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Which is the best netbook operating system?

Technology Adoption Lifecycle

The above graph is known as the Technology Adoption Lifecycle and is an approximation as to how new types of products and technologies are adopted. I’m usually in the left-hand 2.5% for most technology-related things (well, I’ve got to be honest!) This post is about Netbooks, small form-factor devices used primarily to access the internet and run lightweight applications. Since 2007 I’ve had three netbooks: an Asus Eee 701 (with stock Xandros Linux), an Advent 4211 (MSI Wind clone upon which I installed Mac OSX with some success), and an Asus Eee 1000 (running Ubuntu Netbook Remix). The latter was a fantastic netbook and I was disappointed when I had to return it to my previous school upon leaving.

Since then, I’ve been on the lookout for a (very) cheap netbook with which I can mess about. If you’re thinking of purchasing one of these then I’d recommend first having a look at the excellent comparison of netbooks on Wikipedia. The problem with having a £1500 Macbook Pro is that it makes you rather reluctant to take it to places like the beach (now only 1.5 miles away from where I live!) In addition, my line manager at my new job as well as my father have been asking for advice regarding netbooks. As a result, I thought that now would be a good time to look at the best operating system to run on a netbook.

Why Linux?

You may be wondering why I don’t automatically recommend Windows 7 for netbooks. That’s because I’m a great advocate of Open Source Software. In the past, it was difficult to hand-on-heart recommend Linux (an Open Source Operating System) for the average person. I’ve used Linux since Red Hat Linux in 1997 and it hasn’t been until the dawn of Ubuntu Linux around 5 years ago that I’ve been able to recommend it to, for example, my parents (who have run it on their laptop for the past 3 years).

Linux is more flexible and configurable than Windows. Oh, and it’s free. 🙂

What to look for in a netbook operating system

To my mind, a netbook operating system should be:

  1. Quick to boot-up (from cold, hibernation and suspend alike)
  2. Work with no glitches (i.e. support hardware out-of-the-box)
  3. Intuitive
  4. Aesthetically pleasing
  5. Easily configurable

The contenders…

Below you’ll find quick video demonstrations of the following operating systems that can be installed on netbooks:

Why have I chosen the three above? There’s no sound, scientific reason apart from that a) 3 is a good number of options to give to people, b) I’ve used Ubuntu Netbook Remix before and have an interest in test-driving the other two, and c) Jolicloud, the other OS I wanted to test, won’t play nicely with virtual machines.

Oh, that’s the other thing. This is completely unscientific as these videos demonstrate how these operating systems perform within a virtual machine within my Macbook Pro. Your mileage may, and probably will, vary. The videos are simply there to give you a taster… :-p

Easy Peasy (Ubuntu Netbook Remix)

gOS

Linux Mint

Conclusion

So… which is best? I’d love to be able to say gOS (or Jolicloud if I could get it to work). I love the idea of the netbook being a device simply to connect you to cloud-based working. However, practicality is the order of the day. You have to be able to work effectively offline. Whilst all OS’s will allow you to do this, Ubuntu Netbook Remix allows you to do this in a straightforward and streamlined way.

Ubuntu Netbook Remix – via Easy Peasy if you have an Asus Eee – is the winner! 😀

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The future of education? My visit to RM’s REAL Centre

Can’t see the slideshow? Click here!

The ICT Consultant for the Academy arranged for me to visit RM’s REAL Centre today. I didn’t know much about it beforehand, but when I mentioned it to others some were excited on my behalf whereas others mentioned that it ‘didn’t live up to the hype’. Given that I wasn’t aware of the hype (it was at BETT 2009) I went in fairly unbiased! 🙂

As you can see from the pictures above, the spaces were set out differently from standard classrooms. All together, it worked well and whilst walking around I was impressed. On reflection, however, given that no school’s likely to have all that’s in there, I started thinking about specifics. Here’s my takeaways:

21st century interactive whiteboard

Current interactive whiteboards tie teachers to the front of the classroom and perpetuate at 20th (19th?)-century model of teaching. That’s why I really liked the ‘horizontal [and vertical!] interactive and collaborative surface’ that was on display. It was a combination of three things, really:

  • A rotatable (fairly standard) adjustable project table
  • An ultra-short throw projector
  • A clip-on sensor to the table (surface) for the ‘interactive’ element

The great thing was that not only was the table rotatable and height-adjustable, but had wheels and a single plug so could be easily be moved around learning spaces. 😀

Eye-tracking hardware/software

Although I’ve read about them before and seen videos, it was great to try out an eye-tracking device for myself. It took less than a minute to calibrate and get myself up-to-speed on what to do, and after that I was able to write sentences and get the computer to speak them back to me! The only downside was that, being a contact lens-wearer, my eyes felt a little dry afterward. Felt fairly futuristic, though, and potentially life-changing for some of the profoundly disabled students we’ll have at the Academy.

