Bits from the Eee PC team, Spring 2009

Lenny well supported

We’re pleased that Lenny released with good support for the Eee PC and are now turning our efforts to make Squeeze even better, while continuing to provide support for our Lenny user base.  The standard Lenny installer can install Debian on all models of Eee and our custom installer provides the ability to install over wireless for almost every model (more about this later) from a very small image.  The latter continues to be our recommended install method, since in addition to being wireless-ready, the custom installer also handles a few other small eee-specific configuration chores to make as much as possible “just work” right after the install.

Solid mainstream support

We’ve made good on our promise to make Debian work on the Eee PC, not a derivative, many of which use a custom kernel instead of the stock kernel as we do and use a special desktop instead of our users’ favourites.  While we agree that some intriguing things can be done in these areas, it is no substitute for mainstream support.  Our users are better served by a solid foundation than specialised modifications that limit their choices.  We want them to be able to enjoy the freedom to mold Debian, the universal OS, into whatever suits them best.

Squeeze support started

Work is well underway on supporting all Eee models in Squeeze.  For months, several team members have been experimenting with new kernels, producing support for them in eeepc-acpi-scripts.  The current release of this key package (version 1.1.0) supports Linux 2.6.29 and contains enhancements for wifi, sound hotkeys, bluetooth, external displays and OSD.

Squeeze will support wired & wifi on all current models

With the appearance of 2.6.29 in Sid, all ethernet and wifi cards used in all models of Eee today are supportable without the need for out-of-kernel or non-free drivers.  Madwifi is replaced by the free ath5k driver, the non-free rt2860 package is replaced by mainstream kernel support, (though it still requires non-free firmware provided separately by firmware-linux — for now in 2.6.29, the firmware is included in the kernel, but that is a bug fixed in 2.6.30,) rtl8187se is included, making it possible now for us to support the model 701SD, and ath9k is included, making full support for newer models such as the 1000HE possible.

Lenny backports and live demo

All of these changes can be enjoyed today by Lenny users.  Just add Daniel Baumann’s Lenny kernel backport repository and then install the 2.6.29 kernel and an updated acpid.  See our upgrade howto for details.  You can try a small (less than 256M) demo of this configuration by downloading beta 2 of our Live USB image.

Accessibility

Late last year, we discussed how to make it easier for the blind to install Debian unassisted on their Eee PCs.  As it was a simple change, we now include brltty in the custom installer, but we understand that some users also need software synthesized text-to-speech, something for which there is no support yet in the standard Debian-installer.  We understand this isn’t an easy thing to fix, but hope someone will rise to the challenge.

Growing team of developers

We welcome Darren Salt and Raphael Geissert to the team this year.  Both have been actively making contributions to the eeepc-acpi-scripts package over the past months, fixing some outstanding bugs and readying it to handle changes in more recent kernel releases.

Moved eeepc.debian.net to new hosting

Nico Golde, who hosted eeepc.debian.net for the first year development, has turned his focus to other areas of Debian.  Glenn Saberton has stepped in to provide a new home for it.  We thank them both for their efforts and for a smooth, uneventful transition from one host to the other.

Size of user community

Speaking of the move, earlier this year, Glenn shared with us some interesting archive traffic statistics that give us a rough idea how many users we have.  For the months of December and January, after factoring out bot hits, we were seeing about 300,000 hits from 15,000 unique users per month.  The site handles roughly 60G of traffic per month, most of that from thousands of downloads of our custom installer image.  It’s hard to draw any firm conclusions about the size of our user base from these stats, as many users may be on dynamic IP numbers, inflating the numbers, but we can conservatively say we have at least 5000 users.  Other interesting statistics are that we have anywhere up to 80 users at any given time on our irc channel and over 250 users on the mailing list.

