Saturday, 21 November 2009

Eldy - Computing For The Mature User.

For the purposes of this test, I downloaded and installed Linux Mint 8 RC1 onto an SDHC. I also dressed up as as an old lady.

I decided to take a look at Eldy after I saw a report on the BBC news about computing for the elderly, which mentioned the SimplicITy Project. A couple of days later a post appeared on the EeeUser forum asking for advice on a PC for a 70 year old lady and after mentioning the SimplicITy Project, I ended up trying to find out where the interface came from. In the middle of all this, I wrote a short review of Simplicity Linux, which is not the same thing at all.

The Eldy website is here and you can get either the tar.gz package or the .deb package which, to be honest, is best avoided. It's out of date and because it puts the package into the root file system, you need to run it as root.
So, download the tar.gz, right click it, Extract Here and then move the resulting folder into your home folder.

To run it, open a terminal and enter:

java -jar /home/yourusername/eldy/eldy.jar

When it starts, it won't be in fullscreen and there's some business to take care of. First choose your language. Then, for the purposes of this test, I'm a beginner. With a blue rinse.

Then it's time for some personal details. This is about as easy as it gets. Basically, it sets up an email address and gives you a chat name. You can set it up to use another address later on but, for the purposes of this test, I'll go with the flow. And suck on a Werthers Original while I'm at it.

That was fairly painless. Unlike my hip replacement.

What's next? Oh, yes. The Square. This is where it all takes place and no matter where you are in Eldy, the back button will always bring you back here. I had to set my panel to autohide to be able to see the Back To The Square button. This app isn't really suited to a nine inch screen, however I wouldn't expect older people, who's eyesight is generally poor, to use netbooks. I'll hook up to the telly later and see how it looks.

The Square contains six big buttons for single click access to your email, web browser, chat, video, profile and "useful", behind which is a text editor and a file browser. A help button (which brings up a helpful guide to stuff) and an exit button.

My Profile lets you tell everyone who you are, what you enjoy and you can post your current status.

Chat is easily set up. You just have to agree to the following...

Email really is the easiest thing I've ever used. It's achingly simple.

The web browser is a simple as it gets and because I'm running Mint, I don't need to add any other stuff, i.e. Flash.

Eldy Tv is a quick launch app for watching video from a variety of sites. The only issue here is that it isn't set up for the UK. We can't watch Hulu here and I don't speak Italian.

"Useful" could probably do with being renamed to something like "My Files" or something. I'm not sure why they included a notepad. Yes, it coud be useful for writing letters, but that's what email's for, surely, and you can't open or create Word documents with it. Still, I'm sure they've got their reasons.

Once you spend maybe an hour with Eldy, you forget that you've got Mint running underneath it. It really is superb. It's look and feel are reminiscent of the Xandros distro that came with the Eee PCs, but with bigger buttons and text. And because it's on top of Mint, it's simple enough to switch back to the regular interface and do stuff you can't do on Eldy.

So, it's easy to set up, achingly simple, good looking and, dare I say, for something aimed squarely at the elderly, cool.

Highly recommended.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Adding The Good Stuff To Ubuntu 9.10

Installing codecs can be a challenge for the new user, so here's a quick(ish) fix.

First, we need to add the Medibuntu repository to our repository list. Open a terminal and cut and paste the following:

sudo wget`lsb_release -cs`.list --output-document=/etc/apt/sources.list.d/medibuntu.list; sudo apt-get -q update; sudo apt-get --yes -q --allow-unauthenticated install medibuntu-keyring; sudo apt-get -q update

Then, to add the codecs, fonts, Java, Flash, VLC, DVD playback and other non-free stuff that make the Ubuntu experience all the more lovely, open a terminal and cut and paste the following:

sudo apt-get install non-free-codecs libdvdcss2 gxine libxine1-ffmpeg vlc

It's quite a big download (~200mb) but it's worth it.

Happy days! :)

Monday, 16 November 2009

Simplicity Linux

Simplicity Linux (not to be confused with the recent arrival, SimplicITy Project) is a Puppy based distro.

A recent appearance in Distrowatch's "Distributions on the Waiting List" caught my eye, probably because of the hype surrounding SimplicITy Project (in a subliminal advertising kind of way), and a download ensued at once.

The creator claims that it came about "to make one laptop accessible for my father who was recovering from a hip operation".