Inexpensive USB microscopes

I’m sure these have probably been around for ages, but it was my first experience with a USB microscope that was both robust and inexpensive (around £30). It fed real-time images to an Asus Eee PC via a USB connection, which could save them for future reference. With the netbook and small microscope, students are able to go outside and investigate things, come back and show what they’ve found. Loved it. :-p

Soundproof pods

I didn’t get a chance to check out how much these cost, but I think they’re a great idea. The photo above explains what I’m talking about: soundproof, circular ‘pods’ that allow for meetings, speaking and listening exercises, or some quiet study to take place.

I can see these being used in break-out spaces, in reception areas for meetings with parents – for a whole host of things, in fact. The great things was that, whilst they’re soundproof, they’re comfortable and have clear windows so teachers can see what is going on. A great idea.

Student-centred seating

Again, variations of the seating that was on display at the REAL Centre have been seen before, but it was good to see thought going into ergonomics. The seats, along with the tables, on offer could be stacked into a very small space to allow for drama-based activities. It was almost impossible to lean backwards on them such that the front legs came off the floor. You could, however, rock forwards slightly which was pleasing.

Some other seating featured an attached circular table. These moved together on wheels until sat on, whereupon they would lock in place. The swivel chair made for multiple configurations of separate work areas when students are working at computers. Well thought-out. 🙂

Visualizer

Apparently these have been around for ages and, indeed, I seem to remember the Politics department at the University of Sheffield using something similar when I took some modules there in my first year (1999!) However, when paired with a projector you begin to wonder whether an interactive whiteboard isn’t just an expensive luxury that perpetuates an outdated system. Having a visualizer makes examining sources, ‘real-life’ stuff and students’ work much easier and much more likely to happen.

The rest

Obviously there was more than just the above at the REAL Centre, but nothing I hadn’t really seen before. There was Lego Mindstorms stuff, a ‘teacher wall’ to provide space and cupboards around interactive whiteboards, flexible tiered seating areas, chroma key hardware, sensory equipment and a stop-motion animation studio, amongst other things. I’m a big fan of the touchscreen Asus Eee Tops that were on display there but, again, I’ve seen them before.

Conclusion

All in all, a worthwhile and enjoyable day. RM have asked for feedback for which I’m pointing them towards this blog post. I’d advise them either to put price tags on everything or give brochures with clear prices immediately after the tour. It became a bit annoying for me, and embarrassing for them, having to ask how much everything costs at every turn!

You could read about everything that’s in the RM REAL Centre online. You may even have come across half of it in the flesh, so to speak. But having time to be shown it all in one place and think about how it could transform teaching and learning is a powerful thing. I’d recommend that if you can, you go and have a look. 😀

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I’m 28, I’m not *old*…

Woe is me. It’s my 28th birthday today and, for the third year running I’m ill. Last year I still went out for a meal, could taste nothing, and had a thoroughly miserable time. This year I’m staying in bed. 🙁

To add to my woes, I’ve been re-reading what certain characters from history managed to achieve in their 28th year of existence. Here’s a flavour:

What have I done? Nothing quite so illustrious:

Not quite in the same league! I am, however, considering writing a book. It won’t be ‘available in all good bookshops’. In fact, it won’t be available in bad ones either! Like Doug Johnson and others have done, I’m considering using Lulu.com to make my proposed book freely downloadable and available to purchase in paper format for a reasonable fee.

Technology wise, I upgraded in the last few weeks from a Macbook to a Macbook Pro, went through several netbooks (Asus Eee 701 -> modded OSX-powered Advent 4211 -> Asus Eee 1000), bought an iPhone, returned it, and then finally changed my Nokia N95 for an iPhone 3G 16GB, and bought a wonderful digital SLR camera in the shape of the Canon EOS 1000D.

What are my plans for my 29th year on earth? Hmmm… I’ll limit myself to three:

  1. Apply for and obtain a job that means my wife, Hannah, doesn’t have to work.
  2. Write half my Ed.D. thesis around the concept of digital literacies.
  3. Start a new project – either through Folens or independently that brings together some of the ideas Nick Dennis and I have been discussing. 🙂

What are YOUR plans for 2009?

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