Asus Eee PC X101 with Ubuntu Linux

The Asus Eee PC X101 is an inexpensive netbook with 1GB of RAM, an 8GB solid state disk, and a 1.33 GHz Intel Atom N435 processor. Those specs are pretty anemic compared to a typical 2010 or 2011 model netbook, but they all help keep the price low. Asus expects the X101 to sell for $199. But there’s one more thing the company has done to keep the price low: The Eee PC X101 ships with MeeGo Linux instead of Windows.

That means Asus doesn’t have to pay a Windows license fee to Microsoft, which saves a few bucks. And as Linux-based operating systems go, Asus probably could have done worse than MeeGo. The OS is optimized to run on devices with low power Intel Atom processors and machines with low resolution displays. It’s also backed by Intel, which manages a third party app store called the Intel AppUp Center. Asus slapped its own name on a version of that app store before loading it on the netbook.

But while MeeGo seems quite zippy on the Eee PC X101, it’s a relatively new project and there aren’t really all that many third party apps available for the platform yet. The user interface also feels a little more smartphone-like than desktop PC-like, and it could turn off some users that may be looking for more of a desktop and taskbar kind of experience.

The X101 is just starting to hit the market in the US, but Riccardo Palombo at Eee PC Italia has been playing with one for a little while, and he deiced to try replacing MeeGo with a couple of different operating systems to see how it performs.

The 8GB of flash storage makes it difficult to run some operating systems. For instance, Windows 7 Home Premium eats up 7.4GB of disk space, which leaves very little room for you to install apps or load media. That said, Palombo says the computer feels pretty snappy with Windows 7, although you may also want to upgrade to 2GB of RAM.

Ubuntu Linux 11.04 also works nicely, and all of the computer’s hardware was recognized out of the box — but the computer apparently felt a little slower with Ubuntu than with MeeGo. The operating system used less than half of the 8GB of disk space.

Lubuntu 11.04 is a light weight version of Ubuntu which uses the LXDE desktop environment instead of the default Unity software. Palombo reports that Lubuntu boots faster and uses less space than the standard Ubuntu system, and the OS feels a little faster.

Finally he tried out Chromium OS, which is the open source version of Google’s Chrome OS. It’s an operating system that provides little more than a web browser, and he reports that while most of the Eee PC X101 Fn keys aren’t recognized by the operating system, everything else works well and the web browsing experience is very fast and reliable.

In other words… if you like the idea of a $199 netbook but aren’t sold on the MeeGo Linux experience, there’s hope. It looks like the hardware can easily support a range of other operating systems if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and install them yourself.

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17 replies on “Chucking MeeGo: Asus Eee PC X101 tested with Windows, Ubuntu, Chromium”

  1. hhi i have samsune n100 netbook and it doesn’t  have no flash. i cant play youtube videos do i need to install meego with google chrome version 1.2? 

  2. Is it possible, if Linux is installed, to change the meanings of the keyboards keys? I needed the right shift key to act as the home key and the right ctrl key to act as the end key. Is it possible to change the translation of the signal in the OS?

  3. I installed stripped down version of Win7 (took only 3GB space with page file 1GB),runs exellent  and boots very fast….

  4. Will this processor be able to play YouTube videos/flash smoothly?

    1. Take a look at the video embedded in the article.  Unlike the last one from that was linked here, this video is in Italian without English subtitles, so I can’t follow it in detail, but there are several places where the reviewer shows YouTube videos and, from the tone of his voice anyway, he seems satisfied.  They looked okay to me as well, but of course we’re looking at a video of a video here.

  5. So in other words, this is what the Chromebooks should have been. Google must recognize that no one in his right mind will pay $500 for something that only runs a browser, no matter how great the build quality may be. And since Windows 8 requires so little resources, I guess we will see many more such netbooks next year at this price point.

    And now that you mention it, yeah, porque the “pro” user it may be worth the effort to buy one and install Chromium. Does it support Chrome the browser?

  6. So Ubuntu uses less than half the 8GB space, and Lubuntu even less, and “all of the computer’s hardware was recognized out of the box.”  Moreover, yesterday you confirmed that I can swap in a bigger RAM module.  That’s what I wanted to hear!  I’ll almost certainly be buying one of these, now that I know that if MeeGo gets in my way I can install an OS with which I am familiar and not have to contend with driver voodoo.  Many thanks!

    1. FYI, I should be getting a review unit in the next few days, so I should have additional details about that access panel and other features soon. 

      1. Just a couple of requests.  Can you check and see if it is using mSATA for it’s SSD?  Also…if you’re testing other OS on it, can you run JoliOS?

    1. I have to agree.  Brad’s comments about MeeGo and “the lack of apps” have never made any sense to me.  Presumably, they do to him. I sort of figured that he’d tire himself eventually with these myths, but I guess I was wrong.

