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.