Acer Aspire One – Progress Report Two

Well, it’s been a couple weeks since the last update, so it must be time for another one. First, the executive summary:

I love this thing!

As I mentioned last time, I’ve been trying out various Linux distributions[1], with varying degrees of success. After a brief fiddle with Mandriva, I reverted to the supplied Linpus, having set it to have the full desktop rather than the locked-down interface that it comes with out of the box. All this tweaking was made a lot easier by having an easy[2] method to back up and restore the system.  This post on the excellent AspireOneUser forum led me to a nifty tool called PING, which when installed on a bootable USB memory stick lets you take an compressed image of the system. I don’t keep a lot of data on the actual SSD inside the Aspire One – that’s what the 16GB SD card is for, so a backup is quite a quick operation – somewhere between ten and fifteen minutes. The great thing about this is that you can set up your choice of Linux, configure it exactly how you like it, then back it up. You can then safely blow it away and install something else knowing that you can get back to where you were in a fraction of the time a reinstallation and retweaking[3] would take. And as USB sticks get bigger and cheaper, you can have lots of different options available. As the backup images are compressed, then depending on how much you’ve got on the disk, you could get three or even more images on one 8GB stick, which isn’t bad at all.

After some more playing, fiddling and reading, I decided to have another go with Ubuntu. Now at the moment, if you install the latest version (8.10, or Intrepid Ibex) on the Aspire One, you’ll have some work to do if you want to do silly things like have wireless networking. All this is well documented with easy to follow instructions, but it’s still a bit of a pain. So this time, I decided to use something based on the previous release – 8.04 (Hardy Heron). As Ububtu releases come every six months, this is still nicely recent, and it’s also what they call a LTS (Long Term Support) release, which will continue to get updates long after the Ibex has ceased to be, so it’s a good choice. You’ll also find lots of books and other material focussing on this version, so for Linux newcomers like me, it’s an even better choice.

But I didn’t want to go with the basic release this time. Instead, I grabbed Ubuntu Netbook Remix, a version of Ubuntu that’s been optimised for smaller devices such as the Aspire One. It did the usual thing to get it on a USB stick, booted the Aspire One and let it install. This took a while, but no intervention was needed, so it was a “walk away and leave it” job. Once it had finished, the computer came up in Ubuntu, with the nifty new interface. Like the simple Linpus desktop, it’s an attempt to present a more friendly interface to the user. Unlike the Linpus desktop, it does this in a useful way, with easy access to all installed applications, and the ability to add your own choice of icons to the front page. Not only that, but it makes it easy to switch to a normal desktop if you prefer that. Wireless networking worked immediately (yay!), and it came with Firefox 3 (which is my standard browser on the Mac and on Windows, so I’m quite at home).

Up until a few days ago, I’ve tended to use webmail when I’m away from my main computer (the Mac), but this time I decided to give hte Evolution client a go. So long as I use IMAP rather than POP3, I can happily read and create email on either the Mac or the Acer, and the clients on each will be kept up to date. Nifty.

I don’t use office apps much, so I’ve left Open Office 2.4 on for the moment. If I feel the need, I’ll upgrade to version 3 at some point.

The Acer comes with a 3-cell battery, which I was getting no more than a couple of hours use from. That’s not a big deal, but it’s a bit annoying to have to move the power adapter around all the time. There is a larger capacity one available, which costs around £50, and should last twice as long. I was considering one of those, but then I saw this post, which alerted me to a much biger battery – 9 cells instead of three, 7200mAh instead of 2200mAh and a reported life of around eight hours. Now taking battery life figures with a large pinch of sodium chloride led me to think that this might equate to maybe six hours actual use, which would be great.

The big batteries are being sold on eBay, and come direct from China. I was slightly wary of that, but decided it was worth a try. I clicked the “Buy it now” button, did the PayPal thing, and prepared to wait for a couple of weeks. I was pleasantly surprised when it turned up within the week, nicely packaged and looking just fine. Once I got it home, I swapped it for the original battery and plugged in the charger. It charged up as expected, and Linpus showed an estimated life of about seven hours.

Since then, I’ve backed up, installed Ubuntu, and generally used the thing. Lots of use, in fact. And last time I looked, it was telling me it still had around 50 minutes charge remaining. Good stuff, and just what I was hoping for. The usual disclaimers about buying on eBay apply, but these seems to be fine, and while £60 looks like a lot as a proportion of the price of the computer, it’s not too bad for a very long life laptop battery that makes my computer much more useful. It is a bit big, as you can see in the pictures in that post I mentioned. This does add bulk when carrying it, but also tips the keyboard to a nice angle when it’s on a desk. Works for me, anyway.

And finally, here’s a book I bought the other day – it’s got lots of hints, tips and tricks for doing things with Ubuntu. Probably not much use to people who know their Linux already, but worth a look for beginners. It’s not a big reference work, it’s just got 300+ short pieces on how to do things. I’m sure you can find all of this on the web, but it does save a lot of searching and you can read it on the bus.


[1] Linuxes? Linucies? :dizzy:
[2] As in step on log, lean over
[3] I’m not sure if that was a word before, but it is now