My Aspire One Page

This page is a jumbled work in progress. Pardon the mess and please check back for updated content.

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My Acer Aspire One presently has Windows XP and Scientific Linux 5.4 5.5 installed on it. I had given up running Linux on it altogether due to timeout issues with the wireless card which I’ve narrowed down to the Linux ath5k driver, the newer 80211 stack, wpa_supplicant, or a combination of those things. In a nutshell, the card would suddenly become undetected after a few hours connected to a WPA-encrypted router; the problem would typically persist despite efforts to reboot into either Linux or Windows.

I decided to give SL, a Red Hat Enterprise Linux clone, a good look on the Aspire One because it’s supposedly much more stable and refined than most Linux distributions.

After a series of tests run from the live CD version (USB stick), I found that its wireless performance was satisfactory enough to install. I installed the Gnome version of the live CD.

Installation

I installed SL54 live CD (Gnome version) to hard drive via USB. The live CD doesn’t use the anaconda installer; use the netinstall or CD sets if you want that. The install feature is found in System – Administration – Install to Hard Drive.

The process is relatively easy if you plan ahead. I already had partitions set up for Linux from previous installs. You need at least 2.5 GB of space for the Gnome live CD version to install. The installer also recommends setting up a swap partition. Yours will need to be large (a MB or more) if you’re going to suspend.

Filesystems from the live CD are ext2, ext3, or xfs. There is no option for installing jfs, reiserfs, etc., but additional partitions can be configured with the appropriate tools after installation. Again, use the net install, CD set, or DVD if you want something not offered on the live CD/DVD.

GRUB will install where you tell it. The installer will present options for every disk detected. As SL54 was running from a USB stick (which was /dev/sdb) and I knew I wanted it installed on /dev/sda (my hard drive), the choice was easy. If you mess this up, you will probably have to manually do it. GRUB re-installed on your USB stick won’t do you much good when you want to boot.

There’s also a prompt to set the root user password. A default user (sluser) will be set up for you. See below for managing user accounts.

It takes only a few minutes to install. You’ll be prompted when it’s finished to hit enter to close the terminal window in which you’ll see the installation process.

Configuration Notes

If everything went correctly and GRUB installed to the correct disk, you’ll boot into a Scientific Linux GRUB menu. Mine was properly set up with Windows detected. I booted into SL54 and got to gdm. I logged in as root and entered my root password.

Wireless was detected and I was notified of wireless networks. I set up to connect to my router and was quickly online.

I had two things I wanted to take care of before anything else. First, update the system. Second, set up appropriate user accounts.

Updating is easy and straightforward. I ran “yum update” and upgraded 50-something packages.

I didn’t want the default sluser account set up. I deleted it and the sluser group. I then configured sudo (visudo) to include group wheel. I set up my own user account and  group. I changed the UID and GID for my new user manually by editing /etc/passwd and /etc/group. I finally made sure my /home directory’s permissions were correct with ls -aln (which I had to correct by chown -R XXX.XXX /home/username).

Then I was able to reboot and use my new login and my updated kernel, which was now the default in the GRUB menu.

I had a few tweaks to make. I noted there was a stall before gdm loaded while wired ethernet device eth0 (RTL8101E/RTL8102E PCI Express Fast Ethernet controller) attempted to connect to a network. Since I doubt I’ll ever wire this baby up, I edited /etc/sysconfig/networking/devices/ifcfg-eth0 to change ONBOOT=yes  to ONBOOT=no. No more eth0 connection delays.

I also wanted to change the hostname from the default “slinux” to the hostname I’ve used for this netbook since I got it. I edited the line in /etc/hosts containing localhost to include the new hostname. I then edited /etc/sysconfig/network to change slinux to my AA1’s hostname.

Then I turned my attention to configuring and disabling services. I don’t connect this to a printer all the time and prefer to run cupsd as-needed rather than all the time. The same applies to Bluetooth, so I turned that off and disabled it in my default runlevel. I have no need for other services set to run by default, including avahi, smartcard daemon, etc.

Hardware Notes

This is a quick review of hardware on the Aspire One and status of support under Scientific Linux.

  • video – X was properly configured and has been flawless
  • audio – zero issues, headphones jack works properly, external microphone works (note: mp3 codecs installed from live CD)
  • onboard microphone – works properly
  • Synaptics mousepad – set up out of box to include tapping and scrolling
  • left-side SD card reader – SD card must be inserted at boot to function, but then it can be hotplugged, etc. (have not tried right side reader but have no need for using two SD cards simultaneously)
  • USB ports – no issues (note: USB card adapter works if user forgets to insert SD card in left reader at boot)
  • video out – functions properly
  • suspend, hibernate, resume – no issues yet
  • wireless – I have yet to have any weirdness I’d experienced previously with more recent kernels (ath5k + WPA, etc.)
  • Acer onboard functions – everything I tried has worked, including disabling the Synaptics pad, adjusting audio, and adjusting screen brightness (haven’t tried disabling wireless via the switch on front)
  • power-related events – the Gnome battery monitor works and properly notes when the AA1 is plugged in, on battery, or is nearly discharged and needs to shut down; everything functions as set up for events like closing the top (on power it remains on, on battery it suspends), etc.
  • webcam – I installed Skype and can report that video is clear and crisp in Skype’s tiny resolution (haven’t tested beyond that but no need to since I only need it for Skype)

Untested/unknown: right side card reader, wired ethernet, manual wireless switch

Software

I posted about adding Skype here. Installing Opera is also very easy. I chose the RHEL 5.x option, untarred it, and as root ran the install script; it asks a few simple questions about where to install it. Both of these applications function as they’re supposed to.

