Ubuntu Netbook Remix

OK, so I was quite excited to give my wife a nice little happy by way of the HP Mini 1000 computer a few years back. It was small, stylish and would even fit into her purse for her to use at a moment’s notice when she needed to get online. She LOVED it. Windows XP worked at a nice clip, the smallish, but ample 8 GB Solid State drive was totally silent . . . it seemed like I nailed it.

Enter the “Windows XP + Time = Piece of Junk” phase. After a few months, this darling of a computer turned slower than my 5-year-old on the first day of school. It was unbearable just to get running and could barely even open the web browser (which is the main reason I got it – for her to surf and tinker on the web for email and such).

So, there it sat for almost two years. I re-installed Windows a time or two, but it quickly slowed to the same sad state.

I’ve been anxiously awaiting the upcoming Google Chrome operating system to try out, since it claims to be lightweight and nimble on small “netbook” computers, but then I remembered another solution. I tried Linux (Ubuntu) a few years back on an old Pentium II 450 MHz machine. I was pleasantly surprised at the speed of getting around even on that ancient computer. So, I headed back to http://www.ubuntu.com to see about a copy for this netbook. Well, they had a flavor tailored just for it – cool!

I was debating (for about 5 seconds) about the install since I had only USB (no disc drive) to install with, but then saw the simple set up through making an installer out of a USB drive. Seriously, anyone who barely knows how to run a computer could do this process. Kudos to Ubuntu for making it so painless.

So, I downloaded the ISO file of Ubuntu (took about 30-40 minutes on a decent broadband connection), created the USB drive, and even got to try the system out by running it from the USB drive first to see if everything worked. There is a testing app built in to see if things like sound and other basic hardware are compatible. For the HP Mini I’m on, everything was ready to go, save some WiFi issues (see below). Ubuntu hit a home run this time, it seemed. On my previous install (the old PII computer), there were several drivers missing and some patchwork to get it running right.

The one hurdle of the whole process, getting my wireless card to work, was actually not so bad, thanks to http://www.ubuntuforums.org. There are so many great users and developers in this community, you can find solutions to most any issue. I simply searched “HP Mini Wireless” and found a solution within the first few threads.. It was a sort of advanced move using the terminal and some code, but was straightforward and fixed my wireless issue (now, I’m writing this from the couch rather than the office tethered to ethernet).

So, how does it run? Let’s just say I’m impressed. I counted seconds during boot time and it was just over 20 from off to fully running. I’m anxious to see how this stacks up over time. Even the Firefox browser is quick to load – this is encouraging, since the same program on my work computer, with much more horsepower, is a beast to open. The use of the menus and programs is smooth and satisfying. They’ve done a great job with the look of the icons and layout. It’s similar to using a Mac, in my opinion. Of course, there aren’t allot of swooshing graphics, but the minimal use of fades and highlights is really effective.

The layout of the menu is along the left side in the Netbook edition and gives you a good, concise layout of all of the software options (games, office, internet, settings, etc.). There’s a nice “Favorites” folder at the top to place your most used programs – I like this already. I’ve read that I can switch to the default view of Ubuntu if needed, so I might try that later.

There’s the software app that lets you choose from various applications (most free!), so I’m excited about digging in. I probably won’t get too crazy – I only have 4 GBytes left on the machine, so I might give some time to add things to see how performance progresses. Oh, I mean, my wife might give time . . . it’s her machine, after all, right?!

I’ll leave it at that for now and come back later for an update. I’m glad Linux is progressing as it has. This is a major improvement over even 2 years ago and I look forward to seeing their progress. If you have a machine to fool around with, I highly recommend trying Ubuntu. I don’t advise using it for your main machine (yet), but it’s a great alternative to Windows for light duty computing. Enjoy

FYI, to set the driver for the HP Mini wireless chip, head to the terminal app in Ubuntu, then enter the following command:

sudo apt-get install bcmwl-kernel-source

Reboot and you should be good to go. You’ll need to be hooked in via Ethernet to enter the above command, btw.

Update: August 2nd

Wow . . . I mean, seriously, this machine has a whole new usefulness now. Standby mode is snappy. When you open the lid, the screen zips back to life and connects to the wireless by the time you open the browser. Good stuff. Chromium is still my favorite browser and on linux, it’s no exception – super fast. I’m tempted to use the bookmark sync feature in Google.

HP Mini 1000

My plan after upgrading my laptop was to let Alison use my old faithful gateway. Well, after minutes (looong minutes) of boot up time, that option fell by the way. I had heard about “Netbooks” becoming really popular for secondary systems and thought she might like one. I searched far and wide and did my research and came up with a great little gem.

The HP Mini 1000 is really a very well built, well thought out little machine. I’m actually typing on it right now. It has a 92% keyboard, so it’s actually not that bad to type on (it’s no Thinkpad, but for the size, it’s nice).  I’ll give my pros and cons below.

Pros

  • Size – the main reason for a Netbook is portability. In fact, that was one of my main reason for buying this. I figured my wife could simply put the computer in her purse and take it with her to school, dinner, trips . . . wherever. After 2 months with it, she’s doing just that. She loves it! She brought in her purse (a small one at that) and showed me how it just slips right in. And at 2 pounds, it’s really a lightweight.
  • Speed – the operating system is Windows XP, so it runs just as fast as any machine I’ve had. It has the new Intel Atom processor, so it chugs along nicely.
  • Solid State Drive (pro and con) – The model I bought has the 8 Gbyte solid state drive (think of it like a big digital camera card). Since she uses it for email and web most of the time, it doesn’t get near the space limit. There’s an SD card slot that will hold up to 30 GB if needed, so we’re good there. Also, it’s super quiet. You have to really get close to even barely hear a fan.
  • Nice screen – the resolution is 1250×600. When I bought it, I thought that might be a little low, but it’s just right for the size. This is the 9 inch screen. There’s a 10 incher as well, but this does just fine. The screen is good and bright . . . almost too bright when plugged in!

Cons

  • Solid state drive size – there’s a 16 GB, but these days, many people want lots of space. You can upgrade to at 160 GB drive if needed – adds weight and hurts battery a bit, but it’s there.
  • Battery life? – Not so much a con for me. We get 3 hours or so from the battery. Alison took it on a trip for 3 days and didn’t charge it once (casual use in the hotel). So, it’s a matter of preference. New netbooks are bragging about 10 hours, so we’ll see.

There’s also a built in webcam for easy Skyping which we like as well. One thing I think we might run into is installations for software. If it’s not downloadable over the web (i.e. on a CD), we’ll have to improvise with a USB CDROM (which we don’t have!).

Overall, I would recommend this for anyone doing lite duty computing such as web, email or word processing. It runs great, has the best keyboard of any netbook (size wise) and looks good to. The build quality is as good as I’ve found.

Price: $350 (most likely cheaper by now)