How the ASUS EeePC showed me I was wrong about Linux

January 29, 2008

How the ASUS EeePC showed me I was wrong about Linux Until recently I thought Linux was just the domain of enthusiasts and cost-conscious corporates, who for whatever reason, wanted an alternative to Windows. I never thought Linux had a contribution to make to mainstream computing. However, after purchasing a ASUS EeePC, a Linux based subnotebook, I’ve realised that I was wrong, very wrong.

I think the problem was that I never really “got” what Linux was about.

Sure I recognised the shortcomings of Windows, and the dangers of the world being overly dependent on Microsoft, but as far I was concerned the mainstream was perfectly served by Windows (and of course, to a lesser extent, Mac OS).

It wasn’t that I didn’t like Linux, I just didn’t really take it seriously. I laughed when I read my colleague’s article about how Linux was the new Amiga, and we all know what happened to the Amiga.

Linux was clumsy, hard to use, and generally not a contender in the mainstream computing game – or so I wrongly thought.

Even when I bought the EeePC from the local office megastore, I made a joke to the sales guy saying that “for what I need to do, I’m sure even Linux will be able to handle it.”

Interestingly, the sales guy was a Linux geek and he started giving me a lecture about the benefits of Linux.

“Whatever,” I thought to myself as I paid the guy and left the store mumbling about Linux geeks.

True, I didn’t have high expectations about Linux, so when I started playing with the EeePC I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was very easy to use.

If you’ve used a GUI – whether Windows, Mac, or even Amiga OS – it takes all of 15 minutes to get a handle on how to operate the EeePC.

I was expecting a nightmare connecting the EeePc to my wireless network, but it took all of two minutes.

I didn’t really expect the web browser to work well, but Firefox on the EeePc seems to work just as well as it does on Windows.

I was expecting to take a backward step with the bundled Open Office word processor and spreadsheet software, but I had no problems working on complex Word and Excel documents transferred from my desktop computer.

I didn’t expect to be able to play video files, but the supplied SMPlayer had no problems playing back DivX files.

I was expecting to have hassles transferring files to the EeePC from USB memory sticks, but again no problem.

So far, I’ve had a very good experience with Linux on the EeePC. Sure, it was preinstalled, and set up to look like Windows, but that’s almost besides the point. It’s clear that Linux works, and works well as a mainstream consumer operating system.

What really impresses me about Linux is that it allows devices like the EeePC to be built and sold at a very low price point:

  • Obviously because Linux is open source it means that the manufacturer doesn’t have to pay licensing fees for each operating system install.
  • Second, Linux is far less resource hungry than Windows XP or Vista, so it runs well on lower spec hardware. My EeePC has a 900 Mhz Celeron, 512 MB RAM and a 4GB hard disk, and Linux works without any problems.

I’ve never set out to be a Linux user, but after using the EeePC, I’d be comfortable running Linux on my main notebook, but probably not my main PC, as there a number of Windows-only applications that I simply can’t do without. Still that’s a big change on where I was just a few weeks back, where I wouldn’t have even considered Linux.

Perhaps the EeePC will show other sceptics the possibilities of Linux. And perhaps this might be just another little step towards wrestling Microsoft’s market domination of operating systems out of its hands.

No, Linux won’t suddenly find itself taking serious market share from Windows, but in its own way, the EeePC is demonstrating that Linux really is a viable alternative to Windows.

For those that are interested, here’s my review of the EeePC.

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25 Responses to “How the ASUS EeePC showed me I was wrong about Linux”

  1. KennyD:

    Good article! Seems to be a common mis-conception that “Linux is hard to use”.

    I taught my wife how to use [Fedora 7 w/Open Office] in an hour and she loved it. I used Linux exclusively. Microsoft actually “won” me back over beleive it or not. But I still use Linux to develop on, and my job is all about some SunOS.

  2. JohnMc:

    Hey! Put Linux on your main PC. If you have a PIV with 1Gb memory its a breeze. Two ways to go.

    1) Wine. Its a windows app hosting environment. It won’t run everything but many people have cracked the setup for most of the top 100 Windows applications — Office for example.

    2) Full virtualiztion. I have a CoreDuo box with 2Gb. Running VirtualBox as a Linux Host I can run virtually any variant of Windows Guest I desire; plus all the associated apps with it.

    I use the Virtual Box environment as a test bed. I can mix linux, Windows, and osX in a internal lan setup. test my software, test new configurations, etc. Something does not work out you just blow away the instance and keep on going. The Host is never affected.

    If you have the hardware, try either its worth it.

  3. David Legg:

    ‘but probably not my main PC, as there a number of Windows-only applications that I simply can’t do without’

    Perhaps you should share the identities of these apps with the Linux community and let them suggest a way forward?

