Acer Aspire One: Life So Far

I’ve been living with my new Acer Aspire One D150 netbook for a while now, and now that I’ve actually used it for a bit, I have some observations to make.

First, let me say that using this netbook with Ubuntu Netbook Remix is awesome. The UI is like something out of science fiction, and even from a cold boot it starts up way faster than Windows does. However, there have been a few glitches.

First was the built-in microphone – it just didn’t work for some reason. Fortunately, the support community for Ubuntu is freakin’ huge, so I was able to track down an answer fairly easily – I just needed to upgrade to the latest ASLA drivers for the sound card.

It’s worth noting, however, that Acer themselves doesn’t exactly help with troubleshooting problems with these netbooks. The actual model number for my netbook is D150-1577. If you can figure out what that all means, then you’re cleverer than I am. I figure the “D” stands for the fact that this is a disk-drive based model (as opposed to a solid-state drive), but the rest of it is a bit of a mystery to me. The “D150″ bit seems to be the general model, with the 1577 saying something about what specific revision of that model it is. But I’m guessing here – it might be something else; who knows?

The problem is that these different model numbers (and there are a lot of them) actually do mean that the computer underneath is different – different sound card, different wireless chipset, and so forth. So when there’s a problem, it might be with certain models – or it might be a similar problem on different models, but what works for one person with one particular model might not work for you, with a slightly different model. Whether this is true of other brands of netbooks I don’t know, but it’s certainly true of the Acer Aspire One netbooks.

That aside, this really is a sweet little machine. The  keyboard is easy for me to type on (I’m actually writing this article on my netbook, and my typing speed is not appreciably affected by the slightly smaller keys) and the touchpad, although small, is easy enough to use. The touchpad button is one button with two “ends” that you click on, so it’s not quite as easy to click as two distinct buttons would be, but it’s not hard to use, either. Most laptop buttons are rubbish anyway, in my opinion – your mileage, of course, may vary.

The truly AWESOME look of Ubuntu Netbook Remix

The truly AWESOME look of Ubuntu Netbook Remix

The advertised battery life of around 5 hours is right on the money – I’ve gotten very consistently that sort of life from it, with the wireless turned on all the time. And it is so lightweight – just under 3 pounds with the 6-cell battery – that you hardly even notice it’s on your lap.

Of course, all the glowing things I’ve had to say about this netbook stem from the fact that I’ve been using it under Ubuntu, not Windows. In fact, I’ve hardly ever switched over to the Windows installation I left on it, except to play a game of Alpha Centauri with my wife this past weekend.

Ubuntu really is a great replacement for Windows – it was incredibly easy to install (and it even kept the original Windows installation on hand for me, in case I need it for anything). In fact, installing Ubuntu was even easier than installing Windows (and I’ve installed Windows more than a few times over the years). It boots up fast, everything works (with the one exception of the microphone) and it’s just great to use. And having a huge repository of really excellent (and free!) software readily at hand is a great bonus, too!

All-in-all, you really can’t go wrong with the combination of the Acer Aspire One and Ubuntu Netbook Remix. Of course, if you’re in the market for a netbook, I strongly urge you to try out the keyboard on several different models if you can – given that most netbooks have pretty much identical specs (CPU, RAM, hard drive space) these days, the comfort of the keyboard and the touchpad will probably be the biggest deciding factors for most people (well, that and price of course!). Fortunately, Ubuntu Netbook Remix runs just fine on almost all of the major tier-one netbooks, so you can take your pick, and then combine whichever one you choose with what is quite possibly the sweetest OS for netbooks out there today.

You really won’t be disappointed!

Trying to Upgrade from Vista to Windows 7 – Take 2

So this weekend I set aside a block of time (roughly 5 hours) when I wouldn’t need my computer so I could take a stab at trying to upgrade from Windows Vista to Windows 7 (again).

This time, I moved my Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos (which constitute the bulk of my user profile) into a separate folder on my 2nd hard drive for safe keeping, and then used a 2nd user account to delete the directory junction that linked my user profile to my 2nd hard drive. Then, I moved my (now much smaller) user profile back on to the boot drive (C:), and began the upgrade process again.

The last time I tried this, I thought that the reason the upgrade failed was because of my use of a directory junction to put my user profile onto my 2nd hard drive. So this time, I thought I’d have better luck, since the link was gone and everything was back where Windows probably expected it to be.

Unfortunately, the result of this second attempt was the same as my first attempt: FAILURE. The only difference is that this time the upgrade didn’t take as long (probably because my user profile was so much smaller). However, it still failed in exactly the same way – it got all the way to the very last step of the installation, and then quit, saying:

“The upgrade was not successful. Your previous version of Windows is being restored.”

It then spent some time rolling back the upgrade, leaving me back where I started. When my desktop came back up, I was greeted by this message:

“This version of Windows could not be installed. Your previous version of Windows has been restored, and you can continue to use it.”

No clue as to the reason for the failed upgrade – that’s my next task.

