Saturday, January 10, 2009

Ubuntu Adventures on the EeePC 1000

It is no secret that I am a total geek. Between the hubby and me, we own 5 laptops and 3 desktops. A few weeks ago, I added to the laptop count by buying myself an Asus EeePC 1000. It's a great little machine, since it's small and very light. The EeePC 1000 has a 10" screen, a 40GB SSD, and 1GB RAM. Overall, it's a great little machine for e-mailing and Web surfing.

Since the EeePC 1000 has a 40GB SSD, it means that comes with Linux installed. Vista is waaaaaaaaaaaay too big to run on a 40GB drive. You can, however install Windows XP on the machine - but then again, why would you want to? Anyway, this model comes with a dinky-ass version of Linux called Xandros, which is pretty much a piece of crap if you're serious about computing. If you *just* want to use the machine for e-mailing and Web surfing, then it's probably good enough. I already knew that Xandros was a piece of crap, and knew that I would be installing another Linux flavor on the Eee as soon as I got my hands on that machine.

I did some research, and found out that I could install Ubuntu on the Eee. This was great news, because Ubuntu is my absolute favorite Linux distro. I have Ubuntu Feisty Fawn installed on my dev server at home, and I totally love it. Unlike other Linux distros that I've installed in the past, I found Ubunutu to be the least painful of all to install. There is ONE install disk, the installer is simple and friendly, and hardware detection overall is pretty good (it's a bit of a bitch with some wireless cards, however). One other thing that I like about Ubuntu is package installation. You can install apps by using either the Synaptic Package Manager or apt-get via the command line. The beauty of it is that it resolves all dependencies, which makes package installation a breeze.

Anyway, I digress. The point is that Ubuntu rocks and I love it. There are 3 different "flavors" of Ubuntu that can be installed on the Eee:
1. The "regular" version of Ubuntu
2. Ubuntu Eee
3. Eeebuntu

The so-called "regular" version of Ubuntu is obtained from the official Ubuntu site here. It's a relatively simple process, albeit a bit lengthy since Ubuntu doesn't quite work out-of-the-box. For more information on how to install 8.04 (Hardy) or 8.10 (Intrepid) on the Eee, check out this page. The instructions are very detailed, and I had no issues with the installation.

I was perfectly happy with my Ubuntu installation until I caught wind of Ubuntu Eee. It's supposed to be a version of Ubuntu specifically designed for the Eee PC. It incorporates the kernel right out-of-the-box, and its window manager is designed with the Eee's small screen in mind. Personally, I found Ubuntu Eee's window manager to be a tad annoying, since all of the menu items are right on the desktop, and if you have a nice desktop picture that has a dark background, it is all but masked by the window manager. Ubuntu Eee is based on Ubuntu 8.04, instead of 8.10 (latest and greatest), which is a good thing since it is pretty stable, AND 8.04 is slated for long-term support. Ubuntu 8.10, on the other hand, is still really really new. I still do prefer the latest and greatest, however. Anyway, I would've tolerated the window manager and the "older" underlying version of Ubuntu and all that, for the simple fact that the windows on Ubuntu Eee make maximum use of the screen real estate and config windows don't run off past the bottom of the screen like you get with regular Ubuntu. Unfortunately, I ran into a bit of a snag when I installed Ubuntu Eee. My USB drives and the built-in SD slot were NOT recognized. I tried poking around various forums to see if I could make them work, and I was somewhat lucky, but it seemed like too much of a hack. I did re-install that O/S like 3 or 4 times in one day, in the hopes that I could get the damned thing to mount my USB drives. No luck. In fact, even the LiveCD doesn't recognize USB drives. The LiveCD of the full version of Ubuntu, however, does.

So back I went to the full version of Ubuntu. I was rather keen on still trying to see if I could install the Ubuntu Eee window manager (aka UNR, or Ubuntu Netbook Remix) on my machine, so I poked around the Web to see if I could do this. It turns out that this is indeed possible. I even went as far as downloading the damned thing and installing it, though I never ran that window manager. At that time, I was a bit traumatized after my multiple install attempts of Ubunut Eee, so I was a bit weary. And then I caught wind of Eeebuntu.

I was a bit hesitant about Eeebuntu. I'd read here and there that some people had had some bad experiences with it. It was also based on Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex (8.10), which is the newer, less stable version of Ubuntu. Then again I'd been running Ubuntu Intrepid on my machine, and I'd had a bad experience with Ubuntu Eee, which was supposedly the gold standard for the Eee for serious Linux users. So I guess to each his own. I don't really store any data on my Eee - all of my data are on my Windows laptop - I just use it for e-mailing and Web surfing, so I convinced myself that I didn't really have anything to lose by installing Eeebuntu on my machine.