Scientific Linux uses yum to manage rpm packages. Users uncomfortable with using the command line power of yum (like Distrowatch reviewers) will find Yum Extender (aka yumex), a graphical front-end to yum, in Applications – System Tools. The live CD includes the kernel-module yum plugin and the default repositories are for sl-base and sl-security. Via yumex, additional repositories can be enabled by clicking the globe icon on the left (repository selection view) and then updating again. Included in this selection are repositories for Adobe (acroreader), atrpms, dag’s repository, and SL’s contrib and source and testing repositories.

I use a few more yum plugins to manage my system. My goal is keeping things stable and functional. I added protectbase because I don’t need the granularity of yum priorities, which can be used in similar fashion (or different). In a nutshell, the protectbase plugin defers to versions in the installed base repository in the event a different repository has a newer version. This reduces the chances of conflicts if a user tries to install something from a third-party repository requiring a newer version than is in the base.

I also installed other plugins including tsflags and fastestmirror.

One thing of note to those who are put off by STABLE versions maintained in these enterprise Linux clones. A recent review of SL54 Live CD suggested the versions contained in it were “dated.” The versions are updated and patched as-needed, but there’s no mad dash to include the most recent snapshot of every freaking version. Remember, this is about stability and long term support and not about making crazy un- or under-tested changes. This is stuff businesses and researchers and serious grown-ups can use. It’s reliable, not unpredictable.

That said, if you — like a misguided Distrowatch reviewer — insist upon “updated” versions of certain software like OpenOffice.org, you can check the testing repository and find current or nearly-current releases of some packages, drivers, etc.

For most users, though, the versions included in the base are going to prove sufficient for normal use. There are better reasons to update from a -testing repository, such as when testing or for support of a device that’s not supported in the base’s modules or for a newer version of an application which has features you really need. Inferior reasons include updating just for the sake of having a newer version. At the end of the day, who’s really going to know you used oowriter 2.3 or oowriter 3.1.1 when reading your report?

Third-party repositories should be used with caution. In many cases, they will work just fine. In some cases, though, things can break badly. The less a user knows about managing diverse, heterogeneous repositories, the less a user should consider using them. They should be used as a last resort for things not available in the supported repositories or for things you don’t want to compile yourself.

more info coming soon

Other Notes

Update 8 August 2010 – The system is updated to Scientific Linux 5.5. Gnome, OpenOffice.org, gdm, and emacs have been removed. Current window managers include icewm (installed with SL54), jwm (from source), and dwm (from source). I compiled emacs 23.2.1 without X (from source); this was primarily for org-mode, which is now included with the emacs source.

LAST UPDATED Fri May  7 09:43:11 CDT 2010

— — —

Department of Antiquities

The past is never dead. It’s not even past.
— William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

NOTE: The following is outdated information.

UPDATE 2010-01-30: It’s been several months since I’ve even run Linux on the AA1 (even to test new distro releases on USB). I had so many issues with wireless flaking out under Linux that I ultimately stopped running it. It’s much happier running XP, even if I’m not. It’s for sale since I have a couple new laptops and a new workstation.

CURRENT LINUX STATUS

Current distro(s): TinyCore 2.2/MicroCore 2.2

{Tiny,Micro}Core Linux notes

update coming soon

updated 24 August 2009 @ 20:47 US/Central

PAST LINUX STATUS

crunchbang 9.04.01 – 9 July 2009 – 24 August 2009

Updated/New/Recompiled Packages: See this page.

Default window manager: ion3

I removed quite a few default apps. Also removed openbox and dwm. Rather than firefox, I use conkeror. Most of my browsing is done in elinks. Replaced claws with mew for e-mail. My .emacs includes (server-start) and I have EDITOR=emacsclient in my mkshrc; with emacs running, all editing takes place in the same instance of emacs.

—-

Fedora 10 (Gnome) – 21 June 2009

Re-installed because it was the distro that worked best for me right off the bat.

Default window manager: Gnome (may install lighter window manager)

Changes from default: Replacing AbiWord with full OpenOffice.org suite, removing cheese, installing mplayer/mencoder.

—-

Debian 5.01 (Lenny) Sid

(Upgraded to Sid at 13:00 US/Central on 18 Jun 2009)

Default window manager(s): jwm

NOTE 20 June 2009: The upgrade to Sid was smooth even if it was a bit long (due to the number of packages and a slow mirror). I changed all my repositories to match Sid and changed my kernel to reflect that change.

Hardware issues under Sid: I updated xorg despite the warning on the Debian wiki page for Aspire One. As a result, my Synaptics touch pad can’t be used to scroll or tap (noticed similar issue using Fedora 11 from USB). I can live with that temporarily since I usually carry a small optical USB mouse with me (which works fine). Everything else seems to be working as well as or better than under Lenny. The webcam is using the correct driver so I can at least see stream from under various applications (e. g., vlc); I haven’t tried to record video yet. The card reader works when booted with a card in the left slot; I haven’t tried the right slot with an SD or any other card yet. The internal microphone works very well.

Software issues under Sid: I noted the seg fault issue with rhythmbox in a blog entry; rhythmbox seems to run fine without a MTP device connected. I’ve been fighting some kind of flu all week so my testing is at a very preliminary stage.

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