The perfect distro for the Acer Aspire One?

The Acer Aspire One, in my view wholly unsuitable for XP, great for Linux!

Around June 2009 I purchased a Linux Acer Aspire One (Linpus Linux) and a pay as you go broadband dongle.  The idea was, whilst I was away on holiday I could keep my net presence, conduct a little blogging and have something to do on the quiet evenings.

It was lucky that I tested the machine before going away as the dongle and Linux did not play nicely together (despite claims to the contrary by store staff).  To cut a long story short, I ended up returning the machine and exchanging it for a Windows XP version.

To be fair to Microsoft, the dongle worked fine.  That would be expected though since it came pre-loaded with Windows software which monitored your usage (to enable you to pay-as-you-go).   I have to say though, from first boot, performance was appalling and I thought at first I may have a defective unit. After speaking with other Acer Aspire owners it transpired that the performance I was achieving was perfectly “normal” and apparently acceptable.

My Linux use told me that this wasn’t normal or acceptable, however it worked and I was leaving for holiday the following day.

After the holiday, that netbook pretty much sat in a drawer.  Later I would get an Android Smart Phone which was more than acceptable for surfing on the go (albeit on a small screen) and in fact when I was away this year, I published articles & chatted in IRC with no problems.

For Xmas this year we will be staying with relatives, since my Android phone is quite happy to tether (note to the few WP7 users out there) or make itself a wi-fi hotspot, I would like to continue my net presence with a screen of a more comfortable size and a real keyboard.  The purpose of this article is to take a look at a few Aspire One “friendly” distro’s and then make a decision as to the best one for my Xmas break and the netbook itself.  It is wholly unacceptable to me to wait around 4 minutes for Windows XP to finish booting and loading ….whatever it is loading, I also refuse to wait nearly 2 minutes for Windows XP to shut down and it’s certainly unacceptable having to spend time worrying about securing, scanning, monitoring Windows XP because unlike Linux, Windows is the target (and victim) of so many malicious attacks/pieces of software.

So where to begin?  I’ll briefly list the specs for the Aspire One (which in my view from previous experience is not suitable for XP) : Intel Atom N270 1.6 GHz, 1gb DDR2 RAM, 16 GB HD (SSD), Intel GMA 954GSE Graphics.

During this review, Ive looked at Kuki 2.8 (399mb download) , Jolicloud 1.1 (696mb download), #!CBL 10 (644mb download), Puppy 5.11 (129mb download), Salix 13.1 (670mb download), Peppermint Ice (latest Spin 429mb download).  But the first question I had was – I wonder who’s idea it was to think that this machine loaded with XP is viable?  If we believe Microsoft hype, Windows 7 is shipping on everything today and allegedly its suitable for “everything” but if XP (which was released around 2001) strains the specs of a piece of hardware released about 6 years later, then I shudder to consider the performance Windows 7 will give on even more recent netbooks.

What am I looking for?

For the purposes of this “experiment” I’m looking for the distro to offer me the following:

1. Fast boot time / shut down

2. Punchy performance (although compared to XP, a ZX81 would perform like a high-end machine)

3. Quick, out of the box set-up.

4. Completely stable.

5. A varied and relevant selection of software defaultly packaged.

So which distro will meet these requirements? Which distro will I settle on? Read on to find out!

Installing Linux on an SSD device?

This is simple stuff, so many of you can skip this part.

Installing Linux distro on an SSD device (with no DVD/CD drive) is rather simple.  For the purposes of this article I used UnetBootin, which is available for both the Linux and Windows platforms.  If you are a Linux user then you should find it in your repo’s, but if not then following the link above will take you to the homepage and the latest version.

Making a LiveUSB is easy with UNetbootin - You should be able to find this in your repo's.

Firstly you need to ensure your USB stick in plugged in and mounted (for Linux users).  Once that is done, it’s merely a case of downloading the liveCD .iso of your choice or using Unetbootin’s built in feature of allowing you to choose a Linux distro from its list (a net connection is obviously required)  In the case of this article we have the .iso so its merely a matter of clicking the box “disk image”, then selecting your .iso file of choice.  Once you click ok, after a short while your USB stick will be a fully functioning “liveUSB”.

