Falling markets

My first computer, a Sinclair ZX81, cost £69.95. Since then, every computer I’ve owned has cost more – usually substantially more. Until today.

Today I bought a new laptop for £179 inc. VAT, which in real terms is less than my ZX81 of 27 years ago. Progress at last! And this one I didn’t have to plug into a cassette deck and an elderly black-and-white TV!

It’s an Acer Aspire One, and I have to say that, so far, I’m really impressed. It runs OpenOffice, Firefox, Thunderbird and Skype very nicely, and it includes a few things like a camera and microphone that work remarkably well – I’ve just had a video-Skype call with my pal Jason while walking around the house.


Of course, it has some limitations – it boots up very much faster than any Windows machine I’ve ever seen but it’s not like a Mac’s almost instantaneous wake-up from sleep. I couldn’t write this post on it but only because it can’t read the RAW-format images from my SLR, and I couldn’t watch movie trailers on the Apple site because you can’t get Quicktime for Linux. But the number of things it can do rather well are remarkable, and I could happily survive with it for a weekend when I didn’t want to carry anything heavier, or use it to catch up on news at the breakfast table.

It may not be a Mac, but it’s certainly not a ZX81!

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Congrats! I liked mine a lot (even though I eventually returned it and got an Eee 901 for a quieter fan, twice the battery life and the sake of uniformity with other netbooks I got for my parents and family).

If you feel the urge to tinker, I have a TiddlyWiki file over at http://the.taoofmac.com/space/Acer/Aspire%20One with my notes (they might be a bit outdated, but a quick look will give you an idea of what’s possible).

Oh, and you might want to Google for external video tweaks if you want to do presentations on it – exporting PDFs from Keynote will work fine with Adobe Reader in full screen mode, but the external output will be 1024×600 unless you tweak it – if you get one of those USB remotes that act as an external keyboard with PgUp/Dn keys, it will work swimmingly and save you the trouble of carting the MacBook around.

Comparing the AA1 with the Eee 901, I’d say that if you’re happy with the desktop environment (I was, but some people aren’t), then it’s a “better” (as in better designed, built and integrated) choice. It is the way all Linux systems ought to work – without glitches or fuss.

Me, I’m still trying to get Ubuntu on the Eee to work as smoothly as the Linpus install on the AA1. Only the most diehard Ubuntu users can claim it to be “perfect” with a straight face.

Thanks Rui – useful hints and a useful page!


Couldn’t view RAW files? You need dcraw. How easy is it to install new software?

Welcome to the sensible Acer Aspire One owners club!

Mine’s running Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid Ibex, which I’d recommend upgrading to once it’s out of beta – it took a small amount of fiddling to speed it up, but works fine, and clearly better than the slightly baffling Linpus OS. Battery life is similar.

Quicktime support is available via VLC, which plays almost everything; CinePaint, RAWStudio and UFRaw al deal with RAW files fine – the latter is a plugin for the rather excellent Gimp photoshop-a-like.

Just a note that adding additional memory isn’t much fun. You need to open the unit up -completely-…

I must say I was a big fan of yours right around the turn of the century. A few months ago, one of my colleagues started sharing your posts in Google Reader, and I’m happy to have run across you again. My first computer was the US brother of yours, the Timex Sinclair 1000. Mine still works, but some of the keys are dead no thanks to the horrid ribbon cable they used internally.

I’m keeping a keen eye on the so-called “netbook” market, but for the time being I’ve been happy using one of the last, most-powerful clamshell “Palmtop PCs” made: an HP Jornada 720 running jLime Linux. It’s got half the RAM and half the CPU of the entry-level eeePC, but for quick tasks like SSH, web-mail, or tunneling a VNC session (thanks for helping with VNC, BTW) it’s just right. It also goes about 20 hours on a charge. If I didn’t have this thing, I’d probably have splurged on a netbook by now.

Hope you don’t mind if I posted my own little “where qsf is now” article. Keep the good stuff coming!

James – many thanks – I’ll have a look at that. Are you running the Ubuntu Netbook Remix?

Ax0n – many thanks – I’m flattered!

It is now almost impossible to buy one of these. There would seem to be a global shortage of 110L, a total lack of Netbooks for sale running Linux, and a gut of >£250 “netbooks” with XP and 160GB (-7%) whirrly mechanical drives.

[…] got an Acer Aspire netbook. So has Dave Winer, who is not impressed by the way Steve Jobs poured cold water on the whole […]

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