Thursday, 6 November 2008

Ubuntu UMPC - the os your netbook's been waiting for

Right, first off this is going to be a quicky - ooh, er mrs.

I bought myself an Acer Aspire One a month or two back but found the installed os - Linpus Lite - to be a bit basic. Now in truth that wouldn't really have been a problem if it wasn't for the fact that the browsing experience was a bit jerky, with long pauses during scrolling. I mainly bought it for a bit of web browsing away from the desk with some mail and rss reading thrown into the mix. All of which takes place within the confines of the Firefox browser. Sorry folks, yep, I'm into google in a big way so you'll have to pray for my soul.

Blimey, time is getting on and I've not even started the review. Anyway, I've got the 8GB SSD with 512GB Ram version of the One. Now in my humble opinion this spec must be capable of running a browser smoothly but with the Linpus os it didn't seem to be working. So my quest for a lightweight operating system began. With the Acer One's modern hardware it was going to take a modern os. I scoured the Internet looking for a system that was fully compatible. Nothing out there seemed to hit the nail on the head but a few appeared close - even if they did require a bit of tinkering.

So I first tried my desktop os of choice - Ubuntu 8.04 - but after following the guides burnt myself a cd of the Ubuntu 8.10 beta. This installed and the wifi worked but somehow it seemed just a rough a browser ride as the Linpus. I tried all the 'fixes' and tweaks I could find but the feel just didn't hit the spot.

Next up was Mandriva 2009 release candidate 1 or 2 - I can't remember the version - but anyway after installation it didn't feel right either. The wifi worked but the system was a bit too unresponsive.

I began to wonder if I was being a bit too ambitious with my hopes for a smooth running Acer One. Having used an Atom based desktop top that ran smooth as custard I still had to believe it was possibl - even on a system with only 512GB of ram.

Then came Fedora 10. After running through all the tweaks this one was close. The browser ran well. I thought I was there only to discover that Fedora was one of the 'restrictive' versions of Linux. One that doesn't include all the 'necessary' software that a Windows PC can provide, if you get my drift.

So I had to give Fedora the boot - but I kept it as a backup option just in case my search for the holy grail ended in failure.

With the transition into November complete, the newly released Ubuntu 8.10 - the Intrepid Ibex - was officially released out of beta. I was preparing to give it another go when I discovered mention of the Ubuntu UMPC version. Now this gave tingles to my spider senses and I had to give it a go. So I found the image download -;O=A - and made myself a USB boot disk by following the instructions.

I booted the One from the USB and was surprised how responsive it felt. All my previous experience of USB live boots have been sloooooow but this was not too bad. And what's more it looked pretty good. With fingers crossed I ran the install option, answered the questions and sat back as it installed to the ssd. After close to an hour the install was complete and I rebooted.

My initial reaction was that of dismay. The wifi wasn't working and the left hand SD slot was dodgy. Now this all worked in Intrepid beta but in the UMPC version - and I suspect the finished desktop - these important things weren't functional. I didn't want to admit defeat and luckily stumbled across a very comprehensive guide for fixes and tweaks to Intrepid - - and after following the instructions I ended up with a responsive system with a neat looking desktop. The wifi and SD slots were working. As I pen this review I think my search for the best operating system for the Acer Aspire One is over.

I hereby declare that Ubuntu UMPC 8.10 is the os of choice for the One. It's not without fault and the installation could be tuned to include all the fixes in the guide but if you can put with manually fixing the problems you'll be rewarded with an os for your Acer (or netbook) that runs smoothly on minimal spec gear. I will admit that from time to time the system does 'pause' for periods of time but the overall browser feel is one of smooth scrolling and after installing the Medibuntu bits and pieces for w32 codecs and dvdcss, I can view video in the browser without any jerkiness. Result.

Well that's it. Not exactly your typical review but then I'm not typical oh, and I apologise it's dragged on a bit longer than I intended.

I hope you found it useful.

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