Up close with the Eee PC user interface - part 1
November 1st has come and gone, and that means that Asus has begun shipping the Eee PC, a $399 ultra-light laptop that could give both the OLPC and major laptop makers a run for their money.
We're going to focus primarily on the software side of things, but in a nutshell, the first widely available model packs a 900MHz processor, 512MB of RAM and 4GB of solid state memory. It weighs just 2.1 pounds, has a 3.5 hour battery, and a tiny power adapter, making it a perfect machine for stuffing in your bag whenever you leave the house. But it also has a tiny 7 inch 800 x 480 pixel display, which can cause some problems with certain web sites and applications.
For example, Google Reader is almost unreadable in Firefox unless you do a little tweaking. F11 is your friend. Other friends include fullscreen add-ons like FullerScreen and Autohide. We've posted a few photos after the jump to show what a big difference a little Firefox tweaking can make.
Asus has done an excellent job of designing software that makes the hardware as easy to use as possible. The Eee PC runs a custom version of Xandros Linux. The operating system and preloaded applications take up a good 62% of the unit's memory, but you probably weren't going to use the Eee PC for downloading and storing huge video files anyway.
The interface almost looks more like a PDA UI than a computer. There's no start menu. There are tabs with different categories. And you often don't even see an application's full name. For example, to bring up Firefox, you click "Web." But unlike a PDA, the Eee PC can run full desktop applications like Firefox, OpenOffice.org, and Amarok.
Make sure to check out part one of our video series on the Eee PC too.
You can recover a little space by hitting F11, or better yet, by installing an add-on like Autohide to hide the toolbar altogether when you hit F11.
And you can make the screen even more readable by using Google Reader's "U" keyboard shortcut to maximize the reading window.
For basic computing tasks, the Eee PC does it all. It can handle audio, video, and even web video. You can browse, work on office documents, and even play games. In part two of our video series, we'll show you how to install third party applications on the Eee PC.