The ASUS Eee PC has become a very popular sub-notebook recently and has undergone quite a few revisions since it was first introduced. Initially it had a smaller screen size and a much smaller drive capacity, but the more recent ASUS Eee PC 900 has rectified many of the perceived shortcomings of previous models. The 900 has a larger 8.9" screen (compared to the 7" screen of previous models) and instead of coming with a smaller SSD (solid state drive) that previous versions provided (the 2GB, 4GB, and 8GB models), the 900 comes with 20GB across two drives (4GB and 16GB) for the Linux model.
With a comfortable keyboard that — while taking a little time to get used to — works quite well (certainly better than the Toshiba Libretto I had previously used as a sub-notebook), and the 1024x600 screen resolution, the Eee PC is a great little machine.
The Linux version comes with a tailored version of the Xandros Linux distribution. It has an innovative "home screen" that is great for those not used to Linux, as instead of calling applications by name, it calls them by function. For instance, to open Firefox you would click on the Web icon under the Internet section of the home screen. Likewise, to open Pidgin for instant messaging, the Messenger icon is available. Other examples of "applications" are the iGoogle, Wikipedia, and Internet Radio shortcuts, all of which open in Firefox.
Other tabs include Work, Learn, and Play. Under the Work tab the various OpenOffice applications can be found, simply titled Documents, Spreadsheets, and so forth. Under the Learn tab are various applications for children: Paint to load Tux Paint, Math takes you to a sub-tab that can teach fractions, geometry, and so forth. Under the Play tab are various fun programs like games, a media player, photo manager, video manager, and so forth.
With the included 1.3MB pixel Webcam, the Eee PC also bundles Skype so you can use it to do video chats.
To get started with it, ASUS has made the Eee PC extremely simple. Follow the first-time wizard, provide your user name, and you're up and running. Setting up the wireless network is simple, and the basic Xandros distribution gives you the ability to tweak and personalize basic aspects of the interface.
All told, the Eee PC is a great out-of-the-box Linux laptop for new users. With the default Xandros install, everything just works. The boot speeds are amazing, and suspend/resume works great. Future versions of the Eee PC promise to be even more powerful while retaining the same form-factor. And the price point for these devices is great. The SRP for the Eee PC 900 is $550USD, and the initial Eee PC 2G Surf is priced at $299USD. Considering that the default install only takes a little over 300MB, even the 2G model may be sufficient for those looking for a lightweight laptop to access e-mail and the Internet.
Vincent Danen works on the Red Hat Security Response Team and lives in Canada. He has been writing about and developing on Linux for over 10 years and is a veteran Mac user.