BONANZA

We have some really good stuff this week: a super thin graphics tablet and a teeny-tiny computer. Let’s kick off with the tiny computer: We were charmed by a new miniature computer from Asus. It has a full keyboard (if only we had miniature fingers), built-in wireless connectivity, an Ethernet port, serial port and three USB ports. It’s 6 x 9 inches and weighs justeee PC two pounds. That’s with the battery, so if you run it off the charger instead, it’s just a little over a pound.

The oddly named “Asus Eee PC” comes with the Linux operating system. This is the best Linux implementation we’ve seen and we like it better than Windows.   (For those now frowning in disappointment, future versions of the Asus will come with Windows XP.)

The choice of operating systems affects the price. Most computers of the Asus size and complexity cost over $1,000 but you can get this one with the Linux system for $300. Computers that use Microsoft operating systems have to pay licensing fees and that raises their price. A major cost saving for the “Asus Eee PC” results from its having no disk drive. Instead, the small computer uses flash memory cards and the cheapest version comes with 2 GB. This is expensive storage, of course, but getting cheaper almost by the month, and flash memory makes the computer more durable. Eight and sixteen gigabyte cards are currently available for less than $100. Alternatively, you could plug an external CD/DVD drive into one of the USB ports.

This small computer seems more than adequate for most users while traveling and its small keyboard might be just perfect as a regular computer for children and people with delicate hands. With those users in mind, the Asus was drop-tested from desk height onto a hard floor and lived to tell about it. Battery life is 2.8 hours, not as good as the 5 hours we get with our expensive Sony Vaio, but pretty good for the price.

The Asus comes with 40 built-in applications, including the free Open Office, which is like Microsoft Office, having almost all the same features. There are a number of educational games, a paint program, and built-in speakers and microphone. We tuned in the “Beethoven Only” channel over the Internet and the sound quality was fine. We tried typing a page and printing it with our Canon inkjet; the Asus with its Linux operating system had no problem running the printer. Should there be a problem with a printer, you can download new drivers over the Internet.

The only serious problem we had using the Asus was the touch pad that substitutes for a mouse.  In general, we hate these things. We recommend that users get a miniature optical mouse, like ones offered by Belkin, Logitech or Kensington. They typically cost less than $20 and you will save a ton on psychiatrist bills.

If you get a new version of the Asus that uses Windows XP, (coming out later this year), or you install XP over the Linux system yourself, you can overcome the storage limitations imposed by the use of flash instead of disk drives by adding some Mojo. We wrote about this late last year. Mojo is free software you can get from MojoPac.com and it can be loaded onto any flash drive. Once loaded you can then load in any programs you use on your desktop or laptop computer and use those same programs on another computer simply by plugging the Mojo drive into their USB port.

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