Eee 701 Planetoid


Quick tip: invert colours on a Linux X11 display

Filed under: Linux, Software — Tags: , , , — Tim @ 17:33

One feature I have set up (and find very useful) on my iPhone, is a triple-press on the “home” button to invert the colours on the screen. (I won’t go into details on how to do this in iOS—it’s not the purpose of this post—but basically, look in Settings > General > Accessibility for details.) This is really handy for moments when you just don’t want to look at a very white screen (and unfortunately, iOS7 has lots of those), and a triple-press will turn white to black, to spare one’s eyes, blushes, etc…

I wondered if there was a not-too-complex way to set up a similar feature on a Linux machine, preferably at the X11 level (i.e. not tied into a particular window manager or desktop environment), and a quick Google search revealed I was in luck.

In short, there’s an command-line utility called xcalib, which is mainly intended for monitor calibration, but which has a handy feature: yes, it can invert the current X display’s colours (effectively, giving you a negative of the display). The program isn’t included in Arch Linux’s main package repositories, so you’ll have to build/install xcalib from the AUR—it’s a tiny program, so that will barely take you longer than installing it from a repo would.

Once the program is installed, running

xcalib -i -a

(for “invert” and “action”—i.e. “do it”) will invert your display’s colours; running the same again will switch it back.

Very useful, and even more so if you assign it to a keyboard shortcut—each DE and WM has its own way of setting this up, but in Xfce you do this in Xfce menu > Applications > Settings > Keyboard > Application Shortcuts [tab]. I used Ctrl-Alt-I (for “invert”), but that’s just personal taste 🙂

Maybe this feature is already present in some DEs, but at least this one will work in any environment—hope it helps you too!


A new beginning for my Eee… or at least, a reboot

Filed under: Linux, Software — Tags: , — Tim @ 17:49

It’s almost twelve months to the day since I last posted anything to this blog, because of a busy life and the fact that my Eee was working quite nicely. No change with the former, but the latter is about to get some serious attention…

Thanks to botched “manual intervention” on my part, whilst trying to accommodate Arch Linux’s recent consolidation of all binary executables in /usr/bin, I ended up with an unbootable OS on the Eee (and the Raspberry Pi too, though that’s another, less pressing, issue). Despite Googling around and trying all sorts of fixes, I simply don’t have the time or the inclination to hack the system back to working order.

Given that the system has a number of long-standing issues (again, which I’ve never quite got around to trying to resolve), and the Eee’s solid-state drive is permanently over 95% full, I have taken the decision to “wipe the slate clean”. I’ve made a backup of my home directory and any other important files I could think of, and I am going to wipe the Eee’s drive and do a complete, “ground-up” reinstallation of Arch.

This time around, I want to avoid installing any GNOME-related material wherever possible, and am planning to go for XFCE and Fluxbox as my desktop environment and lightweight window manager respectively (so I can choose between them). I’ll be setting up Chromium, Dropbox and various other applications I make regular use of, and I’ll try and drop by here from time to time and let you know how it’s getting on.

I know that a total reinstallation sounds drastic, but I’ve had it on my mind for the Eee for some time. I still think Arch is the Linux distribution most suited to the 701—though I can’t pretend I’m entirely happy about the way the distro handles major “under-the-bonnet” system changes (and the /usr/bin one isn’t the first to cause me problems), in my view Arch’s customisability (especially for limited hardware) gives it a serious advantage over the Linux competition, at least for me.

So, if there’s anyone still “following” this blog: thanks for sticking around all this time, and I’m about to hoist it out of mothballs…


Adding visual effects to Fluxbox with Cairo Composite Manager

Filed under: Desktops, Linux, Software — Tags: , , , , — Tim @ 17:30

(or “My Eee Desktop – November 2011” 🙂 )

The other day, I was skimming through the Wikipedia article on the Fluxbox window manager (which I use on my Eee), and a sentence which I hadn’t spotted before, caught my eye:

Effects managers such as xcompmgr, cairo-compmgr and transset-df (deprecated) can add true transparency to desktop elements and windows.

In (relatively) plain English, it seemed to be saying: if you use Fluxbox, you can now add desktop “eye candy” such as translucent windows, fades, slides, etc. to your slimline desktop.

