Sunday, March 1, 2009

Ubuntu and the Dell Mini

Surfing the web has never been a priority of mine. I basically surf the web when I have free time at work or for a few minutes (literally) while at home before shutting off my computer after uploading some photos. Why the lack of usage? The main reason is that my main computer is a Mac Mini hooked up to a 42" LCD that doubles as my television and XBOX 360 monitor. I also have a PC sitting in a corner with a 17" CRT, but I fire up that machine only for work (VPN) or to use the flatbed scanner. I have nothing in my bedroom, or in a comfortable location. So, in steps the Netbook market. The idea of having a machine so convenient that I could use it practically anywhere was too inticing. I took the plunge and am now the proud owner of a Dell Mac Mini 9 running Ubuntu (thanks to my girlfriend for buying it as a gift!).

First order of business was to clean up the desktop. I thought about starting with a fresh install of Ubuntu Netbook Remix, but my friend, Chad, advised against it since the machine was prepackaged with Ubuntu drivers. The Dell interface, while tidy and cool, just took up too many resources. I figured that out as I was playing Tetris and the controls lagged as more pieces appeared. I switched to the normal Gnome interface and started playing around with the panels. A few gconf-editor changes later (apps> panel> toplevels> ...) and I have a panel up top which disappears completely. The Dell Mini 9 conveniently ships with some of the Ubuntu Netbook Remix libraries, so I updated Maximus (apps> maximus) to remove the title bar from windows. I also updated Firefox by making the menu a drop down that sits beside the address bar. Installing a third-party theme tightens up all of the menus. I mapped my Windows key to act as the maximize window action because Maximus opens all application windows maximized (I am not sure how to turn this off); if a window should not be maximized I simply hit the Windows key and it is a standard window with title bar and controls. I employed Chad's help to clean up the system of applications I do not use (mainly Open Office). It was quite simply starting up Synaptic (system> administration> Synaptic Package Manager) and completely removing Open Office packages. I freed up an additional 300mb by following advice from the official Ubuntu forums. Speaking of forums, I am reading up on the Blog for tips and tricks specific to my Netbook. After all this, I have quite the slick package!

I freed up enough space on the machine to run GMail offline (which also required me to clean-up my mail because of all the attachments using the search query "has:attachment"). I plan to write e-mails while on the train or bus to work. All-in-all, this computer changes the way I think about keeping up with people online. No longer is it performed in tandem with work; I can now focus my attention when necessary. Hopefully, I do not lose too much sleep as a result. I have only just begun this new process, but my girlfriend likes the fact that she receives full e-mails from me instead of the short (and painfully written) blurbs on the iPhone.

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