Eighteen short months ago, Taiwanese manufacturer Asus debuted the Eee, the netbook that launched the latest craze for small, lightweight, inexpensive laptops. When the original 350,000 units – all equipped with Linux – sold out in just a few months, the open source community rejoiced.
And then they got to work – creating new open source apps specifically for the Eee and similar netbooks.
Since then, the competitive landscape has changed considerably. Today more than 50 manufacturers make netbooks or “mini-notebooks.” Most of these are still priced under $500, but several approach $1,000. Instead of appealing to the students and residents of developing countries who were the original target market, most netbooks are purchased by middle class consumers who want a second, more mobile computer (or who view the devices as a fashion statement).
As the market has changed, the devices themselves have also changed. The original 7-inch screens have grown to 10 inches. Colorful cases for the fashion conscious abound, and keyboards no longer feel as cramped as on the first netbooks. Hard drives and RAM have increased dramatically, and the newest Eee model will ship with an optical drive, the first netbook to do so.
These changes have only served to increase the popularity of a product that was already enjoying exponential sales growth. In fact, netbooks sales are one of the few bright spots in the suffering tech industry. Analysts estimate that between 20 and 35 million netbooks will ship this year, dramatically growing their share of the laptop market.
ABI Research principal analyst Philip Solis believes, ‘Netbook sales may not be adversely affected – in fact may actually be helped – by the recessionary pressures.” He points to three facts to support this belief, “First, netbooks are a fairly new class of device, and widespread adoption has only recently begun. Second, they are relatively inexpensive, and some consumers may see them as a viable alternative to that pricey laptop they originally intended to buy. Finally, they can run inexpensive operating systems that don’t require powerful hardware.”
While ABI believes that those “inexpensive operating systems” (i.e., Linux) will be the norm on netbooks by 2012, it hasn’t happened yet. In fact, three out of four netbooks sold last year shipped with Windows installed.
Despite that somewhat disheartening news, open source developers have continued plugging away on apps for netbooks. While many of those projects are still in the early stages of development, several are at a point where they could be useful to Eee users.
If you’re an Eee owner, here are 25 open source apps worth considering. Some were designed specifically for the Eee, and others are among the most popular apps available through Eee Download (and most useful). And if you don’t have an Eee, many of these apps will work on other netbooks or more traditional laptops as well.
Still in the early stages of development, this Asus-sponsored project provides a place for netbook users to interact. It includes documentation and source code for the Eee. Operating System: Linux.
This Linux kernel driver makes it possible to use those extra keys on your Asus laptop to control your display, and it makes the appropriate lights blink to show when you have mail or a live wireless connection. This project now includes the eeepc-laptop project which was aimed specifically at the Asus Eee netbooks. Operating System: Linux.
Want to use your Eee with a Zoom 3095 or similar USB modem? This kernel driver makes it possible. Operating System: Linux.
Want to use your netbook like a Kindle? This ebook reader supports multiple file formats and works on the Eee, other netbooks, and Linux-based PDAs, as well as desktops. Operating System: Linux, Windows, BSD
Since the whole netbook phenomenon was inspired by the one laptop per child project, it makes sense that kids educational software is among the most popular with Eee users. This package has very simple, basic graphics but fun and (mostly) educational activities for kids age 2 to 10. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Unix, OS X
Want to take your netbook stargazing? Stellarium recreates the night skies from any coordinates at any time, making it easy to spot constellations, planets, and other objects. It’s so accurate, it’s even used by many planetariums. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Unix, OS X, BSD
Want to run an Eee-like OS on a Windows system? This clone lets you run the Eee interface through the .Net 2.0 framework. Operating System: Windows
This double-entry accounting system also comes in an Eee PC edition available at the Eee PC Web site. The latest version includes new tools for tracking investments and creating reports. It’s not nearly as robust as Quicken or MS Money, but it’s free! Operating System: Linux, Unix, BSD
Another work in progress that’s interesting but not quite ready for prime time, this Poker-scoring app runs on any OS, but was specifically designed to to be light enough for netbooks. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Unix, OS X
In this real-time strategy game you must balance building your economy with creating an army in a futuristic setting. It’s among the most popular apps for Eee users and can be played against the computer or against human opponents via LAN or the Internet. Operating System: Windows, Linux, BSD, OS X
This highly addictive puzzle game has also become popular with Eee users. The play is simple, but the increasingly difficult levels can pose quite a challenge. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Unix, OS X
Many Eee users have expressed dissatisfaction with the default IM application, and Kopete is among the most popular to replace it. It works with multiple IM networks and includes webcam support. Operating System: Linux
Using your Eee in a meeting? Java-based FreeMind can make it easier to link together ideas in a brainstorming session or to classify and organize your notes. Operating System: OS Independent
Roughly similar to Visio, Dia makes it easy to create network maps, flowcharts, and other diagrams. It supports a number of different file formats, including XML and EPS. Operating System: Linux, Unix, Windows
Operating Systems and Kernel Modifications
If you’d rather use a version of Ubuntu than the modified Xandros that ships on the Eee, you might try Eeebuntu. It was designed specifically for the Asus Eee and should work on other netbooks as well. Operating System: Linux.
This is another version of Ubuntu customized for netbooks. Compared to standard Ubuntu, this kernel offers better support for Eee sound cards, web cams, and other devices, plus some Eee-specific optimization. Operating System: Linux.
CrunchEee is a scaled-down version of Crunch Bang Linux with a desktop theme sized for the small screen and applications geared toward Internet use. Operating System: Linux
18. Easy Peasy
Just when you thought there were enough versions of Ubuntu for the Eee, here’s one more. Formerly known as Ubuntu Eee, Easy Peasy includes an operating system and other software ideal for netbooks. Operating System: Linux
This small desktop app makes it easy to turn on and off the wireless LAN, card reader, Bluetooth, webcam, etc. It also lets you shut down or reboot with just a single click. Operating System: Linux.
Do you like Easy Mode, but wish you could customize it to your preferences? This tool offers a graphical interface that makes it simple to add applications and change the default categories. And if anything goes wrong, you can revert to your original settings with just a couple of clicks. (Note: This project hasn’t been officially released under an open-source license yet, but the source code is available. Operating System: Linux
Still in the early development stages, jEeeConfig also aims to make it easier to configure the Easy Mode menu. Operating System: Linux.
22. Eee Applet
This handy little applet lets you monitor the power usage and device configuration on your Eee. Operating System: Linux
Originally designed for the Eee, Kysrun lets you open applications, link to bookmarks, or perform other operations by typing a few letters instead of hunting through menus. As you begin typing one letter at a time, Kysrun brings up a list of all applications on your system with those letters in the name, and you simply click on the one you want. Operating System: Linux
Not just for the Eee, this app monitors the fan speed, processor temperature, and motherboard temperature for any Asus motherboard. An alarm lets you know when your laptop gets too hot. Operating System: Windows
One of the most popular open source applications among Eee users, LyX lets you format your document based on its structure. You mark text as a title, subtitle, etc., and then worry about the formatting later. It makes it easier to ensure continuity throughout long documents and deal with some of the difficulty of creating a document on a screen too small to show an entire page easily. Operating System: Linux, Unix, Windows, OS X.