My Netbook Took Me Back To Windows

When I left Microsoft I switched to a Macbook Pro and didn’t look back. I never thought that I would use a Windows machine regularly again. Then I got an Asus Eee PC 1000h (10.2 in screen, 1.6 GHz Intel Atom N270 Processor, upgraded to 2GB RAM; I judge it to be on the larger end of a netbook). For three weeks it was my sole computer. It runs XP and that is just fine for what I expect from a netbook.

How is the netbook different? It is a secondary machine that knows its place. It is not as powerful as my Macbook nor is the workspace as big; I am definitely less efficient on it. I got it for its size and price. The 10 inch screen (1024×600 resolution) is fine for most work. The weight (3.2 lbs) is a relief for a traveller. And ringing in under $350 (with discounts and Live Cashback) it is an affordable luxury. In fact the price makes it almost disposable. Not disposable in a throw-away fashion, but in a if it gets stolen, lost or ruined while I am on the road it will not be the end of the world or a costly item to replace. It’s a machine that I can throw in my backpack when I go out for the day and not worry too much.

During my three week of travels I used the machine primarily for browsing the web, answering email, managing photos and watching video. It has a tiny screen, but I sought software that left as much room as possible in the workspace. Chrome, for example, takes up very little screen space with toolbars. I switched from the clunky Zimbra Desktop client to Windows Live Mail (a really well-designed mail client if you can overlook the lack of smart folders and a couple of quirks).

My other major criteria for software was the ability to sync off the machine. Other than when managing media I tried to never save directly to the file-system and only to the web. The netbook will never be my main machine and I do not want to “forget” a file on it. I relied on Evernote to record my notes and save them to the cloud.

To make the machine more reminiscent of my Mac I installed Launchy. It’s an extendable application launcher like Quicksilver. With Launchy I never use the Start Menu.

This is not to say that I didn’t find the computer limiting. I was unable to install Valve’s Portal (most likely due to the integrated graphics card) and video occasionally stuttered on the machine. I try to keep a minimum number of apps open to prevent the machine from slowing down.

ubuntu-eee screenshot

Instead of XP I could run a Linux variety or Mac OS X. I do dual-boot with Ubuntu-eee, but it is not my primary OS. As you can see in the screesnhot it is very icon heavy and does a good job of being user-friendly. However, the OS lacks the client software that I need (no Chrome or Evernote client). Soon there will be another Ubuntu designed specifically for netbooks. According to Techcrunch Tariq Krim is developing Jolicloud, but without more information I am not certain how it is different from Ubuntu-eee – based on screenshots they look very similar.

I ultimately chose XP because it stays out of the way, it has the software I want and it lets me get the job done. I am not sure that it will keep me. Chrome will be coming out on Linux. Evernote (and other clients) could opt to develop across all platforms. New netbook-oriented OSs are going to be designed with a netbook’s characteristics in mind.

(It’s being reported that Dell will start penalizing users for selecting XP over Vista to the tune of an extra $150. It’s interesting to note that Dell does not offer Vista as an option for the Dell Mini, its netbook offering.)

(Ubuntu-eee screenshot courtesy of ubuntu-eee.com)

Update: In the comments Corey Burger provided some interesting information on Ubuntu-eee:
The icon-heavy launcher is built by Canonical and is called the netbook-remix-launcher or ubuntu-mobile-edition launcher, depending. Ubuntu-eee is basically just that plus a few tweaks. Coming with Ubuntu 9.04 will be official images/isos for all sorts of netbooks.

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  • http://twitter.com/ronin691 Todd

    “Just when I thought that I was out they pull me back in!’ – Michael Corleone

  • http://www.coreyburger.ca Corey Burger

    The icon-heavy launcher is built by Canonical and is called the netbook-remix-launcher or ubuntu-mobile-edition launcher, depending. Ubuntu-eee is basically just that plus a few tweaks. Coming with Ubuntu 9.04 will be official images/isos for all sorts of netbooks.

