If you’ve been following any of my tweets over the last few days, you’ll be aware that I’ve been putting a toe in the Linux water and trying to find a distribution suitable for both my EeePC and my desktop PC. Both are currently on XP, and although I have no desire (yet) to spurn Windows completely, I am in the market for testing out some other options. Linux has a lot of advantages – free, light, quick and open source – all of which make it a very attractive proposition. It has its downsides as well for sure, but with a little bit of experimentation and some technical nouse most of these can be overcome. In my case, a knowledgable friend and Google came in very handy too.
I’ve been through about ten different distributions on both desktop and Eee, and as of this moment I’ve selected and installed my distro of choice on the Eee (it was quite a simple choice in the end) but the desktop machine still remains Linux-free for the time being.
The final choice for the EeePC was Eeebuntu 2.0 which comes in three versions – standard, netbook remix and base. In the end I opted for the Netbook Remix, simply because the interface is a lot simpler to navigate on a small screen with a touchpad than the standard version. The thing that made Eeebuntu the easy choice is that everything works immediately – wi-fi, function keys, ACPI, sound, bluetooth – without needing any tinkering with drivers or suchlike. No other distro I came across managed this feat.
However – Linux being Linux – there were still some things to do to get the Eee running to my satisfaction, so if you want to know exactly what, read on…
Firstly, the Eee doesn’t have an optical drive, so burning the Eeebuntu ISO to CD and running a live session from that was out of the question. Instead I discovered a very nice little program called Unetbootin, which allows you to create a bootable USB stick from an ISO image. Fire up Unetbootin, tell it where to find your newly downloaded ISO and which USB drive to put it on and press start. Ten minutes later, you have a bootable USB stick with your chosen distro on it. This isn’t, however, a persistent install – so there is still more to do.
So the next thing was to get Eeebuntu installed from the live USB onto the Eee’s SD card. I’ve got an 8GB SDHC card in the slot specifically for the purpose of a Linux install – you could use something smaller, but I wanted plenty of space for updates and files. Also, the swap file for Eeebuntu lives on the card as well so the more breathing space the better really. To do the install, make sure your live USB stick is plugged in and reboot the machine. When the Asus splash screen comes up, press ‘ESC’ and you’ll get an option to boot from the USB rather than the primary disk. Choose that option, and soon you’ll be looking at Eeebuntu. From there, select the option to install, and when given the choice, opt to install to the SD card. If the SD doesn’t show up as one of the options, make sure you’ve not got it mounted already. If you have, unmount it and try the install again.
Before you start emailing me about the wisdom of installing an OS onto an SD card, let me stop you there. I know that the constant write cycles to the card probably won’t do it any good, and yes, eventually the card will wear out. But come on, how long will that take in a real-world situation? And even if it does knacker the card, it cost me £9.99. By the time I need another one, they’ll probably cost half that. Can you tell that I really don’t think this is an issue? Good. I’ll continue…
Once the install from USB stick to SD card is complete (it’ll take about 30 mins) then you can go ahead and remove the USB stick and reboot. Again, hit ESC on startup and this time choose to boot from the SD. Hey presto, in a few seconds you’ll be looking at your shiny new Eeebuntu install.
First things first, get the wi-fi hooked up. Left-click on the network icon in the top right, and it’ll show you all the networks within range. Choose yours, and away it goes. Once you’ve got an internet connection, then the rest of the tweakery can begin.
Next thing to do is that all-important ‘sudo apt-get update‘ from within Terminal. This will update all the repositories and locate current versions of all the preinstalled software. I don’t know whether it was just a quirk with my install, but the first time I did this, I encountered an error because one of the public keys wasn’t correct. I shall attempt to explain how to correct it.
The error I got was as follows:
An error occurred during the signature verification. The repository is not updated and the previous index files will be used. GPG error: http://ppa.launchpad.net intrepid Release: The following signatures couldn’t be verified because the public key is not available:
Failed to fetch http://ppa.launchpad.net/netbook-remix-team/ubuntu/dists/intrepid/Release
Some index files failed to download, they have been ignored, or old ones used instead.
You may want to run apt-get update to correct these problems.
After a spot of Googling, it turns out this isn’t uncommon, and is relatively easy to fix. Stay within terminal, and type the following:
gpg –keyserver keyserver.ubuntu.com –recv B796B6FE
The trick here is to type the last eight digits of the missing public key – you know, the one listed in the error message? I’ve underlined the specific bit above. Your public key WILL be different. Capiche? Hit enter, and you’ll get:
gpg: keyring `/home/yourusername/.gnupg/secring.gpg’ created
gpg: keyring `/home/yourusername/.gnupg/pubring.gpg’ created
gpg: requesting key B796B6FE from hkp server keyserver.ubuntu.com
gpg: /home/yourusername/.gnupg/trustdb.gpg: trustdb created
gpg: key B796B6FE: public key “Launchpad PPA for Ubuntu Netbook Remix Team” imported
gpg: Total number processed: 1
gpg: imported: 1 (RSA: 1)
Hurrah! Now we’re getting there, but still one bit to do. Type this command:
gpg –export –armor B796B6FE | sudo apt-key add –
Again, the eight digits in bold need to be the last eight digits of YOUR missing public key, not mine. Hit enter, and you simply get:
Then, try your sudo apt-get update again. It’ll work properly this time – trust me. Then once it’s done it’s business, download and install all the suggested updates. This will probably be quite a lot of files.
Next thing to fix is the biggest glaring omission from Eebuntu in my opinion – no Skype! Again, very easy to fix, so here goes:
Run the Synaptic Package Manager, and once there, go to Settings -> Repositories and click the ‘Third Party Software’ tab at the top. Click the ‘Add’ button, and type this into the box
Click OK, then click the ‘Reload” button. Synaptic will do an update, and once complete, click the search box and type ‘Skype’ in to it. Sure enough, it’ll find Skype for you. Mark it for download, and apply your upgrades. Sure enough, once it has finished, Skype will be raring and ready to go under your ‘Internet’ tab.
Last thing you might need is to tweak Firefox to your liking. For some reason, my install didn’t have a working Flash plugin, so again this is simple to fix. Head over to the Adobe Flash download page (at time of writing http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/) and choose the ‘.deb for Ubuntu 8.04+’ option from the dropdown. Tell it to download and install, and just follow the instructions from there. The last thing to do to get Firefox running just the way I wanted it was to install the quite wonderful Foxmarks plugin to import all my bookmarks.
And that, as they say, is that. A fully-featured, fully-working persistent install of Eeebuntu installed onto SD card for maximum EeePC flexibility. When my wife uses the machine, it just boots straight into XP without asking any questions. When I use it, I boot from SD and indulge myself in some quality open-source geekery. Splendid.