One Guy, 3 Netbooks: Page 3

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At first sight I knew that the 10-inch screen was the way to go. My regular laptop has a 14-inch screen screen, but I could tell, even with the Asus netbook off, that 10 inches would be good enough. In terms of total real estate, the screen on the Acer Aspire One is roughly 7.5 inches by 4.5 for a total of 33.75 square inches. The Asus Eee PC 1000 screen is approximately 8.5 by 5 inches, for a total of 42.5 inches. Since both machines run at the same, standard 1024x600 resolution, my aging eyes appreciate the roughly 21 percent larger screen on the Asus.

The first thing I noticed when holding the Asus machine was how well made it felt. Then there was the keyboard, which, like the screen, was significantly larger than the one on the Acer Aspire One. The combination of the larger sized machine and the larger 6-cell battery meant the Asus Eee 1000 was noticeably heavier than the Acer Aspire One. Still, I wouldn't call it heavy by any means, especially compared to a full size laptop.

asus eee pc 1000, compare

An old Sharp PC-UM10M laptop with a 12-inch screen next to the Asus Eee PC 1000 with its 10-inch screen.

Another difference I wasn't expecting: the Asus netbook came with a padded zippered carrying case. The Aspire One included a thin vinyl sleeve with no padding, useful as a dust cover, but not for any protection while bouncing around in a briefcase.

In the end however, the machine was a total disappointment.

My problems started with the keyboard. It made a great first impression, it didn't feel small at all and was easy to type on. But Asus made some questionable design choices.

To begin with, the Page Up/Page Down keys are Function keys. That is, you have first press and hold the Fn key and then press either Page Up or Page Down. I use these keys all the time as, I suspect, many netbook users will. Then there is the oddly placed and sized right shift key. Many reviews commented on this, but it's hard to explain how annoying this can be to a touch typist like myself.

The third strike was the touchpad. It makes a great first impression, being large and with the buttons underneath rather than on the sides. But it's too sensitive. While typing the cursor would often jump around randomly, which is seriously annoying. I've used my share of laptops over the years and this was the first one that acted this way.

Linux too proved to be the wrong choice for me, at least this version of Linux.

There are many versions of Linux, called distributions. Too many perhaps. Linux has an awful lot going for it. Like OS X on Macs it's immune to almost all malicious software. In addition, it's free and some distributions mimic the look and feel of Windows. Anyone moving from Windows to Ubuntu should have no trouble using the operating system. Xandros even goes as far as including a My Documents folder to make Windows users feel at home.

For whatever reason, Asus didn't install one of the many existing Linux distributions, rather they started with Xandros and customized it for newbies. Rather than offer a standard desktop environment, much like Windows and OS X, they built a simplistic set of tabbed windows with big icons from which you chose an application to run. Great for a child, but not for me. I wanted the real Linux experience.

Unfortunately, Asus chose to lock users into their simplistic interface. There isn't an option to run the normal Xandros that underlies it and a quick search online didn't turn up anything. People have tweaked earlier models of the Eee PC to break out of the limited user interface, but the 1000 model is relatively new.

The final straw was Firefox. Every time I encounter a new Linux distribution, I try to update Firefox to the latest version. It shouldn't be hard but often I find it impossible, without resorting to the command line. Considering how popular Firefox is, a Linux distribution that can't update it with a GUI interface doesn't strike me as ready for prime time. The software update application on the Asus Eee 1000 was not aware that there was a newer version of Firefox 2, let alone the existence of Firefox 3. And, that wasn't the only problem: the update application repeatedly failed to install an Asus system update.

Perhaps this is the Linux experience -- having to chose and install your own distribution. I installed the Ubuntu 8.10 Live CD onto a USB flash drive and booted from it to try out the new Ubuntu without clobbering the existing copy of Linux. It ran fine, but failed to recognize the wireless network. I'll see if I can find and install drivers. Then again, there's a customized version of Ubuntu just for the Eee PC that's built from the earlier 8.04 edition.

Interestingly, almost everyone who loved the Asus Eee PC 1000 at Amazon.com installed another operating system on the machine.

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Tags: Linux, Microsoft, netbooks, Acer, asus

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