  4. Antonio:

    Glad to know you liked Linux, but you are wrong on this point:

    ‘Obviously because Linux is open source it means that the manufacturer doesn’t have to pay licensing fees for each operating system install.’

    The preinstalled Xandros version is not free of charge, although much cheaper than win.

  5. Lluís:

    Never is late to try new things. Nobody is born experienced, and after trying Linus posibilities expand, certainly. Welcome to the penguin family!

  6. Tom:

    ‘So far, I’ve had a very good experience with Linux on the EeePC. Sure, it was preinstalled, and set up to look like Windows, but that’s almost besides the point. It’s clear that Linux works, and works well as a mainstream consumer operating system.’

    Using one of the big desktop environments (Gnome or KDE) users will not notice any fundamental difference in the way their computer handles everyday tasks.

    You’ve for your windows and your menu bars and your settings menu and your program icons. Nothing radical.

    I’ve found that the people that I helped switch to Linux (mostly ‘joe user’ types) have had far less problems doing the day to day things. I set up a nice slim linux PC for my friends mum, sat down with her, explained how to log in, start Firefox, use Thunderbird, Openoffice and how to start the remote help session with me. I have since (it’s been about 3 months) gotten exactly 1 call with a question (“does this ebay auction look legit?”). If you are ‘the computer guy’ for a few people you know how extremely little that is.

    Linux IS ready for the mainstream. And the EEE PC and you are doing a nice job showing that to the world.

  7. Pyotr:

    As a new Linux user, my opinion is that linux isn’t hard to use (as long as you use one of the more userfriendly distributions, like Ubuntu), just hard to install. My biggest problem was finding drivers (or in some cases, finding programs that let me use the windows drivers) for linux for my wireless card, etc. If you have linux drivers for every piece of hardware you have, then linux is easy, but if you don’t, expect to have to work at it for at least a week (but that week is worth it!).

    This is why I think these “linux pc”s are the way to go. That way you already know that all your hardware is compatible with linux.

  8. http://www.golfnorwich.com/:

    Maybe this version of linux is easy to use. I’ll have to give it a try. But as far as most linux distro’s goes, they are hard to use. I’ve tried many flavors and they were all a pain to get things to work. I’m looking forward to giving this a try.

    http://www.golfnorwich.com/

  9. Edwin:

    Welcome to the good guys side John! Install a linux on your main PC and you’ll one step further to be a penguin lord. For those who still think that Linux is hard to use, there are many distros out there for every different person. For starters, I recommend PCLinuxOS 2007 or Kubuntu 7.10. PCLinuxOS is as radically simple as the developers claim it to be, and Kubuntu is nearly as good (I hope Kubuntu users don’t get offended, I think both distros are good, and even work nicely on my old Toshiba Tecra800 notebook; it’s just my personal preference).

  10. Huckle:

    You’re still an ignorant bastard if you think there are windows programmes that haven’t got a linux-compatible alternative. Even if there isn’t an alternative, a previous commenter has already said that you can use WINE to actually run and install any program you like.

    My dirty little secret is that the PC I recently bought (a beauty I must say with all of 2 GB RAM, a Quad Core processor and 300 GB HD) is running vista. Why? ‘Cos it works and it’s already there. I could go over to linux any day, but I wouldn’t. Why? Mac is better, and effectively linux anyway, having a unix core. Price limits, however, drive me away from mac and I can but dream of having OSX on my desktop purring away under the sleek gloss finish that apple so tastefully adorns its iMacs with.

    I still say your excuse of windows programmes not working on linux is a lie.

  11. Zack:

    You are an Idiot

  12. H:

    Nice review of the EeePC. Great read while I wait for my EeePC to arrive. Next time I post it will be from a Eee.

  13. http://www.floors4u.net/:

    Ahh the linux, mac, windows debate…this has gotten so boring…

    http://www.floors4u.net/

  14. davecs:

    What you have discovered is that the easiest Operating System to install is the one that someone has installed for you!

    If you are installing onto an empty machine these days, one of the user-friendly Linux variants, and I concur with Edwin, (PCLinuxOS), is actually easier to install than Windows. The only concept you have to get your head around at that stage is Partitioning.

    Once installed, as Linux tends to use Free Software, you can install new programs from the internet through a package manager (PCLinuxOS and all the *buntu’s use Synaptic), which will be kept concurrent with each other so they all use the same libraries (think of dll’s), thus keeping everything nice and stable.

    The KDE desktop would not confuse a Windows user, and Linux is very scalable — it can use all the power of the latest, fastest hardware, whilst it can easily be adapted to run on older systems.

    Of course for a project like the eeePC Linux is ideal, as the manufacturer can hire some geeks to strip out everything that is not needed, code anything that is needed and isn’t already there, and tailor the OS and software to the hardware and intended use. Possibly this is the way forward for Linux, particularly on laptops.

