Hardware compatibility is better with Windows... not
January 3rd 2010

One of the (few, but legitimate) reasons given by some Windows users to not switch to Linux is that many pieces of hardware are not recognized by the latter. Sure enough, 99.9%, if not all, of the devices sold in shops are "Windows compatible". The manufacturers of devices make damn sure their device, be it a pendrive or a printer, a computer screen or a keyboard, will work on any PC running Windows. They will even ship a CD with the drivers in the same package, so that installation of the device is as smooth as possible in Microsoft's platform. Linux compatibility? Well, they usually just don't care. Those hackers will make it work anyway, so why bother? And their market share is too small to take them into account.

Now, let's pass to some personal experience with a webcam. I bought a webcam for my girlfriend's laptop, which doesn't have one integrated. The webcam was a cheap Logitech USB one, with "Designed for Skype" and "Windows compatible" written all around on the box. It even came with a CD, marked prominently as "Windows drivers". My girlfriend's laptop runs Windows Vista, and I decided to give it a chance, and plugged the webcam without further consideration. A message from our beloved OS informed me that a new device had been plugged (brilliant!) but Windows lacked the necessary drivers to make it work (bummer!). OK, no problem. We had the drivers, right? I unplugged the camera, inserted the CD, and followed the instructions to get the drivers installed. Everything went fine, except that the progress bar with the installation percent went on for more than 12 minutes (checked on the watch) before reaching 100%. After installation, Windows informed me that a system reboot was necessary, and so I did. After reboot, the camera would work.

As I had my Asus Eee at hand, I decided to try the webcam on it. I plugged it, and nothing happened. I just saw the green light on the camera turn on. Well, maybe it worked... I opened Cheese, a Linux program to show the output of webcams. I was a bit wary, because the Eee has an integrated webcam, so maybe there would be some interference or something. Not so. Cheese showed me immediately the output of the webcam I had just plugged, and offered me a menu with two entries (USB webcam and integrated one), so I could choose. That's it. No CD with drivers, no 12-minute installation, no reboot, no nothing. Just plug and play.

Perhaps it is worth mentioning that the next time I tried to use the webcam on the Vista laptop, it would ask me for driver installation again! I don't know why... I must have done something wrong in the first installation... With Windows, who knows?

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Ubuntu error: the installer needs to remove operating system files
June 18th 2009

I started installing Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.04 in my ASUS Eee PC, and after the partitioning step, I stumbled upon the following error:

The installer needs to remove operating system files from the install target, but was unable to do so. The install cannot continue

I was installing Ubuntu on top of a previous eeebuntu install, smashing the / partition, while reusing the /home. After minimal googling, I found this bug report at Launchpad, with the same problem (and one year old).

As it turns out, the problem was not with the root partition, as I assumed from the error message, but with the home one. Apparently, Ubuntu didn't like the idea that my home partition was JFS (maybe it couldn't mount it, because jfs_utils are not loaded by default). The solution: install the OS ignoring (not using) the home partition, and mount it afterwards.

Shame on you, Ubuntu, this solution is lame!

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Temperature and fan speed control on the Asus Eee PC
March 15th 2009

I noticed that after my second eeebuntu install (see a previous post for a why to this reinstall), my Eee PC was a wee bit more noisy. Most probably it has always been like that, but I just noticed after the reinstall.

I put some sensor output in my Xfce panel, and noticed that the CPU temperature hovered around 55 degrees C, and the fan would continuously spin at around 1200 rpm. I searched the web about it, and found out that usually fans are stopped at computer boot, then start spinning when temperature goes up. This is logic. The small catch is that when the temperature in the Eee PC goes down, the fan does not stop automatically. This means that the fans are almost always spinning in the long run.

I searched for methods to fix that, and I read this post at hartvig.de. From there I took the idea of taking over the control of the fans, and making them spin according to the current temperature. For that, I wrote the following script:

#!/bin/bash

TEMFILE=/proc/eee/temperature
FANFILE=/proc/eee/fan_speed
MANFILE=/proc/eee/fan_manual

# Get temperature:
TEMP=`cat $TEMFILE`

# Choose fan speed:
if [ $TEMP -gt 65 ]
then
  SPEED=90
elif [ $TEMP -gt 60 ]
then
  SPEED=60
elif [ $TEMP -gt 55 ]
then
  SPEED=30
else
  SPEED=0
fi

# Impose fan speed:
echo 1 > $MANFILE
echo $SPEED > $FANFILE

The file /proc/eee/fan_manual controls whether fans are under manual (file contains a "1") or automatic (file contains a "0") control. File /proc/eee/fan_speed must contain an integer number from 0 to 100 (a percent of max fan speed).

I am running this script every minute with cron, and thus far it works OK.

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My eeePC at the EGEE UF4
March 3rd 2009

I just posted about the abundance of laptops in the conference I am attending this week. Now I feel like comenting about my experience with the Asus eeePC 901 I acquired some weeks ago.

I have seen a couple other eeePCs, a black 9xx one, and a 7xx one. Apart from these, most other computers are laptops, not netbooks. I actually expected to find more, and for a plethora or reasons. There are some pretty small Vaios around, but only they compete in terms of size and weight with the eeePC. Not even the Macs. Not even the MacBook Airs that I have seen. Yes, the screen of the eeePC is tiny, but I would hate carrying around those monsters just to have a big screen on the road.

Secondly, my battery can last for 6h of work. Since I only use it during the breaks, and intermittently during the talks (closing the lid to suspend it when not in use), I can easily use it the whole day without plugging it at all. Other people can't live w/o plugs. In 3.5h this morning, I spent less than 30% of the battery.

Thirdly, there is the price. I would expect that the Vaios I mention above cost easily 5-6 times more than my sub-300-euro jewel. The other laptops are probably cheaper, but still in the range 2-3x the price of my laptop. This is not negligible! I have no functionality missing, I can do everything the others do, but at a fraction of the price, a fraction of the space in my bag, and at a fraction of the weight on my back when transporting, and knees on using.

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