My netbook experience (part one)

In March, I did a month long road trip (see the Road Trip category for a play-by-play), and I wanted to blog as I went, incorporating pictures and sharing photos on Flickr. My iPhone is a wonderful Internet device, but it doesn’t do everything.

I could bring my 15" MacBook Pro, but it’s large, heavy, and most of all, expensive. A wonderful machine, great keyboard, big bright screen, I’m using it to write this entry because it’s such a nice computer. But, being on a road trip means leaving your car a lot of places while you explore, you either want to take your most valuable possessions with you, or not worry much about them. Few small-town inexpensive hotels have safes, so you’ll leave gear in your room.

But, I’m also working on some self-employed freelance projects, playing with iPhone app writing, some server-side cloud computing ideas, and building kinetic wind-art, while taking a break from my traditional engineering management work, I don’t want to spend much money since I’m living off some savings for a while. What to do?

Netbooks seem to be all the buzz with the cool kids. They’re small, cheap, have good battery life. They also have crappy keyboards, slow processors, and limited space for memory and storage.

I really want a 12" Macbook replacement, having given mine to my wife as her primary computer, but Apple doesn’t have one of those right now. I end up finding a solution for that, but it’s the focus of part two of this blog entry.

A week before the trip, I read the reviews, figure out what’s in stock given my procrastination, and end up with an ASUS EeePC 900HA  (8.9" screen), and order an 2GB memory upgrade. It quickly arrives, and I start the process of getting it set up for a trip.

I know I’ll have sporadic Internet access, so I need some apps to work disconnected, but I also want to also keep personal information in "the cloud" just in case I loose the netbook on the road, I don’t want it to be full of personal information.

I’ve used Windows on occasion in the past, I can navigate around and use it just fine, but I’m a UNIX and Mac guy, primarily. That just means I’m not instantly conversant on the new top cool Windows apps. I spend an evening hunting around for software that’ll fit the bill.

I grab a couple WAP scanning programs to help me find working wireless connectivity on the road, throw iTunes on it so I can play the music I loaded on the second partition, and I’m set.

They keyboard on the ASUS is pretty good. Everything where it should be, I can nearly touch type (I’m 6’4" and have hands to match), screen is mediocre, but I expected that. XP runs fine, I’m not pushing it very hard.

My summary, I’m really happy with the ASUS. I loaded Windows 7 on a second partition which makes the experience even better, it runs for 3-4 hours on the (removable) battery, and as a portable photo/blogging/browsing/twittering machine, it worked great! My only real complaint living with windows is that the required virus blockers are nearly as annoying as clearing my daily email spam. I think Windows 7 with Microsoft’s new virus blocking software makes an even better ultraportable computer. If only I could get such an affordable and portable platform with OSX running on it, I’d be ecstatic. Humm…