This came as a surprise to me. I’d always believed that you couldn’t add “compositing” effects to Fluxbox, because the leading compositing effects managers like Compiz used their own window manager—in other words, if you want the whizz-bang visuals, it was “bye-bye Fluxbox”.

In fact, there is a composite manager which works with the window manager of your choice (including Fluxbox): Cairo Composite Manager.

The article on Cairo in the Arch Linux Wiki tells you how simple it is to install from the Arch community package repository (sudo pacman -S cairo-compmgr), and from there you can test it by running cairo-compmgr & from the terminal. If you like what you see, and want the manager to start with your X session, you just add cairo-compmgr & to your .xinitrc file.

Image of Fluxbox desktop with Cairo Composite Manager

Fluxbox desktop with cairo-compmgr (note the transparent terminal window)

For me, it really was as simple as that, and here is the obligatory screenshot to prove it 🙂 The main indicator that cairo-compmgr is running, is the truly-translucent XFCE Terminal window in the middle—I could’ve experimented a bit more with the translucency effects, but at present I haven’t had time to do much more than use the default settings. I’d like to see if the Fluxbox “slit” (dock) can exhibit true transparency/translucency, and I’ll probably try that out when I put together the December (Christmas) instalment of “My Eee Desktop”. (Yes, that time is coming around again…)

I would’ve liked to add a video as well, to show off some of the animated desktop effects, but am not sure that the screen-capture solutions available would display them to best effect. I’d probably end up pointing a camcorder at the Eee’s screen!

Oh, and in case anyone wondered: the only different addition to the desktop since last month aside from Cairo, is the XMMS Spectrum analyzer dockapp I found in the AUR. It installs as an XMMS plugin, and I thought it might make a change to add this to the slit this time around.

One small tweak I had to make as a result of Cairo’s arrival, was to my Conky setup file (.conkyrc). When I activated Cairo, my Conky display disappeared—a quick Google revealed that this was basically Cairo and Conky disagreeing about which program could draw to the root window. This is similar to how Conky works with the GNOME desktop (Nautilus grabs the root desktop for itself), so the solution is to add some lines like this to your .conkyrc:

own_window yes
own_window_type desktop
own_window_transparent yes

As ever, you may have to experiment if you try this for yourself, but it fixed the Conky issue for me.

I haven’t noticed Cairo making the Eee work much harder, although clearly there will be an impact on the system (even if it is a small one). Until (if?) I notice anything untoward, I’m content to keep this app running, simply because it adds some polish to an already lean and functional desktop—I’ll be sure to come back here and update you, should this change.

In the meantime, if you’re running a lightweight desktop or window manager, but still crave some of that composited eye-candy goodness, you may find Cairo Composite Manager fits the bill nicely.


Automounting removable drives with devmon

Filed under: Linux, Software — Tags: , , , , , , — Tim @ 18:46

One of the early issues I grappled with when I installed Arch Linux on my Eee, was that removable drives were not mounted automatically when connected—i.e. it was not a case of “plug and play”.

This isn’t a case of “oh, Linux can’t do that”—distributions like Ubuntu come ready to automount removable drives “out of the box”. This behaviour is standard with desktop environments such as GNOME or KDE (which usually take care of it themselves), but as you’ll know if you’ve been reading here for a bit, my Eee 701 isn’t running a DE, but “simply” the Fluxbox window manager (mostly for the sake of speed).

Also, the “keep it simple” philosophy of Arch Linux, doesn’t tend to add features “by default” because not all users will want or need them. If you want your Arch system to include a given feature, most likely the maintainers and community have provided the means (applications and guidance) to add it, but it’s down to the user to do the “donkey work” from there.

I certainly wanted to have automounting enabled on my Eee, so after some Googling and Arch wiki/forum-ing I found a udev rule which looked as if it would fit the bill. And so it did… within limitations. The rule would create a mountpoint directory within /media/, and mount the drive contents there; however, it wouldn’t “clean up” after itself, leaving the mountpoint directory within /media/ once the drive was umounted. Also, the rule usually failed to mount some drive volumes, and most annoyingly, wouldn’t mount the disc inside my USB CD/DVD drive.

