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Taming the Wild Eee PC: Replacing the Operating System, Part 2

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  1. Enhancing Ubuntu to Work with the Eee PC
  2. Remaining Problems
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In the second of his two-article series on programs you can install for Asus Eee PCs, A. Lizard discusses the option for installing and setting up a slightly modified version of Ubuntu, which he regards as preferable to Ubuntu-eee in the context of a netbook running an alternate boot drive.
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Part 1 of this article describes the problems with the standard ASUS Eee PC UI and the popular Ubuntu-Eee replacement UI, why you should use a modified standard Ubuntu instead, and explains how to create a new bootable SD card and boot setup for the Eee PC.

Enhancing Ubuntu to Work with the Eee PC

Boot the Eee PC from the SD card as explained in Part 1. Then, take an Ethernet cable and plug your Eee PC into your router or broadband modem. As of this writing, stock Ubuntu does not support wireless access on the Eee PC (at least the 900) out of the box. To fix this, you have more installation steps to perform, as described in the following sections:

  1. Customize the Ubuntu installable software repositories.
  2. Install a modified kernel.
  3. Install useful netbook UI components.
  4. Set up the taskbar panel.
  5. System Tray Changes.
  6. Set up netbook power management.
  7. Use the internal primary 16GB flash drive for data storage.
Figure 1

Figure 1 Ubuntu desktop customized for netbook use

Once you have completed the steps recommended in the article, your Ubuntu desktop should look a lot like Figure 1. The USER icon won't appear unless you remember to open USER from file manager. (see “Use the Internal Primary 16GB Flash Drive for Data Storage” later in the article).

Customize the Ubuntu Installable Software Repositories

Open sources.list with a root text editor:

$ sudo nano /etc/apt/sources.list

Add the following entries:

deb http://www.array.org/ubuntu intrepid eeepc
deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/netbook-remix-team/ubuntu intrepid main
deb-src http://ppa.launchpad.net/netbook-remix-team/ubuntu intrepid main

(Each entry is a single line no matter how you see it with line wrap.)

Save and exit.

Install the array.org repository GPG key for verification of applications from that site:

$ sudo apt-key add array-apt-key.asc
$ sudo apt-get update

There is a modified kernel that works with all the Eee PC hardware. A few applications are also desirable from the netbook-remix Ubuntu-Eee UI. For more detailed information than presented here, go to Array.org.

Install a Modified Kernel

Then, install the modified kernel:

$ sudo aptitude install linux-eeepc 

Your wireless access will probably come up immediately. The bad news involves Fn (Function)—the special key access is not supported, and you can't toggle wireless on/off until you finish the install steps detailed here. Some scripts add some hardware control (a tray app that lets you turn on/off wireless, camera, card reader) for some Eee PC models, currently including 701/701SD, 702, 900, 900A, 901 and 1000/1000H. You'll see how to get and use one later in this article.

The next step is to remove all but the last generic kernel (you can remove that, too, but it isn't recommended; if your problem is the hacked Eee PC kernel, testing for this without a generic kernel to A-B test against will be difficult). Note: Despite the claims of the author, these still show up as “needs upgrading” in the Ubuntu update application, so check the list of updates carefully (don't let it update your kernel unless linux-eeepc is shown as ready for update) and make sure automatic updating doesn't update your Ubuntu installation into a form that won't work on your Eee PC.

$ sudo aptitude remove linux-generic linux-image-generic linux-restricted-modules-generic 

Install Useful Netbook UI Components

If you want to install the whole netbook-remix package, here's a how-to, but given the problems I had with it (see Part 1, “Problems with the Ubuntu-Eee OS Replacement”), this is not a good idea.

Now, install the useful parts of netbook-remix:

$ sudo aptitude install window-picker-applet go-home-applet 

and this supplemental program:

$ sudo aptitude install eee-control

You can get detailed installation and use information on it here. You can install it via repository because it's in one of the extra repositories you added.

The new tabs for running applications will show up on the top panel; that's what the “window-picker-applet” does. So you can free up screen real estate and remove the bottom panel via right-clicking and selecting the Remove from Panel option.

Probably due to the fact that I'm a KDE and occasional Windows user, I find a bottom taskbar panel easier to work with. If you do, too, right-click the top taskbar, select Move Panel, and drag it to the bottom of the screen.

