Sneak peek of Xubuntu 12.04 on Asus 1215P

This article has been originally published in italian (here).Feedbacks on content and translation are appreciated. The original article must be considered the reference in case of updates.

The trusty gadget I have already described elsewhere (here at the time it came home and here when solving a little annoyance – posts in Italian) just keeps on happily running on Ubuntu Maverick, though it has reached end of support. The plan to rule the world update the O.S. to a more recent release is in my head since long, struggling against the constant lack of free time and the need to keep the pc available and functional in any case.

Could there be any better time to test in a live session, without causing permanent damages :-), the latest Xubuntu release, 12.04 Precise Pangolin? The low-fat sister of Ubuntu seems a nice pick for the netbook, given the available resources and the “traditional” usage experience provided by XFCE.

In a little while, the netbook is already booting from the USB key prepared for this purpose as I start observing how it gets along with the pangolin. Details on hardware and some pictures showing how the Asus 1215P looks like are in the post linked mentioned above.

The first pleasant surprise is the wireless card being recognized and activated right from start. It is very nice to see that the dedicated key and the related led work as well. Same for the key combination FN + F2 that is mapped for this task. I do not know if wireless cards are so warmly welcomed in the previous (recent) releases; as far as I know this is a brand new choice offered to users. Not a minor one, indeed, since we can start the install right away, not being bothered to look for a wired connection, and since these netbooks were meant to be carried around. On several different laptops with older versions I could not manage to enable the wireless card in a live session, although I had no problem after a regular installation.

OSD brightness control and wireless enabled

This FN-key thing seemed interesting: therefore I went on and tested the screen brightness control (FN + F5/F6) and volume (FN + F10/F11/F12). Even these features worked fine, showing the appropriate OSD for screen brightness and the notification bubbles for volume. Turning the screen off (FN + F7) and toggling the touchpad (FN + F9) are the only key combinations found not functional at the moment, but I am very confident this annoyance can be easily fixed. Stand-by (FN + F1) and switch to external screen (FN + F8) remained untested.

Volume notification (mute)

A nice new feature that was not available in Maverick (I can’t tell whether it was there in Natty or Oneiric, both skipped) is the multitouch on touchpad: now scrolling using two fingers is enabled. This setting is far more comfortable than the current one, using a narrow strip of the right edge of touchpad. Personally, I am often unable to hit the right spot and activate scrolling, so multitouch is now more than welcome.

On the multimedia side, webcam is also working out the box (using one of the webcam-related applications picked out the bunch in the Software Center, “guvcview”). 1-2-3-test, 1-2-3-test and the microphone is tested, too, using Sound Recorder to capture and listen back to a few seconds of meaningless babble: “Uhm, ah, ok, good, it works…”). Last but not least, keys for playback control (FN + arrows) do their job.

Not surprising, but nice to know nevertheless, bluetooth applet manages my Trust usb dongle, allowing me to connect to my phones and send/receive files.

Speaking about hardware compatibility, I ran another live “test” on a completely different pc (a powerful workstation with CPU Xeon W3530 2.8GHz / RAM 8 GB / Nvidia Quadro FX 1800 driver nouveau and 24″ screen) getting very good results. This big number cruncher was fitted with another random Bluetooth dongle, lent by some kind chaps, for a quick file transfer from the cellphone. Just for the record, the USB dongle is:

ID 0a12:0001 Cambridge Silicon Radio, Ltd Bluetooth Dongle (HCI mode)

branded “Celly” (generic cellphones accessories).

All in all, the “test drive” gave more than satisfying results, making Xubuntu Precise the most interesting and likely candidate to replace Ubuntu Maverick. I will not spend time describing the “look and fell” of Xubuntu, since the customization options are countless. Default settings are anyway eye-pleasing, sporting one main panel on top (menu, clock, calendar, etc.) and one additional panel at the bottom, set to appear as a semi-transparent “dock” and including the launchers for many softwares.

Oh, and part of this post has been written right from the Xubuntu live session!

Taking notes

Will our heroes (that is: me!) manage to kill the meerkat off and replace it with a pangolin? To find out, see next weeks’ exciting episodes of “Can I give up even sleeping and eating in order to mess with computers?”

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