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Of course the weather did not improve over the weekend and there wasn't much point in going outside "hunting". But this night the temperature fell below freezing point and today morning everything outside had a nice glaze of frost. I did a quick walk through the garden to take a few pictures. This rose came out particuarly nice. I didn't play around with the program, probably I could have achieved a more blurred background with a wider aperture:

Another nice shot, some latent Hibiscus buds:

I'm hoping for nicer weather now ...

So eventually, after a one-day intermezzo with the D40 (which is definitely a very nice camera!) we settled on the Panasonic Lumix G1. I didn't have much time to play with it yet, but it's really quite a nice camera. It's tiny, and solidly built. It's a huge difference to the D40, which feels a lot more plastic-y. But that's somewhat expected, after all the D40 costs about half of the G1.

I've shot a few test photos indoors and it's not a bad performer there. The view finder is a bit noisy in low light but it doesn't influence usability much. Still, if it gets really dark the frame rate of the view finder decreases a lot. Not sure why, I guess the camera then averages across several frames to keep the noise down.

The auto focus is fast. I have no comparison to DSLR cameras in the same price range, but it's easily as fast as the D40 (which probably doesn't say much).

The flashlight seems a bit weak. Where the D40 tended to overexpose, the G1 is more into underexposing images shot with the flash. Might be a configuration issue, I haven't figured out all the settings yet.

I'm very pleased. I'll try to make a few outdoor shots during the weekend. Hope the weather improves over night, it just started raining again.

Since I bought the U100 about one week ago I have been using it in a quite regular fashion. It currently replaces the Archos 5 as the main gadget I spend time with, which was somewhat expected due to a netbook being a much more versatile companion than a portable media player. That doesn't mean I've given up on the "5". It's strong multimedia and internet capabilities (it's even got a decent email client) make it a nice leisure companion, but I cannot use it for hacking and writing blog entries, while doable, is also nothing it really excels in.

Back to the U100 and Kubuntu. I've managed to get almost every bit of built-in peripherals working by now, except for Bluetooth, which I will come to later.

The hardest part so far was getting the camera going. It's an "Asus BisonCam" with USB VID:PID 5986:0203. On first sight it looked like this camera was supported by the Kubuntu linux kernel (2.6.27) because it was instantly recognized by the standard uvcvideo driver, however it did not work at all with either Skype, VLC or even Xawtv. I found that the driver had been moved to LinuxTv so I went and grabbed the latest snapshot from the v4l tree. However, while compiling the snapshot was not much of a problem, the resulting kernel module uvcvideo.ko could not be loaded due to symbol version differences. After several (fruitless) attempts to compile a driver matching the installed kubuntu kernel I looked at the source and found that the linuxtv people were following their habit of breaking compatibility with the mainline linux kernel, making sure that their drivers only work with their very own V4L API.

While it would have been possible to solve this by installing all modules of the v4l tree into the system I didn't feel like butchering my freshly installed system. But, no reason for distress. It took about one hour of tinkering with "kompare" to merge the few relevant changes from the LinuxTv driver into the existing Kubuntu kernel (including compile time). Had Kubuntu provided kdiff3 packages (which they don't), the whole affair could have been even easier. Kompare is not a bad tool, but kdiff3 is a magnitude more versatile.

Adding the office printer was a bit of a challenge, too. There actually is a printing framework in Kubuntu, but it seems to be just a frontend to CUPS and entirely relies on a local CUPS server being running on the system. KDE 3 used to have excellent printer support, but I guess nobody bothered yet to port this code forward to KDE 4, that's a real pity.
For some reason the local CUPS didn't pick up the printers exported by the CUPS instance on our office server and so I had to add them manually with konqueror via localhost:631 and using the web interface, and even then it only worked well after manually installing the printers PPD file. I also tried with the "HPLIP Toolbox" Kubuntu supplies but that only seems to work with HP printers (as the name suggests). Our office printer is a Ricoh iR3170C.

Bluetooth is not working yet. While the hardware is supported - I can switch it on with Fn-F11 and then use hcitool to scan for peers - it does not work at all with KDE. Searching in Launchpads bug tracker I found that this is a well known problem. Apparently there was a rather hasty switch to kernel version 2.6.27 which brought in a new BlueZ version with a completely reworked D-BUS interface. The incompatibility broke KDE's bluetooth support entirely and due to some communication breakdown between Kubuntu and upstream KDE developers the issue wasn't fixed in time. I can only hope that happens soon. I used to use my mobile phone as a modem when in a train or staying at hotels without WiFi. It'd be a real pity losing this. However, the Gnome side of things doesn't look too brilliant either. I installed the gnome bluetooth applet and tried to get modem dialing working but it wasn't possible either. It just wouldn't detect my mobile phone and then it only seemed to support OBEX and some audio profiles. KNetworkManager also doesn't offer any modem support. I wonder why because it definitely works on openSUSE 10.3.

There are some stupid power management bugs, too. For example, DPMS doesn't seem to work, the display just doesn't want to shut down. Also, coming out of suspend the display brightness isn't adjusted when you're on battery power. Also, hibernation sometimes hangs and only forcing an emergency shutdown (long-press on power button) gets you back in control.

I also found that reboot and shutdown from the KDE desktop don't work. It just exits to KDM and from there the system sometimes hangs when you try to shutdown or reboot.

