Blogging with a 800×480 screen

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…

14 Responses to Blogging with a 800×480 screen

  1. Jim says:

    How about the new HP 2133 subnote? Even better build quality and higher rez screen + 120gb hdd.

  2. Blood Sushi says:

    Apps like GIMP run impressively well on the Eee if you set up the UI to take up as little space as possible. Obviously you won’t be doing any heavy photo editing with it (not with the more CPU-intensive filters, anyway), but it’s a great machine for its size and price. I’ll definitely be buying the 8.9″ one.

    Now we just need to get someone to calibrate its screen and provide the community with a reliable ICM file. I’ve noticed the Eee’s screen looks a little too “cool.”

  3. paurullan says:

    The new Firefox (upon 3beta5) hides every bar when in fullscreen mode. Maybe you should try it.

  4. John Skillman says:

    I had a Sharp Zaurus and the problem was the 640×480 screen and websites. It was endless sideways scrolling on so many websites it became impractical. 800 might be better but I doubt it. Try resetting your existing monitor, or use the resize feature in the Firefox Web Developer Toolbar for awhile.
    Personally, I’m going to wait for the 11″ version of the Lenovo X300. At least it will have reasonable battery life. Every UMPC I’ve seen so far has been unacceptable in this regard.

  5. Blood Sushi says:

    @ John Skillman: Firefox 3 can resize websites to fit the width of the browser window. Very handy on something like a 800×480 resolution.

  6. jcornuz says:

    Hi there,

    There probably are many other ways to enhance the experience of using a small screen – so thanks for your suggestions. My goal was just to give it a quick go to see if it would be realistic or not – and since this could be part of my photography setting, I felt like blogging about it🙂

    I am leaning toward buying EEE 700 for as cheap as possible when the 900 (and a few other competitors) will be out… We’ll see.

    Take care,

    Joel

  7. smably says:

    I wouldn’t recommend getting the EEE 700 if you’re planning to run anything but the default OS (which you probably won’t, if you want to do photography things), because the 700’s memory is soldered to the motherboard. That means you’re limited to 512 MB. For $50 more, the 4G Surf gives you double the disk space, upgradeable memory, and a slightly faster processor.

    Check out the EeeUser wiki if you haven’t already; it’s pretty good.

  8. jcornuz says:

    Hi Smably,

    Thanks for the tip. I don’t have the details of the models in mind, but my goal was indeed to get the 4gb version🙂 I’ll see what I can find for cheap…

    Take care,

    Joel

  9. smably says:

    Ah, OK. I was differentiating between the 700 (== 2G Surf) and the 701 (4G and 8G models). I agree that the 70x models are better value, though.

  10. Héric says:

    Un p’tit commentaire en 1024×768 et en français pour t’encourager à animer ce blog very helpful et m’indigner du découpage de ta gallerie photo voyages “Sud de la France/Reste de la France” ;o)

    Pour éviter le hors sujet et troller un peu j’ajoute que plus l’écran est grand et moins le portable est portable, non ? :oD

  11. jcornuz says:

    Héric,

    Il faut dire quoi? Paris / Campagne ?
    🙂

  12. Héric says:

    Il y a bien un bouquin qui a fait date : “Paris et le désert français” mais il ne rejoint pas ton découpage nord/sud. Nos voisins allemands avaient proposé un autre découpage en 39-45 : “zone libre – zone occupée”.

    Après réflexion, car ta question était perfide, et pour rester dans l’esprit du voyage mais gastronomique cette fois-ci, je te suggère “cuisine à l’huile d’olive – cuisine à l’huile de tournesol”. La frontière se situant à peu près au niveau de la Garonne.

  13. jcornuz says:

    Hello,

    Je ne voulais pas être perfide:-/

    La réalité, c’est qu’on va volontiers en vacances en Drôme provencale donc pour moi, c’est la distinction entre “vacances en Drôme” et reste de la France.

    Amitiés🙂

    Joel

  14. Colin M says:

    Acer and Dell are jumping on the Atom-based sub-notebook bandwagon:

    http://www.engadget.com/2008/05/29/first-pics-of-acers-aspire-one-eee-pc-twin/

    http://www.reghardware.co.uk/2008/06/03/acer_launches_one/

    The Acer at least has a 8.9 inch 1024×600 display, and is priced to compete with the Asus Eee 700. It also has an optional 6-cell battery, which allegedly will power the solid-state Linux version for 7 hours! I suspect we’re going to see a lot more of these kind of devices – I wonder when Apple will enter the fray?

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