Posts Tagged ‘laptop’

Election promises: laptop for every student – well thought out?

One laptop per child (2006) now at SFMOMAThe year 1995 was when I got my first laptop. It was made by Acer, came with a whopping 8MB of RAM (yes, megabyte, not gigabyte), and a 400MB hard disk (read more at an interview conducted in 2004). It shipped with Windows 3.1, but I shortly moved over to Linux when Windows 95 was announced – the laptop just didn’t cut it for the requirements of Windows 95.

The laptop cost an arm and a leg for those features. With PCMCIA cards, external CDROM drive, SCSI scanner, etc. I’m sure the total cost of ownership exceeded RM10,000. I was eleven years old then, but had been computing for over six years already (386 SX2, 286, 8086 – all desktops). I had really supportive parents, so I will always be thankful to them.

Fast-forward almost two decades later and a laptop for a student is used as an election promise for victory! Many view this offer suspiciously. Some wonder if it will cost the government RM40,000 per laptop (has happened before). Some wonder what learning software will be used? Which suppliers & contractors are getting it going?

What about the idea of a smart school, mooted sometime in 1998? I remember going to a school called Victoria Institution sometime in 2004 and installing Linux in a lab and ensuring that (Writer, Calc, Impress, Base) could be taught in schools. Later on it was understood that the syllabus (under the Official Secrets Act) was way too Microsoft-centric, which meant that generics of using a word processor, spreadsheet or presentation suite or even front-end database meant that you couldn’t use equivalents but had to mostly use Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access). What a shame.

I’m all for children getting laptops or tablets to improve their education. Children of today are very, very lucky. I’m just not sure that the government is right in doling out a laptop.

This wouldn’t be the first time… they’ve already doled out many 1Malaysia laptops (some to the tune of 800,000) to students. Is our education system improving and making use of the new technology?

Many failed items in the past: EPF Computer Purchase Withdrawal Scheme (2000-2002 discontinued) and PC Gemilang / PC Mesti Beli (yes, I was part of the PC Gemilang project getting Linux on them) (2004-~2005). 

From a commercial standpoint, have we forgotten about the 1Malaysia laptops (link)? Or the 1Malaysia Tablet/Pad?

Remember a laptop isn’t the be all and the end all. The laptop goes outdated before the term of the government. Warranties at most expire at 3 years. Software tends to be obsoleted a lot quicker.

Ideas are all fine & dandy, but is there any long term thinking to this? 

Laptop/netbook for a university student and a HP Mini 311 quick review

I recently asked on Twitter:

For a college/university student, would you get ’em a laptop or a netbook? Need opinions ASAP. Thanks!

HP MiniThe Twitterverse was quick to respond. Thank you all for responding! A little summary:

  1. @sniffit suggested that netbooks are underpowered, but might change with Linux being on them.
  2. @redsheep went for a laptop, unless I planned on being a mean uncle that didn’t want them to play games/do graphics/etc. Why, I can’t be a mean uncle ;-)
  3. @spinzer said go with a laptop because students have diverse working nature, and a netbook wouldn’t cut it.
  4. Both @alphaque and @brianritchie suggested to watch for the coursework: Computer Science, Graphics, Statistics deserve a laptop, otherwise, go for a netbook.
  5. @saimatkong suggested a 12″ notebook, but those tend to be quite expensive, to the best of my knowledge.
  6. @sureshdr, @tjunkie, @thechannelc, @liewcf, @bleongcw, @r0kawa all suggested a laptop would be better. In fact, @liewcf suggested a MacBook.
  7. @jerng brought up a good point: it should depend on the preferences of the user as speed tends to be a secondary issue.
  8. @biatch0r was the only one that outright said go for a netbook, lugging around a 10KG laptop is so 20th century :) I tend to agree.

So a bit from where I’m coming from, which I didn’t say in the original tweet. This laptop/netbook is for a complete stranger, whom I’ve never met. We do however, know her father. His daughter had just been accepted into a university somewhere up north in Malaysia, and she clearly needs a laptop/netbook for her coursework.

Anyway, all that aside, and with much thanks to the Twitterverse, I set out to pick up a machine quickly (think, 0.5hr). I had to be near MidValley for another reason, so hopped in. Checked out the Asus, and Acer stores, and found laptops and netbooks to exist, and you’d average around RM2,100 or so. Dell had a laptop for RM1,999, but it was a 14″ clunker, and it seemed really heavy. This seemed to be the large problem with a laptop: they came with everything (including a DVD-RW drive), but would come with a 13″ or 14″ screen – and they were all mighty heavy. Acer seemed to offer OS-less laptops, but I didn’t want to spend more time than need be, so wanted an operating system.

I went over to the HP store, my last stop, thinking in my head, I’d pick up the Dell. But I was taken aback when I saw the HP Mini 311. The specifications were amazing: 1.66GHz N280 Atom processor, 2GB RAM, 250GB hard disk, an external 8x DVD-RW drive (!), 11.6″ screen boasting a resolution of 1366×768, 10/100 Ethernet, 802.11b/g WLAN, 92% full-size keyboard (with great tactile feedback – I spent a lot of time in the store trying it). But that’s not all, it comes with 3 USB ports, HDMI output (why?), VGA output (and no need for any silly cable like their previous items), a multimedia card slot (for SD’s, etc.) and a built-in webcam.