All in all Kubuntu 8.10 looks a bit unpolished. There are no major problems apart from the broken Bluetooth but at the same time there are a lot of small nevertheless annoying malfunctions. Not annoying enough to ditch Kubuntu yet, provided they get their distribution fixed soon enough. I'll re-evaluate when openSUSE 11.1 comes out around Christmas.

So, after having made the decision there was not much point in waiting, and so I used my lunch break today to walk over to the local notebook shop. It took about half of an hour to close the deal and I was on my way back carrying a brand new MSI Wind U100, with only a short stop at a Döner shop to grab some food.

Coming back to the office my coworkers, nosy as they are, made me unbox it right on the spot. It's a nice little device. The make and finish look quite solid, but it has a certain plastic-y feel when you handle it. Maybe that comes from its weight, or rather its lack of weight. Especially with the lid open, the hinges don't appear to be very sturdy. No comparison with my trusty IBM T40p. Comparing the sizes, it's larger than the EeePC 701 but a good deal smaller than the EeePC 1000H.

The keyboard is definitely better than the one on my EeePc 701, a bit larger and with a more convenient layout. The quality is about the same as the EeePc 1000H, which I briefly checked out in the shop as well.

The touchpad is indeed a Synaptics multi-touch, and it's working quite well, just the surface is a bit too small. However its not a problem to precisely navigate the mouse pointer. The buttons are made as rocker switches, it's not going to be easy to use the "middle mouse button emulation" of X11. They are easier to press than the EeePC's buttons by far, which is a good thing.

The graphics card was a disappointment at first. I did read somewhere that the U100 comes with an Intel GMA 950 chip, but that's not the case, it is actually the usual GMA 945 that is also inside the EeePC 1000H. (Edit: I later found out that I mixed up chipset and graphics core names. So the chipset is 945, but the graphics core is indeed a 950)

The "Genuine Windows XP" that came preinstalled didn't survive very long and was replaced almost immediately with the latest Kubuntu 8.10 release. This is going to be a new experience for me, since the only linux distribution I have been using up to now was SUSE and later openSUSE.

The installation went smoothly and took about close to one hour, completing unattendedly from a USB DVD drive. The first impression was not so nice, I was greeted with a very unpolished kdm, which was apparently expecting a 4:3 display and didn't scale the background image correctly. Logging into KDE wasn't a problem, though. The KDE4 desktop looks pretty good and the 1024x600 display is just big enough.

Getting onto the network was a breeze. I just plugged an ethernet cable and the network manager immediately retrieved an IP address. Getting wireless networking was more of a challenge, the integrated Ralink was not detected. I searched around with Google and found a bug recorded on the ubuntu launchpad, the comments eventually contained the link to a debian source package of the driver. This is where Kubuntu surprised me first: Clicking the link immediately launched an installer program which downloaded, then compiled and installed the driver! Nice! 10 minutes later wireless networking was up and running on our WPA protected network.

The next surprise came when plugging an external monitor: the system detected the new monitor automatically and offered to configure it. However it was not possible to make an image appear on the external monitor with the graphical configuration program, but

xrandr --output VGA --auto

did the trick.

Suspend worked out of the box, hibernate as well, but I don't yet know how to assign special functions to the power key. Right now it's shutting down the system.

Meanwhile I'm back home and sitting on the couch, using the U100 to blog. It's going to take a bit to get familiar with the new environment. For now I'm not missing much, only there's this lack of a central system configuration tool. On SUSE, whenever I wanted to adjust the system I knew the one place to go, Yast. On Kubuntu, there doesn't seem to be an equivalent. The "System Settings" is mostly the KDE control center, but I didn't find anything yet to control the various system aspects like sound, system security, network services a.s.o.

Owning a number of electronic toys already, like several Archos' PMP's, a Nokia N810, and a 1st generation EeePc 701 4G I'm now considering buying something new. It's going to be a netbook, since I seriously love the EeePc, but it's just too slow, with too meager battery life, too small screen and a number of other "too" somethings.

But, ah, the choice! The EeePc 1000H is obviously desirable, but there are others like the MSI Wind U100 which has been recently updated to feature Draft-n wireless lan (Ralink chipset) and Intel GMA950, and a 160GB HDD.

There's also Lenovos' IdeaPad S10, which adds an ExpressCard slot to the mix but doesn't feature Draft-n. The design is supposedly a bit slimmer than the U100 but I guess I need to have it in my hands to decide. And of course, like all Diamondville based netbooks, you need a 6 cell battery to achieve 5 hours of autonomy, and that messes badly with the weight and any idea of beauty the devices designer ever had.

I also briefly looked at the FSC AmiloMini, which also has an ExpressCard slot but only a small HDD. All in all, the current offerings are all using the Atom N270 chipset and so they don't give each other much with regards to computing power and autonomy. However, the next generation featuring Intels' new Menlow chips will probably not come out earlier than summer 2009.

I guess I'll get either the U100 or the S10 with a big battery. That means I'll have to wait until almost end of November, which is when the S10 is supposed to be available here. I'm however not sure that I'll be able to wait that long.

Anyway, I found a number of reviews on including a comparison between the 1000H and the U100, with the U100 winning. So I guess I'll not be waiting and just getting the U100 instead.