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

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

And it's never crossed my mind to swap out Linux in favor of XP on the Eee -- partly because of the cost, and partly because I truly enjoy the Xandros Linux desktop. Besides the fast boot (25 seconds; add another 20 seconds and the Eee will automatically connect with the nearest Wi-Fi hot spot, too), I loved the default Xandros interface, which was intuitive and easy enough for a child to use.

If you choose to use an external display or simply prefer a more conventional desktop, you can easily download and add the Xandros' KDE desktop's "advanced mode," which will be familiar to any Windows user.

As for OpenOffice, I had used OpenOffice 2.0 full time for several months last year, but dropped it -- not because of the oft-cited document format incompatibility issues, but because I was frustrated with the amount of time it took to start up as well as to open and save documents compared with Microsoft Office 2003.

Whether it's the Eee's faster solid-state drive or the way the code was optimized, OpenOffice is much faster on the Eee than it is on my current ThinkPad T42. Adobe Acrobat Reader, which is such a hog that I've replaced it with FoxIt Reader for reading PDFs on the ThinkPad, opened very fast on the Eee as well.

As the competition heats up...

The Eee reaches far higher than earlier mini-notebook PCs, while asking far less from customers. It costs just one-sixth what I paid for my ThinkPad 535 mini-notebook in 1999 -- even less if you account for inflation.

But other laptops are getting absurdly cheap as competitors behold the market demand. In response to the Eee and the OLPC's "give one, get one" deal, Dell has slashed the price of its Vostro business laptop to US$399. That unit has a 1.7-GHz AMD 64 dual-core processor, a 15.4-in. screen, Windows XP Home, a 120GB hard drive, 1GB of RAM and a dual-layer DVD+R writer.

Asus' response was to roll out the new 4G Surf for US$350, which is US$50 less. The Surf comes in business black, but it lacks a webcam, has a smaller battery and has the aforementioned soldered-in RAM. There is also talk of a 2G Surf that would have half the storage and memory (a 2GB drive and 256MB of RAM, respectively) but cost just US$300 in the US, as well as an 8G that would double capacities (8GB drive and 1GB of RAM) and cost US$500.

Alas, none of those options solve the usability problems that will likely doom the Eee to third string on my PC roster. No, what I'm waiting for is the rumored Eee that comes with a 10-in. screen and, presumably, a much roomier keyboard. Asus has tried to quash this rumor, probably to keep customers from holding off on buying the existing Eee this Christmas season.

What I think, however, is that it doesn't serve Asus to let buyers like me get an early Eee only to end up disillusioned by its form factor and other limitations. A backlash will ensue, and the technorati will move onto another gadget. Or perhaps a mainstream maker such as Dell, which has been in an experimental, Linux-hugging mood, will come out with a low-end version of its ultraportable Latitude X1 that uses Ubuntu Linux and OpenOffice, truly runs four hours on a single battery and costs below US$600.

I would be the first to line up for such a machine. What gearhead would miss out on that?

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Eric Lai

Computerworld
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