      As mentioned above, the point of having a distribution of Linux is being compatible with the whole ecosystem of Linux software.  This is one reason that Android is such a failure.  It’s not Linux.  It’s a fork of Linux, and as such, compatibility was broken with the entire library of Linux software (even worse, it forked contributions to Linux by pulling developers towards the closed development community of Android).  Speaking of Android, operating systems like Android and iOS are massively stripped down in order to compensate for the light-duty hardware platforms on which they run.  These operating systems do not offer very much in the way of features.  iOS is perhaps the greatest example of this.  It is SO deficient that it NEEDS apps, and Android isn’t much different.  When an operating system is so incapable of its intended usage scenarios that it requires THIRD PARTIES to step in and fill the gaps, then these apps aren’t optional features.  They’re essential elements.  When you take this into account, the “ecosystem” of Android and iOS are actually very small because so many of these “extars” are really more like essentials.  It’s like charging somebody for a few parts of a car and then claiming that you’re throwing in “hundreds of free upgrades” by including all of the other essential pieces that are required to make the car do something more than sit at home in your garage.  It’s a marketing trick.  When a vendor perpetuates the idea, it’s good business.  When a consumer perpetuates the idea, it’s stupidity.  When somebody in the media perpetuates the idea…that can be inferred.  Even worse about this concept of “ecosystem” that everybody tries to celebrate with respect to Android and iOS is the fact that’s its NOT an ecosystem, which implies a system of interdependence.  That’s not really the case.  These apps and their developers are largely independent.  They are dependent on their respective platform perpetrator for SDKs and distribution, but that’s not an ecosystem either.  That’s just a monolithic core off which all of these independent entities feed in order that they may benefit the core even more.  In contrast, Linux is an actual ecosystem of developers and software tools.  It’s a legitimate community in the real world and on the machine.  In fact, “the Unix way” is recognized as having a collection of single purpose tools which can be leveraged together by others tools in order to achieve tasks.  So, if you understand that MeeGo is compatible with most of the pre-existing Linux software out there as well as its pre-packaged forms, then you understand that MeeGo has a huge library of applications available for it that may even be larger than that of Android and iOS when you re-normalize for baseline functionality.  In contrast, if you think that MeeGo doesn’t have very many apps available for it then you probably don’t understand Linux at all.  Finally, this notion of “third party” is a confounding factor.  “Third party” is a euphemism for proprietary, commercial software.  Yes, compared to Android and iOS, Linux doesn’t have as many proprietary, commercial software packages.  The ones that it does have are usually hugely impressive enterprise applications, but the point is that for the types of computing that a consumers needs and expects, Linux doesn’t need any of these “thirdy party” applications.  It already has what it needs through “first party” open source development within the community or “second party” development of each user cooking up solutions that meet their own needs.  Ironically, commercial, proprietary software to make up for a deficiency in an open platform might be “good” in the sense that it at least fills a hole.  By similar reasoning, open software to make up for a deficiency in a proprietary, closed platform should be heralded as a great thing, but neither Android nor iOS really benefit from the same level of open apps as actual Linux.  In fact, iOS app store bans Free Open Source Software covered by FREEDOM preserving licenses like the GPL.  That seems like an even bigger problem. You seem pretty silent on those little omissions, which maybe isn’t a big surprise in an article that you introduce as “chucking MeeGo”.  Speaking of omissions, you spoke quite positively of Chromium OS, despite the fact that it is even more app deficient than you perceived MeeGo to be (which was even worse than what it actually was).

      Kids are care free.  When people grow up, they begin to understand things like all food that they eat affects their health and all software is covered by licenses, and grown ups who take responsibility start making health a priority in restaurant selection and freedom a priority in computing decisions.  Yes, MeeGo doesn’t taste like all of your hyper-marketed, chemical saturated, fast food garbage, but it is an alternative for people who want a similar dining experience with a much healthier advantage.  Criticizing the size of its “a la carte” menu doesn’t ring true with the fact that each combo meal it offers is a nutritionally balances and complete, healthy choice, and you’re allowed to make any substitution you want.  Oh yeah, and the food is free, in every sense of the word. 

      1. I don’t like to sound like a kiss-up, but I think Brad’s statement makes perfect sense, _if_ you consider the same users that he is.  (Whether it’s true, vs. merely not nonsensical as you say, depends on how big the Asus/Intel “AppUp Center” selection is, which I know nothing about.)  For example, take a look at the link provided by Niels Mayer:  the first instruction is “Setup sudo,” and it goes on from there with more command-line instructions to wget this, zypper that, and tar the other.  You, Niels, and I can do this without breaking a sweat; but Brad is talking about consumers here, not haXX0rs, and the relevant selection of apps for them is what they can get without navigating a command line.  Heck, a lot of consumers don’t even have the means to seek out downloadable software from developers’ websites; that’s why a built-in app store is such a revelation to them, giving them much more selection than they’ll find via their only alternative, which is a shrink-wrapped package from a store.  Brad is saying that, for these potential users, the selection of readily-available software in the MeeGo part of the AppUp Center is not as big as they might expect in comparison with iOS, Android, or Mac OS app stores, or the Windows part of the AppUp Center, or shrink-wrapped boxes.  If I understand MeeGo’s access procedures correctly (and from Niels’ link it looks like I do), it doesn’t have synaptic or some other GUI-wrapped access to those Linux repositories that you praise, which means that for such users they might as well not exist.

