My beloved Acer.  It came in a Linux flavor and ended up being XP!
My beloved Acer. It came in a Linux flavor and ended up being XP!

Due to other (more important news) this article has been delayed and refers to my holiday in Poole which I took a few weeks ago.

My holiday was booked, the family organized and everything was set for a week away in Poole.   Or was it?  Could Goblin drag himself away from the PC for a week on the coast?….After much soul searching I finally came up with the answer NO!

So what could I do?  Should I invest in a laptop and probably have to worry about installing and seting up my Linux distro prior to leaving or should I simply get a Linux Netbook?

I found that the latter was more favorable.  I knew I’d need internet access so I decided to purchase a pay as you go broadband dongle to use whilst I was away.

So off I went to Comet.  I paid approximately £179 for a Acer Aspire One with Linux and about £40 for a “3” broadband pay as you go dongle with 3gig pre-loaded.

Unwrapping my box of goodies at home, I first decided to play around with the Netbooks OS (Linspire).  The speed was very impressive and I found myself instantly at home with the familiar OpenOffice and Firefox.  I played a few of the built in games and despite it having an SSD (which contrary to the belief of some is slower than a traditional HD) I was very happy with the operation of my new machine which was to satisfy my computing addiction whilst I was away….  Oh how I was wrong.

The most essential part of my computing away from home was internet, which was why I opted for a pay as you go broadband dongle from 3 which despite assurances from Comet staff, I discover is COMPLETLY incompatible.  No if’s or buts,  it won’t work.

The upshot of all this is, I returned the machine to Comet the following day and opted for the XP version of the Aspire on the grounds that I required the mobile surfing the dongle provided.  This is the basis for the article, and for me, its been many years since Ive relied on a Microsoft platform outside of work.  What packages would I use?  What sort of experience would I have? Read on to find out!

Putting aside the OS for a second, the ACER ASPIRE ONE is a very nice piece of kit, solid construction, not too small as to be inhibitive, and a nice size screen.  Battery life is around the 2hour mark, it has 16gig of SSD and 1gig of ram.  Read times of the drive were not bad at all, write times though gave a slight (but acceptable) delay on tasks you will be accustomed to doing alot faster.

Goblin has a great idea, replace the Linux netbook with an XP one simply so that he can use a pre-paid broadband dongle....Oh how silly was I....Hindsight is a great thing.
Goblin has a great idea, replace the Linux netbook with an XP one simply so that he can use a pre-paid broadband dongle....Oh how silly was I....Hindsight is a great thing.

FIRST THINGS FIRST

Whilst I may have been forced to use Windows, I certainly wasnt keen on using IE and when using it initially (to download another browser) I found out why I should never mention the letters IE again.  Slow, slow, slow (IMO).  Since I was only going to be using this machine for about a week (and considering the good reports I read on Chrome) I decided to go for Googles offering as my browser of choice.  There will be a followup article on the progress of and my experiences with Chrome later since I have now adopted the Beta on my distro.

Next I had to get rid of all “sales” that were trying to get me to purchase Microsoft Office or Anti-Virus software…I have no need nor interest in proprietary solutions from anyone when the same results can be achieved with FOSS (and even on a Windows platform)  On top of this, firewalls? defrag? registry? viruses? all a little alien to a Linux user.

So, OpenOffice replaced Microsoft Office, Works was completely removed and anything else which tried to convince me it was great and that I had to part with cash.

OPERATION OF SYSTEM

Whilst the experience was far better than any I’ve had on a mobile phone, compared to the Linux version, XP crawled.  With an SSD drive, the read and write times are going to be slower than a conventional harddisk, however its no excuse that a proprietary platform can fall behind a FOSS alternative when they are expecting users to part with cash for it. (IMO)  That being said, my experience wasn’t bad but I have to think, if the appeal of the Netbook is being able to do common tasks on low spec cheap hardware and XP performs like this, what on earth is in store for somone trying to use Vista or 7 on similarly cheap, lowspec systems when todays tech labour with 9 year old software?

3 days in I had hit my first malware infection which was detected by my security software, but by that time I knew something was amiss due to infrequent (but annoying) crashes.  Could this be because of Chrome?  I would’nt think so.  Could it be because of hIRC? I would doubt a small IRC client could have such a large effect.

I will stress now that after I had slipped into “home user” Windows mode (which took about a day to bring back the memories of yesteryear) these issues were not too problematic and I expect if I was a regular Windows user at home, par for the course.

Bootup times were outragous.  On first boot it took over 2 1/2 minutes for the SSD light to stop having a fit and allow a reasonably responsive system.  Shut down speed was also about a minute, which compared to its Linspire sibbling was disgraceful.

CONCLUSION

My netbook experience as a whole I would describe far more favorably than a mobile phone surfing experience.  Despite the slower speed of the XP netbook over its Linux counterpart, I found I could be quite productive.  If XP had been the only option in netbooks then I think I would have been reasonably happy with my purchase.    The only reason for my XP experience was the incompatibility with the 3 dongle (and I believed that my holiday away would require it)  In hindsight I should have stuck with the Linspite book.  I only ended up using my pre-paid bandwidth for about 20 minutes on the journey down to Poole and I was able to plug into the existing NTL broadband once we arrived at our destination.

Another thing struck me whilst using XP and that was the acceptance of errors and bugs.  I was quite happy to hard reset my computer without really thinking about it, when in reality its been atleast 2 years since I had a properly functioning Windows deployment in the home (and times a great healer!)  I was also reminded about how Windows (IMO) acts as a platform to sell you things as in the machine had many “special offers”, “60 day free trials” etc that it wanted me to purchase.

The week of Windows has told me many things, for starters I am having difficulty imagining low spec cheap hardware being an option for a Windows environment, since even though XP came out in 2001 it was obvious at times it was challenging my hardware.  What on earth with happen with Vista and 7?  I believe it will either negate the whole appeal of the Netbook (it will “up” the price), or the hardware these platforms are installed on will struggle and provide a very unhappy experience for the end-user.  Thats my opinion.  Id like to hear yours.

One thing I do have to thank Microsoft for; they have reinforced why I switched to Linux in the first place and I am very happy I made the move.   As for the Netbook?  It will be packed away until the next trip away, where at least with having XP on it I will have the choice of using my 3 pre-pay broadband.

During the course of my XP use, the following packages were installed:

Chrome – Browsing (obviously)

hIRC – A very basic but functional IRC client

Thunderbird – For email/newsgroups

If you have any interest on pictures of my trip away, you can see them on Twitpic here , here and here!

Goblin – bytes4free@googlemail.com