Help wanted

The Asus Eee PC line continues to expand, with 24 models listed so far.  It is a challenge to keep up support for all of them.  We’re encouraged to see Asus choose a new b/g/n wifi chipset for their 1002HA that is supported by a DFSG free driver — ath9k in this case.  It appears that the new Atom N280-based 1000HE uses the same chipset as well (though be careful: I know of at least one user who bought a 1000HE in Argentina expecting it to have this chipset and was disappointed to find it had the Ralink chipset instead, we guess because of availability).  If this trend continues, we’ll be that much closer to our goal of full support for Squeeze main.  As it stands, we’re already as close as we can get given the state of rt2860 and no prospect on the horizon for replacing the non-free firmware.

If you would like to help us out in any way, whether by testing, debugging, patching, or improving our documentation, get in touch with our team.  We rely on your feedback to keep Lenny in good shape and work towards making Squeeze even better for all users of Debian on the Eee PC.

16 thoughts on “Bits from the Eee PC team, Spring 2009”

  1. I am using Debian/GNU Linux on my ASUS Eee 900 and its working really well. Thanks to you and the rest of the team on a job well done!

  2. There’s kernel 2.6.29 on Backports.Org already, why are you creating your own backport? It’s such a waste of time which could really spent better.

  3. Albert: Thanks, it’s nice to hear positive feedback.

    Markus: You are mistaken. Daniel isn’t on our team. He’s with the Debian kernel team. There is no duplication of effort. Besides, he produced these packages and announced them on the debian-live-devel list while I was working on the live-eeepc USB image long before the backports.org version was available, so that’s what I’ve been working with and recommending ever since.

  4. Hi Ben,
    trying to install lenny on my 701 4G. everything went smooth (first time wifi with the installer – hooray), except i get an: release file signed by unknown key -error. Any Tips?
    Thanks
    Matthias

  5. There are certainly a wide variety of netbooks out there that look attractive, and it is indeed annoying that the best Asus Eee PC model on the market, the 1000HE, does not come in a Linux flavour. That being said, the Asus Eee PC line has tremendous support within Debian, something which should not be overlooked. Have fun with your new HP. I have tremendous respect for their support for Linux in general.

  6. Why whinge that ASUS support Microsoft? That’s where their largest customer base can be found, so they’d be suicidal not to focus on it.

    There are so many Linux builds that run on the ASUS either OOTB or with a little tweaking, I have no idea why idiots like “Debian Rules” even bother writing such utter nonsense.

  7. To say that Asus supports Linux is false. Asus are asses. They violated the GPL by not releasing the source code of their kernel modules or publishing the source but claiming it is not GPL (as in the case of Atheros).

  8. They provided some Eeepc at the begining to developers. They created Eeepc community in sourceforge. There were Asus people on #debian-eeepc.

    Sometime their policy with Linux support is a little hard to understand, but I believe that they want to cooperate.

    It’s just that hardware company are not very experimented with sending patch to upstream, so we have to re-do everything that has be done for the default xandros distribution.

  9. There is room for improvement in communication between Asus and the F/OSS community. I do believe they acted in ignorance on the points you mention, Asus Hater. I have it from some contacts in Taiwan who are pushing for more F/OSS involvement by local vendors that they are intrigued by F/OSS but don’t really understand it or know how to talk to us. Certainly things won’t improve by insulting them or being openly hostile towards them. We need to make more of an effort to offer constructive criticism and strengthen ties with vendors in order to make the state of F/OSS vendor support better in the world.

  10. Ben Armstrong,
    You’ve persuaded me that their misdeeds may be due to ignorance of the issues or unawareness that issues exist and truly being hostile can inhibit communication. I still have strong doubt their disregard for generous and community conscious free/libre open source software (FLOSS) licensing is due to innocent causes.
    There is another Taiwanese company which is an admirable example of FLOS software and hardware contribution and community involvement: First International Computer (FIC).
    http://www.fic.com.tw/
    They founded the OpenMoko project which has been exemplary
    (http://www.openmoko.org/)
    and which provides FLOSS and open hardware designs. Additionally, they also produce computers which are more directly Eee PC alternatives.
    I would think that even those who refrain from deriding Asus, would have more desire to see good contributors like HP or FIC flourish.

  11. @Harry Barracuda, do you really need to insult?

    We Linux users want pre-installed Linux machines OR Microsoft-Free machines because we don’t want to pay Microsoft extortionist tax.

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