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Taming the Wild Eee PC: Replacing the Operating System, Part 1

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Purchasers of the Linux versions of the Asus Eee PCs who really know Linux are going to be unpleasantly surprised by the limitations of the dumbed-down version of Xandros, which is the OEM install for that computer. For practical purposes, the package has no software expandability; the programs you can install with it are the ones that came with the PC and a handful of others available via the ASUS repository. In the first of his two-article series, A. Lizard discusses one of the possible options with respect to replacing the Eee PC OS.
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Did you find yourself buying an ASUS Eee PC Linux netbook to get a ultraportable Linux box and instead find yourself with a brain-damaged Net appliance with a locked-down desktop full of obsolete software? As sold, it's basically a portable Net appliance—and not all that great a Net appliance at that. Software availability via the regular GUI installer is basically limited to what came with the machine. It’s great for low-intensity websurfing (Firefox 2.x with one open tab), but not for much else.

The fix is to replace the operating system. This article tells you what to replace it with, and provides you with a detailed explanation of how to replace it. Part 1 shows you how to set up a new SD card boot disk for the Eee PC and how to make the Eee PC boot from it.

Eee PC Configuration Problems

So, what's wrong with the OEM Eee PC configuration?

  • It’s locked-down desktop. Even when a piece of software is available via apt-get using ASUS's own repository, it won't show up anywhere on the tab-defined spaces of the locked-down desktop.
  • The Firefox 2.x version usually crashes every couple of hours with multiple tabs open. When running Firefox with several tabs open, it was taking minutes to switch between tabs and often several minutes to return when I switched back to it from an NX client remote-access session to my desktop machine.
  • Improving on the bundled software is difficult because the OEM repositories are ancient. The libraries bundled with it are so ancient I could not install Firefox 3 successfully via binary downloaded from the Firefox site. (OEM only had Firefox 2.x.)
  • A netbook is going to go into suspend a lot by the nature of its kind of usage. So the sound suddenly disappearing after going into suspend a few times is irritating.

How, then, do you make an Eee PC useful?

  • Replacing the OEM OS with the best slightly modified version of Ubuntu makes it possible to banish all of those problems without introducing new ones.
  • Replacing the OEM OS on a bootable mass storage device other than the main hard drive protects the warranty. In this case, we used an SD card that plugs into the Eee PC internal SD reader slot.
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