April 2008 Archives

Skip Vista - you know it makes sense

| More

With the first service pack now available, I wonder how many businesses are going to be upgrading to Vista?

Not many it seems. Some businesses are not at all keen on Vista. Let's face it, what's the best way to break a modern PC...install Vista. All the tweaks Microsoft has made to make its desktop operating more intuitive, more secure and do more cool stuff means that the processor has to perform more tasks and you need more memory and faster graphics. So a PC that runs XP well, will be truly sluggish if Vista is installed.

It's no wonder Dell and HP and going to continue preinstalling Vista. If you are in the business of selling new PCs, next generation hardware usually equates to greater performance. Sadly, Vista saps all that power, making the new PC perform far worse than the machine it replaces. And for Dell and HP, that's not encouraging, hence their decision to offer XP instead.

Now for business users, why bother with Vista at all. PC upgrades are unnecessary expenses during these difficult economic conditions. Any IT manager attempting to replace desktops when trading conditions are poor, must be mad, or a genius, or both. No one in their right mind should be looking at refeshing the desktop unless the future of the business absolutely depends on Vista. And how likely is that?

Perhaps it is better to defer any decision to upgrade until trading conditions improve. Better still, don't upgrade to Windows Vista at all. Why not wait until the next release, Windows 7, comes out.

Mobile Internet woes on the eeePC

| More

A trip to ExCel in London for the Outsource World show demonstrated a problem I faced with Wi-Fi and the eeePC.

Wi-Fi does exist at ExCel but as I didn't have an OpenZone account I was unable to access the Internet. This meant that the article I had written about the show was stuck on the eeePC with no way of getting it off.

Maybe I could simply copy the document onto a USB memory stick and then upload it from an Internet Cafe. Well the PCs in the business centre at ExCel are charged out at £1 for five minutes, the USB ports are disabled and it would take more that five minutes for me to rekey.

So how about use the GPRS modem on my mobile phone…?

Rebuilding the eeePC - Part 3

| No Comments
| More

As I mentioned yesterday, I now had Advanced Desktop Mode working. Now for the fun bit. To make the eeePC really useful I needed to install software not normally available in the standard Asus package repositories. In synaptic it is possible to add additional repositories using the settings/Repositories menu option and selecting New.

A word of warning...non official repositories may lock up the eeePC. So before installing any new software it is important to make sure the official Asus repositories are given priority, especially if unstable or unofficial versions of a package are available.

I achieved this by using a text editor available via the Launch menu, to create a preferences file.

So to Install Audacity on the eeePC using Synaptic package manager I added the following respository:

deb http://http.us.debian.org/debian/ stable main

One of the problems I encountered was that some repositories were not signed. Linux uses PGP keys to authenticate code, a bit like the idea of certificates in Windows. Using a public PGP key to verify a software repository should be easy, but I found I was unable to do so using the recommended method with gpg to get a public key and apt-key to add the key to the eeePC's database of trusted repositories (trustdb.gpg).

Instead I accessed the MIT PGP Public Key Server website using Firefox to search for the public key, which can then be copied and pasted into a text file (I called mine key.asc). If the MIT server is busy, keyserver sometimes responds better. Once I had found the key in a console window, I typed used the apt-key command:

sudo apt-key add key.asc

This is used to add the key in the PGP key.asc file to the eeePC's database of trusted repositories (trustdb.gpg). The software within the trusted repository can then be installed using synaptic.

Another useful repository is:

deb http://download.tuxfamily.org/eeepcrepos/ p701 main etch

This time the PGP can easily be downloaded here.

Rebuilding the eeePC - Part 2

| No Comments
| More

So I now had the basic machine up and running. This took roughly ten minutes. Again I needed to setup Wi-Fi. Last week I was a complete Linux novice and it took the whole weekend to setup the eeePC. This time I took a different approach which had me up and running in under an hour. The first thing I needed to do was make the eeePC run in Advanced Desktop mode.

To get this going I decided to use synaptic, the GUI-based package manager for installing software. Once you get the hang of it, it's easier to use the synaptic package manager than running apt (advanced packaging tool) at the command-line.

But first I needed to start synaptic. So I opened up a terminal window (ctrl-alt-t) and typed:

run sudo synaptic

Once synaptic opens it checks what packages are installed and what is available Io download from the various Asus eeePC repositories of packages. This takes a minute or so to update. I then clicked on the section button in synaptic to organise the packages by type then clicked on “base system”. Highlighting “the advanced-desktop-eeepc” in the right window brings up info on this package:


To install, I highlighted advanced-desktop-eeepc and pressed CTRL-I (you can aslo click the checkbox to mark for installation) then I use dCTRL-P (or the Apply button) to install. I found an annoying bug here and needed to maximise the window twice until I could see the button to install the software.

