In the latter part of 2007 I became interested in the potential of Netbooks as they’ve now come to be known, but back then they were called UMPCs or Ultra Mobile PCs. The first of these radical devices, with its solid state flash memory and Linux OS was the Asus EeePC. So when they hit the UK I put in my order. That was November.
In early January I received a phone call saying the supplier now had some in. The demand for these things had suddenly rocketed (particularly in the States), outstripping supply many times over. Predicted world-wide sales for the year were revised upwards to 5m; phenomenal when compared to the 10m predicted sales of the then new Apple iPhone.
I reckoned that Netbooks were convenient and could save me lots of time by working in The Cloud. I’d previously tried other mobile devices for Cloud working but the installed browsers weren’t up to the job, and installing other browsers tended to be flakey.
When the EeePC finally came I was away. The particular flavour of Linux on the EeePC is called Xandros and the startup is quick; just a few seconds. Ideal for lectures or meeting or whatever. On a home wireless network running WPA security, the Eee worked a treat. And then came the Eduroam connection. Da da daaaa. Cue the scary music and the camera running into a brick wall. Oh dear, factory installed Xandros doesn’t support WPA2 security used in Eduroam. The wheels had just come off my new toy (or should that be myNewtoy). If this thing wouldn’t work at the Uni over a security wireless network than its usefulness was suddenly very limited.
So what were the options. Install Windows XP. Well that would slow things down (a lot) and besides all that paging to solid state memory could drastically reduce the lifetime of the device. What about Ubuntu. Maybe. But what would the students do generally; well they wouldn’t install Ubuntu. I needed to stick with Xandros and get it working.
After several evenings of tinkering with the code and several hours of searching the web for pointers, I finally worked out how to set up access to WPA2 security, but nothing on setting Xandros up for use on Eduroam. Eventually after much trial and error, suddenly – Game On. I’d done it.
As these devices are cheap I could see them appealing to students. In fact, I was working in the Information Commons and the evidence was there. I talked to one student who had run into the Eduroam problem. He was tech savvy and had gone the Ubuntu route, but he said he’d have preferred to stick with Xandros.
How to connect an EeePC to Eduroam was something that the HE community in the UK (and Europe) would find useful. So I created a blog and wrote about the EeePC generally, and my experience with connecting to Eduroam, including links off to a forum to download what’s required from Linux repositories and set up for WPA2 connection. I also importantly included the required settings for Eduroam.
I posted this entry in mid-March. And this month, October, I’ve hit the 1000 viewings mark. I think that is pretty good going for something that has a limited lifespan and a niche appear. I say niche appeal because there are many alternatives to the Asus EeePC on the market now, and many with Windows XP preinstalled. But at least I feel I’m helped about 40 people a week or 6 people daily to achieve something they wouldn’t otherwise necessarily achieve. Isn’t the community approach a good one? I think so.