I don’t want to admit defeat (i.e., do a clean install) – an upgrade from Vista Ultimate 32-bit to Windows 7 RC 32-bit should work just fine. I guess I’m going to have to spend some time spelunking through arcane log files to see if I can find out the root cause of the failed upgrade – wish me luck!!

UPDATE: I’m not the only one with this problem – Jeff Atwood (of Coding Horror) had a similar problem and asked for help over on the website SuperUser.com (great place for getting help). Sadly, he did not get any further than me!

Upgrading from Vista to the Windows 7 Release Candidate

So last night I decided to take the plunge and upgrade to the Windows 7 Release Candidate. The word on the street (well, web) seemed to say that it was very stable (as you’d expect from a release candidate), and it’d be good for a year (plenty of time for my plan to upgrade my computer & then buy the 64-bit version of Windows 7 when it comes out). Plus, as a developer, it’s nice to have the “latest & greatest” for a variety of reasons – not the least of which is being able to test your software on a new operating system to see if it works!

So, I double-checked my Mozy backups to make sure they were current & up-to-date, did some last minute downloads of software in case I needed it right after the upgrade, uninstalled a few programs that I’d been told by the upgrade advisor were potential problems, and then I put in the DVD and clicked “Install.”

After spending some time churning away “analyzing” something or other, I finished the initial questions and the installation proper began. Based on my experiences from upgrading from XP to Vista, I knew this would take a while – as in, a LONG while. So I turned off my monitor and let the computer churn for a few hours.

Surprisingly, it didn’t take as long as my XP to Vista upgrade did. After about 4 hours I came in to check on it, and caught it rebooting – and I was excited to see that shiny new Windows 7 boot screen (with the glowing Windows logo). Certainly, it seemed as though the installation (sorry, upgrade) was proceeding nicely. After the boot screen, setup appeared again, and I saw that I was on the last step (out of 5 steps), with the progress bar at the bottom of the screen about 3/4 of the way across. I figured it’d be done before I went to bed that night.

Well, turns out, it was done before I went to bed – but not in the way I’d imagined.

I came in about an hour later and I could immediately hear that the hard drive wasn’t churning away. “Excellent,” I thought, “it must be done!” So I turned on my monitor… only to be greeted by my usual Vista desktop, and a message box letting me know that the upgrade could not be completed, and suggesting I visit Microsoft’s website to find out why. Fortunately, the setup was kind enough to restore my system to exactly the way it was before the upgrade began, instead of leaving my computer in a half-upgraded state. (I was actually quite surprised it managed to pull this off, given how close it was to being “done.”)

Unfortunately, I have no idea if there’s a log or something to tell me why the upgrade couldn’t be completed – although I can guess. (The fact that my user profile is directory-junctioned to a 2nd hard drive probably has something to do with it.) I can only hope that some of the data about my upgrade experience was sent back to Microsoft, so they can learn from it and improve the upgrade process.

So it looks like I’m stuck where I am until later this year, when I upgrade my PC to a 64-bit processor – which will require a clean install of a 64-bit version of Windows anyway.

BUMMER!

UPDATE: I tried to upgrade again – turns out the directory junction wasn’t the problem, though, because the upgrade failed – AGAIN. Anyone know how to find out why an upgrade failed – what log file to look in, for example? Because I’m stumped!

I Upgraded to Vista – But for all the Wrong Reasons

Even though I swore I wouldn’t upgrade to Vista, just recently I bit the bullet and did it anyway. But I did it for all the wrong reasons.

vista First and foremost, I upgraded to Vista because I had already decided that I was going to use Windows 7 when it came out (hopefully) later this year, and I figured rather than make the big jump from XP to Windows 7, I’d “ease” my way into it, using Vista as a “temporary” OS to look for problems and get used to some of the newer ways of getting around and doing things.

Of course, when I upgrade to Windows 7 it’s still going to be a big jump, because I hope to make the transition to 64-bit at the same time, and that means a full reformat & reinstall of Windows (there is no 32-bit to 64-bit upgrade path).

Other reasons I decided to upgrade to Vista “in the meantime:”

  • Finally fix that annoying flaw in NTFS mount points
  • Find out whether my current video card can support those fancy Aero Glass effects
  • Work out the kinks in my unusual user profile arrangement (more on that in a moment)
  • Get the new version of Windows Media Player

Of those reasons, the NTFS mount point flaw and the new Windows Media Player were probably the biggest reasons I upgraded. But the kinks with my user profile were worth working out in advance – let me explain.

Longtime readers might remember the bit of computer drama I had when I bought my new 500 GB hard drive, and how my plans for re-arranging my drives/partitions/data/etc. didn’t exactly work out. In the end, I ended up “mounting” the new 500 GB hard drive to my Windows User Profile directory – or to put it in terms that UNIX/Linux geeks might understand, I created a directory junction from my user profile folder to the root of the new hard drive. In other words, C:\Application Data\Keith was a “redirect” or “junction” to my 500 GB hard drive. This gave me the breathing room I was after at the time, since my user profile was taking up well more than 50% of my disk space at the time.

drivesThe above picture demonstrates the scope of my disk space problem – the C: drive is just Windows and applications. That K: drive contains just my user profile, and nothing else.

