Life on the EEEdge: Daily life with Asus' tiny laptop

6 annoying things (and 3 great ones) about Asus' ultraportable

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On the other hand: The good stuff

I don't mean to be a nattering nabob of negativity. There are plenty of things to praise about the Eee, and I'll highlight three of my favorites.

a) The keyboard design has its moments. Yes, even after everything I said before, there are things to like about the Eee's keyboard. It makes sense if you consider that a keyboard is both a typing instrument as well as a tool for navigating software and Web sites. In those respects, Asus has some very good ideas in the Eee.

Most important, the Eee makes smart and extensive use of the Function (Fn) keys. Using those, users can put the Eee to sleep, turn the Wi-Fi on or off, adjust the screen's brightness, control speaker volume, switch between the Eee screen and an external display, launch the task manager and more. This allowed me to avoid using the touchpad or an external mouse to execute many common tasks.

Meanwhile, PgUp, PgDn, Home and End can be accessed by holding Fn and tapping the arrow keys. In the absence of a scroll-wheel-enabled mouse, that becomes very useful. There's also a key on the lower left, labeled with a Home icon, that takes you back to the main page of the Xandros desktop. I found myself tapping it a surprising number of times.

And while the keyboard may be too small for my average-sized male hands, I will grant that the feel and depth of the keys is pretty adequate.

b) The Eee can transform into a (modest) desktop. Not only does the Eee have a VGA monitor port, it actually has three USB ports -- more than the ThinkPad T42 I use for work (or the 15-in. MacBook Pro I use.). You can easily hook up a bigger, external monitor along with a full-size keyboard and mouse, and still have a leftover USB port for a thumb drive or a four-port hub.

For example, I plugged my Eee into my 19-in. CRT and, voila, was treated to full 1,600-by-1,200 resolution. At that resolution, Web surfing was fast and flicker-free, though watching large video files was rough on the Intel graphics chip; for those, I ratcheted down to 1,024 by 768 pixels.

I was able to use both displays to show the same desktop image. If you want to have two independent desktops, you can do some command-line hacking in Linux. It may not be worth it, however: The maximum combined width of the two screens will be limited to 1,680 pixels.

The Eee does have trouble automatically resizing desktops when switching between the external and internal display, due to the latter's awkward proportions. That meant manually resetting the resolution whenever I switched monitors. That sort of thing is trivial in the middle of all the adjustments one makes to a new machine, but it could get annoying over time.

c) I didn't miss Windows XP or Microsoft Office. I've never had much beef with XP or Office. I consider both to be quality products from Microsoft. But after using Xandros Linux in combination with OpenOffice and Google Documents, it struck me how much I remain loyal to those products purely out of convenience and inertia.

And it's never crossed my mind to swap out Linux in favor of XP on the Eee -- partly because of the cost, and partly because I truly enjoy the Xandros Linux desktop. Besides the fast boot (25 seconds; add another 20 seconds and the Eee will automatically connect with the nearest Wi-Fi hot spot, too), I loved the default Xandros interface, which was intuitive and easy enough for a child to use.

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