This last is what led me to the Arch wiki page on udev, which suggested using a “udev wrapper script” (these have their own wiki page) for handling optical drives. The wrapper page in turn put forward a few candidates, of which devmon came at the top of the list. It’s in the AUR rather than the main Arch repositories, but no matter—I built the package and installed devmon as per the instructions on its home page. I also moved the “old” udev rule to another location where it couldn’t be accessed by udev itself, just in case it might disagree with the newcomer.

In short: how I wish I’d found devmon earlier.

So far, it has handled the mounting of almost every device I have “thrown” at it, including my optical drive. I have assigned a Fluxbox key combination (Ctrl-Alt-J) to devmon‘s command for umounting and ejecting an optical disc, though I’d prefer to find out how to have devmon eject the disc on receiving an umount from elsewhere (e.g. the wmvolman dockapp, which doesn’t even display the mounted optical disc). The script also removes the device’s mountpoint upon umounting, which I definitely appreciate.

The only “drive” that devmon has yet to work with, is the “mass memory” on my Nokia N8, which the old udev rule couldn’t handle either. I suspect this is something to do with the device number that shows up when the phone is connected to the Eee in “mass storage” mode (/dev/sdX rather than /dev/sdX1), but this is something I have to look into further when I can be bothered 🙂 It’s not the fault of devmon, as far as I can see, as the udev rule also exhibited the same issue. (Update (2011/10/17): I have a lead on this—see the update below…)

In summary: if you’re assembling a Linux system without GNOME or KDE (and certainly if you want to use a “light” window manager like Fluxbox or Openbox), but you would still like the system to automount removable drives, you owe it to yourself at least to give devmon a try.

Update (2011/10/17):

I received an email from the developer of devmon, who judging by the script’s home page, is often on hand to help users who run into issues. Between us, we confirmed my suspicions that devmon isn’t the source of the N8 mounting problem—it looks to be a bug in udisks, which devmon interacts with.

Just like to point out I haven’t had any other issues with the script, and am grateful to “IgnorantGuru” for helping to clear that up 🙂


Lightweight network access with wicd

Filed under: Linux, Software — Tags: , , , — Tim @ 18:42

One of the double-edged features of Arch Linux, is that it encourages the user to put together a software system which suits their needs, and not necessarily the system which someone else has assembled for them.

That’s not meant as a criticism—Linux distros like Ubuntu are great if you want/need a workable OS “out of the box”. However, as I’ve written here before, it’s not what I wanted for my Eee 701—my aim was to put together a “leaner” OS for the machine, which would use as many “lightweight” alternatives to the usual GNOME and KDE applications as possible.

Desktop environments like GNOME do a lot for the user, that they don’t always realise—one example is GNOME’s NetworkManager. It sits unobtrusively in the GNOME panel, quietly doing its best to connect the user to wired and wireless networks. If you want a Linux setup without GNOME and its associated apps, but would still like a measure of “hand-holding” managing your network connections, what is the alternative?

Image of wicd graphical and console clients

wicd graphical and console clients, running under Arch Linux (with Fluxbox)

For me: the answer is wicd. Wicd (pronounced “wicked”, apparently) is a network manager for Linux, which at its simplest has no GNOME or KDE dependencies, so it is well-suited to running under lightweight window managers like Fluxbox or IceWM (and is installed as part of quite a few “light” Linuxes, such as Zenwalk). In fact, wicd doesn’t need to run under X at all—it operates as a client-server application, where the server (daemon) does all the network-connection work, and you use a client application to interact with it. There are graphical (Python/GTK+) and console (ncurses) clients, so you can choose which you prefer (or need) to use.

Should you wish to give wicd a spin on your Linux system, you should be able to install it via your package manager, or compile it if you prefer. You need to start the wicd daemon at boot time; in Arch Linux, I add it to the “daemons array” in /etc/rc.conf. (For the finer points of setting-up, the wicd page at the Arch wiki is most useful.)