Of course this worked fine (aside from the aforementioned flaw in NTFS mount points)… but then I upgraded.

Remember that under Vista, your user profile directory is now (by default): C:\Users rather than C:\Documents and Settings. Which means that during the upgrade, my profile would have to be “migrated” somehow.

The Vista upgrade tried very hard, but in the end, a lot of weirdness happened, as you’d expect. In retrospect, I suppose I should’ve just created another mount point at C:\Users\Keith before upgrading and saved myself the trouble… but that probably would’ve caused problems as well.

However, with all that said, I was able to get into Vista after the upgrade, do some fiddling with user profiles, and mount C:\Users\Keith back to my 2nd 500 GB hard drive, and my profile (with my documents, music, and videos) appeared intact.

start menu Now, of course, I have all the time in the world to shuffle things around – since Vista (and Windows 7) have done away with the concept of “My Documents” and instead replaced it with “Documents” and so forth. Currently, my user profile is a weird blend of a “My Documents” folder, combined with Vista-style “Music,” “Videos,” and “Pictures” folders. Eventually I’ll get it all sorted out so that it matches what Vista (and Windows 7) expects natively.

Then, when I do finally upgrade to Windows 7, at least my user profile (and all my documents/music/videos/pictures/etc.) folders won’t be messed up and can easily be migrated.

So that was the other big reason for taking the plunge into Vista. (Either that, or I’m just a sucker for self-punishment!)

Still… there are a few things in Vista that I didn’t really know about before, or that I knew about but didn’t appreciate how nice they are. Things like:

  • Thumbnail previews in the task bar
  • The “Windows Search” built into the Start menu
  • When renaming a file, only the file name is selected by default (not the extension)
  • “Favorite Links” in Explorer windows
  • Yeah, yeah, I do sort of like the “glass” effects!

And, of course, the NTFS mount point problem is fixed in Vista, meaning I don’t have to SHIFT-DELETE when deleting folders from my profile anymore. FINALLY!

windows-media-center

Oh, and Windows Media Center finally understands about skipping chapters in a DVD – something that it just did not do before – and that really annoyed me. Now, however, when I press the “next” button on my Windows Media Center Remote, it skips to the next chapter like my DVD player does. (It’s kind of sad, actually, that I had to upgrade my entire operating system just to get this one fix to a media player!)

Of course there are the usual downsides to Vista that have been ranted on a million times before – things like UAC (user account control), which is still annoying, no matter what people say about “it gets less annoying as you use your computer.” I can’t wait until Windows 7 when I can adjust the UAC prompt behavior with a bit more granularity.

So, all in all, I’m somewhat pleased with my Vista upgrade experience, but mostly I’m just glad that I’m working all these issues out now, instead of later when I upgrade to Windows 7.

Really Annoying Flaw in NTFS Mount Points

UPDATE: As some people have noted, this problem was fixed in Windows Vista, so “it’s not really a problem anymore.” And with Windows 7 out now, and Windows XP slowly dying, there’s no real reason to worry about this anymore. But I’m leaving this article here, just for the sake of posterity.

I found out (the hard way) about this particular problem with NTFS Mount points today:

When you try to delete folders that are stored on a mounted drive and to send them to the Recycle Bin, you may receive the following error message:

Cannot delete Foldername: Access is denied. The source file may be in use.

This behavior occurs because the Recycle Bin does not understand mounted volumes.

This was really freaking annoying. What makes it even worse is that there is no “fix” for the problem; only a workaround is available. And the workaround?

When you delete the files or folders by using Windows Explorer, use the SHIFT+DELETE key combination. This bypasses the Recycle Bin.

Riiiiiiiiight. Because bypassing the Recycle Bin is exactly what I want to do WHEN IT’S MY ENTIRE USER PROFILE FOLDER THAT IS ON A MOUNTED DRIVE!

Now I’m really pissed off, because I no longer have the capability to try and go back to the configuration I originally planned to use with the new drive (copy partition & resize to new drive) – this is because I’ve already mounted the new drive and formatted it. Changing this now would involve a lot of copying data around and resizing of partitions, without being able to have a “backup” in place as before – a risk I’m not willing to take.

I may have to put on my Windows Hacker Hat for this one and figure out how to either:

  1. Make the Windows Recycle Bin understand Mounted drives, or;
  2. Make Windows automatically bypass the Recycle Bin for Mounted drives.

Because remembering to SHIFT+DEL every time I want to delete a folder from anywhere in my user profile directory (including but not limited to: My Documents, My Music, My Videos, My Pictures, etc.) is just not OK. Never mind what it’s going to do to programs that try to delete things – I can just see all the error messages now!

If anyone from Microsoft is reading this – especially anyone from the shell/explorer team – please, please, please bump this bug up in priority – I’m begging you!!