The exact model is the HP Mini 311-1002TU. It seems like its an edition only available in Asia, and it comes with Windows 7 Starter Edition. Did I mention that it cost a mere RM1,799?

More goodness about it. It doesn’t come with an Intel graphics chipset, but an nVidia ION. Video performance is pretty darned good, in comparison to what Intel doles out, even on the netbook that I own (an Asus 1000HE). In my quick experiments, I was getting a good 5 hours of battery life running Windows 7.

First thing I did was install: Mozilla Firefox (and set it to be the default web browser), avast! anti-virus (to protect the PC), and with the JRE. It comes with a 60 day trial version of Microsoft Office, but who needs that when is free and should suffice. The system is quite snappy, and while the guy at the store told me that Windows 7 Starter Edition will not allow me to run more than 3 applications at a time, it works fine for me. In fact, the only thing that seems annoying is that you can’t change the desktop background – Microsoft is intentionally crippling their software for netbooks. From what I understand, a dual monitor setup will not work either (useful to have an external monitor on a netbook), but I did not try this.

I can confirm that Ubuntu works pretty well on this machine – I tested it when I got home, using the LiveCD and it seemed to “just work”. More information available at the laptop testing team HP Mini 311 on the Ubuntu wiki. A forum post to help with suspend/resume magic.

In conclusion, I didn’t get a laptop, but a netbook. But a netbook with an amazing screen size, a resolution that exceeds my expectations, a good graphics card, and an external DVD writer. Windows 7 Starter does not come with Aero, and I wrote a little README file informing the new owner that it might be better to just install Linux and she’ll be better for it at the end of her three year university course :-)

On power outlets

Starbucks, Coffee Bean, and many other chains, aren’t afraid to let you use their electricity (and at some places, free WiFi), because they know you’ll be buying coffee, food, and more. I however, took offence to the Secret Recipe, in Plaza Mont Kiara – the management there find it offensive to allow people to plug their laptops in!


However, running a Christmas tree from another socket was fine. I think they’ve just lost my business, and probably every other laptop toting yuppie reading this.


The other day I was musing about how I’d buy a Mac, just to use Skitch, to Cris Pearson, on Twitter. Today, I did just that.

I woke up in the morning, seeing an SMS from Giuseppe, informing me that it would be ideal if I had bought a laptop. So I proceeded to calling up a store located a few blocks down (I’m lazy to drive into the city, its F1 weekend), and asked if there was a black MacBook in stock, and if I could get 4GB of RAM rather than the standard 2. Turns out, this was available, but there was only one unit left, so I asked for it to be held (this was at 10.40am). By 2pm, I had walked to the Apple store, and picked up my new, black Macbook.

What’s in it?
It sports a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, with 4GB of RAM, a 250GB hard drive, and the SuperDrive. Its black (there’s a AUD$150 premium added just for colour), but in the long run, I think it will prove worthy, as I won’t have to see the palm-rests looking nasty. That, and I chose to buy it in-store, rather than online, so it would have been harder to get the larger hard disk option.

I’m disappointed that the Apple Remote does not come with it (an extra $29), and there is no Mini-DVI to VGA/DVI adapter included (an extra $35). There was a time, we got everything we needed, in the box – now the MacBook by default, is useless for presentations.

What about the software?
I have been using OS X on and off for many years, and back in the day, if you had picked up an iBook, you’d have found useful software, like an encyclopedia, and games. If you grabbed a PowerBook, you’d have seen cool items like OmniGraffle, OmniOutliner (useful, as), and so on. MacBook Pro’s came with Comic Life. Nowadays, you get no additional 3rd party software.

I am pleased however, that X11 is installed by default in Leopard (this means that, will just work nowadays). To get the development tools though (XCode and friends), you still have to install it from the disc.

First Impressions
The keyboard is not hard to type with. In fact, it doesn’t take any getting used to, so I’m wondering why people are complaining. I don’t know if this is a change that has come about with Leopard and new laptops, but the F3 key now brings up the Expose, and the F4 key brings up the Dashboard Widgets. In fact, they even print it on the keyboard – highly nifty.

It weighs much lighter than my Dell 14″ Inspiron 640m. In fact, its a lot smaller, so once you’re used to carrying the tome, the MacBook seems really light.

What software is on it?
What I consider, essential software:

  • AppZapper – removes unwanted tools, like GarageBand, and probably soon iPhoto. Free for 5 removals, so use it wisely
  • Skitch – I’ve had a beta for a long time, and this software is just simply amazing. I cannot say enough things about it.
  • Firefox – because I need to browse the web, sensibly
  • XCode – I need my development tools
  • XChat Aqua – to get on internal, and community based IRC channels
  • Apple Mail – I’m trying this out, instead of Thunderbird, to see what all the hype is with this software. Current verdict is I’m hating it, but let me spend a bit more time with it (another post on Apple Mail sure to come soon)
  • Skype – because VOIP and chat with that, is just so handy

What else will go on it, soon?, NetBeans, VirtualBox (I tried downloading it, but the Sun sanctioned download site, tells me “File Not Found” – disappointing, and no one on #vbox could help), and probably lots more.

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