Eee 701 Planetoid


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…



My Eee Desktop – September 2011

Filed under: Desktops, Software — Tags: , , , — Tim @ 19:23

I’m back from my late summer break, and as autumn hoves into view, it feels like time to share my current Eee desktop:

Desktop screenshot image

My Eee Desktop - September 2011

You can see from the screenshot, that I have a new Fluxbox theme which I have knocked together: I call it “Pugin“, after the Victorian “Gothic Revival” designer perhaps best known for the interiors of the Houses of Parliament in London. I created the tiled wallpaper at BgPatterns, using the wine-red and deep gold colours which are often associated with Pugin’s designs, and also applied these to the various Fluxbox window decorations (apologies for forgetting to include the Fluxbox menu in this shot).
(A word of caution about BgPatterns: it’s highly addictive, especially if you have a penchant for tiled desktop patterns, so I wouldn’t visit if you don’t have time to kill 😉 )

The main apps visible are “top” (running in XFCE Terminal), XMMS and xfontsel. For the “dockapps” down the right-hand side, you can refer to the last desktop article to find out the purpose of most of them—Conky is also running on the root desktop, but it is mostly obscured here by the other application windows.

Until next month…


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!

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