Tuesday, May 12, 2009


I figure I may owe my putative reader an explanation of why "blogging has been light" these past few months. Scratch that, it's not that i feel i "owe" anybody anything, but as a matter of courtesy and as a pubic service, it may be an excuse for making a post.

In most of February and March, I am "free", which usually means I am busy pursuing some projects and work that has been put off the rest of the year. In this case that meant cleaning out my office "laboratory" at the camp-us where I have been institutionalized for the past 9 years. I also had to clean and reorganize my house to accommodate things that previously occupied my office. I managed to get everything I wanted to keep in 1.5 carloads of material which fit into my house with no visible change, as I found things at home to discard from our 10 years here.

Among the things I discarded were many computer models from my computer "museum". These included an Apple Classic 2 (the size, shape, weight, and esthetic twin of a concrete block), an LC, a Performa, a couple of old PowerBook Duos from the mid-1990s, 3 or 4 6600/somethings from my significant other's office (also 1990s discards) and probably a few more I have forgotten about. There was a late 1990s "video editing edition" of something I had at home that got tossed. In addition to those, I had purchased 2 desktops and 2 laptops in my 9 years of serfdom as an institutionalized academic. These were obligingly returned to the institution and dumped on a basement storeroom floor for disposal (a particularly sad waste of a 2008 MacBook). From this you may conclude that I keep and adopt computers roughly the way the cat lady takes in cats, and you would be correct. I seem to have had roughly 17 computers earlier this year, some of them completely non-functional. Intake of computers left on the curb with minor problems such as a glitchy speaker or broken floppy has declined to zero in recent years as the recycling laws have made these treasures disappear. I now find myself down to a mere 7 (?) computers. Three "candy" iMacs and an eMac constitute the "museum" portion of my holdings (all running great), while a 21-inch iLamp (or "flower" iMac) desktop circa 2004 and two new laptops constitute my "active" array of machines.

The new ones are ASUS Eee PCs, a 4G (but I call it "Little Sucker" in respect to its performance) and the world's and Amazon's most popular netbook, the ultra-mobile 1000HE. I happily got the 4G in order to buy it on my office budget without having to return it (under $300). I am happy to move away from the Apple cult, although I think I would like to keep a working Apple CPU around to run some Apple software, probably a Mac Mini when I need to replace the fading iLamp.

As you may expect from a person with a slew of older low-spec'd computers around, I like to run free, open-source software, not proprietary corporate software licensed for use on one machine. It's natural to extend that principle to the OS itself, especially as I try to make use of the Eee(s) without using Windows XP Japanese version, which was the pre-installed OS. As a result, I have been busily learning Linux. What has surprised me is that there is much more software available than I had thought, and that the user interface can be very very slick after a little additional customization. It is nice to have 3 OS platforms available, as I can find an app to do almost anything.

I seem to visit dozens of Linux pages every day, but as an Eee user, this page has been particularly useful to compare Linux distributions. I have downloaded ISOs or IMGs of eeebuntu, OpenGeeeU, Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.04, Mandriva (Gnome), Mandriva (KDE), FluxfluxEEE, and EEEpcLinuxOS. I have rejected OpenGeeeU as wasting too much screen space and for compatibility reasons. I suspect Fluxflux (and the gOS) would not use screen space efficiently either. UNR 9.04 was slow and glitchy on the 4G and has a nasty desktop-switcher bug that the newer ISO still hadn't got rid of, so I dumped it, and the Little Sucker is now running Mandriva (Gnome) very well. Mandriva is extremely impressive; only the default partitioner was not as good as Ubuntu's Gparted. The 1000HE runs Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.04 without trouble so far, although I am afraid to switch to Classic Mode because I would (probably) have to re-install everything --with a different OS-- if the bug shows up. I'd recommend avoiding Ubuntu Netbook Remix and perhaps sticking with the standard Ubuntu instead. You can right-click the top menu and select Autohide and Show Hide Buttons (I think it's called), --and do the same for the bottom taskbar-- and they will both disappear with one click (or just automatically) any time you like, leaving you with the full screen for Firefox or whatever your working window is. This is much less buggy than Ubuntu Netbook Remix.