  • http://blog.iweb.com heri

    Weird, why would you try to install Valve on a notebook? I use mine with Firefox + light ruby programming, and that’s the most it can do (a 1.6Ghz Acer Aspire One). I could also watch movies, but it sucks battery life…

  • brady forrest

    @heri

    Because I don’t use any other windows machine on a regular basis and AFAIK Portal only run on Windows.

    I wouldn’t have expected it to be the best gaming experience possible. I was hoping it would be good enough to play occasionally while traveling.

    I would plug it in while watching video.

  • http://grafly.com Chris Ryland

    After years of using various generations of MacBook Pros, I switched to a second-generation MacBook Air and it’s a dream. Just the right combination of small and light (3lb) with a decent 13″ screen. The 128GB SSD makes it wicked fast.

    And an external 24″ monitor makes it usable on a desk.

    Can’t really see the need for a MBP + a netbook.

  • http://www.planet-ali.de Kostenlose Sms

    Nice netbook, i will buy the same – with windows xp :-)

  • http://gnuski.blogspot.com lefty.crupps

    > I ultimately chose XP because it stays out of the way
    You are joking, right?

    Although I still have the internal drive holding the initial Xandros Linux OS on my EeePC 701 (I never boot into it tho), I have installed Debian Lenny and KDE4 onto a 4GB SSD card, and that is my main OS. *That* stays out of the way. I have a hard time believing XP does.

  • http://tech.cipper.com Cipper Tech

    I hope I can do “less” on netbook, only for email, web browsing, and videos, and of course, for a cheaper price…

  • swiftnet

    Here is another example of why many people aren’t that happy with their netbook. The netbook is not a laptop. It has a weak cpu, basic 3d video and very little screen real estate. It is not a gaming machine, it is not a 3d rendering machine. The netbook was designed as a better pda. I think 10″ is too large, they never should’ve left the 8.9″ form factor. Windows XP doesn’t run that well unless you modify the netbook. Investing in more ram and possibly a bigger hard drive makes the netbook cost as much as a true low end laptop. You can get an Acer Aspire for less than $400! If you want to play games, run 3d renders and mutitask with 15 apps, then get a laptop. 8.9″ for me running debian+e17.

  • http://www.berlinblase.de/ Igor Schwarzmann

    Brady, you could use Evernote through Wine in Linux: http://appdb.winehq.org/objectManager.php?sClass=application&iId=2566

    And then there Chromium as a replacement for Chrome: http://www.codeweavers.com/services/ports/chromium/

    So, there is no need to use Microsoft Windows. :-)

  • Greg Folkert

    Well, to be honest, I have an EEE-PC 2G Surf (700MHz, 512MB, 2GB SSD non-upgradeable).

    Ubuntu ANYTHING is to heavy for it… leaving only a maximum of 200MB free on the machine with no swap what so ever.

    Well, I installed a minimal of Debian Lenny for i386. with 70MB /boot, 148MB of swap (just enough to help) with only the needed X components and Enlightenment and iceweasel (firefox in drag) and a light mail client for things… the Wings Display Manager, my only needed editor (I’m not editing huge spread sheets on this thing anyway). I have over 990MB Free after installing everything I need to connect via my Broadband Cellular USB Modem, or connect through Wifi (if available) or Ethernet.

    One last thing was I changed to using Sid vs Lenny. I’ve been using Sid for years on my own servers and desktops only ever having a real problem with the changes during the Woody freeze.

    I have to say that Sid is working awesomely on the 2G Surf… and its perfect for when I don’t want to lug around my Lenovo T61 and just need to support the machines… I admin a few machines (read as many, more than most I think) and use ssh for everything, heck this thing is awesome for anything not requiring real horse power. Used as a way to have multiple terms open and its a real work of art.

    E16 is lightning fast. No, I haven’t compiled e17 yet for it, as E17 isn’t packaged for Debian yet. I use Iceweasel easily and even flash works on it. In fact from login to finished an auto-opening eterm is 2 seconds.