Which was nice.

The download was called Simplicity Netbook 9.10 (after the Ubuntu release name), it's 175mb and uses the kernel. The next release is due in January 2010 which, according to the site, will have the (or later) kernel.

And it's creator is a mad Englishman working out of his conservatory (possibly a shed), somewhere in rural England.

I'm thinking Caractacus Potts.

What's in the bag?

So, one download later, I created a live USB (4GB partitioned as 2gb Fat32 and 2gb Ext2) using Unetbootin on my Ubuntu install, rebooted and after selecting my mouse, keyboard and display type, a rather nice splash screen appeared (shame I haven't got a screenshot, it is very nice indeed) followed by the desktop.

First, I want to connect to my wireless, wep encrypted network.  After all, what's a netbook with a netbook distro without internet?  Now, I went through this a couple of times before I wrote this and ended up using the following solution.

This is what the desktop looks like:

Note the widgets on the right of the screen. What's really needed is a wireless widget.  I know this because having connected previously, there was no indication that I was connected leaving me in a state of doubt as to whether I was or not.  So, double click on the Widgets shortcut to bring up this screen:

Then, highlight Wireless on the left and hit the green + icon to add it. Then highlight the Weather and Tasks on the right and hit the red - icon to remove them, otherwise you won't be able to see the new Wireless widget on the desktop. And then hit Apply and close the window.

Your desktop should now look like this:

See the Internet icon?  If you double click on it a window with some shortcuts appears, one of them being Network Manager.  I tried using this to connect to my network, but for all it's configuration windows and boxes, there wasn't a connect button and I ended up closing it, a bit baffled as to how to connect.  I then opened the menu, found, pWirlessNow and connected with that.  To make sure of it, I rebooted without saving anything and just went straight to pWirless, which worked.

So, my advice is to got to the Menu and find the pWireless Wireless Scanner...

Choose your network and hit the Connect button, enter your encryption key (again) and a small window showing your ip address should appear. Close and quit the wireless scanner.

And there we are.  The wireless widget now indicates a working connection.

The desktop, despite the very nice background, is a little too busy for me.  The desktop shortcuts get a little lost.  Making them bigger, having a plainer background would help.  I'm going to use this one, move the icons over a bit and switched the Xfce style from Vista-ish to Xfce Dusk.  

It may be a little dark for some, but I like it.  I'd like to lose the widgets, too, and have a calender and battery and wireless indicators in the tray, but there you go.

So, what else is in the bag?

You get Opera (lightning quick!), quick access to the Meebo online chat client (which opens in it's own window, like a Prism application), Transmission, VLC, Abiword and Gnumeric.  There is also a button for Google Docs, but it's broken.

Then there is all the stuff you'd get with a regular puppy install, much of which I have never, ever used.  It's all a bit overkill for me.  For instance, under the Multimedia menu entry, there are two CD rippers, two audio mixers, two audio players and two multimedia players and then another seven apps.

If Simplistic Linux is going to live up to it's name, much of this is going to have to go.  I see nothing simplistic in having menu entry for a floppy disk formatter in this day and age.

Is there anything in the bag for the 900?

Well, Of the hotkeys, only Fn+F3/F4 (brightness) work.  Wireless works well (I haven't tested wired but I'm pretty sure there won't be any problems with it).  Sound and video (tested with full screen YouTube) are both fine, but I couldn't see any webcam apps, so that remains untested.

So, it's not for Eee users who want sleep/suspend/monitor switching, leaving it for users who want something that runs quickly and has working wireless.

Do I really want this bag?  Is it me?

I really wanted to like this and have lots of good things to say about it.  But, in it's current state, it's just not doing it for me.  I like the thinking behind it, "keep it simple", but it just isn't anywhere simple enough.  This isn't entirely the fault of the creator.  Puppy has always been too much for me, it's menus are horrible with far too much unwanted stuff and it feels disjointed.  Many Puplets work well, Pupeee (Puppy for the Eee) and BrowserLinux (Puppy with Firefox and very little else) are good examples of well thought out distros which hit their targets time and time again.

Simplistic Linux needs to slim right down, simplify the desktop and decide whether or not it's going to go down the cloud computing route.  I'm sure this is what's going on in the mind of this shed-based maniac's mind, but time will tell.

