Ubuntu on the Eee PC

By Christopher Allan Webber on Sun 23 March 2008

This will be my final post regarding the Eee PC for some time to come, I promise. I got Ubuntu installed on the Eee, and I thought I'd give my impressions about that.

First of all, the results from a number of Google queries on how to do the installation pointed me to some interesting and well written articles, but I was having a lot of trouble until I actually visited the Ubuntu wiki. The steps you want to take are definitely these:

  • Make a bootable Ubuntu Live/Install USB key. This is worth doing even if you aren't using the Eee, especially if you follow the instructions on how to create a persistent USB installation. However, its critical for the Eee, since the Eee lacks any sort of optical drive.
  • Then follow the instructions for actually installing Ubuntu on the Eee . I found the install to be pretty normal, but its definitely worth following the instructions on this page to optimize the life of your flash disk, for installing the wireless drivers, etc.

But yeah, it was all very, very easy once I found the right resources. And now I've got a real operating system on here! It's way, way better than running the default Xandros install.

The only problem I'm having is how apparent it is that many applications just aren't developed to run at a resolution less than 800x600, and since the model of the Eee that I have has a maximum resolution of 800x480, I sometimes have to to hold down alt to drag windows around.

Here's a list of applications I've tested which work really nicely on the small resolution:

  • Firefox
  • Blender
  • zsnes
  • Emacs
  • GNOME Terminal
  • GIMP (had to modify the docks a bit, but once I did so all fit very nicely)
  • Pidgin
  • OpenOffice
  • Aisleriot Solitaire
  • Mines (minesweeper clone)
  • Chess
  • Ekiga

Applications that were unusable:

  • Gnome Blackjack: Required an unnecessarily large window
  • Wesnoth: While I could start this up in windowed mode (fullscreen would not work) it was totally unusable as I could not access the buttons from the main menu. Constantly moving around the window to play this game is just far too obnoxious of an idea to even seriously contemplate.

Other than that, a number of applications had preferences menus or graphical wizards which required a lot of manual positioning to navigate, but nothing too frustrating, and since these are things that one needs to access very rarely, I don't really find myself bothered at all. Now, the next generation of the Eee is both more expensive and more powerful: for 400 bucks (50 dollars more than what I paid) you can get a savvy 1024×600 resolution screen. My suspicion is that this will be good enough for most people, though I think the current system I have is still Good Enough For Me (tm).

Conclusions: Asus has definitely done the right thing here. Sure, they could have shipped with a better distribution, but the fact that this machine actually ships with and was designed for Linux means that I knew I could buy it already knowing all the hardware would work with my operating system and distribution of choice. Since the resolution is good enough and not too unusual, and since it ships with a keyboard and a touchpad, this means that finally Linux users have access to an ultraportable device that isn't trying to reinvent the browser, email clients and feed readers because of limitations or peculiarity of the screen or input. For the most part, you know you can run the distribution and applications that you already know and love. And not reinventing the wheel is a great thing. And despite how great these devices have done for the proliferation of free and open source software, this just can't be said for the Nokia handhelds, the Zaurus, or even a project I'm still a huge fan of, the OpenMoko phone.