        By the way, I should clarify what I meant above about “if MeeGo gets in my way” — I’m mostly concerned about the lack of space remaining in the SSD of the apparently-stock machine in that video, but I also worry about just how much sudo/wget/zypper/tar haXXing I’ll need to do to get (say) gcc working.  Ditto for the “driver voodoo” I’m eager to avoid if I install another OS.  I can handle that kind of stuff; I found the fix for the HP Mini 1000 Ethernet dropouts I was experiencing under Ubuntu a couple of years back, and my biggest “pay it forward” contribution to the open-source community so far was to post detailed instructions for an unsupported install of a research radiation-transport simulation code under the FreeBSD operating system.  However, right now I just don’t have the time to search out the keys to any such puzzles if I run into them!  If MeeGo gives me gcc to compile that radiation-transport code, plus enough room for that and an IDL installation, great; otherwise I will have to consider it to be “in my way,” and in goes Lubuntu.  This has nothing to do with whether an ordinary consumer would find MeeGo to be limiting, and I’m sorry if I inadvertently implied such.

      2. The diversity of Linux distributions actually means that not all software runs on all distributions, depending on what libraries and other system attributes are required.

        While software repositories are usually specific to a particular distribution.  Though of course cross cross-installation is sometimes possible on closely related distributions and many apps are available on the different repositories, providing a generally broad range of programs to most distros.

        But even the link Neils Mayer posted emphasizes it’s for enabling “noncompliant apps” to work on MeeGo! From the closely related Fedora.

        In addition to Intel’s AppUp, which also does not have that extensive a selection at this point.

        So to the average user who just wants something to work out of the box, this indeed means a limitation of what apps are available to them to just what’s officially available to MeeGo. 

        altfuels point is also valid that Brad is referring to the average person who will be getting these systems.  Who like most Windows and OSX users would not be experienced linux users.

        While it is possible to expand and port additional repositories and
        apps, as well as enable support for different packaging methods.  Not everyone will know how to work around the limitations and get
        things working that aren’t working out of the box.  Especially if not all the tools to do so are present.

        Even some linux beginners may prefer just to chuck MeeGo for a distro that’s easier for them to use and has less of a learning curve for advance customization.  While advance users may just prefer a distro they are already use to.

        1. Even though I’m poking at the Fossies on the forum, I have to note that MeeGo does have a GUI package management option.  In the Apps tab there is an option to Manage Apps, which gives you a GUI for the Zypper package manager.  I haven’t played with Manage Apps much, so I don’t know how deep the selection in the default repository is, but it’s there besides the AppUp store.  Also you can install RPM-packaged programs from developers websites if you’re down with that.

          I might stick MeeGo NUX back on the one Atom-based computer I have that’ll actually run it at some point, but the half-baked feel of 1.2 kind of turned me off, which caused me to install Xubuntu and I’ve never looked back.  I’d be interested in seeing how the 101 handles something like JoliOS.

          1. You observe that MeeGo _does_ have “GUI-wrapped access to … Linux repositories.”  I presume that you found it in a default generic install using an ISO from the developers’ website; does MeeGo, as implemented on the X101, retain this, or has it been replaced by the Asus/Intel AppUp store?  (“User-friendly” Linux systems seem to have a lot of “power tools” chopped out in the name of not confusing average users; the HP Mobile Internet Experience (MIE) that came on the Mini 1000 didn’t even have a terminal application!)  I haven’t noticed any mention of it in either Asus’ promo materials or any of the reviews of the machine so far.  If it’s there, it would indeed open up those repositories so that they are (potentially) a meaningful option for average users; it should also make it easier for me to install gcc, gtk, etc.

      3. I wouldn’t eat at the Linux Cafe.  All the steaks are either raw or overcooked, and if you don’t like that, you’re told to go raise your own cow.  Also each dish has a hundred chefs, and you could well be dead of old age before any given dish is finished.  If you order off of the Ubuntu Lunch Menu, the combo options will change every time you come back into the restaurant, and for some reason the latest menu includes sauerkraut on every plate, whether you want it or not.  

        As for MeeGo, their burger looks a bit like everyone else’s burger, except that it’ll only stick to blue plates with certain flower patterns made by Intel, and trying to put it on any other plate will eject the food to the floor.

        Finally, when you complain about the food at the restaurant, their loyal customers will tell you that you’re obviously not a connoisseur, and should know that you need to carry your own wide array of spices and condiments about with you at all times, if not just become a chef yourself. While this seems interesting in theory, you soon learn that becoming a Linux chef also carries the chance that you’ll have to build your own oven from a badly labelled box of parts.

        Sometimes, all you want is a damned french fry, and if that french fry costs a dollar, fine.  It means I’m not working for less than minimum wage while I’m trying to learn to grown my own potatoes, chip a peeler out of flint, and building a Fry Daddy out of parts from Radio Shack.

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