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Travels with the Asus 901.2

One months on

Recently it occurred to me that using an Eee PC is similar to watching England play Australia at cricket. England has the ability to "snatch defeat from the jaws of victory", and ASUS seem to inhabit that same parallel universe and appear to be doing their level best to besmirch the Eee PC brand. I've just recently purchased a 901 as a upgrade to my original 701. The smaller screen on the 701 was just too hard on my eyes. That aside, when I reflect on the 9 months using the 701 and compare it to the past 1½ months with the 901, I am convinced that the quality of software in their distro has taken a distinct downturn.

Its been 18 months since ASUS announced the Eee PC in July 2007 and during that time practically every PC manufacture on the planet with the possible exception of Panasonic has announced their own take on the ULPC/MID/subnotebook/NetBook marketplace. During this period, ASUS hardware has moved from strength to strength, first with the original 701 models, followed by the 900 in May 2008, closely followed by the 901, 904, and 1000 models. Having personally handles all of these models except the 904, I can attest to their very good build quality.

How good is the eee PC? It beat the Apple iPhone into second place at Stuff Magazine's “Gadget Awards”, Sept. 16, 2008 as Gadget of the year. Quite an accomplishment when you consider the competition: Xbox 360, PS3, and the iPhone 3G.

On the surface, the hardware looks great and they seem to be selling almost a fast as ASUS can get them manufactured and shipped, but then we have to remember:

But these M.I.A. hardware problems pale into insignificance when you dredge up the software history. As early as mid-November 2007, just one month after the launch of the original 701, an ASUS software "update" clobbered simpleui.rc removing the display of "ebook" from the Internet tab.

"...If you take a copy of the original simpleui.rc and copy the correct links into it everything will work, but an update will "spoil" all your work in simpleui.rc EVERYTIME you perform an update until ASUS fixes the problem..." PeeeCeee on eeeuser

and

"It's more that Asus's programmers didn't check their work closely enough, they didn't do it intentionally. It would seem that simpleui.rc gets updated automatically when you run the add/remove program..." Hazor on eeeuser

and it gets better

"Well, I lost the eBook reader after updating and e-mailed Asus about it. This is what I got for a reply."

  Our developers have decided to change the layout of the EEEPC
  interface. This means that they may add or remove buttons when
  you update the EEEPC's software.

  Chad R
  ASUS Linux Support
  ASUS Technical Support

So, I looks like they think it is OK to just remove a program or two when they feel like it. Now I realize that it is the icon that is gone and there is a terminal window command to access the program, but without this forum I wouldn't know that. For the average user that bought an "easy" computer, the program is gone when the icon disappears. boatworker on eeeuser



What the above reply fails to mention is ASUS will make these changes when they damn well please and without a 'by your leave' and as part of an update to an entirely different software problem. Recently (September 2008), one of their updates did a fairly complete search and destroy mission on the "Tabbed Interface" configuration file simpleui.rc on my 901.

I captured a copy of this 'updated' configuration file and regressed all the changes out via an F9 'Restore Factory Settings'.

Hot damn! 30 seconds after I plug the refreshed 901 into my router and I find something/somebody is downloading something. A couple of F9's later and the culprit is found to be xandros-updates in services.sh Another F9 and a quick sudo vi confirms that ASUS starts downloading a stealth update of simpleui.rc within seconds of you connecting your newly commissioned Eee PC to the Internet. Talk about being p0wn'ed! Even a suckage of an unprotected XP installation will generally last longer.

The P901 Boot Optimization update is guilty of the mayham commited on simpleui.rc. Credit where credit is due, Asus messed up, but at least they pulled the patch within a couple of days. More on this can be found on forum.eeeuser.com

On a nearly totally unrelated topic, Vital Wave Consulting has just published a "study" showing that "Windows and Linux offer same TCO in emerging markets". This is yet another attack on Linux in the same style of "Get the Facts". Those of you with a morbid curiosity can find the details here.

Now I can see why Ballmer goes absolutely ape-shit over Google. Google has a significant portion of the search marketplace and a significant portion of the on-line advertisement revenue and Ballmer thinks that Microsoft should be the leader in search and on-line advertisement revenue. But who oh why does Microsoft persistently need to attack Linux and Open Source Software? By every measure available and by every study produced, Linux has an insignificant percentage of the desktop market, and minority percentage of the browser marketplace, and any gains in the server marketplace have been at the expense of Solaris, HP-UX, AIX. Only in the web server environment can we see a clear majority position for Open Source Software over Microsoft's IIS.