I suggest installing a monitor applet to let you know what's going on inside the netbook:

$ sudo aptitude install gkrellm

Right-click to enable CPU temperature. Or, you can install gnome-applet-sensors instead. You'll also want to replace the menu with something that takes up a lot less taskbar room:

$ sudo aptitude install gnome-main-menu

Set Up the Taskbar Panel

Remove the familiar gnome menu from the taskbar panel via right-clicking and selecting Remove from Panel. Then, you can right-click the taskbar panel, select Add to Panel, and click the Main Menu entry with the workstation icon next to it, not the one with the Ubuntu logo icon. Then select Add to Panel.

I recommend installing to the taskbar panel:

  • Brightness Applet: Install as described earlier.
  • Workplace Switcher: Install as described earlier.
  • go-home-applet: Install as described earlier.
  • Accessories: Open Add to Panel > Application Launcher > Accessories > Add to Panel. A pop-up Accessories selection menu appears whenever you click the icon.
  • File Manager:
    • Add to Panel > Custom Application Launcher > Create Launcher window, then enter File Manager in the Name textbox.
    • Enter nautilus --nodesktop --browser %U in the Command textbox.
    • Click OK. I suggest typing in the word nautilus and then copy-pasting the rest of the command from here; that way, it automatically finds the right icon instead of a generic icon.
  • Whichever apps you use most often.

System Tray Changes

These are programs that you installed earlier, these steps will add those programs to the Ubuntu System Tray to be run/available after every startup.

Go to the Computer menu and choose Control Center > Session > Preferences > Startup Programs tab. Then add the Startup program and follow these steps:

  1. gkrellm:
    • Name: System Monitor
    • Command: gkrellm
    • Click the Add button.
  2. Eee control in systray:
    • Name: eee-control-tray
    • Command: eee-control-tray
    • Click the Add button.
    • Once running, left-click the script Eee icon in the system tray to toggle wireless, etc., then right-click to access Preferences.
  3. Reboot. Because everything should be on the taskbar panel now, you can arrange them by right-clicking an application icon, selecting Move from the menu, and sliding the icon along the taskbar. Applications are grouped together to the left with the display of running applications to the middle, and the system tray to the right works well for me.

Set Up Netbook Power Management

On the taskbar panel, go to the Computer menu and choose Control Center > System > Power Management. In the AC tab, tell it to shut down the display after 10 minutes, 15 minutes for suspend (lid open), and go into suspend when the lid is closed. In the Battery tab, I suggest 5 minutes as a setting for display shutdown and 10 for going into suspend. Of course, you can tell it to hibernate instead of suspend. The tradeoff is lower power consumption for hibernate versus longer startup time as hibernate means one has to reboot before the desktop and open apps reappear. You can control screen brightness from there, but with the brightness applet installed to the taskbar, it's easier to simply click it instead. If you want to turn wireless off to save power, go to the Eee icon on your system tray, click it, and deselect the Wireless checkbox.

Use the Internal Primary 16GB Flash Drive for Data Storage

Simply open the “hard drive” called USER. The path is:


Eee PC user home directory is:


(This is true regardless of your username.)

Open USER every time you reboot. This isn't as bad as it sounds; if your usage pattern is like mine, you'll simply close the lid to put the computer into suspend. Even if you aren't on the road, you can leave it in suspend indefinitely as long as it's plugged in or as long as the batteries hold out.

I recommend using USER as your primary data storage device. That way should you ever have to unplug your Ubuntu OS installation, you can still access your data via the OEM OS installation. On a 4GB SDHC (SD-High Capacity) Compact Flash (CF) card, your Ubuntu OS install will take 85 percent of the available space, leaving not much room for data. I find that I keep running out of room on the OS flash disk on which my installation was done when I grab applications that require a lot of temporary file space. I plan to replace it with an 16GB SDHC CF Real Soon Now. I suggest changing your application default save or download area to somewhere on the USER drive, using symlink(s) or a full path name /media/USER/home/user/path-to as appropriate.

Remember to back up your netbook data. Flash drives are more rugged than conventional hard drives, but this doesn’t mean they’re immune to data loss/error. I use my data space as a temporary repository for data that will be going to my primary desktop workstation, but people who use the netbook as a primary computer can’t do that.

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