That said, I'll hold on to Simplicity and I'll eagerly await the next release.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Boot Time Reduced!

After writing my last post I decide to install the Koala onto my SSD, replacing Mint 7 in the process.

It was hard saying goodbye to Mint 7 as it had been a rock solid distro and it is still the distro that I would recommend to new users. The Koala's Eee 900 compatibility was just to good to pass up, however, and after warning the missus that it was all going to change, I went ahead with the install.

The install went without incident and, not surprisingly, my boot time has been reduced from approximately two and a half minutes to approximately forty seconds.
I did mention that I had seen forum posts from other 900 users who were having shorter boot times than mine and it appears that all of those users had installed to SSD rather than SDHC as I did.
A quick perusal of the Ubuntu forums pretty much confirmed that users who install to SDHC are suffering extremely long boot times. But it seems to be a bit of a mystery as to quite what's going on to cause this.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Ubuntu 9.10 - The Karmic Koala

I've been using Canonical's latest Ubuntu, the Karmic Koala, since Alpha 6 and have now installed the full release.

Don't Believe The Hype!

First things first. There seems to be a general feeling that this is the worst Ubuntu release to date, Canonical's very own "Vista" moment. I've heard very little in the way of positivity on the forums, but this may be due to the fact that when people are unhappy they become quite vociferous and the happy people tend to keep their mouths shut.

I am one of the happy crowd because it works very well for me on my Eee PC 900.

Restrained commentary...

However, it has to be said that this time around Canonical may h
ave attempted too much in too little time and what was promised hasn't been delivered. The new GRUB isn't finished, nor is the new Ubuntu Software Centre. The decision to replace Pidgin with Empathy, just as Pidging is making good progress with voice and video calling, is a strange one. The new boot splash is all over the place. And the list goes on...

This is the last release before the next Long Term Support release, Lucid Lynx, arrives and I'm begining to believe that Canonical should strongly consider moving away from the six monthly release cycle in favour of a yearly snapshot and an LTS every two years.

Stupid rant...

This would do away with the six monthly outburst of stupid forum questions and blog commentary from users who couldn't wait to upgrade to the latest version and then find that it doesn't live up to their expectations.

That's a snapshot release of a free operating system, you dolt. What exactly did you expect?

Stick with the stable releases and give us all some peace. Please.


How does the Koala fare on the Eee 900?

The first thing to note is that I'm running the regular desktop version from a 4GB SDHC so while it's not quite as quick is it should be, it's quick enough.

I removed Compiz, Open Office (replacing it with just the Open Office Writer), Computer Janitor (replaced with BleachBit and Ubuntu Tweak) and F-Spot (replaced with Picasa).
Then I installed all the codecs I need, Wine (I need MS Snapshot Viewer), Audacious, EasyTag, VLC and Unetbootin.
I then ran BleachBit and used the Applications Package Cleaner in Ubuntu Tweak to clean up any unwanted/unneeded packges.

And so to boot.

And this is my only real gripe...

Two minutes and twenty five seconds from GRUB to desktop.

Pretty bad. But at least it can only get better.

Once it's finished booting, it's lovely. Really. The new tray icons, network manager panel and desktop backgrounds are excellent. It still feels like a work in progress what with the abundance of brown and orange everywhere else, but it's a step in the right direction.

All of my hardware works well (and has done since Alpha 6) and the new video drivers are excellent.

Most of the hotkeys are supported:

Fn+F1 works perfectly, rejoining my wireless network on return from sleep.
Fn+F2 also works perfectly.
Fn+F3 + F4 (brightness down/up ) work and an OSD appears.
Fn+F5 works. I hooked up the TV and cycled through some different modes. It needs configuring somewhere along the line, but it does work.
Fn+F6 is untested. I don't really know what it's supposed to do.
Fn+F7 + F8 + F9 (sound mute/down/up) work and an OSD appears.

I've plugged in my HP printer, my Creative mp3 player, PSP, a Sony camera and numerous other bits and bobs. All detected, mounted and, in the case of the printer, configured.


I've yet to encounter any showstopping issues. The boot time should be considered a major issue, but now that suspend is working so well, I don't bother shutting down anymore. I've read forum posts from other 900 users who have much shorter boot times, so it may just be me.

All in all, for me, on this machine it's an excellent release and I look forward to trying out the Lucid Lynx next year.