I picked up an ASUS eeePC 1000HE for a project I have going. It has an Atom N280 chip, 1024 x 600 LCD back-lit screen, WiFi, Ethernet, a VGA port, and three USB ports. I added an extra gigabyte of memory (bringing the total to 2 GB) and a Logitech XV Nano laptop mouse. The latest version of eeeBuntu Linux was installed via a USB memory stick and it runs the Gnome desktop, Firefox, OpenOffice.org, and the Compiz window manager. Make sure the Compiz Options -> Loose Bindings setting and the special window effects will be impressive.
In spite of the changing netbook ecosystem, I thought it might be interesting to point out a few one-off uses that my techno-curious readers would appreciate. While I'll focus on the Asus eeePC, the topics covered today can apply to any netbook, just as long as it is running Linux.
Use Suspend For Travel
One of the best things I like about the eeePC 1000HE with eeeBuntu Linux is that it is extremely portable and putting the machine into "Suspend" works flawlessly. Click the System -> Shut Down menu items, then the Suspend button. The LCD screen will go blank and the machine will power down. You'll notice that the on/off and light bulb LEDs flash slowly. You can then close the lid and slip the machine in your backpack. Once, arriving at the library, office, or coffee shop you just hit the power button. The eeePC will come back to life with everything the same as when you home. Of course, to connect to a new network, you'll need to left-click on the network icon and select a new access point. Suspend consumes just a tiny bit of power and can even be used overnight to save wear and tear.
Portable OOo Presentations
OpenOffice.org Impress works very well on the eeePC. Creating a slide show takes some getting used to because of the short screen. If you are guilty of updating your presentation right up to the last minute, the eeePC is for you. Using suspend and resume will let you work on your slides, every time you have a spare moment, when en route to your presentation.
I very strongly suggest getting familiar with display configuration before trying to hook up to a projector or big monitor. Make sure to create a backup of the /etc/X11/xorg.conf file before fooling around with any new settings. The X server seems to be pretty sensitive to the virtual resolution values and can leave you with a white screen on the LCD, if you don't get it right. It doesn't damage anything, but you won't be able to get the desktop back or do any work. Fixing the situation requires rebooting the machine via the power button, bringing Linux up in a single user terminal (failsafe terminal) and then copying the backup X configuration file to xorg.conf. Once, that is done, you'll have the desktop back and can try some other values.
I have successfully, used the eeePC with my 22" LG TV/monitor at 1024 x 768 resolution. Change the virtual resolution to "2048 2048" in the Screen section of /etc/X11/xorg.conf and then turn on the second monitor, under the Systems -> Preferences -> Display tabs. Set the second monitor to 1024 x 768 and click Apply. The external monitor will come up and you can decide if you want to retain the values or not. The Compiz 3D window manager works great and I can easily spin the cube around across both monitors.
Compact, Portable Signage
As with presentations, digital signage can be created by compiling a bunch of photos or graphic files and running them in gqview. You can set the dwell time on each graphic and arrange them in any order you like. Set it to loop and your pictures will sit there and cycle over and over throughout the day. The same familiarity and caution applies in this case as to using an external monitor.
The Ultimate Network/Forensics Tool
Want to go wardriving or just check out what other WiFi networks are in your neighborhood? Kismet is easy to install using the Synaptic package manager. After installation you'll need to open /etc/kismet/kismet.conf and change the source line to read "source=rt2500,ra0,atheros", otherwise you'll get an error. You can then start up Kismet in a terminal. Use "sudo kismet" to run the program. I discovered that someone else has an access point across the street, on MY channel. I'll deal with them later.
Wireshark can also be installed. It will show up under the Applications -> Internet tabs. Just like Kismet, you'll need to click the "Wireshark (as root)" menu item. Since the eeePC screen resolution is 1024 x 600, the Wireshark live capture listing is much more easily viewed by zooming out one or two notches. Once capture of packets has started, you can find the zoom options under the View menu tab.
I've also used nmap to interrogate network ports. This program is not in the default eeeBuntu load, so you can again use Synaptic for installation. I was able to look at all my machines on my LAN and it was very fast.
Geek Magnet, Conversation Starter
I dare you to put eeeBuntu on an eeePC 1000HE and walk around any conference, Barnes and Noble, or coffee hangout and see what happens. You are guaranteed to meet new people. If you are a real showoff, try sitting the eeePC on a counter or prominent table and curiosity seekers will appear within minutes.
It is a good ice breaker for a sociable guy like me. Writing can be an intense, isolated job and having curious people asking about the little machine and Linux helps make my day interesting. Hey, all you tech salesman, get one of these setups and I'm sure your customers will listen to what you have to say. Well, at least you can get their attention without too much trouble.
Ultra Portable Localized Multi-Purpose Server
All kinds of servers are available under eeeBuntu. Apache2 and PHP5, are naturals for creating a localized LAN based server. You could also set up a Samba or ftp server, if you want to allow your team to upload and downloading files.
I've worked with portable teams and we were always passing memory sticks or CDs back and forth during brainstorming sessions or marathon meetings. Running a file server, that is portable with my team, would let us keep our files consolidated and easy to back up at the end of the day. When portable or working with a small team, I normally carry a little wifi router, so I don't have to depend on corporate LAN connectivity. Using a local server and your own WiFi LAN also enhances throughput and security, because you can monitor and control who is on your micro network. Try getting this all together under some other operating system.
Camera, Phone Photo Storage and Review
Did you know that the eeePC has a built-in Bluetooth radio? eeeBuntu even has an icon on the system tray. Right-click on the icon, set up a new relationship with your cell phone and you can effortlessly copy and paste files back and forth.
Digital cameras will also mate up to the eeePC via the SD card slot. While the LCD on the back of my Nikon D80 DSLR is pretty good, inspecting photos on a computer screen reveals flaws I would never see, looking at the camera screen. Transferring the photos to the eeePC also provides a safe storage place and the ability to easily ship out the pictures via a Web upload or email.
Emergency/Disaster Full-Featured Computer
The eeePC lends itself to emergency operations due to it's size and low power requirements. Low-wattage DC to AC converters are available everywhere and don't take up much space. Check out Home Depot, CompUSA, and BestBuy. It is a great machine for camping trips.
At a modest price of around $US 400, the eeePC makes a fine first machine for your kids or college student. My kids carry a laptop all over the house to look at YouTube and search Google. They still don't quite understand that the battery only lasts so long after unplugging from the power brick, but that is another topic. I'm happy with the fit, finish, and operation of the ASUS product line. I think they are a good value for the money.
Bonus Section: Things Not To Do
Video playback doesn't work very well on the eeePC with eeeBuntu. Mplayer or VLC at full screen mode has skips and the audio doesn't match the video. That's OK, video is a happy distraction for me.
Google Earth is also a non-starter. I did manage to install the application, but the machine just doesn't have the horsepower to render buildings and maps in a reasonable period of time. Starting up the program and putting a city into the search box is a very painful experience. Google Maps, however, works fine. Go figure.
I'm sure there are lots of other more unusual uses for a Netbook running some version of Linux. The machines keep getting better as does the software. And, many of the available applications under Linux give the user capabilities that other operating systems simply can't match, at any price. I can hardly wait to see what the next year brings with new technology.