I am considering buying an Asus EEE PC for quite a few reason (relatively cheap, easy mobility, etc) but I am a little bit worried about the screen size. It only offers 800×480 pixels… I know there is a new model coming up which offers more screen estate (1024×600) but then the battery life is reduced and the cheapness is… well, less cheap. So I am testing a 800×480 setup to see if this would be a viable way to computing. And here is an entry about a concept which is vaguely related to Linux (since Asus distributes the EEE with Xandros) and vaguely related to Photography since the combination EEE + external hard drive could be a killer replacement for a card reader.
I don’t own an EEE (yet) so this is just my ageing laptop on which I am testing an EEE PC screen size. For more about the EEE, see eeexubuntu (a xubuntu derivative with specific support for ASUS EEE hardware), eeuser.com and blogeee.net (in French).
XFCE4: General setup
As you would for that machine, I installed xubuntu since XFCE4 is my Desktop Environment of choice for laptops. However, with that little screen estate, everything has to be configured differently. I multiplied big panels that autohide for easy access to the applications without taking any screen estate:
- The left panel has the main menu + quicklaunchers for the most current local applications.
- The right panel has the networking applications, including a (Firefox) direct access to gmail and wordpress – the bottom launcher will be for Skype (not available for Hardy at the time of writing)
- The bottom panel includes the show desktop button, a trashcan and the iconbox allowing access to the currently open applications.
- The top panel is as small as possible with minimum system info: notifications, email, pager and a clock. It is always visible and on the right: this way it doesn’t get in the way of the applications menus on the left of the application windows.
I also picked the smallest possible window manager theme (meenee) and put the WM buttons on the left (à la Macintosh) to avoid them being under my top panel. I use Clearlooks compact as a theme.
Brightside + wmctrl: active corners
Brightside works fine with xfwm (XFCE4 window manager) and offers active corners. I combined it with wmctrl which allows you to control your windows from the command line (or a bash script). So here is my setup:
- The bottom right corner shows desktop (one of Brightside’s default action)
- The bottom left corner (un)shades the active window – hide doesn’t seem to work… (wmctrl -r :ACTIVE: -b toggle,shaded)
- The top left corner (un)maximizes the active window (wmctrl -r :ACTIVE: -b toggle,maximized_vert,maximized_horz)
- The top right corner is reserved for some kind of exposé feature
The idea is that the left corners manage the active window, the right ones the desktop. The top part shows something while the bottom one hides it.
Conky: system monitor
Adding system monitor in my top panel required the panel to grow to big. So Conky came to the rescue to offer system monitoring (CPU, RAM and network utilization). The wrecker has a few ideas about sane defaults for /etc/conky/conky.conf for XFCE4.
Just around the (active) corner, this allows for easy access to the system state.
Firefox: the corner stone
Obviously, Firefox needs to run and to be usable. Hide all the bars you can find (status, bookmark), add the Hide Menubar extension (hitting “alt” will bring it back if needed) and use small icons. When maximized, you already have a valid browser. Add to it the Zoom Full Page extension: it doesn’t allow smooth zooming (with a slider) but still allows to make-do for some web pages.
A few other ones
One of the nice application that came with XFCE4 version xubuntu Hardy Heron was Ristretto. A simple image viewer that allows slideshows, thumbnails and that’s it – simple, quick and functional. Great job; I can’t resist adding a extra screenshot:
All in all
I have been typing this entry with a small screen and it hasn’t been as painful as I feared – you get used to it if you have to, but switching back to a normal screen feels like “back to life”. Maybe the coolness factor of the EEE will help accepting its screen estate limitation, especially given a relatively low price…