Life on the EEEdge: Daily life with Asus' tiny laptop

6 annoying things (and 3 great ones) about Asus' ultraportable

6) I couldn't set up my printer. Device support has long been one of Linux's knottiest problems. In light of that, things could have been worse: I had no problem connecting external monitors, SD cards or USB storage drives -- none of which were certified by Asus -- to the Eee.

But I wasted an entire day trying to get my Eee to print to my Brother HL-2070N laser printer. It was unclear whether I ran into a network problem or a driver issue; maybe I was doing something wrong at the third-party Common Unix and Printing System (CUPS) Web site.

Neither the printed manual nor Asus' support site had any info. Even the super-helpful Eee online user community had no suggestions.

In the end, I decided that because I hated typing anything substantial on the Eee, it's doubtful I would need to print from it. And if I did, I could use a flash drive, Google Docs or e-mail to transport the document to a more print-friendly computer.

On the other hand: The good stuff

I don't mean to be a nattering nabob of negativity. There are plenty of things to praise about the Eee, and I'll highlight three of my favorites.

a) The keyboard design has its moments. Yes, even after everything I said before, there are things to like about the Eee's keyboard. It makes sense if you consider that a keyboard is both a typing instrument as well as a tool for navigating software and Web sites. In those respects, Asus has some very good ideas in the Eee.

Most important, the Eee makes smart and extensive use of the Function (Fn) keys. Using those, users can put the Eee to sleep, turn the Wi-Fi on or off, adjust the screen's brightness, control speaker volume, switch between the Eee screen and an external display, launch the task manager and more. This allowed me to avoid using the touchpad or an external mouse to execute many common tasks.

Meanwhile, PgUp, PgDn, Home and End can be accessed by holding Fn and tapping the arrow keys. In the absence of a scroll-wheel-enabled mouse, that becomes very useful. There's also a key on the lower left, labeled with a Home icon, that takes you back to the main page of the Xandros desktop. I found myself tapping it a surprising number of times.

And while the keyboard may be too small for my average-sized male hands, I will grant that the feel and depth of the keys is pretty adequate.

b) The Eee can transform into a (modest) desktop. Not only does the Eee have a VGA monitor port, it actually has three USB ports -- more than the ThinkPad T42 I use for work (or the 15-in. MacBook Pro I use.). You can easily hook up a bigger, external monitor along with a full-size keyboard and mouse, and still have a leftover USB port for a thumb drive or a four-port hub.

For example, I plugged my Eee into my 19-in. CRT and, voila, was treated to full 1,600-by-1,200 resolution. At that resolution, Web surfing was fast and flicker-free, though watching large video files was rough on the Intel graphics chip; for those, I ratcheted down to 1,024 by 768 pixels.

I was able to use both displays to show the same desktop image. If you want to have two independent desktops, you can do some command-line hacking in Linux. It may not be worth it, however: The maximum combined width of the two screens will be limited to 1,680 pixels.

The Eee does have trouble automatically resizing desktops when switching between the external and internal display, due to the latter's awkward proportions. That meant manually resetting the resolution whenever I switched monitors. That sort of thing is trivial in the middle of all the adjustments one makes to a new machine, but it could get annoying over time.

c) I didn't miss Windows XP or Microsoft Office. I've never had much beef with XP or Office. I consider both to be quality products from Microsoft. But after using Xandros Linux in combination with OpenOffice and Google Documents, it struck me how much I remain loyal to those products purely out of convenience and inertia.

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Eric Lai

Computerworld
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