. With it, I set up a computer with songbird and some external speakers and the Eee became a remote control for a stereo loaded with MP3s.

Final Thoughts
I gave myself a few days to test drive gOS before writing this, and I'm really enjoying it. Since it's based on Ubuntu/Gnome my comfort level is higher than it was initially with Xandros. Plus, because it's based on a major distrobution, I haven't had any problems finding packages that will run smoothly. It's not without some flaws, however - Firefox and wifi are examples. Because of this, gOS may not be the best choice for all you folks who received an Asus Eee PC for Christmas and are looking to do some revamping.

A view of the Asus Eee desktop running Good OS, or gOS

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Resolution Resolved

Day 61

My two week vacation ends in a few short hours, but I must say I'm ready to go back. In addition to the typical holiday madness, I managed to paint two bedrooms in the house and basically turn the basement into livable space. I also inherited three new computers and spent most of this past weekend getting my collection (my wife fondly refers to our house is the place where computers go to die) up and working.

I currently have four machines that are all happily communicating with each other. To keep track, they have been named after characters from The Simpsons and they all received wallpaper likenesses. Tomorrow's post will be more on how I managed this, specifically with the Eee PC, but for now, here is the latest family portrait. Dell Latitude Milhouse, Dell Desktop Lisa, Eee PC Bart, and HP Pavilion Homer.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Using Xandros is like Breeding Mules

Day 58

Mules are the result of the love shared by a male donkey and a female horse. These two animals evolved from the same creature so they are still genetically similar enough to produce offspring. Only one problem - horses and donkeys have a differing number of chromosomes (64 and 62, respectively) which means the mule is actually a genetic mess. One major side effect of this darwinistic God-playing is that mules can never reproduce - they are born sterile. 

Xandros is kind of like the mule. It is a derivative of Debian, and the version that ships with the Eee is further customized to fit the specifics of the tiny machine. This means the some .deb packages work, while others either do nothing, or can even brick the computer completely. 

I spent about four hours last night in a semi-circle of laptops trying to get them to recognize each other. Here's my arsenal.

1. Eee PC - Xandros advanced desktop
2. The wife's HP Pavilion - Windows XP
3. Antique Sony Vaio - Originally shipped with Windows 95, currently the only thing I can even get to load on it is Damn Small Linux
4. Dell Latitude - Ubuntu 8.10

My goal is to find a first person shooter game that will run smoothly on all the computers (plus two desktops, but dealing with those are simply too overwhelming right now). Here's where the mule analogy comes into play. Even though Xandros, DSL, and Ubuntu are all based on Debian, it was quite difficult to find a game that would run on the different OSes (especially cross platform). The ones the did load (Nexuiz and Alien Arena, specifically) were unable to find other players in network play. 

So if the mules can't get along, I say put them down and buy horses. I wiped both the Vaio and the Eee with intentions of putting some form of Ubuntu on them. My wife is pro Windows, but I figured she wouldn't mind if I dual booted her laptop with Ubuntu as well. This way all the machines - in theory - would sync nicely. Only one problem - the Vaio never made it through installation, and the Eee gives me about five minutes worth of errors before loading - and wireless doesn't work. 

So basically, last night was a bust. At the very least, I need to pull out my old DSL install disk, and the Xandros recovery CD just to get back to start.