As far as I can tell, Eeebuntu and Ubuntu Eee are very similar. The main difference is that Eeebuntu is based on Ubuntu 8.10 and Ubuntu Eee is based on 8.04. Also, unlike Ubuntu Eee, Eeebuntu comes in 3 flavors: Standard, Netbook Remix (NBR), and Base. The Standard and NBR versions are pretty much the same except that the Standard version uses a window manager similar to the Gnome window manager (but a bit prettier looking), and the NBR version uses the UNR window manager. I WAS going to go for the NBR version, but opted for the Standard version instead (total spur-of-the-moment change for no particular reason). Before installing the new O/S, I checked to make sure that my USB flash drives and my SD card were recognized. It was all good, so I went for it.

My first installation attempt at Eeebuntu was a total disaster. On initial boot-up, I got some weird-ass error message saying that there was something wrong with my display settings. That was very weird, considering that the LiveCD worked perfectly fine for me. As I ran through the install wizard a second time, I discovered the culprit. When I set up my partitions, I realized that I'd forgotten to re-format all of them prior to installing Eeebuntu. That did the trick, and my second install was successful. My only beef about Eeebuntu is that when it installed on my machine, the home folder was mapped to the desktop. This meant that any folder created in the home folder would show up on the desktop, which is totally dumb. There is a simple fix, however.

There are a few things of note about installing Ubuntu on the Eee (applies to ALL of the above flavors of Ubuntu described above). First off, when you first install the O/S, you will NOT see a touchpad tab in the mouse configuration window. That only shows up if you enable a mouse parameter called SHMConfig and run gsynaptics (or you can set some parameters when running the syndaemon). To find out more, check out this link. Note that you need to download gsynaptics from the Synaptic Package Manager (or using apt-get) since it isn't present out-of-the-box. Also note that the Synaptic Package Manager and gsynaptics aren't related even both of them have "synaptic" in their names. Now, because there's no touchpad tab in the mouse config window, it means that you CANNOT disable tapping on the touchpad right off the bat. That's why you need to enable SHMConfig and run gsynaptics.

In Ubuntu Hardy, SHMConfig is enabled by going into xorg.conf. In Ubuntu Intrepid, however, xorg.conf is no longer used (though present perhaps for backwards compatibility?). Instead, parameters that were once managed in xorg.conf are now managed through a series of special XML files a .fdi extension under the HAL (hardware abstraction layer). Unfortunately, I have NOT had any luck in enabling SHMConfig. I can't really get a straight answer on how to enable SHMConfig via the HAL config, as different forums have different instruction sets, none of which works for me. I also tried messing with xorg.conf and that didn't work. I was starting to get kind of pissed, because every time I'd type, my mouse would fly somewhere else and I'd inadvertently fire off some action that I didn't want.

I finally did find a solution that was good enough. It turns out that there's a parameter that's turned off by default in the Ubuntu EeePC kernel, and all you have to do is turn it on. Note that the aforementioned link has some instructions on turning on SHMConfig via xorg.conf. Feel free to try it on Intrepid. I had no luck getting this to work. Just be sure to re-boot your machine after. The one thing you'll notice is that your mouse will be really choppy. I suggest must messing with the mouse acceleration and sensitivity parameters to make the mouse more bearable to use.

One other thing. I did try at one point to install Wine on my machine so that I could run Google Chrome (it's not yet available for Linux at the time of this writing). Anyway, that totally didn't work, and the wine installation totally F!ed up my machine. In particular, it did some weird stuff to my Firefox and I had to re-blast my Eeebuntu installation. I think I'll just wait for Chrome to come out on Linux. For now, Firefox is just dandy.

So those are my latest Linux adventures in a nutshell. My next project will be to install Open SuSE Linux on my dual-core 64-bit server machine and then install a VMWare Server on top off that running Windows XP (just for kicks). That machine was my PHP5 dev machine and it currently runs Ubuntu Feisty. I think it's time for a change. I have no idea when I'll get around to doing this, but when I do, expect a full report with all of the gory details!


Anonymous said...

Have you found a way to use two finger scrolling when adding this option?

IndyComp0T1 said...

As far as I've heard from others (and from personal experience), it's not possible. It's either one or the other. You can apparently do edge scrolling (I think that's what it's called) - the kind where scrolling is enabled along the right edge of the touchpad. Hope this helps!