I finally got hold of a hp mini 1000, preloaded with the HP MIE – which comes with a very handsome user interface built on top of Ubuntu. A look at the /etc/issue file shows that the ubuntu version is 8.04.1 (the LTS, so this is a good choice). Doing a cat of /etc/lsb-release reports the OS to be “HP IE (Mobile Internet Experience) Release 1.0”.
This post is primarily about the Software side of the Mini MIE, but I will permit myself a small indulgence at the end and offer some views of the hardware.
Visually, the interface is very attractive – there are quite a number of posts in forums where people are working out how to re-create the look of the HP MIE interface on other models of Notebook/Netbook – which is a good indication of it’s popularity. Assuming you’ve set up a password and not opted for auto-login, the login screen prompts for your username and password, in a translucent panel that has a light blue glow on the lower edge, with the swirl pattern of the back cover as wallpaper. Date and time are also displayed just above the dialog box, which to me is a very nice thing (I’ve long ago given up watches, and rely on my mobile phone and laptop to know the time). Subpixel smooting is enabled by default, so the fonts are very clean and readable.
After login, a wider translucent and edge lit panel takes up three quarters of the screen. The panel is in 3 parts – email, web browsing and media (photos, music). At this point, it’s clear what the designers intended when they called put “mobile internet” in the title. This machine is designed for people who want easy access to email, web browsing and entertainment, with browser address bar, drop down for bookmarks and thumbnails of favourites displayed in the middle, with eMail on the left and favourite songs and photos on the right. Too bad about the limited screen real estate (1024×576), or it’d be nice to show IM contacts and more photos/playlists on the welcome screen.
This is not an interface for people who are going to do lots of coding, writing, photo editing, video creation, or power hungry games. Nor for those who prefer an app/file interface model as opposed to an appliance model. The Synaptic Add/Remove programs module is sparse compared to what you’d get in a full install of Ubuntu, but much richer than some of the stripped down shells I’ve seen on some linux based netbooks. I’m sure that this is to ensure that software that might upset the selected modules does not get installed.
It’s like the 80/20 rule. People for whom this machine is designed will be doing just a few things (email, facebook, IM’ing, music and photos) most of the time. And when they do these things, the system works quickly, easily and simply. Users who have their own favorites can install these from a root terminal session, using the apt-get install xxx command line method. Mostly, these newly installed applications will show up nicely in the Application Launcher screen. I installed Evolution (I like this better than the default Thunderbird for email) and the icon appeared nicely under the “Internet” tab. VLC was equally well behaved, although the icon looked a little pixillated when viewed in the “Media” tab.
My first instinct after getting over the classy look of the interface was to look for the applications and where to store my data. The windows button on the keyboard is hugely useful – always bringing one back to the home screen from which one can directly enter a web search query or call up favourites or play music. The other way I like getting to apps is with the Alt+F1 keystroke combination. It calls up the menu for launching all the apps that MIE makes available wherever you happen to be in the interface. This is quicker and easier than hitting the windows button to return to the welcome screen, then using the “Start New Program” button on the launcher on the lower part of the screen.
Access to Nautilus (a graphical file manager) is available from the Alt+F1 menu, but more easily reached from the “Files” link on the top right of the screen.
To copy files from an external USB drive to a folder on the local HDD, I prefer having two nautilus sessions open and side by side. The easiest way to do this is to first hit the “Files” link on the top left to open the first nautilus session, followed by Alt+F1 to open the second.
Once the files are copied over from the memory card or USB harddisk, one should ideally “eject” the device before physically removing it. In Nautilus, one does this with a right click of the device icon in the left panel. Windows users might look for a little icon in the Taskbar to click on to safely eject the drive, but no such thing exists here.
Music and Video and Photos are run from the HP MediaStyle program, which is built on the Media Centre app Elisa (http://elisa.fluendo.com). If you’ve played with the media centre interface on HP’s Media Centre and Touchsmart line, or Apple’s Front Row, you’ll feel right at home. The only difficulty I had playing media in MediaStyle was with an M4V movie. But I was easily able to play this from Nautilus instead (right click, select “open with movie player”). Elisa supports plugins – the most interesting are for TED Talks and viewing movie trailers from iTunes.
LinDVD player is not installed by default, but is available for install in Add/Remove Applications. Given that this notebook will rarely be connected to an external DVD drive, LinDVD is more useful as a player of MPEG1, MPEG2 files than playing physical DVD disks. And in any case, I’m using VLC as my video player of choice so I’m rather glad LinDVD was not in by default. In Nautilus, you can right click the media file and select Properties, then select your default application in the “Open With” tab.
