Was lucky enough to borrow a HP Mini (Vivienne Tam edition) for a couple of weeks to try out UNR (Ubuntu Netbook Remix) 9.10.  UNR is ubuntu for netbooks, designed with small screen sizes and Intel’s Atom processor in mind.

Unlike when I first started writing about installing Ubuntu on various HP laptop models, I’m finding there’s less and less to write about with each new version of Ubuntu.  The folks at Canonical are doing a wonderful job of making Ubuntu easy to install, and application support is so good that it’s gotten to the point that I can just about avoid having to use the command-line to get Karmic Koala set up into a perfectly usable system – on which I do research, read e-Books and e-Magazines, listen to MP3s and watch m4v and divx movies.  Oh yes, and I get work done as well.  Open Office and Google Docs take care of my office productivity needs.

UNR favorites screen with my shortcuts (saved from within Firefox)

I installed UNR 9.1 from a USB CD ROM on the HP Mini with Windows 7 installed.  I gave Koala half the disk to install itself onto, side by side with Win7, and grub defaulting to Koala on boot, but providing the option to boot into Win7 with a few presses of the down arrow key.

UNR is built for systems based on Intel’s Atom processor, which happens to be what powers the Vivienne Tam mini.  All the drivers needed to run the Mini were running nicely with no intervention from me on first boot – with one exception – the driver for the broadcom wireless LAN, which required me to click on the “System” tab on the left menu, and then start the “hardware drivers” application.  Ubuntu offered two choices of proprietary (ie no public source code) driver – the B43 and the STA.  I used the latter, and it works very well for me.

Open Office is ver 3.1.  Firefox is the first item in the “Favourites” tab, and comes with an extension called “webfav”, which allows one to save web favourites to the Ubuntu Remix Launcher.  Also in the “Favourites” tab was the Ubuntu Software Center, which looks different from the old Synaptic Installer, but works just as well.

Using the Software Center, I installed Java, Flash, Comix, RAR and VLC.  The Comix icon ended up in the “Graphics” tab, and the VLC icon was placed in the “Sound & Video” tab.

My test for Java and Flash working nicely in Firefox is to open an internet banking session, and play a video on YouTube.  Both tests passed well.

In previous versions, I used to install the “Ubuntu Restricted Extras” package as a matter of course.  Since I intended to use VLC for playing media, and I really don’t need the MS True Type Fonts, I decided to forgo this step, and see how long I would last before I had to pull it down.

Turns out I didn’t ever have to.

Playing MP3 files.  The default player for MP3 files is “Movie Player”, which asks for a suitable plug in when you try playing an MP3 file.  “Rhythm Box” did the same, but that was no problem as I wanted to use VLC – which already had MP3 support built in and did not need to download MP3 plug-ins.  I changed the default MP3 player app to VLC by right clicking an MP3 file, choosing “properties”, then the “Open With” tab, and selecting the VLC radio button.

I did the same for mpg, avi (xvid) and m4v files – they all played on VLC without the need for any downloading of plug-ins, and VLC is now my default player for such media files.

AND the same thing for .cbr and .cbz files, setting Comix as the default app for these file extensions.

Recording with the Built-In Mic:  On the HP Mini 2133 (the first ever netbook from HP), I had difficulty getting the built-in mic to work, and resorted in the end to having an external mic plugged into the microphone jack.  Trying a recording from the external mic (using the “sound recorder” application failed.  So some tweaking was necessary.  Here’s the solution:

  • Right click the speaker icon on the top right task bar
  • Select the “Input” tab
  • Click on the connector drop down box and select Line-In.
  • Tap on the part of the display near the built in mic (about 5 cm to the left of the webcam) and you’ll see the sound level indicator responding to your taps
  • Click on the close button.
  • Do a test recording.  It should work fine now.

Sleep mode – one can activate this from the power menu (top right of task bar), or simply close the lid.  Lifting the lid brings the machine out of sleep.  I took the mini around town all day last saturday, connecting to public wifi in different buildings.

The mini with UNR handled the multiple sleep and wake cycles well.

USB drives – file manager shows each USB thumbdrive with a little eject button on the top right of each icon.  Thumb drives have a different icon from USB hard disks.  To open the NTFS partition on which Win7 had to be installed, I had to open a Nautilus (Koala’s default file manager) session, double click on the drive icon in the “Places” nav bar on the left, and provide the root password.  After doing this, it was possible to double click the drive icon in the “Files and Folders” view on the main menu.  Writing to NTFS worked as well as writing to FAT partitions.

The interface …..IS pretty. It makes good use of the 1024×600 resolution on the Mini, and the display presented sharp and clear PDFs and CBRs/CBZs.

Select desktop wallpaper with a dark background for best effect.  The icons in each tab appear in translucent panels that show the underlying wall paper off well.  Icons and text are clear and sharp.  Very pleasing to the eye.  Applications open in full screen mode, and you can close them via the usual File/Quit menu command, or the “X” on the right of the title bar.  Switching between open applications is done by clicking on the icons along the top left of the toolbar.  Having VLC open as a full screen to play an MP3 seems a little odd, but isn’t disturbing enough for me to switch to Rhythm box, which offers the advantage of music/podcast/internet-radio management.  I prefer to simply move across to the mini the audio files I want to listen to – my primary music management is done on iTunes on an iMac.

So I’ve got myself a nicely working machine without typing in anything in at the command line.

I might have to do that when I decide to install Skype or TrueCrypt later, but I wouldn’t be surprised if neither of those apps require me to open a terminal session.

But in case I need it one day, it’s easy to find Terminal App in the “Accessories” tab, or just type Alt+F2 for a shortcut to run a command.