  15. Robin:

    To sum up:

    1. Pre-installed Linux is good, since the manufacturer does all the hard part for you.

    2. Hard part: Linux driver is hard to install/configure correctly. Linux software may have too many configurations before you can use it.

    3. Running windows program on Linux is OK, but the hard part is to get it working. If someone does it for you (Just like point 1, the pre-installed work), it will be easy to use. Otherwise, prepare to spend hard time to configure it.

    4. I believe that point 2 and 3 are gradually improved. Some Linux distributions do better in this aspects (more user friendlier, e.g. Ubuntu Linux) than others.

  16. winter:

    why in the hell do people go on and on crying about how hard it is to get things initially set up with linux os’ like ubuntu? I went straight from xp to ubuntu and within a few hours with help from the multitude of forums and websites, everything was going fine. In fact it was better than fine, it was spectacular and I never looked back. I wonder how I ever lived without linux. I have several pc’s in the house and they are all running different variants of linux or unix now and I’m much happier having taken control of my own computers and not having some bloated corporation unconcerned with my interests telling me what to do.

  17. Mike:

    It’s worth mentioning that Xandros has a packaged distribution which is not very expensive and should replicate your Eee experience on a laptop or desktop. The packaged version comes with Crossover, I believe, which lets you run MS Office natively and directly under Linux.

  18. armk:

    Same thing happened to me! I used to like the phrase “Linux is only free if your time is worth nothing”. And I would laugh when Linux geeks would show me those horrible GUIs and say that they’re “just like Windows” (Yeah, right!). But, again, the Eee PC showed me that Linux can actually be made good. So much so, that the next thing I did was dust off an old laptop and install Ubuntu as its only operating system!

    I still use Vista to be sure (and I actually kind of like it), but with things like the Eee PC, Open Office (I dropped Word because Microsoft removed the equation editor and then discovered that OO is a pleasure to use), and Ubuntu (Linux for dummies) it is ever clearer that the end of Microsoft Windows is near. As soon as Linux learns to do good hardware plug and play I just might ditch it altogether!

  19. dick hole:

    linux doesn’t need to be ready for the mainstream. who gives a fuck if it’s used by the mainstream? i certainly don’t care if you use it, as long as the community of developers that have contributed to it continue to.

    if you want some fancy gui shit that lets you operate a computer with only a mouse and never having to read a man page, then stick with windows or mac os (which by the way is not like linux at all, it is based on some version of BSD which is significantly different). that’s what those developers are paid to do. linux and all of the packaged GNU tools are desirable because of the superior amount of control you have over what you’re machine is doing for you. learn to use the computer well and you’ll never be able to use a windows system again. it is just too terribly inefficient to get anything done.

    on a final note, linux isn’t open source so that you don’t have to pay for it. it’s open source so that if it doesn’t do something you want it to, you can change it yourself, and contribute that enhancement to the community. certainly can’t do that with windows or mac.

  20. tony t:

    I am glad that there are alternatives to windows. I am so tired of windows problems and want to send a message that windows are not getting the support to help there customers. I say thanks to all that help to this cause. I will talk to my tech guy to see how long will it take to get it working. tony t. Nov 2008.

  21. wolfen69:

    those who care about their computing experience and want full control over their computer will always be drawn to linux.

    i don’t care if it overtakes microsoft. it is perfect for me and millions of other users.

  22. Donnie:

    there is a new forum starting up for Linux distros i believe there are several posts about the Linux eeepc Linux, you know for general help and what not, check it out. its brand new and needs content i know a few of the posters are really good with linux and actually have the eeepc

    http://www.linuxtechforum.com

  23. Tom:

    Linux is a very good OS, I am using it for many years. But it’s still not ready for the normal user.

  24. Dr. Asoka Dissanayake (Medical):

    I wonder what distribution that is installed in your EeePC?

    There are 330 odd active Linux distributions.

    In my IBM laptop I have 8 distributions running (one at a time for distributions) for demonstrating purposes.

    All my desktop computers at home have a different version for my wife and kids to play with no cost for me at all.

    My favorite is Puppy Linux (there is a version Pupee for netbooks) but my Gold Standard is PCLinux-2010.

    I have written a small comments for 100 odd distributions at my blogspot at Google’s.
    If you have time please visit asoka and parafox distributions.
    Mind you I have said good bye to Microsoft and just celebrated the 3rd Anniversary with little Wine (Wine is not Windows emulator) from the celler1

  25. Dr.S.B.Asoka Dissanayake:

    It is me again.
    Is it alright if I copy and use word for word what is stated above as an introduction to a little book I write on Linux?
    Thank you in anticipation.
    Alternative is to post me an email restating your comments please!

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