Friday, February 15, 2008

Technology News - Should we install Windows XP on ASUS Eee PC?

Windows xp installed on asus eee pc When ASUS first developed their now legendary Eee PC, they designed it for a target market far different to that of the regular business PC: they designed it as a PC perfect for children and education. So it was with great surprise that the Eee PC became such a hit with the general public, stunned as we all were with not only the incredibly affordable price point, but the elegance of a consumer friendly Linux operating system pre-loaded with just about all the software most people would ever need, without the hassles and worry of Windows malware.

Despite all the Ubuntus and Linspires of the world, and previous attempts at loading Linux onto a consumer PC sold through the WalMarts of the world and elsewhere, the Eee PC, in my mind at least, is the first true commercially successful computer with a flavour of Linux pre-loaded and sold almost as widely as any brand name Windows based PC that you can name. ASUS knew that just loading Linux onto a computer was not enough, especially given that most of us aren’t Linux pros, ready to delve into the command line to type in arcane text commands.

So, aside from throwing in a few educational programs for kids, ASUS importantly decided to pre-load some free and/or open source favourites: Firefox, Open Office and the commercial (but free) Skype, among others. Unlike the MacBook Air, ASUS also wisely decided to include several USB ports, an SD high capacity memory card socket and a standard VGA video port, instantly making the ASUS easily expandable and connectable to equipment plenty of people would simply have spare at home, such as external keyboards, mice and monitors. The SD card even allows an incredible simple internal storage upgrade option, with 2GB and 4GB SD cards widely and cheaply available from any computer store. All of this, and more, makes the ASUS Eee PC an incredible Linux computer, coming with just about everything the everyday computer user would be happy to use in the course of a regular day.

Despite Linux’s growing maturity, the fact is that most of us still live in a Windows world, where most hardware and software has been designed to work with Windows first, and other operating systems second. The order is usually Windows, followed by Mac OS X, and then Linux – if we’re lucky. Of course, this is changing as Linux becomes ever more popular. But as already noted, and as you already know, no matter what computer and OS you are currently using to read this article, it’s a Windows world we live in, for better or worse.

The fact that even before a Windows Eee PC has been released outside of Japan, some east Asian markets are selling the ASUS Eee running
doctored versions of XP, showing that the demand is strong. In Thailand, I hear tell they’re selling the Asus Eee PC loaded with Windows 2006!But it’s because of Windows’ popularity that ASUS have made it easy for anyone wanting to run Windows XP on their Eee PC to do so. They’ve made a disc of XP drivers available to download from their website to download and burn onto a CD. As you probably already know, the Eee PC doesn’t come with a CD or DVD burner, but these are less than $100 to buy in stores and easily connects via USB, and this is the easiest way to install Windows XP onto the Eee and install the drivers. ASUS have also made allowances for the fact that the Eee’s screen resolution is 800x480 by offering an 800x600 mode that shrinks the screen to fit in the 800x480 dimensions. This is very handy if you have boxes on screen which normally stretch beyond the 480 lines on screen, as is common with most programs today.

Installing XP onto the Eee makes sense for those that must use specific Windows software, or hardware that only has Windows drivers, or better drivers under Windows than Linux. But installing XP then means your computer is much more vulnerable to Windows threats. Installing an anti-virus package, a good firewall, anti-malware software and more is essential. Thankfully there are versions of all of these programs that are available to download free of charge and don’t place an enormous overhead onto your computer, such as AVG’s free anti-virus software, the free Zonealarm firewall and anti-malware software such as Spybot’s Search and Destroy 1.5. I’m not saying that you don’t need these types of programs for Linux too, but the number of viruses, malware and attacks against Linux machines are far fewer than the typical Windows PC will experience on a daily basis.

Given that the Eee PC comes pre-loaded with Xandros Linux and a suite of excellent software, unless you really want one of the smallest and cheapest Windows XP computers around, there really is no need to burden the Eee with XP. And unless you happen to have a spare, licensed copy of XP laying around, the fact is that you’ll need to buy it, adding at least $100 to the cost of your Eee PC. Sure, you can download Skype, Firefox and Open Office onto XP, effectively replicating the software suite the Eee already comes with, free of charge (aside from whatever it costs you to have an Internet connection each month with whatever download limit you’re on). But ASUS have done an incredible job with the Eee as it is. Leave Linux on the Eee, if you buy one, and try using it. Chances are you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Sure, you can run Windows on the Eee PC, but if you’re going to do that, and don’t particularly need a portable computer that’s as small as the Eee, the cost of Windows based notebook computers from major vendors is rapidly approaching the Eee’s price point in retail stores (albeit often with a ‘cashback’ system that requires the buyer to send in the barcode and proof of purchase to receive the money back). These cheap Windows notebooks naturally come with Windows XP (or Vista) pre-loaded, come with a full size keyboard, a much larger screen, multiple ports and an inbuilt optical drive. So, unless you must simply have one of the smallest usable computers that can still be touch typed on with Windows XP loaded onto it (unlike other smaller and much more expensive portable PCs like the OQO series), why bother loading XP onto the world’s most popular Linux based PC? The Eee PC. It’s the computer that doesn’t need Windows, and in many ways that makes it even more perfect than it already is.

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