I am a fan of affordable technology. I like relatively cheap gadgets, and I like open source. When I heard about Asus’ Eee PC, I took it with a certain grain of salt. I thought that maybe it was just another company trying to take a piece of the pie from the One Laptop Per Child initiative.
Then the more I read about the OLPC, the more I realized that the two gadgets may have been created for different purposes. The OLPC is a non-profit, educational-social project, while the Eee PC is an affordable subnotebook being sold with the intent for profit.
The Eee PC’s price range varies from approximately $300 to $500; within that range you can get a configuration with a 2 GB, 4 GB, or 8 GB solid state drive, and for the 4 GB and 8 GB models, you can opt for an embedded webcam as well. All models come with 3 USB ports, 1 MMC/SD port, and a VGA port for an external display, which can display up to 1600×1280 resolution.
By default, the Eee PC comes with a slightly modified version of Xandros Linux with KDE as its window manager. The Linux layman will most likely not realize that it is indeed running KDE because of a feature called ”Easy Mode” that hides the KDE desktop and gives the user only icons to the main apps in the system.
Note: The Xandros install uses unionfs for its filesystem, which is very common for Live CD installations. However, one of its features is that the space used by an application cannot be freed once that application is uninstalled. So, if you tried to uninstall OpenOffice to free up a few megabytes on your file system, unionfs would still report the same amount of used megabytes on your system.
Because the Eee PC is a full-blown Intel-based computer, there is absolutely nothing stopping us from installing other Linux distributions on it. At first glance, the only catch is the fact that the Eee PC doesn’t have a built-in CD/DVD-ROM, but by using open source tools like livecd-iso-to-disk from the Fedora distribution, we can install live images onto a USB thumb drive and boot the Eee PC from it. That’s where Eeedora comes in.
Eeedora is a Fedora-based live distribution created and maintained by Martin Andrews. Martin decided to create the distribution for power users who are more comfortable in the Red Hat-based environment rather than Xandros, which is Debian-based.
Eeedora is based on the most current version of Fedora (8); it uses XFCE as the window manager; the live image download is currently less than 350 MB; and it gives the user full access to the yum repos for the Fedora distribution, allowing you to install the larger packages like Gimp, OpenOffice, and Thunderbird.
Eeedora in its current state works flawlessly with most of the hardware available under the Eee PC, coming up a little short still with webcam support and resume issues after a suspend. Yet it has been my experience so far that it works very well on the Eee PC.
Also of note–Eeedora doesn’t use ext3. It uses ext2 to minimize disk use, so you should be aware that if devices are not unmounted properly, suspend/resume and hard shutdown could damage your install more frequently than if it was running ext3.
Installing Eeedora on the Eee PC
The following instructions will work on any of the models of the Eee PC:
2. On your Fedora desktop (or laptop), install the livecd-iso-to-disk script.
# yum install livecd-tools
3. Plug your USB thumbdrive into the computer. The haldaemon should automatically mount it, and you will see an icon for the thumbdrive show up on your desktop.
4. Open Terminal and become root:
# su -
5. Find out which Linux device your USB thumbdrive is mapped as:
You will see a few lines on your terminal, and one of them will look like this:
/dev/sdb1 on /media/disk1 vfat (rw)
Haldaemon will mount your USB thumbdrive using the same label it identified the device with on your desktop when the icon showed up. In the case of this example “/dev/sdb1” is my device.
6. Install the image onto your USB thumbdrive:
# livecd-iso-to-disk the-file-you-downloaded.iso /dev/sdb1
Note: You don’t need to format your USB thumbdrive; livecd-iso-to-disk will install the image without destroying your existing data (assuming it has enough space on the drive). But it never hurts to have a backup copy.
7. Unmount your USB thumbdrive and plug it into your Eee PC.
8. Boot up your Eee PC. Press F2 to go into the BIOS, and make sure you make your USB thumbdrive the first hard disk the BIOS sees. Press F10 to save, and the Eeedora grub screen should start up.
9. Once you are into the system, there will be an install icon on the desktop that you can use to install the OS on the actual SSD.
As I’ve mentioned before, Eeedora is a work in progress, and Martin is always welcoming feedback from the community. I’ve had the chance to report a few bugs on it and got almost instant return from him.
You might be asking why would anyone be interested in getting a notebook like the Eee PC. The keyboard is small, the screen is small (7 inches at 800×480), and the storage is minimal. Personally, I see the Eee PC as a tool that makes me a bit more mobile than before. Its dimensions could been seen as a disadvantage, although for my purposes it is an advantage. I even sold my iPod, because now I use the Eee PC as my media player in the car while going back and forth from work. I don’t necessarily recommend it to anyone who uses their MP3 player while exercising, but for a drive, it is pretty great.
The Eee PC has also become a tool in which I started discovering applications in the open source world that I’ve never had the chance or desire to try. Most of us have plenty of storage space install everything from a Fedora DVD and use the “big apps” in our community like Gnome, KDE, Thunderbird, etc. Now with a very limited amount of space (in my case 2 GB), I’ve started playing with XFCE, Wifi-radar, and Sylpheed, among others.
You get a chance to use Linux with a different mindset, from a different perspective.