Most of the time, I’ve found wicd a “set it and forget it” kind of application—it stays in the background and just gets on with managing your connections. It’s not perfect—sometimes it fails to reconnect a dropped wireless link (giving a “bad password” error, even if the password is given correctly), though I believe I read this is a DHCP client issue, rather than wicd specifically—but in general I find wicd a pretty essential part of my Eee’s software setup. I especially appreciate that because of its client/server design, wicd is always running on the Eee, whether I am using the graphical interface or console. In X, the graphical wicd client can always be found in the system tray, and checking the network link is just as easy at the command-line.

Compared with GNOME NetworkManager, there are a few missing features; the main one that I would like to see, is a graphical interface for managing VPN connections. The wicd FAQ states that direct VPN support is planned for version 2—in the meantime, wicd offers the option to trigger per-connection scripts (a bit fiddly-looking to set up, but probably better than nothing). The developers have also expressed an interest in adding options such as management of 3G modem connections, but it looks like a lack of resources is holding this back for the moment. I think I’d like to keep an eye on the VeryPluggableBackends development branch, though…

In short: if you’re looking to build a Linux system without GNOME or KDE, but still want help managing your network connections, wicd is definitely worth investigating.


Snippets (early August 2011)

Filed under: Linux, Software — Tags: , , , , , — Tim @ 19:33
  • First up: I was vaguely aware from the blogosphere, that Linus Torvalds had announced the “arrival” of the 3.x-series Linux kernel, but was surprised earlier this week (whilst carrying out a package update on the Eee) that Arch Linux had fed the new kernel straight into their “core” system! Thus, my modest netbook holds the distinction of being the first Linux machine in my “orbit”, to be running a 3.x kernel. Perhaps I should give it a certificate or something…
  • When my 701 was running Eeebuntu v3 (and how long ago that feels now 😉 ), I sometimes made use of Guake—a “pull-down” terminal app inspired by the command console in Quake. I wondered if there was a “lighter” program which did much the same sort of thing, and soon found Tilda, which is apparently based on the GTK+ toolkit. I’ve got it set up so that a press of the F10 key brings down the terminal—slightly less effort than the Ctrl-Alt-T I configured to start the XFCE terminal app…
  • Another Eeebuntu application I sometimes wheeled out, was the Internet phone (VoIP) program Ekiga, for making calls via Sipgate. In keeping with my trying to avoid GNOME- or KDE-orientated apps where possible, I came across Linphone, which supports both audio and video SIP calls. Linphone, like Ekiga also offers a free Linphone SIP service account, which could come in handy for testing SIP-to-SIP calling.
  • Finally, I’ve started tinkering with XChat, the venerable Internet Relay Chat (IRC) client—partly for curiosity, but also because the #archlinux channel on Freenode seems to be the best way to get quick Arch Linux support 🙂


My Eee Desktop – July 2011

Filed under: Desktops, Linux — Tags: , , , , — Tim @ 17:39

If you’re new to this blog, you may not have seen “My Eee Desktop”—basically, a monthly “feature” where I post a screenshot of how my 701SD’s desktop looks at that point in time. My last entry was in December 2010, but now I have started putting together a new OS setup on my Eee (based around Arch Linux), I reckoned it was time to resurrect the series 🙂

Screenshot of computer desktop

My Eee Desktop - July 2011

And here we are, with My Eee Desktop for July 2011 (just in time!). If you compare this view with the screenshot I posted about this time last week, you will probably spot quite a few differences as I’ve done a fair amount of customisation work in seven days.

The Fluxbox theme is based on “Operation” (I think), and I’m still working on my own version, which I’m calling “DeepSea”. I used this wallpaper with the old Eeebuntu setup on my 701, and always rather liked it, so resurrected it for this theme. (The wallpaper came from this forum post, as did quite a few others that I have adapted and used on my Eee.)

The dockapps on the right are the same as last week’s view, with one new addition:

  • wmdrawer—this sends out a “fly-out” menu (shown) with fourteen quick-launch icons for commonly-used apps (I added the Arch logo on the front, from this icon set by “gabriela2400”)
  • bubblemon—an animated water/bubbles/rubber duck display, which shows CPU, memory and system stats
  • wmnd—a network interface monitor
  • wmvolman (new)—displays mounted storage volumes (e.g. USB mass storage devices like flash and hard drives), and allows you to umount them
  • wmix—a volume and sound mixer control
  • wmsystemtray—acts like the system tray in GNOME/KDE; here showing wicd, Jupiter, Blueman and Dropbox (note: “wmsystemtray” is not to be confused with “wmsystray”, which kept crashing and (IMHO) didn’t “blend in” as well)
  • wmcalclock—nice time/date display

I’m currently looking at a script which should give me a system tray icon for managing removable storage (and free up an extra space in the Fluxbox “slit”, currently taken by wmvolman), so that’s one to watch for next month (or the one after that).