The Acer Aspire One allows you to choose your boot preference when powering up by pressing F12 then simply selecting your USB stick.

Your Linux distro will now boot and give you the option to play around with it in a live environment or install onto your SSD.

It really is that easy and using the USB stick in this way allows you to try numerous distro’s without risk of hosing your system.

Conclusions – Who wins and why?

I’ll start with Salix 13.1.2, I’ve used this previously (and deployed it to others) finding it to be a speedy, solid distro.   Xfce is the desktop environment and has certainly been one receiving my praise time and time again.  Unfortunately for the Acer Aspire One, Salix doesn’t work, freezing up the keyboard and mouse on boot.  This may well be a fixable issue, but since this article is based on the premise that I need something “out of the box” and quickly, then Salix had to be left behind.   It’s a shame since Salix is a distro I’ve been impressed with on many occasions.  It should be worth noting though that it may very well perform superbly with another netbook, but as far as my Acer is concerned, lets move on.

Jolicloud 1.1 has been met with much praise.  There have been references to the ChromeOS and how Google should be worried, there are many people saying great things about Jolicloud.  Lets look past the worries and implications of some about trusting your data to the cloud and merely concentrate on what Jolicloud delivers: A desktop environment based mainly in the cloud.

Jolicloud installed and ran out of the box perfectly.  I cannot fault anything here.  For me, it has a very Ubuntu/Android feel to it and performance wise its up there with best of them.  Cloud based services are integrated well within this distro and there’s the option to install a plethora of locally based apps if you like.  I did love the web-based Invaders game which I count as the highpoint to this distro, because I didn’t like it.

So why in the midst of all the praise Jolicloud recieves did it not suit me?  Why when it performs well and installs perfectly did I not instantly fall in love with it?

Crunchbang linux in action, punchy and "out of the box" - Image Source:

The first thing that annoyed me with Jolicloud was I was forced to register.  I could use a Facebook login if I wished, but since I don’t use Facebook I had to create an account and give away my email address just to try the thing.

Once logged on, the desktop displays the apps with large icons, nicely arranged and ready to use.  Chrome booted quickly but then this is where I started to find more things which I disliked.  It appears (and please someone correct me if I’m wrong) that Chrome in JoliCloud does not allow me to have my bookmarks bar at the top of its screen like I have on my desktop.  It appears I have to go into the bookmark manager separately.  Now I did try to confirm this by booting the liveUSB again whilst writing this article and I still can’t find a way to do it.  I would ask anyone who does use Jolicloud to enlighten me here, but since its not the main issue I have with Jolicloud, I’ll move on for the moment. NOTE: This has now been resolved.  The option (which I obviously haven’t needed to enable for a while) was not obvious in the Chromium menus.

The main issue I have with Jolicloud comes out of a matter of personal preference.  When surfing or working online with my Android I am very happy with the UI.  I don’t expect a desktop experience on a phone with a screen the size of a packet of cigarettes.  On the netbook though, I intend that to be a “computer home” away from home.  I like it to not only vaguely resemble my desktop, but also give me the flexibility and control too.   I did not get that feeling with Jolicloud, apps defaultly maximize and appear as an icon in the top left corner of the screen.  There does not seem an obvious way to resize windows and maybe have the option of having a few apps on the same screen.  I did not attempt to look at usage of system resources since it was obvious to me that I wouldn’t be considering it.

I’m sure there is a massive market for the Ubuntu derived Jolicloud, for me though it was far too much smart-phone and no feeling of real control – Maybe that’s my hangup though.  I’d love to hear your views and I should say I did like the way Jolicloud presents different desktop wallpaper to you, a sort of scrollable slide show towards the bottom of the screen, it was a nice touch.  There are quite a few “nice touches” with Jolicloud that probably make it very appealing to some users.  Unfortunately, Im not one of them.  Had I spent more time with Jolicloud, I may have grown to like it (and resolve some of my irritations with it).

