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19 April 2009
My first impressions when I started my Asus Eee PC were:
The operating system that I've have is the Linux version of the Eee PC. Before you stop reading it may be that you have some incorrect or extremely outdated impressions of what Linux is. Linux is not some text based operating system exclusively for Geeks. In fact on the Eee PC the command line is harder to find than on Windows and Linux has had a GUI almost since it was first created in the early 1990s. In fact the version of Linux used on the Eee PC OS is far easier to use and more user friendly than Windows (IMHO).
I'm going to refer to the operating as Eee OS in this post, although that is not an official name used by Asus. To call the operating system Linux describes the internals and the principles on which it is created, but does not really explain that it's the specific version (distribution to use the jargon) of Linux; calling it Linux is much like saying "petrol engine" (gasoline to any American visitors)which does not differentiate between a small motorbike engine and a 4 litre sports car engine. It is the flexibility and openness of Linux which makes it possible to create such great variances and they still run the Linux Kernel, but Linux can be tailored for anything from an embedded computer or smartphone to the most powerful supercomputer in the world (439 of the top 500 super computers were running Linux in November 2008).
Where I use Eee OS I specifically mean the customised Xandros GNU/Linux distribution shipped with the Eee PC. Apologies to anyone that doesn't like my abbreviation, but that is too long to keep writing.
The look and feel is great. You can tell it was created for use on a smaller screen with a lower resolution due to it's chunky icons, but it still works well on the 10" screen on the Eee PC 100H. The screen seams to combine some features of a number of different operating systems. The bottom task bar similar to that used by Windows, a tabbed application launcher that is similar to that used in the PalmOS and the ability to quickly hide the bottom menu on demand that is a feature of most Linux menus. There are also a few things specific to the EeePC, including some quick launch buttons and soft caps and num lock buttons (as these aren't lit on the actual keyboard), and a favourites screen for the most popular applications.
It's easy to find the applications you need and they are very intuitive.
There are too many bundled applications to list them all here, but they include: Firefox web browser; Thunderbird email client; Skype phone / conferencing application; Star Office Suite; PDF Viewer; Media Player; Educational Software (including GCompris for younger children, paint and teach yourself chines software); and a DVD player (although an external drive is required to play DVDs).
Star office is included rather than OpenOffice.org. Star Office is the commercial version sharing most of the same code with OpenOffiice.org, so it's a bit of a surprise that was chosen over OpenOffice.org. Most netbooks that have other operating systems installed include only a trial version of an Office Suite, although OpenOffice.org is available for most operating systems.
Both Star Office and OpenOffice.org include support for the Microsoft Office formats, so are good Office suites.
There are also shortcuts to web-based applications, particularly those from Google such as Google docs and Google Maps etc..
Photo edit is provided for by Picasa2 and the KDE Photo Manager application. These are good for most home users, but are not up to the same standard as Gimp which has functionality comparable with Photoshop, which will be more suited to serious amateur photographers and professionals.
Navigating around the applications is very easy, suitable for all types of users and easier to learn for new computer users than Windows and some other Linux distributions.
The applications are all user friendly and shouldn't pose any major problems. This may go some way to explain why the Gimp is not included as although powerful it is not particularly user friendly for new users.
Some people may have heard that Linux is text based (command line) and that you have to know lots of non-intuitive commands to use. That is clearly not the case for the Eee OS, or many other Linux distributions, which is better designed for less technically literate users.
I even tested by letting a 10 year old have a go with my netbook, who had no problems in navigating around the OS and finding the games [sigh...]. In fact it looks like I may have to keep a close eye on my Eee PC if I want to keep hold of it :-)
The marketing phrase "Easy to use Linux operating system", is correct.
All the features of the Eee PC are fully supported, as you would expected with an operating system bundled with a computer. High speed wireless networking is included. This can be a little fiddly to setup, and is slower at reconnecting after being suspended than other Linux distributions, but works well.
Most universal devices will work without any problems, such as cameras and usb flash drives. There is also an SDHC slot that I perfer for transfering photos from my camera, rather than having to mess around with usb cables.
The external monitor connection seams to work well with external monitors, and even detected and used my TV which Windows struggles with finding a suitable resolution. With the Eee OS I just plug in and it chooses an appropriate widescreen resolution, turning the built-in screen into scroll mode as the TVs resolution is higher; with Windows I have to enter the display properties and manually adjust the resolution.
The one thing that I have struggled slightly is with my printer. I have a Canon PIXMA IP4200 which has Linux drivers available for Ubuntu and other distributions, but these are not included with the Eee OS. Drivers for the Canon pixma IP4100 are included, which supports most of the features, although means I have to use the top paper loader, rather than the paper cartridge. It may also be possible to install the driver separately (I'll have to look into that), but it's a shame Asus did not include support for more printers.
Unfortunately adding more software is where the Eee OS really falls down. Although there is enough software for most peoples needs, advanced users are at some point going to want to install some more software.
As this is based on Xandros, it should be possible to just point at the Xandros repositories and download additional software, but this can be dangerous. If going down this route you need to ensure that the instructions are correct for the version of Eee OS, including pinning the repositories, and read the information messages before proceeding with installing any software. I did not do this, I followed old instructions and ended up having to reinstall from the rescue disks.
It is because of this that I have looked at some other Linux distributions and I have setup dual boot capability (actually triple boot, but dual boot is a more familiar term) between Eee OS and other distributions.
The Eee PC is also available with Windows XP installed. I believe that Linux is far more suited to netbooks. One reason for this is that Windows XP is about to be phased out and support will be ending soon and there is no migration to the future versions of Windows as they are not able to run (in a useful way) within the hardware limits of most netbooks.
Another problem with Windows is the requirement for anti-virus and malware protection, which adds a significant drain to the limited resources. The Eee OS actually includes a virus checker, but there are no real Linux virus threats in the wild (at the time of writing), and presumably the virus checker looks for Windows viruses rather than Linux ones. The virus checker in Eee OS is on-demand, as there is no need for the overhead of a virus checker constantly running on the computer.
I also think that Linux that can be tailored to the design of the netbook is better than having a operating system designed for a full size PC shoe-horned onto a netbook.
There is lots of free software for Linux which can save a lot of money compared to buying the commercial software for Windows.
For most Windows software there is a free Linux alternative, but sometimes there is a need to run software written for Windows. Fortunately some Windows software can run on Linux using WINE or Crossover from Codeweavers
The real competition for an OS to run on the Eee PC comes from other Linux distributions. As the netbook is effectively a standard PC (although smaller and less powerful) it is possible to use any regular Linux distribution, although there are also specific distributions for Linux on netbooks.
If you have one of the netbooks with a larger screen (such as the 10inch Asus Eee PC 1000H) then you may want to look at: review of some regular Linux distributions.
There are however some advantages to the specialist netbook distributions that are now available. I am unable to perform a review of them at this time, but these have good support for the hardware as well as the specialist interfaces to make best use of the small screen.
Some Ubuntu based netbook distros include:
There was a concern when the Eee PC was first released that Asus would be slow in releasing security updates for the operating system. From what I've seen (many updates later) this is not the case and regular updates for both security and functional problems are released.
The Linux operating system included with the Eee PC is easy to use and works well. I was very impressed when I first started using the netbook and in many ways I am still impressed by it. It will serve most users need without any problems.
For those with more demanding requirements then one of the other Linux distributions can offer more flexibility, more software and may be better. Linux is available for free (not just to try, but forever) so it's worth trying some of the different distributions and then choosing whichever fits your requirements best.