24 October 2008

Advent 4211 Netbook

Advent 4211

There is key change happening in the world of end user devices for the Internet. Here I am not talking about the move to smart phones, and the possibility that much Internet access in the future will be from such mobile devices rather than from desktop and laptop PCs - though that is indeed an important trend. No, I am talking about the rise of a new type of devices that bridges the gap between a mobile phone and a laptop - a mini-laptop, or sub-laptop, called a netbook.

This movement may have been started by Nicholas Negroponte's OLPC (One Laptop Per Child), but its effects are now seen in the lauch in 2007 of the Eee PC, a netbook with limited hardware, but a fully functional laptop with a keyboard, screen and trackpad/buttons nevertheless.

The second iteration of netbooks, with many other providers jumping on this bandwagon, were launched in the summer of 2008. I purchased one of these, an Advent 4211, effectively a re-badged MSI Wind, for €365 (including 2 years warranty) from pixmania.ie, including VAT and delivery. This came with Windows XP Home, a 1024x600 screen (but VGA out to drive larger screens if needed), an Intel Atom N270 processor, 1GB RAM, 80GB hard disk. Note that other MSI Wind models have solid state storage rather than hard disks, but I went for the Advent that only came with a traditional hard disk. Note that many netbooks use Linux Operating System rather than Windows, Advent only comes with Windows, but I've since installed kubuntu as a dual-boot alternative.

The good things about the netbook are:

  • It is very light (1.3kg) and small enough to balance on one knee;
  • It is a fully featured Operating System (Windows or Linux) so can run any application that those OSs support;
  • It has a fully functional keyboard;
  • You can open it fully on an economy aircraft table;
  • It is so cheap you could consider buying one for many purposes, for example unobtrusive seating room use;
  • The SDHC slot can take up to 16GB cards that help to make up for the lack of optical drives (CD/DVD).

The main negatives are:

  • No optical drive (CD/DVD)l
  • Cheap tracker pad and buttons take some getting used to;
  • Limited screen size, especially the 600 pixel height, does inhibit some types of applications;
  • Battery life is poor at just over 2h on a full charge - there may be a newer better battery which would be a good upgrade if doing a lot of mobile working.

My conclusion was that it was perfect for me as a lightweight travel laptop. Also it provided me an ideal opportunity to experiment with the use of Linux as a primary laptop/desktop.

I installed kubuntu (Hard Heron) from an external USB DVD, on the machine and came across a number of issues. One was an issue that had bothered me on some ubuntu desktops before. I use IMAP email, and typically I use either Apples Mail.app or Mozilla Thunderbird. Over the years I have optimised my email folder structure using underscores to put important folders earlier in the sort order. the default settings in ubuntu and kubuntu (when I had set my location as Ireland) was for a strange sort order where the underscore files sorted as if there were no underscores. I had investigated this briefly before, and concluded that this was an underlying OS issue, rather than a application issue. The spotlight fell on the "locale" settings. After discussing this with Rotan Hanrahan, who happened to have Open SuSE installed on his laptop, we managed to figure out that what I needed was to set the locale variable "LC_COLLATE" to a value of "POSIX" rather than "en_IE.UTF-8". In kubuntu this can be changed using:

$ sudo update-locale LC_COLLATE=POSIX
and restarting the X-Windows session. This worked a treat leaving my locale settings as:
So that I could access my Euro symbol, and the accented characters I needed for Irish (e.g. my own name), but the sort order I was expecting was restored.

So now all I need to figure out is how to get the sort order fixed on applications like Thunderbird in OS X :-)

Posted by mofoghlu at October 24, 2008 12:20 PM | TrackBack
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