Finally I buy a mini-Netbook...
For several years I've wanted to join the Calendaring and Scheduling Consortium and go to one of their events to get a chance to meet face-to-face with some of the luminaries in the calendaring world, but every time there is an event it seems to conflict with either linux.conf.au or my brother's wedding or something. Finally I've decided I can make the next meeting, so I've paid over the money to join the organisation and I'm travelling to the US next month for 'CalConnect XVI'. With that on my mind when I saw an HP 110 mini netbook on sale for NZD$588 from Harvey Normans I finally flipped over the 'shall I get one' threshold, hoping it will make a good 'travel laptop' for the upcoming trip.
Of course this ultra-cheap model comes with a 16G SSD, which is probably not going to be enough for me, and then just in case I one day want to install the Windows XP Home install that comes with it, I had to get that drive out of it so I could dd it off into an image file on another computer. Once I removed the three screws visible in the battery compartment I found I could lift the keyboard off it and had access to the hard disk. Removing the hard disk I was amused to discover that the SSD was actually just a tiny circuit board inside the HD cover. Clearly the density of these things is down smaller than hard disks and we're all just waiting for the obligatory couple of years of price gouging to end before they're everywhere.
I'll probably buy myself a larger SSD in due course, but for the moment I've installed everything I need into the 16G, and I think the frugality has been good for me. For a start it's meant that I've taken a look at XFCE, and been very impressed - it seems to be a simple polished desktop that just cranks into action at warp speed. I might even switch my main laptop over to it if I still like it this much after my coming week in Cupertino.
It seemed to me that on the small SSD the benefits of a 4096 block size were probably outweighed by the space requirements, so I set the block size down to 1024 bytes when I repartitioned it (using ext4 - if I'm going to experiment I might as well go wholesale :-) and that seems to have paid off. I think I have most of what I want on there to be able to continue working with it indefinitely, and it's still up to less than 2G of used space. Of course I won't be doing photo work on this one, which is where most of my disk space goes on the other one.
So far it is all going very well. Battery life is pretty good at around 4 hours on the three-cell battery (I should see if I can get a six-cell battery for it too) and my only real niggle is the incredibly painful touchpad, with the buttons to the left and right of the pad, meaning that the thumb of my left hand is now learning to do my left-click. One wonders if that touchpad design was ever run past a UI designer but when I'm not actually on a flight I guess I can use a travel mouse with it.
Everything seems to pretty much work on Debian Sid (well, it seems I still have to run the broadcom-sta-* packages to get working wireless), which shouldn't really be unexpected - it gives one a lot more confidence to buy a model which you know was released with Linux on it, even if I had to pay the Microsoft Tax on this one (though one does hope that Microsoft Windows XP Home is a loss-leader, really...)
Next month I might try to follow this howto on running Windows from a USB stick, since Apple demands I run Windows occasionally to apply updates to the iP-hone. No doubt I'll eventually get sick of that pain and jailbreak the damned thing into a useful device, but in the meantime I'm carefully forelock-tugging to the Apple Machine. Hopefully I won't make a fool of myself when I meet the Apple engineers at CalConnect.
Installing Debian onto the laptop was a little baroque, however. Probably my own fault, but after trying and failing to create a working USB key from current d-i nightlies I gave up and dug out an old 100G with a bootable Debian on it, mounted it from my other laptop, deinstalled pretty much everything I could find on it, upgraded it to current Sid and then puzzled my way through the grub2 fiddling I needed to get the laptop to boot with it in external USB. Once there I was able to format the internal SSD and copy the files from that image across onto it, and I was on my way. Not a bad one-sentence summary of four hours of pissing around, but now that it's going it seems very nice.
Really it is so compatible with Linux that it scarcely seems worth bothering to even write a 'this is what I did to get Linux running on my new laptop' post to be honest, but some traditions die hard.