Anything else? Well, there’s Conky (the system stats display) on the desktop as ever—note the weather and “now playing in XMMS” sections—and a new arrival, the virtual desktop display IPager (note the orange blocks in the bottom-left).

I expect that the next instalment will show some progression from this—hope you enjoyed this month’s Desktop, and that you’ll join me for the next one 🙂


The search for a lightweight music player

Filed under: Linux, Software — Tags: , , , , , — Tim @ 17:46

Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

Coleridge’s famous couplet from The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner, sums up surprisingly well how I feel, after spending a fair amount of the last week trying to choose a lightweight alternative music player to Rhythmbox

I admit the link between a 200-year-old poem and early-21st-century software may not be immediately obvious, so let me explain 🙂 Basically, there is far from being a shortage of music player/manager apps for Linux—in fact, there are rather more than I can name off the top of my head—but some are too “weighty” for my needs, and many of the “lighter” players seem to lack features I would like to see.

Truth be told, I am moving away somewhat reluctantly from Rhythmbox on my Eee—it’s probably my favourite music-management app on any platform, and I’ll continue to use it on other Linux machines if they have the power. However, it doesn’t really suit the Arch system I’m putting together for the 701—it’s based on GNOME (which I’m trying to avoid where I can), and takes 15-20 seconds to load—so I’d ideally like to find a music player app with a bit less “lard”!

I won’t bore you with the details, but I tried a few “lightweight” apps, and the nearest I came to finding something “in the ballpark”, was the not-especially-well-known (and intriguingly-named) Pragha. A fork of another now-abandoned music player/manager project, Consonance, Pragha is in Arch’s “community” package repository (i.e. you can install it straight from pacman without needing to build your own package).

Pragha offers some of the look/feel of music managers like Rhythmbox, and I could get on with the program if I really wanted to. However, whilst reasonably stable, Pragha feels like an early beta, with quite a few features absent that I really miss from Rhythmbox—a particular bugbear, is that Pragha’s “sort by artist and album” view seems to ignore the “track number” in the ID3 information of a music file, meaning that tracks aren’t listed in correct order in albums.

Screenshot of XMMS

XMMS (with Conky stats display behind)

I like Pragha—as much for its potential as its current state—so I’ll be keeping the app on the system for future reference. For the moment, though, I am falling back on an “old friend”: XMMS, the veteran music-player app which quite a few people probably think of as “WinAmp for X”.

Yes, XMMS has been around for “donkeys’ years”, and I don’t think it is being developed very actively these days, but XMMS “just works”; it’s lean and not especially demanding on system resources; I rather like its “retro” looks; and there are plenty of plugins, “hacks” and scripts people have put together to extend it. (You may notice in the screenshot, there’s a “now playing in XMMS” section of my Conky stats display—you won’t believe how much hacking of other people’s scripts and add-ons that took, but it’s a good story for another day 🙂 )

Screenshot of wmxmms


There’s even a “remote control” dockapp, “wmxmms”, which fits into the Fluxbox “slit” (dock)—it’s so old that I couldn’t find it in the Arch Linux AUR, so had to compile it myself from source—but it works, as long as you can find a mouse sensitive enough to point over the tiny controls! (I wonder if there’s an XMMS GKrellM plugin…)

Given that playing and managing my music collection is one of the more frequent tasks I put my Eee to, I doubt this is the last I’ll be writing on the subject. Whilst XMMS “does the job” and doesn’t make a fuss while it’s at it, I’d like to try a few more music player/managers—Quod Libet looks interesting, for one—and of course, if you have any suggestions for suitable apps (preferably not GNOME- or KDE-based, but I don’t mind earlier versions of GTK), please comment here!