When the machine restarted it booted up the Advanced Desktop.

Rebuilding the eeePC

| More

This weekend, after I returned from my trip to Pau I tried updating the eeePC to see if I could install an open source video editor like Kdenlive. The eeePC has built-in webcam video camera which produces OGG files. I thought it would really, really neat if I could find an editor to shuffle around video clips, synch an audio track and add some still images. From the descriptions on the Web, Kdenlive seemed to be a good match.

Unfortunately, due to my inexperience of Linux, the way I had set the machine up last week had made the machine unstable. I tried installing some more software and it failed to boot up. My only option was to rebuild the eeePC from scratch.

To rebuild, Asus provides a recovery disc. I ran this disc on a Windows XP machine and used the second option on the Asus menu to format a USB memory stick for Linux and make an image of the operating system. Once the USB memory stick has been forwarded, the Asus recovery software prompted me to unplug it and plug it back in. Once this had been done, an image of the eeePC was then copied onto the USB memory stick.

I then started the eeePC and pressed F2 to bring up the BIOS menu. I needed to use the disc tab to select the USB drive as the primary, first disk and pressed F10 to save.

The eeePC now booted from USB memory and prompted me to type Yes to reinstall image of OS on the hard disk.

Once installed, the machine is rebooted. I pressed F2 again to make the hard disc the primary, first drive.

A week in the field with the eeePC

| No Comments
| More

I have been using the eeePC for aboout a week. I set it up last weekend and took it over to Pau, South West France for a two-day event with Telecoms Sans Frontieres. The machine worked remarkably well. I was able to produce new written, audio and picture content for ComputerWeekly.com from the event. The SD memory slot made it easy to copy images from my digital SLR camera to the eeePC. WAV files recorded on the CompactFlash mempory card of a Marantz podcast recorder could be copied to the eeePC using an external USB card reader. Email via Gmail was simple to setup in the Thunderbird email client and images and sound files could be uploaded using Firefox.

The eeePC ran Audacity for sound editing and Gimp for editing images. Using a touchpad with these packages is difficult but usable. And both would have benefited if the eeePC had a much larger screen.

But, given its size, the eeePC was usable. Editing sound and images was slower than a desktop PC – mainly due the small screen, the touchpad and the relatively slow processor – but I was still able to upload edited JPEG images and MP3 podcasts onto ComputerWeekly.com relatively quickly.

My only gripe was battery life. I barely got two hours's batter use out of the eeePC.

Telecoms Sans Frontieres - Setting up a telecoms centre

| No Comments
| More

Earlier today I was out at an airfield near Pau in the south west of France to see how Telecoms Sans Frontieres trained its volunteers.

The afternoon involved a simulation where the volunteers setup various pieces of satellite communications equipment to support humanitarian relief efforts.

The picture below showa a telecommunications centre. During a releif effort this would allow aid workers to connect their laptops, access the Internet, fax and make telephone calls using satellite communications.

In order to set up the satellite link, first you have to find the satellites...

Here, the volunteers are busy deploying a TSF humanitarian calling operation project. This plays a key role in TSF's relief efforts during a humanitarian crisis like an earthquake or flooding, where refugees and people displaced by such natural disasters can make a telephone call to tell loved ones if they are safe and whether they need anything. Jean-Francois Cazenave, founding president of TSF says that such a centre can be as important as giving out food and medical help.

"In every refugee camp we have visited, victims come in with a telephone number on a scrap of paper which they have stored for safe keeping in their shoe. Often these people have lost everything and all they want - more than food or water - is to inform their relatives that they are okay, and that they are now in a refugee camp, the children have survived and if anyone of the family has been lost."


In this picture Laurent Petit, an engineer at satellite communications provider SatXPro, checks that calls can be made using a Eutelsat VSAT fitted to TSF's Nissan.4x4. This piece of satellite equipment has a motorised dish and can be installed on the vehicle's roof rack in minutes. The dish and comms kit can all be packed away into two flight cases for easy portability.

Vanuatu - The IT that coordinates emergency response at Telecoms Sans Frontiere

| No Comments
| More

Today I was in the head office of Telecoms Sans Frontiere in Pau, France, which provides emergency telecommunications if there is a major disaster where communication links are severed.

TSF's role is to setup satellite communications to allow aid workers to coordinate relief efforts and allow people affected by a disaster to make phone calles, via satellite phones, to tell loved ones and friends if they are okay and whether they need money, food, clothes etc.