Novell ($230M) and Red Hat ($523) have a reasonable revenue streams, but their combined revenue is only 1.47% of Microsoft's (2007 revenue figures). Add to those figures the balance of FLOSS generated revenue and we might even get to 1.5% of Microsoft's. SUN ($8.77B), Google ($16.59B), and Apple ($24B) would appear to be much more interesting targets to attack. As I see it, money must not figure into the reson'de entre the for all the aggression Microsoft manifests against Open Source Software. They must be scared shitless at a loose confederation of programmers, with little or no coherent direction and a diverse skill set and agendas could produce something that is better than the best of Redmond can produce.

Eee PC's made quite a showing at the Surrey Linux Users Group last Saturday (13/09/2008). A couple of 701s, a 900, a 901, a 1000. We had a very lively informal discussion, Q&A that rambled on throughout most of the meeting interrupted by one formal talk/presentation. StephenD was running his 900 and another notebook when I first arrived. At first, I mistook the 900 for a 901 and gazed in wondered at the matt finish of the 900. After all the votes get counted, I find that the matt black finish of the 900 wins over the gloss black finish of the 901.

It was really odd to view the identical screen on both the 901 and 1000 when side-by-side. They have the same resolution, 1024x600, but the 1000 has a larger screen, 10.2 in. vs 8.9 for the 901. The 1.6 inch increase in width in the overall size makes all the difference in the keyboard. I would put the 1000 keyboard up against of it larger laptop cousins. If I hadn't just purchased my 901, I might have been tempted.

Last Saturday (20/09/2007) was 'Software Freedom Day'. alan c organized a stand which was funded by popey for the second year running. Many fun and games were had with the security people worried that someone might trip over a 'Software Freedom Day' balloon and sue Bracknell corporation for a bizillion pound notes. Consequently they were never far away. Usually in pairs, either for the mutual protection or mutual support to prevent their conversion from the dark side. ;-).

These public displays of Free and Open Source Software are always roller-coaster affairs. One minute your mobbed by the crowd and there aren't enough defenders of the faith to go around and the next minute there are six or eight Floss'ettes standing around wondering 'where is everybody?' In one of these bleak periods John W paused for thought.

Of course, it's always good to remember, ask questions, listen -- we have 2 ears and only one mouth. I especially liked the episode when one of us on the stand tried a hard sell, pressed a Ubuntu 8.04 CD into this girl's hand and got a serious lack of interest. "Why don't you want it?". "Because I'm already running KDE4 and it's absolutely GREAT!" :)

...And then I got to thinking... suppose I wandered into another part of the shopping mall and found a stand for "Engine Freedom Day". Yes, we're volunteers, we're happy to do this, there's a whole bunch of teenagers learning motor mechanics, they're well supervised by professionals, and if your engine has done more than 50,000 miles we'll fit a brand new one for you, COMPLETELY FREE! It's more powerful, it's more fuel efficient, it's quieter and it comes with a set of engineering drawings so you know EXACTLY what it does. Take this leaflet, think it over and get in touch with us.

Would I follow up on that? Would I Hell. Would you? :(

So although I hope I did a little bit for evangelism, a little bit to the worthwhile work Alan is doing, I came away thinking I was the one who'd got most out of it, it really is good to get a bird's eye view of the full spectrum of users and a bit more appreciation of what we're up against (and what a fine job MS has done).

Over at the Guardian, Jack Schofield has been eating a bit too much red meat again. In is blog “Windows XP takes on Linux in the netbook market” he does have some interesting figures on the Asus sales. Apparently Jerry Shen, chief executive of Asus said that Asus had hoped for a 50:50 split between XP and Linux shipments, but actually they were 60:40 in favour of XP on the 4 million units sold so far this year, but Jack manages to shrug of this magnificent figure by pointing out that XP is leading the market, even with 6 month Linux only start. All I have got to say is: “Jack, Did you try to buy a 901 with Linux in July or August?”. There were plenty of XP 901s around, and Linux 901s were pre-order only. I found 3 for sale on SuperGPS.co.uk about mid-August and managed to snag one.

In the comments, Jack got a bit riled up by some of the people that held a contrary view to his blog with “It depends on your point of view. Some crazies reckoned the netbook market would be 90% (or whatever) Linux...”. Well Jack, it not only depends on your point of view, but also on your prejudices. One of the 'crazies', Intel CEO Paul Otellini said, “I see much of the activity in Mobile Internet Devices, sort of the evolution of the handset, being centered around Linux". Keep on drinking the koolaid Jack.

And on a closing note ABI Research disclosed some details of it latest report on ultra-mobile devices by indicating that Linux will outsell Windows by a factor of two to one.

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