A very Happy New Year to all readers, and apologies for taking nearly two weeks off posting here. You may or may not be surprised to learn that I’ve not been entirely idle: not least, because my Eee 701 has been put to good use, road-testing the Eeebuntu 3 alternative Linux distribution for the Eee range of “netbooks”.
Unfortunately, I don’t have time right now to present a detailed review of this distro, but I thought you might appreciate a smattering of “bullet-point” items of feedback on my experience of Eeebuntu so far:
- It’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into making Eeebuntu “suit” Asus’ range of teeny laptops, and even better, this includes the 701 machines with their especially small displays. Many of the fonts and other presentational elements of the interface, have been reduced in size to suit the 701’s 800×480 native resolution, and although some windows still extend beyond the desktop’s boundaries (oh, how I wish MS Windows had Linux’s “Alt-and-drag” feature for such moments), they’ve done a mostly great job of fitting in the GNOME desktop to such a small space, without it looking too cramped.
- There are numerous nice “touches” to the apps, which are rather more up-to-date than Eee/Xandros has ever been: for instance, the mail client is Thunderbird, and (joy!) it has the Lightning (calendar) and Enigmail (OpenPGP encryption) plugins pre-installed “out of the box”.
- So many things “just work” in Eeebuntu—not just the built-in hardware, from the wireless network to the webcam, but also many add-on and plug-in items. Got a USB Bluetooth “dongle”, for instance? Just plug it in, and a “tray icon” appears straightaway, for you to start pairing with other devices and transferring files. (It could be made easier to set up PPP over Bluetooth—for using a mobile phone as a 3G modem—but that’s a relatively minor quibble.)
- Whilst most parts of the system work flawlessly—at least for me—the major “fly in the ointment” for me is the buggy version of Compiz, the compositing window manager, which is enabled by default. Whilst many of its features work—translucent windows, 3D transitions and so on—there are numerous odd behaviours. The main Compiz options manager interface barely functions on the 701, the window moving all over the place when I attempt to enable other effects (e.g “wobbly windows”—I don’t think this is what they meant!). Furthermore, some effects render the display unusable, meaning at worst that a hard reboot of the machine can be the only resort, and for a while I switched from Compiz to GNOME’s own Metacity window manager, just to ensure a usable if less flashy desktop. (One tip: a few glitches can be avoided if you choose another window decoration theme in System > Preferences > Appearance, instead of the default “eb3”. For some reason this results in a few less odd behaviours, and I have no idea why.)
Overall, though, Eeebuntu is a sizeable improvement over the Eee’s “native” Xandros Linux, and I am also excited by the impending release of its new version, which is due out within a few weeks. This new distro will be based on Debian instead of Ubuntu, and I am hoping this will mean greater reliability, hopefully without sacrificing too many “bleeding-edge” features. Of course, they’ll have to call it something other than Eeebuntu, though…
(updated on 2010/01/07, with a screenshot of my Eeebuntu desktop; and again on 2010/01/29, correcting a reference to the Eee 701’s display resolution as “800×400”)