Arch Linux and the Eee 701: first steps

Filed under: Desktops, Linux, Software — Tags: , , — Tim @ 09:43

So, if you read my last post about moving on from Eeebuntu, you can infer from the title of this entry, that I made a decision on the Linux distro for my Eee 🙂

Yes, I plumped for Arch Linux in the end—partly as I like to “tinker” with settings and the like, but mostly because I think Arch is simply the “right” distribution for a machine like the Eee 701. Arch isn’t necessarily a good choice for all potential Linux users—it can be complex, and the system doesn’t come “out of the box” like, say, Ubuntu—but Arch’s “roll your own system” philosophy comes into its own with a computer like the Eee 701, which has very specific “needs” (low-powered processor, small solid-state storage and screen, etc.) which aren’t ideally best served by a “full-fat” distro like Ubuntu.

Moreover, as I wrote last time, the relatively few distributions which are customised for netbooks (and even fewer for the Eee 701), tend to be derivatives of Ubuntu or its family, run by small teams (or even individuals), where there is no guarantee that at some point, they won’t run out of time or resources and let the distro “wither on the vine”. I understand this—I have family and other commitments too—but at least with a distro like Arch, you can build a system tailored to your needs, and its “rolling” updates mean it should stay current for the foreseeable future. At least, I don’t think Arch is going away any time soon…

So, Arch it is, and I’ve been working in my spare moments this week to install and customise the new Arch setup on my 701. I am immensely grateful to the Arch community for providing a massively-comprehensive wiki for Arch users, which has helped me at almost every turn—in particular, the wiki’s dedicated page for the Eee 701 proved invaluable throughout my “journey” so far.

One overriding consideration for me with building the new system: wherever possible, I didn’t want GNOME, due to its size and “weight”. Instead, I wanted to return to an “old friend” for the machine’s desktop—the Fluxbox window manager—and to use more “lightweight” alternatives for applications, unless I really wanted or needed something specific. For instance, to manage wired and wireless network connections, instead of GNOME’s NetworkManager applet, I found wicd, which is lighter on resources whilst still (usually) working just as well.

Screenshot of Arch Linux (Fluxbox window manager)

Early screenshot of Arch Linux (Fluxbox window manager) on the Eee 701SD

You’re probably dying for a screenshot at this point, and who am I to stand in the way? Here is a first look at my Eee’s “new” Fluxbox desktop—it’s quite spartan at the moment, as I haven’t had time to get to work on a custom Fluxbox “style” (theme) yet. (Fear not: I’ll be restarting the “My Eee Desktop” monthly series again, once I’ve had time to really “tart up” the display 🙂 )

The main items to point out are the system stats on the desktop (that’s my old favourite, Conky, at work) and the array of “dockapps” in the Fluxbox “slit” along the right-hand edge. I have rather “retro” tastes when it comes to computer “desktops”, so I am quite partial to dockapps, some of which have origins as far back as the 1990s (whilst still being useful and not too demanding of screen real-estate). Most of the dockapps are not in the main Arch package repository, so I had to build the packages via the Arch User Repository (AUR), but they make it relatively easy to do this.

The apps—from the top down in the screenshot—are:

  • wmdrawer—this sends out a “fly-out” menu (not shown) with ten quick-launch icons for commonly-used apps (I added the Arch logo on the front, from this icon set by “gabriela2400”)
  • bubblemon—an animated water/bubbles/rubber duck display, which shows CPU, memory and system stats
  • wmnd—a network interface monitor
  • wmacpi—I use this mainly for displaying battery statistics
  • wmix—a volume and sound mixer control
  • wmsystemtray—acts like the system tray in GNOME/KDE; here showing wicd, Blueman and Dropbox (this is not to be confused with “wmsystray”, which kept crashing and (IMHO) didn’t “blend in” as well)
  • wmcalclock—nice time/date display

I wish I could report that I have already got everything working as I want it, but there is still a list of “to-dos” before me. A couple of samples:

  • Whilst wicd does a good job of replacing NetworkManager in most respects, it’s missing the ability to open and close VPN connections. It’s still necessary to edit various config files and scripts for PPTP (and I’m not touching OpenVPN yet), but I’ll be happy if I can get things running without much pain. Speaking of which…
  • …the main item which, frustratingly, I haven’t yet got working completely, is one that computer users in 2011 take for granted: automounting of USB mass storage devices (e.g. flash and hard disk drives). I’ve scoured the Arch wiki and Google for help, and ensured that the necessary services are running; so far, I have had limited success (it works, but only partly), but I think I’m on the right track. If nothing else, it shows you how much work the developers of Ubuntu and the like, have done to get USB automounting working as well as it does…

I think that will do as a first report 🙂 Stay tuned for further developments… and I suspect those could come quite quickly!


