15 Comments

Summary:

No doubt that folks looking for an out-of-the-box computing experience will find the Acer Aspire One very attractive, but I keep coming back to the custom Linpus Lite implementation as a potential stumbling block. Yes, I realize there are plenty of good, on-line resources dedicated towards […]

AceraspireoneNo doubt that folks looking for an out-of-the-box computing experience will find the Acer Aspire One very attractive, but I keep coming back to the custom Linpus Lite implementation as a potential stumbling block. Yes, I realize there are plenty of good, on-line resources dedicated towards making this netbook are more usable machine. And the simple front end does cover up a very efficient Linux operating system. I’m trying to look at the device from the eyes of the target audience though… and that’s generally someone looking for an inexpensive laptop to use on the go. Mainstream users in that audience are going to be challenged; here’s one example of what I mean.

Once you get past the many useful open-source applications bundled with the Acer Aspire One, you’ll likely want to do what I consider a very normal activity for most consumers: add applications. I’m going to overlook the fact that to add apps, you must open a Terminal and configure the AAO for advanced options. This is a must because Acer has included no provisions to add or remove programs on the simple desktop menu. Most folks will get frustrated by not knowing how to do this, but again, I’m going to overlook it because that’s not the biggest challenge in what should be a very simple function. And actually, installing an application from the web is pretty simple, so we’ll go down that path.

I wanted to add Skype to my Acer. Yup, you can argue that mainstream consumers won’t want Skype or know what it is and that’s fine. You could substitute any application that’s downloadable from the web and my example of the real issue still holds true, so bear with me.

So I went to the Skype download page and installed the Linux version for Fedora, as I knew Linpus was based on that build. I clicked through a few dialog boxes and got the app installed. Great! So now you’re saying: "OK, what was so hard about that?" Truth be told: nothing. The problem enters when you actually want to USE the application you just installed.

See, there’s no simple way for traditional computer users to add a shortcut to installed apps onto the desktop. You can move the existing shortcuts within their four groups, but adding or deleting them? Nope. So how then do these users get to the applications that they install?

For starters, they could use what’s otherwise a nifty search feature right on the desktop. Acer included this function so you can search from something on the Internet or on your Desktop, which is essentially a search on the AAO. I searched for Skype on the Desktop using the tool and found 49 items. Uh oh… which is the application? Of course, I know which is the right file based on the "executable" type and exists in /usr/bin, but I’m betting that many consumers won’t. They’re used to a menu of programs to choose from; not a search of files and then figuring out which is the right one.

I know it’s possible to add a shortcut to my Skype application on the desktop with this implementation. Or at least, I know of one way. That’s to open and edit the XML file used by Acer to create the custom desktop. Or you could open a Terminal session and kill the "xfdesktop2" process and start up "xfdesktop-xfce" to truly get into an "advanced desktop mode" and customize your menus. (And even that is hit or miss….) Or you could… well, you get my point. And Acer hasn’t included any documentation on how to add or remove programs; everyday folks will have to Google for solutions and hope they implement them correctly just to get at what I consider basic functionality.

If I sound a little disappointed in the custom Linpus Lite implementation, it’s because I am. Not for myself: I don’t mind learning more about Linux and having fun trying new things. But I’m not the main target market for netbooks. I think of people like my father, my son, folks I bump into at Circuit City and Best Buy… these are the target audiences. By and large they’re going to struggle in my opinion unless they decide to spend the extra $20 to purchase the Windows XP version.

Linux and power-user users won’t have these issues of course… I get that. Again, I’m trying to look at this from the standpoint of the mainstream audience. The issue I’ve outlined can apply equally to any other netbook if the manufacturer does a poor job with the Linux implementation. In fact, while we’ve harped on the limited differentiation of netbooks in the market, I’m comfortable with saying that this is a new and very important one in my opinion. It doesn’t matter to most people that they’re getting a fully functional netbook at a low price if the OS implementation is a barrier to that functionality. Netbook makers have to make the devices easy to use, but going too far in that direction is a mistake in my opinion.

  1. Having shown this device to actual “mainstream users” the thing it doesn’t handle is: iTunes. Of course with an 8GB SSD drive it has two reasons it isn’t handling iTunes. :)

    But when the XP version with 120GB HDD becomes readily available I expect it to sell like hot cakes to mainstreamers.

    Share
  2. Very true on the iTunes point and something we specifically point out in the next Podcast. Stay tuned!

    Share
  3. Linux implementation in netbooks is nothing but gimmick, in order to have more attractive pricing. thats why so many of these custom distro’s are quickly thrown together & then supported very poorly.

    Share
  4. I would describe myself as a seasoned Linux user. I’ve been using (and administering) it for a little over 10 years now, and the thing I hate the most is when some company feels the need to knock together a poor quality spin-off from a mainstream distribution with no attention to upgrades or installing additional apps or long term support options. Yes, I understand that doing things the right way can take more time up front, but in the long run it’s the only real choice. Unsupported forks of distributions will cost netbook manufacturers more money in support and bad press than they could have possibly saved by not doing this correctly from the start.

