Monday, April 6, 2009

Bring on the Tux

I got the Dell Mini 9 today and I am stoked. Here are my initial impressions of the machine, OS, and over-all usability.

The Machine:

1. It is LITTLE. It's hard to appreciate how small it is without some perspective. It would take about $3.75 (in actual currency size) to cover the machine.

2. It's really well made. In the car world, they talk about fit and finish; well, if BMW made a netbook, this would be it. Unlike a lot of netbooks I've seen, it doesn't look or feel like a toy; everything feels solid and really well put together. For example, the hinges are really meaty so the screen doesn't feel like it's going to rip off when you open it like the 9" Acer I've checked out at Buy More.

3. The keyboard, while it will take a little getting used to it is not as difficult to type on as I thought it would be. At 6'3", 200+ pounds, I've never been accused of being a small guy. OK, so I had one roommate we called "Tiny" that was 7'1" and 450+ pounds that may have made me feel normal-sized, but my point is that I don't have little kid hands and typing on the Mini isn't uncomfortable. I wouldn't write code or the great American novel on it, but as for writing this blog or banging out an email it isn't bad and I can already type at about half my normal speed (nowhere near my mother's ultra-amazing 100 WPM at 100% accuracy, but respectable in its own right). One thing I have noticed, though, is that I sometimes hit the trackpad with my thumb while typing. I'll have to do something about that.

The OS:
The Dell Mini 9 ships with a Dell-specific distribution of Ubuntu Linux 8.04 (Hardy Heron) unless you wussed out and got it with Windows XP. I didn't care for the dumbed down Dell user interface, but I quickly found where to turn it off and go to a standard Gnome interface (if I hadn't found it on my own, the Ubuntu Quick Start guide that came with it had a section on how to turn it off which gives them +2 config points). My wireless connection was simple to setup, Ubuntu found and installed my networked printer automatically (better than Windows ever has), and F-Spot Photo Manager automatically launched and pulled in the pictures on my digital camera when I plugged it in. I have to say that Ubuntu is really close to living up to their goal. If this were her first computer, I could definitely hand this to my grandmother and she would be perfectly happy downloading pictures of the grandkids and sending email to the cousins.

Overall Useability:
OK, first of all I don't appreciate the rebranding of Firefox as "Web Browser" so shame on you. Second, the screen resolution is pretty small already, so I don't know why Dell felt the need to add the Yahoo toolbar to Firefox chewing up valuable real estate. Removing that is a priority. If you're going to make your own distribution for netbooks, I would actually remove as many toolbars
and shrink those you can't remove by using smaller icons.

Overall, I LOVE my Dell Mini 9. I'll post more as I encounter it, but for now it's a beautiful thing.

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