There are men who spend the day moving all their tools around the basement or garage. Puttering.
I don't do that. But I did spend much of my afternoon puttering around on the new Acer Aspire One. I didn't actually accomplish anything. But I now have all the tools I need arranged more intelligently than before. That's what puttering is all about: the illusion of work.
First up: after adding a couple of programs I use often (Thunderbird, Notecase Pro, JPilot), I was irritated that there was no utility to add those programs to the default Acer desktop. The built-in email took forever to load, although it ran well enough afterward. Thunderbird is world's better; replacing the old with the new should have been (in the delightful British idiom) a "doddle." But there doesn't appear to be any way to do that at all. (In passing, though, the built-in message client is wonderful. It talks to Yahoo, AIM, Google, and does a webcam.)
So I found some marvelously clear instructions on an Acer forum that talked about how to wipe out the default desktop and replace it with a more normal and flexible Linux/Xfce desktop. I followed the instructions, and by God, it worked. I was able to set up some desktop icons, add a second virtual desktop, and change the background.
In case anybody wonders, here's the software I use most, now set up as desktop icons: Thunderbird/Firefox/IM. Freemind/Notecase Pro/Openoffice Writer. JPilot (Contacts, Calendar, To Do), Thunar (file manager). For the rest of the software world, I dive into menus.
So then I tackled the task of adding Freemind to the computer. Freemind is a wonderful brainstorming, thinking, and presentation tool, a mind mapper. My first attempts -- downloading it directly from the Freemind site -- bombed. Today, puttering (while wife and son were off at Denver's Museum of Nature and Science), I managed to get it up and running.
Here's how. (Assumptions: you're running the Linux version of the Acer Aspire One. You've set up the Xfce right-click menu, as described here.)
Steps: first, go to eric.lavar.de/comp/linux/rpm/noarch/ in your browser.
Second, start downloading the rpms to install 8.1 I worked through that, then the plugins, then the help, then the calendar, etc. Whenever you get a dependency failure, go back and download the one it suggests. I did have to do some digging to find the fedora 8 rpm batik file, which is the only one that didn't appear on the URL cited above -- and I'm still not sure that I have the ability to export to a pdf, which is what I was after. (Red Hat/Fedora dependencies really are far more complex and roundabout than Debian/Ubuntu. But after looking at trying to install Ubuntu here, I decided that I really like the 10-12 second boot up time of the Acer under Linpus Lite.)
Here's the good news. Downloading straight from the website does give you what you need to do comprehensive mind mapping on the Acer Aspire. It fits well on the screen. And once you grasp the power of mind mapping, it's hard to give it up.
One of the reasons I bought the Acer was to get a machine that could do presentations using Freemind. I haven't tested the projection side of this yet, but at least the software side is working.
Linux continues to be a remarkably stable, powerful, cost-effective approach to computing. But it remains a little out of reach to the casual user. The combination operating system of Fedora 8/Linpus Lite/Acer is not, alas, as easy as it should be. But again, once you get it set up, it's fast, powerful, and cheap cheap cheap.
So I puttered around for a couple of hours on a lovely autumn afternoon. And now I have a little computer that is just about as powerful as a big one, for a fraction of the weight, size, and price. And it has all the tools I need to do the stuff I want to do on a computer. Cool.