Monday, July 29, 2013

Acer Aspire One D255 - To Linux and Back Again

But I'd read a magazine article about how Linux can transform the performance of a netbook, so what the heck, I thought I'd give it a go. Fortunately I'm immortal, so losing a few days from my life won't matter, will it?

Oh, if you want to you can read a post I did a while back about the lil' Acer, here.
So I had a surf around and the wisdom seemed to be that Linux Mint would be a good choice. I experimented by making a bootable Mint DVD and running the netbook off that, just to see what would happen. Well... it mostly worked, but you couldn't tell about speed in that configuration.

The install of Mint went smoothly, and was quite quick, so far so good. But there were problems to come. The webcam wouldn't work with Skype. The microphone wouldn't work at all. Only one speaker worked. But above all, the battery life plummeted. It more or less halved, and the poor little Acer got very hot underneath. Some of these issues I may have been able to resolve given enough time, but to be honest I was put off when frequently the advice on forums was to open up a Terminal window and type stuff in that made no sense. Come on... Linux, are you serious? That's like going back in time to Windows 98... maybe even before. I gave it a day or too, but enough was enough. Admittedly it did indeed seem slightly more sprightly, but not fantastically so. So... back to Windows 7. This was where then 'fun' started.

Now I could bore you with how tricky it was to get Windows 7 back onto this netbook, but instead I'll just say this. Despite being in the computing industry since 1975 I am still amazed at how unutterably crap some programmers are - there is little excuse for the litany of stupid problems I faced trying to do something that should have been easy. I had gone to the trouble and expense of buying a USB DVD drive, and making the restore DVDs as per Acer's instructions, so it should be easy, right?

I'll give you an example - this was after I had spent a lot of time just getting the Acer to the point where I could run the restore. So, I was restoring Windows 7 using the Acer recovery disks. It got stuck on step 37 out of 40 something. There was no way around this, as the twerp who programmed this routine made sure as soon as you swapped out to Windows (which was there, working okay 'underneath'), you were flicked back to his full page recovery program... with just a glimpse of the underlying desktop before you got back. Well duh. Rebooting didn't help, as it just went back to where it was, stuck.

The cure for this, which I thought of myself but dismissed as insane, but then I found another poor sap had achieved and recommended, was to get the task manager up using Ctrl-Alt-Del, and then try to click on that window in the millisecond you had before returning to being stuck. I had to get the mouse just in the right place to be ready to click, then swap and click really fast. It took me 20 minutes, but eventually I managed to kill the recovery process. Looking back I can't believe I sat there and did it, but there was no other way.

In the end I got it back working under Windows 7, and its performance is once more acceptable. This time next year when it starts slowing up again, maybe I'll just bin it!