Moving on from Eeebuntu

Filed under: Linux, Software — Tags: , — Tim @ 22:04

I have no idea whether anyone has this blog left in their RSS readers by now, but if you’re reading this: greetings, and thanks for hanging on this long 🙂

When I last posted to this blog just before last Christmas, I announced that I was unlikely to write much (if anything) for the foreseeable future. My Eee 701 was ‘ticking along’ reasonably; I was using the netbook rather less than previously, thanks to my recent upgrading of my mobile phone to a Nokia N8; and I felt as if I’d been waiting for ever for the successor to Eeebuntu v3 (my netbook’s Linux operating system).

Combine all this with my then-belief that the machine had been set up “just so”, and was unlikely to change a great deal, and you can perhaps understand why I felt it was time to put the blog on the back-burner for a while…

So, what has led me back to the Planetoid after half a year away? What has been going on in the vicinity of my trusty Eee 701SD, to bring about a new post here at last?

Well, frankly, in two words: almost nothing, and that’s the problem in hand. Hardware-wise, the 701 hasn’t given me any trouble at all; unfortunately, however, the same can’t be said for the Linux distribution it is running.

Well over a year since Eeebuntu v3’s successor was announced, and AuroraOS is not only still in beta, but it appears to be a closed one; not available for download to the public. I have been assured that the next beta will be available “soon”, and this has been the case for months now, with no sign that AuroraOS will turn up  in the foreseeable future.

If all were well otherwise, I could put up with this—my 701 is set up more or less as I like it, and under any other circumstances I’d be happy not to reinstall the whole OS (which I am told I will have to do, if/when AuroraOS turns up).

The deal-breaker—and the reason my patience has finally run out—is that a couple of months ago, updates for Eeebuntu v3 suddenly stopped, due to the package repositories disappearing from the Internet. Whether this was a deliberate decision or not—and I doubt it, for various reasons—the result is the same: I can no longer update applications, nor can I install new ones via the repositories, because they don’t exist any more.

I understand that AuroraOS is a small project, with only a few part-time admins working on it, but my Eee 701 is a “working system”, and this state of affairs is simply not acceptable to me any longer. Regrettably, I have decided that it’s time to leave Eeebuntu behind, and find another Linux distro that will restore some “currency” to my Eee, before things really begin to stop working.

Over the next few weeks, I hope to report back here with how my latest search for a new Linux for my 701 is proceeding. I can tell you that the two current “candidates” are:

  • Ping-Eee (an optimised-for-Eee spin-off of the Ubuntu variant Pinguy)—call this the “easy” road 🙂
  • Arch Linux (the “roll up your sleeves, yank up the bonnet and start customising your own system” distro)—call this the “white-knuckle mountain pass”!

There are pros and cons to both, but I have to say I’m leaning towards Arch Linux. Yes, it’ll be harder work—not only will many things not work out of the box, but in effect I’ll sometimes have to build the box in the first place!—but I feel I’ll have the opportunity to custom-build an OS which is lean and tailored to the 701, and is hopefully less likely to be abandoned by an administrator who suddenly finds (quite understandably) that there are more pressing and important calls on their time, than maintaining an operating system.

Apologies if that sounds ungrateful, as I really don’t mean it to. I have enjoyed using Eeebuntu v3 since installing it over Christmas 2009, and a read through this blog will show how I have experimented and got things working on the Eee, which Eeebuntu often made easier because it included the appropriate drivers “out of the box”.

However, all good things must come to an end, and soon it will be time to set off for pastures new… and I promise that’s the last cliché I roll out in this post 😉 See you along the way, and I hope you’ll come back soon.

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