Puppy 5.11 was always on the cards to be tested.  I have always been impressed with both Puppy and Puppy Arcade on the desktop, covering this issue many times on OpenBytes.  As was expected Puppy had excellent boot times and in answer to a question posed to me on the TechBytes show – Yes it does bark!  Everything was detected pretty much out of the box, although with Puppy it does seem to take a more “around the houses” approach to setting up my WIFI with various options, install scripts for doing it.  Maybe that’s just me though and it has to be said Puppy has no issues with any of the hardware involved.  Packaged with Midori as default is a “no-no” for me.  I don’t find page rendering as quick as other packages on the same hardware and comparing like for like I found Chromium (unscientifically) flies past Midori.

After playing with the Puppy for a while, this would certainly be a contender for the distro of choice and I found with a browser, an IRC client and a few other utils running, only 16% of the CPU was being used and about 1/3 of the memory.

Next up was Crunchbang Linux, which uses Openbox DE.  Great stuff here.  It flew, as much as Puppy did and whilst I’ve made no attempts at exact timing, they would both blow XP out of the water on boot times.  A plethora of applications available on install and performance being very fast, #!CBL detected my hardware without issue and was ready to operate.   I can’t really fault #!CBL on the Aspire at all.

Kuki 2.8 was next on the list.  An Ubuntu based distro which in the developers words aims to be a replacement for Linpus.  Sadly it doesn’t seem to have received much of an update since around February 2010.  As was stated by the site it was pretty much ready to go out of the box and being yet another Ubuntu derived distro, you can almost guarantee success.  Being packaged with Midori as default, again this was something I would seek to replace quickly and certainly any claimed advantages are not obvious to this Aspire user in the face of Chromium.

Finally, I took a look at Peppermint ICE (September 2010 spin).  Regular readers to this site may recall I’ve covered Peppermint quite heavily, with this being the Chromium based outing complete with Openbox DE.  Peppermint receives high praise on Openbytes not only for its punchy performance (and a trusted Ubuntu basis) but because of its subtle cloud integration which allows users to experience as much or as little of it, without “throwing all your eggs into one basket”.  The result of this is a solid platform with the scope to be anything you want it to be.  Whats unique about Peppermint ICE is the SSB written to integrate cloud based services and apps into your desktop.   We experienced Peppermint One’s uniqueness with Prism and here Kendall Weaver has developed a SSB with Chromium.  Boot and shut down times are good (around the 40 second mark for boot up and 3 seconds for shut-down), everything was detected without fault and there is of course the knowledge that its derived from the solid Ubuntu.

I think its obvious that I am going to choose Peppermint ICE as my recommendation for the Acer Aspire One.  For me it was a combination of performance, cloud integration (in a non-committal way) and also aesthetically pleasing.  It is also rather festive that the distro I settle on during the Xmas break is one with ICE in the title!

During the course of this article I had many suggestions – thank you to everyone who contacted me, I wish I had the time time to try them all.

Goblin – /

You can also contact me on Skype: tim.openbytes

If you are new to this blog (or have not yet read it) please take time to view the OpenBytes statement, here.


18 thoughts on “The perfect distro for the Acer Aspire One?

Add yours

  1. Re Jolicloud, the net centric nature of it, and for that matter Chrome OS, are deal killers to me. I work often enough in places where there is no internet connection, that I need something that works locally (for that matter I often turn wifi off when traveling to conserve battery life).

    It’s too bad that Puppy doesn’t do Opera/Firefox/Seamonkey versions anymore. Midori works, but I am far happier with Firefox.

    As to Peppermint Ice, now you’ve given me something else to play with 🙂

    1. ICE is a real cracker, infact Im currently on it answering you in the living room.

      I think one of the reasons why I like ICE is that whilst I take a rather open mind in respect of the cloud, conversely I want to “wait and see” rather than throw my eggs into the cloud basket completely, ICE allows that as well as being a great distro!

      Kind regards

  2. Not an option that fits your list of requirements, but I settled with a plain install of Arch. Openbox for my wife and Awesome as WM for me. I keep Firefox + vimperator, but I set Chromium as default for my wife. I bought this AAO when the first Linux version was released. I didn’t expect it to last for long, especially not since I had to drill through some damaged screws, holding the motherboard in place, to add RAM. The best upgrade I’ve done is an imported Chinese battery boosting battery time to 10 – 15 hours with wireless turned on. This AAO has easily become my favourite tool for troubleshooting networks.