    As a Linux user I can honestly say that I’d rather see netbook manufacturers put only Windows on these then the half-baked inhouse custom Linux distribution(s) they’re using now. Really, it’s not helping anyone!

    -John

    Share
  5. Bob in Pittsburgh Thursday, August 14, 2008

    I agree wholeheartedly with JohnX’s comments. I had an HP Mini-Note with Linux for about a week in April. I ended up sending it back to HP because I could never get the wifi to work. But I wouldn’t have wanted to keep it even if I had been able to get the wifi working–mainly because the Linux network management tools that were included with the Mini-Note were almost useless. You should have heard the routine the tech support guy told me I would have to go through whenever I wanted to switch from one wifi network to another. There’s no way my wife would have ever taken the thing out to Starbucks if she had to log on as the Administrator, open YaST, change the network settings, save the new settings, enter a few commands at the command line and reboot–just to get a wifi connection. It’s my understanding that there are Linux tools available that are much more user-friendly. But for whatever reason HP did not include them with the Mini-Note. Or perhaps they were there all the time and even their tech support didn’t know about them. I’ve learned my lesson and will stick with Windows and OS X for the time being. Not because there’s anything wrong with Linux, but because my experience with HP’s implementation on the Mini-Note was so bad.

    Share
  6. Well said Kevin. I completely agree with you that this has to be painless. I think Apple hit the nail on the head with their BSD-based O/S on the iPhone. Nobody cares what operating system is running in the background because the interface is nice and adding applications is a breeze. Until these Linux distributions can provide a similar experience, they’re never going to fly for the mainstream.

    Share
  7. I DISAGREE wholeheartedly with JohnX’s comments. These actions don’t occur in a vacuum. It is only the thrown-together, half-baked implementations of Linux that don’t incur a beatdown from MS.

    When ASUS put together something credible, MS was there to apply the pressure. The pressure to Gigabyte caused at least one model to lose its Linux version.

    MS is fighting to maintain its premium pricing on many fronts and has chosen its battles well. You can expect the most desirable machines to come with no Linux option or to announce a Linux option then lose it. For a while, a Linux option will be a bargaining chip for mfrs to get the price of Vista/XP down. This is only a credible bargaining chip if some actually use it and sell some machines.

    From a consumer viewpoint, more choice is more likely to lead to lower prices, not less choice. Removing these crap Linux distros in favor of XP simply results in a more expensive XP. The smart move for Linux developers is to try to strengthen these half-baked distros. The smart move for MS is to try to replace them with more expensive XP.

    Share
  8. In India Acer sells dual core laptops with command line Linux console and advertise their product as “Linux Preloaded”. Who will buy a dual core machine without a GUI? Who will buy a Linux machine without Linux supported hardware parts?
    The basic question is not “why anybody would ‘buy’ them”, but the question is, “why anybody will sell them”. Acer sells them to keep their price low. Most of these machines end up running unauthorized versions of Microsoft OS.
    We, the Linux enthusiasts are the losers. Our favorite OS and our philosophy gets defamed by this action. But unfortunately nothing is there to stop this malpractice.
    The myth of non-userfriendliness of Linux is partly because of this. I have seen those who are new computer users, cannot differentiate between Windows and Linux (with a GUI) and are equally comfortable with any of them, (actually more comfortable with Linux for it’s virus free nature).
    I am not a coder, I am a Linux user, but I am using Linux for last 10+ years. Actually I never used Windows XP. The last Microsoft OS I used 8 years back, was an (unauthorized) Windows 2000 Professional.
    In my opinion, those manufacturers sell their machines with Linux, have no intention to make their product more attractive or productive to their customers. They know those who use Linux will customize their product according to their need and the rest will convert it to a windows machine. So they don’t bother for integrity, usefulness or support for their crippled Linux machines.

    Share
  9. I was inspired by the unboxing to run out to Circuit City and poke at one of these myself and ended up walking out with one. I had the eee and I was very interested to see the new linpus linux on this one. I think that this is one of the better netbook linuxes I’ve seen. I was disappointed to see that the AAO came with FF2, but the upgrade to 3 was easy enough. I really like that they took the time to write in house communication apps. I was very impressed by how easy the email set up was with my gmail accounts. It was faster and easier than even my iPhone.

    When I took my new AAO into work, the first comment when I booted it was that it’s just a big iPhone. I think that’s what they are shooting for with these big icon based “easy mode” linux implementations. All they really need is an app store. Package managers are even a standard part of most linux distros, it should be fairly easy to implement. They just need more programs in the default repo and Add/Remove in the settings by default.

    Share
  10. Linux netbooks are perfect for dummies and advanced users.

    I’m tired of those dummies who install every possible software on their Windows laptops. Eventually, their systems must be reinstalled each year because of viruses, etc.
    Install everything for them, and don’t show how to be root.

    For advanced users, it’s very easy to type http://www.aspireoneuse.com and get answers on how to install popular software and add shortcuts to the desktop by editing one file. There are even videos with how-tos.

    Share

Comments have been disabled for this post