At 15:33 Central European Time, officials at TSF received an alert from the Global Disaster Alert Coordination System (GDAC), a system which sends out text message alerts to alert people of a disaster.

I took the following photgoraphs as news came in of a major earthquake in Vanuatu, South Pacific Ocean, an archipelago of islands located some 1,750 km east of Australia:

Jean Francois Cazenave, founding president of Telecoms Sans Frontiere receives the text message giving notice of a major earthquake in Vanuatu,

The alert shows that Vanuatu has experienced a major earthquake - 7.6 on the Richter scale and there is a high probability of a Tsunami, which could affect populated areas in the region.

Cazenave checks the web and coordinates with his Bangkok office to decide whether Vanuatu will need emergency satellite communications from Telecoms Sans Frontiere.

Customising the eeePC part 1

| No Comments
| More

The first thing is to find the applications you need. Asus has made this relatively straightforward: it provides repositories of programs, applications, tools and code libraries (a bit like DLLs in Windows) that can be downloaded from the Internet. However, some of the applications you need may not be available in the repositories preconfigured on the eeePC so the first thing to do is to add more repositories.

Again, there is a wealth of information on the Web about how to add more code repositories to the eeePC, so I won't repeat all the details but I'll provide some pointers.

Before you begin you need to use CTRL-ALT-T to open up a Terminal window. Then type the following commands which allows you to edit the file /etc/apt/source.list using the Kate text editor:

sudo kate /etc/apt/source.list
and add repositories eg:

deb http://www.geekconnection.org/ xandros4 main
deb http://download.tuxfamily.org/eeepcrepos/ p701 main etch
deb http://www.debian-multimedia.org/ sid main
deb http://mcentral.de/empiatech p701 main

You then save and close the /etc/apt/source.list file.
It's now possible to usethe apt-get command to install new porgrams.

Now I'm off to France with the eeePC. I'll see how it works in the field.

Lost weekend discovering the joys of eeePC

| No Comments
| More

I lost this weekend to an Asus eeePC. I blame it on my colleague, Ian, who had trouble gettiing Wi-Fi going on his. To cut a long story short, Ian needed a working machine for the RSA conference in San Francisco this week and since the Wi-Fi on his eeePC wasn't working, he had to get another machine. And so he left his old machine for safe keeping with me...

I really like the idea of a small lightweight device for writing articles, blogging, Web access and email.. My current setup is an XDA Orbit and a Freedom keyboard, which seems to work reasonably well, although it’s a bit clumsy.

So the offer of a weekend with the eeePC got me pretty excited. The first thing that struck me was its size – about the same size and weight as the Windows CE-based HP Jornada that I used in 1998-2000 for reporting on the road.

However this machine runs Xandros, a version of Linux based on Debian, Now I'm a Windows user and my attempts at learning Linux have been pretty feeble to date. But the eeePC hides it behind a nice user interface that gives you access to useful stuff like Firefox, OpenOffice etc. It's only when things go wrong...or you need to want the eeePC to do more, that you have to start getting your hands dirty with Xandros Linux.. And this is the reason I lost a weekend with the eeePC. I have decided to write this blog about my experience, as a way for me to capture how I set up the eeePC. Maybe someone will find it useful. But there's no guarantee what I've done will work on another eeePC.

Of course, before I could do anything I needed to get Wi-Fi running. There does appear to be a massive eeePC community on the Web and a few searches on Google quickly revealed possible solutions to the (common) problem of Wi-Fi not working.

Basically, you have to setup a new connection and make sure you set Mode to “Infrastructure”; Transfer Rate to “Auto” and configure your encryption settings – I use WEP and the key was in hexadecimal.

The real power of the eeePC is unleashed once Wi-Fi is running and you have a live Internet connection. Now you can start customising it.

Google Docs now offline

| No Comments
| More

It has finally happened. Google has finally realised that not all of us can remain connected to the Internet cloud. Google has released a version of Google Docs that allows people to save files on their local PC when they are not connected.

While Google Docs is in no way as functional as MS Word, let's face it, most people use only 10-20% of Word. So why pay £300 for the full MS Office Suite?

This is why Google's news is interesting. When Docs was first unveiled, I used it for a while but since I'm not always Internet-connected, I was somewhat limited in what I could do with Docs. Now I'll be able to save documents offline and, in theory, resynchronise with an online version when I next reconnect.

It's still not a true alternative to MS Word. But for basic offline/online word processing Google Docs now appears a viable option.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from April 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

March 2008 is the previous archive.

May 2008 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.


Category Archives


-- Advertisement --