Some time back I got an Asus eee 900
, a two pound laptop, for traveling. It's a nice machine and worked well for the trip I got it for, but it has one serious fault—the keyboard. The right shift key is small and next to the up arrow, with the result that when I try to use the right shift while word processing I am quite likely to suddenly find myself typing two lines above where I should be. A further problem is that, because the left shift and the shift lock are small, it's easy to hit the latter when I want to hit the former.
Neither of these turns out to be a problem for my daughter, who uses a fast hunt and peck style of typing rather than touch typing. I have accordingly sent my eee off to college with her—its size and weight make it an ideal machine for taking notes in class—and am considering a replacement.
The improved version of my machine, the 901, has much longer battery life but essentially the same keyboard. The larger versions—the eee 1000 and its direct competitor, the MSI WIND, which have 10" screens instead of 8.9"—have satisfactory keyboards but are noticeably bigger and heavier hence less portable. I already have a MacBook, and although these machines are smaller and lighter I'm not sure they are enough smaller and lighter to be worth giving up its advantages or paying the cost of a second machine.
It looks, however, as though I have found a solution. The Acer Aspire One
is a little wider than my eee 900 but about the same weight. It has an entirely satisfactory keyboard—I think as good as the ten inch machines. And it is less expensive than any of the others, currently $329 in its least expensive configuration.
That, however, does not end my purchasing dilemma (perceptive readers may suspect that I enjoy purchasing dilemmas). The least expensive version
of the Aspire uses a version of Linux and a flash disk. Two other versions, one of which doesn't yet seem to be available, use Windows XP and a physical hard disk (120 or 160 GB vs 8 GB on the flash disk). Linux is interesting, and the version that comes with the Aspire is said to boot in about 15 seconds, which is impressive and convenient. But XP means that I can run World of Warcraft (slowly) without fiddling around with WINE or some other kludge for running Windows programs under Linux, something I tried unsuccessfully on my eee.
The obvious solution is to get one of the XP versions and set it up to dual boot with XP and the Aspire's version of Linux. Doing that should be possible; I'm not sure how hard it is. The very best solution would be for Acer to offer the machine in that configuration. They already have an XP license, Linux is free, so it should cost them practically nothing and I would happily pay for the convenience. I could use Linux most of the time, for the fast boot, lower demand on system resources, and general fun of playing with it, but XP when I wanted to run a Windows program.
All of which leads me to a puzzle and a question. I can find webbed figures on how fast the Aspire boots in its Linux/flash disk configuration (very). I can find complaints about how slowly it boots if you install XP on that configuration—I gather the flash disk comes formatted in a form that XP has a hard time writing to. But I cannot find any figures on how fast the hard drive version boots either in XP, which it comes with, or in Linux, which presumably can be installed on it.
My current plan is to wait until both the flash disk and the hard disk versions are actually available in stores I can get to—the former already is, which is how I know how good the keyboard is. Then I can do the experiment myself and produce two of the three numbers I want. Finding out how fast Linux boots on the hard disk version, however, will require the cooperation of someone who has the hard disk model and has installed Linux, preferably the Aspire version, which apparently boots faster than other versions on their machine.
I don't suppose any of my readers ... .
I found a store with the 120 GB XP version. Boot time is about 75 seconds. I also timed a Linux/flash disk machine. Boot time is about 15-20 seconds.
One commenter points out that I can always suspend the XP, which I gather corresponds to sleeping a Macintosh. I don't know how much power a suspended machine uses; my impression is that if I leave my Mac laptop asleep for several days, it will be low on power when it wakes up. Also, of course, airlines require you to shut down a machine for takeoff and landing, and I assume sleep doesn't qualify.
Using the XP machine reminded me that I don't much like Windows. On the other hand, the Linux machine comes with an interface designed for people not very used to computers. It's possible to get at some additional features of the OS via a command in the terminal window, but I haven't yet found a way of converting the interface to a standard windowed one, similar to the Mac or Windows interface. That may be one reason why some users replace the Linux variant that comes on the machine with an alternative version.
I'll probably end up with the Linux/Flash disk version, but I'm still intrigued by the possibility of a hard disk and dual boot.