If you are considering Linux, visit Distrowatch. Try this distro selector and/or another one of these as a second opinion.


Mike F said...

I have recently thrown aside a Toshiba tablet that I used for the last two years - it was pre-configured with Vista and I struggled for those two years with incredibly bad performance. I was blinded by my desire to have a tablet system -- and did appreciate the flippable screen and pen usage for web browsing, NY Times reading, etc. I was pushed to the breaking point a few weeks ago -- it seemed half of my computing time was waiting for it to wake or dealing with a "not responding" message. This after optimizing with both maximum memory (4GB!) and minimal software load. I would get a great deal of satisfaction out of smashing it against a brick wall but I think I can squeeze some use out of it without trying to rely on it on a day-to-day basis. I'll go smash something else and imagine the Toshiba logo shattering onto the pavement.

So -- I've tossed it aside and am *very* happily working on my MacBook Pro (15" 2.6Ghz, 4GB). The beauty of this system is the addition of Parallels Desktop 4.0 for Mac. In combination with the MacOS Spaces utility I am able to simultaneously run as many operating systems as I desire. I am currently running the core Mac OS - of course - but within Parallels I have three other machines - the new Windows 7 RC, Ubuntu 9, and Windows XP.

Full screen mode and very good performance makes working in these virtual machines seem just like being there. Full hardware support - USB scanners, bluetooth, it's all there.

I've made a giant leap from the shackles of Vista to the freedom of running whatever program I need in the environment that best supports it.

Praise be to the software gods. Amen.

Blues Tea-Cha said...

Thank you for your comment. I agree that the MacBook Pro is a great way (or the only way) to use 3 operating systems in one machine, with a good feel and with everything working -- altho I haven't used the Parallels Desktop yet. However, the 15" is a little big to carry around comfortably, in my opinion. I prefer(ed) Apple's smallest 12 or 13" notebooks and a 21" desktop -- if one can afford to have a laptop and a desktop, which I do by running them for years.

I am experiencing the sluggish go-and-eat-lunch-and-come-back-to-see-if-the-page-has-loaded kind of performance you allude to on my 2004 21" iLamp at this moment. (It's probably my fault for having 9 apps, 20 windows and 50 tabs open.) As I DO want to keep ONE piece of Apple hardware (preferably under 5 years old) around and working, a Mac Mini replacement for this is sounding better. I am doing work on this machine, so it is impairing my productivity. Being able to run Parallels would be a plus. Yes, I've almost convinced myself. But where would this one go?

AT the moment Mandriva seems to be working as well as or better than Ubuntu for me here. I decided to experiment with the little sucker eee 4G as a test bed for different LIVE CD/USB Linux distributions before I commit myself too much to one distro, so I have been downloading Fedora, openSUSE, and Vector Linux Light Live (in addition to Ubuntu and Mandriva) to do some comparisons. I realized I need a Live CD (or bootable IMG disk image), multilingual OS, Asian Language support, preferably support for the Eee and the PPC platforms, and a beginners' distro. That's narrowed my options down a bit. As I am becoming more committed to Linux than Apple, I may put YDL (Yellow Dog), openSUSE, Ubuntu, Fedora, or another distro on the Macs around here as well, to get more experience with it-- in a dual boot configuration.

If you haven't thrown the Toshiba aside too hard or too far, why not use it as a test bed for a different OS? You already KNOW Vista sucks on it. There is free virtualization or emulation software in Linux as well that allows you to run XP and/or Vista as a process (?) in a window. SO you could run various OSs or ISOs or IMGs from a CD or as a virtual whatever. Google around for a user experience with a Linux distro that has good support for a Toshiba tablet. It's also possible that Windows 7 will be a hit and give it a new life. Are you ready to reformat the Vista and try something else?