Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Moblin Netbook Remix Reviewed

One of the best things to come out of the competition between the many netbook operating systems is the innovation in interface design to accommodate the small screen and the new computing niche netbooks occupy. Netbooks, for me at least, are predominately used for "on the couch" computing and a hardy computer to take backpacking. This new style of computing calls for a different kind of user experience and each netbook OS has its own way of trying to do this. Moblin certainly changes things up, with its sleek clean UI, minimalist icons and tabbed layout it offers an interesting take on netbook interface design.

Now with Ubuntu 9.10 Moblin Remix you can have a pretty Moblin interface running on top of Ubuntu 9.10. I decided to take the latest release for a spin to see how well the Moblin Remix interface works.

The main Moblin screen combines a bunch of widget like components. On the top left you can see your calendar entries for the day and below it your shortcuts to commonly used applications. The center column contains a list of recently opened files and websites. On the right is your Twitter feed which is cool but could be made way cooler by integrating your Facebook feed as well, something like the way Gwibber does it would be sweet.

There is lots of potential here for tighter integration with social networking services, for example on the "Status" tab you can update your Twitter and Google Talk status. Integration with more networks would certainly make this a much better and more useful feature.

On the "People" tab you can view your Google Talk contacts but again no Facebook contacts.

Ubuntu Moblin Remix also includes the "Software Center" for installing common applications. It works fairly well but is pretty sparsely populated at the moment. Hopefully we'll see more apps in future releases.

The Moblin UI uses a concept of "Zones" which is an interesting spin on the traditional alt+tab way of managing windows.

I found the browser a bit cumbersome but I could see how you would get used to it(admittedly I just installed Chrome after the first day).

One of my favourite things about Ubuntu Moblin Remix is the Ubuntu bit. Being able to have a nice netbook UI but with the application and driver support of Ubuntu behind it is really nice. But in the end while the interface looks better than Jolicloud and UNR(IMHO) it seems less usable. I will definitely be trying the next version when it is released but at the moment I just don't think it is ready to be my full time OS. The main problem with Moblin Netbook Remix is that it is not quite finished. There are some glaring omissions from the current release and the whole thing just feels a bit beta-ish. Hopefully the next release will see some big improvements, in particular better use of it's potential to integrate with social networking services.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Installing Ubuntu(Jolicloud) on Acer Aspire Revo R1600

I recently purchased an Acer Revo R1600 ($249CAD) and seeing as it only came with FreeDos I decided to install Ubuntu on it.
Acer AspireRevo AR1600-U910H Black/White Desktop PC (Windows XP Home)
It also comes with a keyboard and mouse
First I tried a live boot with Ubuntu 9.10 and noticed everything was working except the wireless card(Atheros 5000). The wireless did not seem to be detected at all, ifconfig showed no wireless entries and the network manager did not show it either. I decided to install anyway and see if I could get the wireless working. After a lot of googling compiling drivers etc. I still didn't have working wireless. Seeing as wireless is crucial because I am setting up my R1600 as a Home Theatre PC(HTPC). I decided to give the Ubuntu 10.04 Beta a try. Things were a little better, the card was detected but did not function at all.

At this point I figured I would try Jolicloud. If you are not familiar with Jolicloud it is an Ubuntu variant based on version 9.04 designed specifically for netbooks. It has some great features including an "App Store" and the Ubuntu Netbook Remix(UNR) interface which is ideal for small screens or touchscreens. The thing I love most about Jolicloud is the Hardware support. Basically all netbook hardware runs out the box(and on a live boot) including wireless cards, webcams, graphics cards including NVIDIA and the problematic GMA 500 and it even comes with codecs pre-installed.

I tried a live boot of Jolicloud from a usb stick and all the hardware worked flawlessly. The screen was running native resolution at 1920X1080 and the wireless card was detected and working. After an install to the hardrive and an install of XBMC my HTPC is up and running.

Even though Jolicloud is a netbook OS it scales well to larger resolutions, automatically switching to window mode rather than using Maximus which is specifically for small screens. It still uses UNR at higher resolutions but seeing as I am using it as a HTPC and have XBMC running on the occasions when I need to jump out of XBMC to do something UNR works quite well when using the PC from the couch.

All in all 5 stars for Jolicloud. The installation was easy, the hardware support is amazing, I haven't installed a single driver or codec myself and everything is working perfectly.

Some useful links:

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Configuring the D-link DWA-552 PCI Wireless card for Ubuntu 9.10

When I initially installed Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala on my new dev box with a D-link DWA-552 PCI Wireless card it worked out of the box but experienced frequent dropouts. The dropouts were very frequent(every couple of minutes) and could only be fixed by disconnecting from the network and the re-connecting. After some serious screwing around I installed wicd and the card has worked flawlessly since.

To install wicd simply go to System->Administration->Synaptic Package Manager and search for "wicd" then mark for installation and hit apply. This will remove the default network manager and install wicd. You will then need to reboot for the changes to take effect.

After playing around with wicd for a while I think it is better than the default network manager(although not as pretty). It has a lot more options etc.

Hope this helps and good luck!