    Its spirited and work excellently without power for about 2.5 hours.

    And remember these things are NOT for power users doing everything, they are purpose made and really truly are NOT meant for huge work loads.

  • brady forrest

    There are three main factors to consider with a netbook: size, price and performance. My netbook is small(-ish in this case) and cheap and runs well, but in a limited fashion. My MBP is medium-large, expensive and runs quite well.

    During my travels I was in Vietnam and Cambodia I did not want a machine that was too expensive or heavy (I could have gotten a lighter, smaller machine, but I would have sacrificed the keyboard — I believe the 1000h is ~93% of a full-size). My goal was to have a machine that wouldn’t crowd my suitcase and that was expendable, but still alow em to get the job done.

    I will probably continue to take it on trips with me in the future. When I am at a conference I barely use my computer other than for email or Twitter or posting to Radar. With the netbook I won’t feel the effects of its weight at the end of the day.

  • Mike

    The post below helped me in my decision of what Eee to get Linux or XP

    http://disruptionmatters.com/2008/09/08/eee-pc-linux-or-xp/

  • http://www.linux-netbook.com/ rg

    Whether the applications you want to use are available for the OS is certainly the most important factor for choosing the OS.
    Since netbooks are geared towards net-centric tasks and more and more sophisticated stuff can be accomplished using web based applications, Linux will hopefully benefit and become widely adopted.

  • http://www.frei-sms.info Frei sms

    So what will be my new pc look like…choice between macbook, netbook or a new desktop pc….

    Maybe I’m going to get the Iphone… :D

  • trust

    Lots of the files from the Megaupload system at the global web are available for downloading at http://megauploadfiles.com/ without registration!

  • H@XX

    @swiftnet:
    “Here is another example of why many people aren’t that happy with their netbook.”

    Those who are disappointed by their netbooks are generally impulse-buyer type; They saw those shiny little machines on display at computer store then decided to take one home right away without even knowing what the specs actually mean.

    “The netbook is not a laptop.”

    Don’t make us laugh. Do you even know what the term ‘laptop’ actually means?

    “It has a weak cpu, basic 3d video and very little screen real estate.”

    Netbooks are a perfect machines for those who don’t care about 3D and only needs to deal with web-orientated tasks or standard office documents while on the go.Would lugging around a huge 14-incher with insane 3D capability be considered sensible for them?

    “It is not a gaming machine, it is not a 3d rendering machine.”

    Anyone who ever reads reviews and knows would’ve known that. Again, not everybody wants to play games on their laptops. Why should I care about 3D rendering if I don’t even use 3D applications on my desktop? I’m not a designer, neither am I an engineer, and I play games on consoles. Should I care about 3D?

    “The netbook was designed as a better pda.”

    Smartbooks are. If you don’t have a clue what the jolly-good term means, by all means, google it.

    “I think 10″ is too large, they never should’ve left the 8.9″ form factor.”

    And I have to squint on anything smaller than 10″. 11-inch is the bottom limit, usability-wise.

    “Windows XP doesn’t run that well unless you modify the netbook. Investing in more ram and possibly a bigger hard drive makes the netbook cost as much as a true low end laptop.”

    This again highlights the fact that you don’t know what you’re talking about. Windows XP runs fine on netbooks. I run it unmodified. Period.

    Adding RAM and slapping in a bigger hard drive are optional; it depends a lot on what you intend to do with the machine. But since netbooks are designed to handle basic tasks in the first place, going away with over 1GB of RAM and over 40 GB of storage seems somewhat pointless. Windows XP works well with 1GB of RAM for most tasks.

    Sure, performing such upgrade might make the netbook cost roughly as much as ultra low-end regular notebooks. But that doesn’t necessarily make it inferior all the way. Remember, netbooks give much longer battery life (5 hours is pretty common), whereas regular budget laptops only offer anywhere between 2+ to 3+ hours. Plus, netbooks are much easier to lug around.