Open Office 2.4 is preinstalled. For it’s intended audience of primarily internet/music/photo consumers, this is probably not an issue at all. For people who want to create, edit and access documents, (particularly MS Office 2007 files) this is not ideal. My attempts (ultimately a failure) to have a reliable, working copy of OpenOffice 3 is what kept this post from coming out earlier. I’ve tried many different methods, and at one point thought I’d found a solution, but this did not work after a fresh install of the HDD Image, so I’d rather not post it here. I’ll keep trying, though, because this is something I really want to have.
Mozilla provides the browser, and this comes ready to play flash, and works well with the Google Toolbar bookmarks feature. In the original 8.04 (hardy heron) release, there were a few extra steps one had to take to view YouTube videos or have your bookmarks from Google Toolbar. In this setup, it all just works.
Pigdin and Skype provide IM and IP Calls. What I’m happy for on the mini 1000 is that Skype works fine with the built in microphone. On a hp 2133 (using via chipsets) with Ubuntu 8.1, I could get Skype to work only when I had an external microphone plugged in.
Something I really miss is an application for image editing. Gimp is not listed as an option in the Graphics Section of Settings>System>Add/Remove Programs. However, you can install this from a command line. (more on this later)
Installing Software Manually
Three apps that I really want that installed very easily are Evolution (Outlook like collection for eMail, Contacts & Calendar), VLC (media player) and Gimp (image editing)
Installing these requires the use of the command line. The beauty of it is that the applications show up nicely in the “Start New Programs” Application Launcher tabs. Evolution shows up in Internet (eMail) and Work (Calendar). VLC and Gimp show up in the “Media” tab. I was having trouble with my internet banking site with the java plugin that came default with Mozilla, so getting Sun’s JRE is also a good idea.
A good first step is to enable a Root Terminal in the Alt+F1 menu. This will come in very handy for installs and any time you get the urge to do things by command line. Alternatively, one could simply hit Alt+F2, key in the command line, check the “run in terminal” box, or type “gnome-terminal” to get a terminal window. The advantage of a Root Terminal is that all commands executed from there are as root.
The way to get Root Terminal in the menu is to click on “Settings” on the top right menu. Then select the “Advanced” tab, then the “Customise Settings” box. In the window that opens, click on Advanced in the left pane. In the right pane, click in the check box next to “Root Terminal” and click on the CLOSE button. Now, from anywhere in the interface, type Alt+F1, click on System, then Advanced, then “Root Terminal”.
Here are the commands for the installs
# sudo apt-get update
# sudo apt-get install vlc vlc-plugin-esd mozilla-plugin-vlc
# sudo apt-get install evolution
# sudo apt-get install gimp
# sudo apt-get install sun-java6-jre sun-java6-plugin sun-java6-fonts
When installing Sun’s Java, there will be two text based screens in the terminal where one has to select OK to accept the license terms.
You need to tell the system which Java to use:
sudo update-java-alternatives -s java-6-sun
Diversion – the physical machine
Just like the OS user interface, the notebook itself is a joy to the eyes. The back cover is in black & dark grey, and the pattern matches the screen wallpaper. The hp2133 benefited from a skin. It’d be a waste to skin the mini 1000.
The lid closes nicely into position – and there’s no need to slide a latch release in order to lift the cover. Simply lift it open, then let it close. It doesn’t slams down, and the OS takes a closed screen as a command to put the system into suspend mode. Opening the cover wakes it up again pretty quickly (about 3 seconds). In contrast, clicking LOGOUT and then selecting HIBERNATE results in a considerably longer time for the mini to come back to life (the time taken is a function of RAM – the more RAM there is, the more data needs to be copied back from HDD to memory).
It’s possible to hold the mini 1000 comfortably in one hand. It’s light enough that with the fingers of one hand supporting the base, and a thumb on the right corner, there’s little strain on either the chassis or the fingers. All the edges are rounded, and the glass on the display goes close up to the edge. There are no connectors on the back, and the LAN port is covered by a rubber plug. The lid is held by a single large hinge in the middle, which to my mind is a superior design to the 2 hinges common in larger notebooks. I’ve seen my share of broken hinges, or hinges that lose their ability to keep the display at the desired angle. The single large hinge in the middle also houses the speakers, which sound great for something so small.
Clearly, a good deal of thought has gone into the design. I’m going to be using this machine for a while.