My Asus Eee PC's Linux Journey

This previous Christmas, I asked for and was given a brand new Eee PC (701). When I opened it, the comments around the room came quickly, "That's a computer?" and "It's so small" and "What a neat toy." Well, that Toy has been on quite a Linux journey in recent months. And I'm now running eeeXbuntu on the Eee PC. Here's how I arrived at that operating system, along with some clues about where I may go next.

When I first received the Eee PC, it took about ten minutes of charging to get it to boot up, and my pleasure with my Eee was almost immediate.

Before I could even get comfortable on the floor it had booted up and was waiting for my input. "Simple" mode was exactly that- even as a power user, I could very much appreciate the design of the simple Xandros desktop. The tabs, the icons, the speed at which I was connected to some random wireless network in the neighborhood: this was incredible. If I didn't know anything about computers or operating systems, I could turn this thing on and send email or start typing a document in minutes.

After about a day of simple mode, a simple .conf edit and a click and I was able to start up in "advanced" mode. While more advanced than simple mode, advanced mode was really just a standard KDE desktop (even a Windows user would recognize the elements of a KDE desktop). This was my first time with Xandros, and so far I was impressed. Minus a security vulnerability in the SAMBA configuration identified in the months after its release (and easily fixable), the Xandros implementation was done well.

But I wanted something a bit more challenging, something I could learn more from. So I decided to try a different Linux flavor. I moved over to the Eee user site and checked out the forums, where I found many options for operating systems.

Time to Backtrack

My first choice was Backtrack 3 Beta (a Slackware and SLAX based security distribution). I wanted to learn more about security and penetration testing, and Backtrack 3 Beta was the way to go. Using information on the Backtrack forum, I was able to easily create a bootable SD card for Backtrack. Now I was able to play around with my new OS without disturbing the Xandros installation on my SSD.

But after a few weeks of not touching the SSD, I decided to take the plunge and wipe Xandros off and install Backtrack on the SSD as my sole operating system. This went surprisingly well. But while I really liked the Backtrack 3 Beta, it simply wasn't the right choice for my prime OS. I kept the bootable SD card so I could still use it when needed, but I wanted to put something different on the eee's SSD.

EeeDora and Red Hat

Back to Google in search of more alternatives, and I quickly found eeeDora. eeeDora is a Fedora 8-based distribution, which of course is ultimately a spin-off of Red Hat. I didn't have much experience with Red Hat/Fedora, so I figured I would give it a try. Downloading and installing to another SD card was super easy, and as promised, pretty much everything worked upon booting: networking, video, sound, etc, all seemed to work out of the box. This was now my third different Linux OS on my eee PC, and I thought I might have found a winner.

But it was only two weeks later that I was again unhappy. The distribution itself was wonderfully stable and functional...but I simply found it boring. Please don't misread this as a slight against the developer. I think eeeDora did an incredible job with out-of-the-box functionality and simplicity. It just didn't suit my taste.

Time to Work With U

Finally, I came back to Ubuntu. Again on the Eee user site, I decided on eeeXbuntu (Ubuntu with XCFE). Once again, download and install was incredibly easy. I installed it directly to my SSD (removing eeeDora). It boots up a bit slower than my previous OSes.

Once up and running, like eeeDora, everything works out of the box. I was happy to get back to the Debian environment as I am much more comfortable there than I am in a Red Hat/Fedora environment. I feel like I lost a little bit of stability (programs took longer to start and longer to shutdown, plus some hangs and crashes along the way), but gained the familiarity of Ubuntu.

Today, eeeXbuntu remains on my eee's SSD. But...I think I am going to switch it up in the next week. My options now, as I see it, are Ubuntu 8.04 and SuSE 10/11. I know there are many others well-suited for the Eee (Puppy, Arch, Mint, etc), but right now I am sticking with the big guns. But hopefully I will be able to later download all of those other options onto bootable SD cards to see how they fare on my Eee PC.
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