A month with a netbook

Just over a month ago, I bought myself an Asus EeePC 901 netbook, and wrote a blog piece describing my first impressions, including the process of installing Ubuntu Netbook Remix as the default OS. And then I started using the device, and didn’t think much more about it.
A couple of days ago, a friend emailed me, and asked, “I haven’t read any comments about [the EeePC 901] from you. Do you like it? Was it all you thought it would be? Would you buy it again, now that you have experience with it?” Good questions.
First: yes, I like it. I’ve made two trips to California recently, for job interviews and apartment hunting, and each time I took the netbook with me. Previously I’d have toted my MacBook Air, and while I miss Mac OS X, Ubuntu is fine for the basics: email, web access, word processing, blogging, twittering, and so forth. And the netbook is half the size, with three times the battery life, at a fraction of the price.
The latest Ubuntu WiFi works just fine – it’s almost as easy as OS X. Audio is a bit of a pain: the function keys work sometimes, but not always, so I occasionally have to use the volume widget. More annoying is the fact that even when the volume is zero, audio output can still cause the speakers to buzz and click. Odd.
Sleep mode works – mostly. I normally close the lid to sleep, then open the lid and press the power button to wake it. However on several occasions the machine has failed to go into sleep mode; on one occasion I retrieved it from my backpack after a few hours to find that the battery was drained and the machine was really warm! After that incident, I have taken to watching the blinkin’ lights on the front edge of the machine when I put it to sleep; if it fails to go to sleep correctly (about 20% of the time) I open it up and reset it.
I’ve recently been thinking about what gear to take with me when I’m travelling to Shenzhen for Huawei. Both the MacBook Air and the EeePC 901 are plausible: both can support Skype, so that I can phone home. (However the Mac has better support for L2TP tunnelling with services like PublicVPN.com.) Neither machine has a DVD drive, however, so I bought a bus-powered USB external DVD drive from LG which I can use to watch movies on either system.
The size of the EeePC 901 has not proved to be a usability problem. The keyboard, trackpad and screen are all just fine. The only nit is that the space bar seems 1-2 mm too high, and it’s quite sensitive, so that I tend to catch it after typing bottom-row letters. However those who know me will confirm that I’m a lousy typist anyway, so it may just be me.
Would I buy it again? I think so – if not this unit, then an equally light netbook, like the Asus “Seashell”. But the combination of size, weight, and battery life is pretty damn compelling; the 8.9 inch netbook is my sweet spot. It’s a shame that manufacturers seem to be giving up on this configuration.
Several people have asked if I plan to install Mac OS X on the EeePC. Right now, the costs – complexity, problematic networking, screen size assumptions in some apps, GUI real estate usage – seem to outweigh the benefits, so the answer is no. Now if someone came up with a foolproof way of reading a Leopard installation DVD and writing a bootable SD card, I’d be interested in playing with it. Until then, Ubuntu will be just fine.
(And yes, I am composing this on the netbook. Not to do so would be silly, wouldn’t it?)