    Boot: 27 seconds
    Shutdown: 10 – 20 seconds (this depends on how much it has to write to disk before shut down; since these cheap SSDs don’t impress with their speed it can result in a significant penalty)

  3. I agree with you completely… I really should have run Arch. However time of of the essence and I tried many.

    SSD – Youre spot on! I am not impressed at all!

    Kind regards

  4. No offense, but it seems as if you’ve bought into every myth about netbooks: they need a special interface, they’re too slow to run a real OS, they need to be integrated into the cloud, etc.

    I run plain openSUSE 11.3 Gnome on mine and couldn’t be happier. Plain GNOME is sufficiently light for any netbook and its interface is perfectly adequate. I can’t even begin to describe how superior plain GNOME + a good distro is compared to Ubuntu Netbook Edition!

    1. None taken because I haven’t.

      I said I wanted a desktop type experience, I said that my Linux usage had given me an appreciation of how performance should be and I knew that Linux on the netbook would fly and perform well (afterall I did try the Linux version and saw how quickly it operated compared to the XP version)

      Quote “Plain GNOME is sufficiently light for any netbook and its interface is perfectly adequate.”

      Thats fine, I didn’t get around to testing OpenSUSE…

      I’m not sure where you get the idea of any myth I bought into. I deploy Linux regularly, I install it on old hardware, I saw Linpus on the Netbook prior to XP and I have never said they need integrating into the cloud. Infact I chose ICE because it doesn’t force you into the cloud. Most of my needs “on the go” are cloud based. However on my desktop I have a mish-mash of the two.

      Thanks for commenting.

      1. Spot on.
        I love this reply. People keep complaining and comment on which is best, but ultimately its all about choosing the distro that works for their own hardware.
        And furthermore, everybody has their own opinion about “Cloud”, “Browser” etc etc…., but all that matters in the end is that everyone should try on the ‘n’ number of distros available & pick whats best for them.

        The author chose well. 🙂

  5. I don’t own an AAO, but two Eee PC’s and I’ve found #!10 Statler w/ Xfce to be an excellent netbook distro after trying out dozens. I never cared for the “netbook optimized interfaces” as I find them to be clunky and overbearing for my taste. I like using Debian’s testing repository to keep me up to date and as you mentioned already, everything works out of the box with #!. I’ll have to give ICE a try now after reading about your experiences. Good read. Cheers!

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I agree fully about the optimized interfaces, I don’t like them.

      #! is an excellent choice too and one worthy of much praise…..

      Kind regards

  6. Oh and to mention boot to login 21 seconds. Shutdown ~ 10 seconds on the standard internal 8 gig SSD. Got a super fast Super Talent 32 gig I’m getting ready to install in it’s place 🙂

  7. Awesome summary. I was getting tired of Ubuntu on the Aspire (used to call it ‘perspire’ when I had Windows on it) because of Unity. Unity is not ideal on a smaller screen despite the ability to make it auto-hide. Peppermint installed without any issues and boots very quickly. Thank you for this post… fantastic info. You made it very easy for me to decide which way to go and I think this machine now has a few more good years in it!

  8. I have problems with my old AAO so I decided to start from scratch.
    Instead of install again Xubuntu, I will give a try to Peppermint which I didn’t know.
    Thanks for your tests.

  9. what caught my eye was acer aspire one and ssd…I have used Linux Mint for several years now. runs GREAT on the “lilguy” (same hardware the author) …what I like about that particular distro is the team under Clem, with their responsiveness and the way the forum works …with a capital W!!. In installing an SSD in linux there are a few important tweaks, (turn on TRIM) for example.
    Yes, this is a great time of growing diversity in OS’s personal goal is to get a production platform going with non proprietary OS, applications, all running on something not costing more than a 100 bucks. The “old” Aspire One is a step in the right direction…it sort of runs android, not well …but lightning fast!

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