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That’s right, I am officially crazy enough to try to use Gimp on a netbook.  While they may be small and underpowered, the ability to use an advanced image editor can come in handy at the most unexpected times (and often does!)  There are a few tricks needed to make Gimp’s tools fit on the screen of a netbook, though, particularly a 7″ netbook like my Sylvania G, and I shall reveal them now.

The biggest problem is the sheer quantity of space the two default toolkits take up.  Fortunately, these are highly customizable, and we can take advantage of a simple drag-and-drop to fix the issue.  Under the toolbox on the left pane, you’ll see a series of tabs.  Simply take all the tabs on the right pane and drag them down to this tab bar, and right-click and “close” any tabs you’ll never use (the brushes tab, for example, is not necessary unless you work with lots and lots of custom brushes!)  Pulling all the right-hand tools into the left-hand tools lets you remove the right pane entirely, freeing up oodles of space.  This is the most important goal: to dump a pane and reclaim what little viewing space we have in the first place.

Another big key to shrinking the toolbox is changing the theme from the Default to Small.  To do this, simply open the Gimp Preferences (look under the File menu) and click Theme in the left side of the window, then change it in the right side to the Small theme, and click OK.  Your toolbox tool icons should shrink significantly and more of your toolbox will become visible.  If you haven’t shrunk it vertically yet, now is a good time to do so.  You’ll need to toy with the vertical and horizontal size of the toolbox until it all (or most of it, anyway) fits on the screen well.

But wait!  In Gimp 2.6, they added some pesky eyes to everything!  That’s “Wilber,” the Gimp mascot, and while it might be cute and acceptable on a 17″ widescreen, I have 800×480 dots to work with and Wilber’s eyes will actually force the bottom of the left pane off-screen, even if I shrink it to its lowest vertical height.  What to do?

It’s quite simple, actually.  To remove the “eyes” of Wilber from the top of the Gimp toolbox, you need to find the “gimprc” file and add a line to it  The hard part is finding the file, but we can make that process easy.  If you’re using Linux, it’s under ~/.gimp or ~/.gimp-2.6 or something similar; on Windows, it’s under your Application Data folder in your user profile (or under AppData\Roaming on Windows Vista and above.)  Windows users can also simplify the process by using the Windows search function to locate “gimprc” instead of fishing around.

When you try to open gimprc on Windows, you will be asked what to open it with.  Normally I’d tell you to use Notepad, but Gimp may use Unix-style newlines which will render the file unreadable to a normal person in Notepad.  WordPad will open the file properly and should save it okay as well, so use Wordpad.  (If you’re a power user, why aren’t you using Notepad++ yet?!)  Go to the end of the file and add the following line to it:

(toolbox-wilber no)

Save the file and run Gimp to check that the eyes are gone.  If they aren’t, make sure you spelled it right, otherwise feel free to enjoy Gimp on your netbook!

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Ah, yes, the much-speculated Google Operating System.  Rumors about a possible OS from Google have been floating about for years now, and it seems that Google has finally delivered the cornucopia of computing goodness to your door.  Coming soon to a netbook near you:  Google’s new operating system.  The news is practically flooded with articles about why Google’s fancy new OS is so important and interesting.

I’m here to tell you why it sucks, and why it isn’t really that special at all.

First and foremost, Chrome OS is based on Linux, and Linux has already been out for a long time, with Ubuntu being the most well-known and possibly the most available distribution.  What makes Chrome OS different from any other Linux distro?  It’s Linux with yet another face, but under the hood it still shares far too much with Linux to be considered its own “operating system.”  (Watch for my next post to clarify the difference between a true operating system and what is merely labeled an OS but in fact is more of a “software environment.”)  Chrome OS = Linux with another pretty face.  End of story.  If you want Linux, download Ubuntu or Debian or Fedora or ArchLinux.  At least they offer up real applications and a fully featured environment…

Second, Chrome OS suffers from the most serious problem that other “cloud-centric” distributions of Linux are plagued with: the all-too-often wrong assumption that the computer will be connected to the Internet most of the time.  The OS is centered around the Chrome browser and the primary apps are online apps, with support for traditional offline apps likely to be minimal.  Case in point: gOS, which came with my Sylvania G netbook.  The first thing I did was toss out gOS and install something else–anything else— because it was such a nuisance.  gOS comes with icons for OpenOffice.org and Firefox, and that’s really about it.  Every other “application” seemed to be Internet-enabled.  Most of the “applications” were Google, Blogger, Facebook, MySpace, Google Docs, and other garbage that requires a (fast) Internet connection to work.  What good is having an ultraportable laptop if you need an Internet connection to use 90% of its functionality?  That’s one reason I documented some of the things you can do to get more out of the G netbook, because it actually comes with the majority of the standard GNOME environment, which includes a significant number of games, control panels, applications, and other tools…none of which has an icon in the default installation at all!  Chrome OS is doomed to suffer the same fate, because it is nothing more than “gOS reloaded” for all intents and purposes.

FEW PEOPLE WANT TO BE TETHERED TO THE INTERNET WITH THEIR LAPTOPS AT ALL TIMES.  LEARN THIS, GENIUSES: INTERNET APPLICATIONS SUCK.

Which brings us to my third point:  INTERNET APPLICATIONS SUCK. The ones that don’t suck aren’t Internet applications at all.  I don’t know anyone that uses Google Docs, and Google Docs is no replacement for an installation of OpenOffice.org or Microsoft Office.  One might be tempted to counter with a mention of the heavily-used Google SketchUp or Google Earth, but the difference is that those are true applications which just happen to be Internet-enabled or come from a site on the Internet.  Google Earth uses data pulled from the Internet, and Google Earth totally rocks.  Google Docs, though, is sparse on features and not very compatible with other office applications.  It is not a viable replacement for a real office package for most people, and it feels like “Microsoft Works lite” in general.  Looking beyond Google, we see sites such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and other “social networking” sites taking longer and longer to load, being plagued by excessive use of widgets, and other serious issues.  Contrast this with traditional instant messenger applications and even the ever-hated AOL, which may not be the smallest programs in existence, but provide much better performance, a larger feature set, and better integration with other programs.  Internet applications are limited in their implementation and capabilities, as well as by the lack of proper support for industry standards that have been around for a long time now.

What’s very depressing is that I actually see many reputable sites hyping Chrome OS and discussing whether or not it threatens Windows, Linux, Mac OS, or even embedded operating systems.  Chrome OS is nothing more than a Linux distribution with a stupid idea behind it, and Google has spent considerable time and money on dumber things (can you say YouTube?)  This isn’t like Android, which opened up options in the mobile phone market considerably.  This is something targeted at machines that can already do more than Chrome OS can do.

In short, Google Chrome OS is obsolete before it ever rolls out.  Apparently, I’m not exactly alone in my opinions, and this article sums it all up quite nicely.

It’s official: something went severely wrong with the Sylvania G netbook I bought in October.  The keyboard AND POWER BUTTON will completely “lock up” at random and QUICKLY, yet the computer itself still runs in the background, and the hard drive developed a couple of bad sectors (which I remedied by doing a zero fill–more on that in another post).  It’s fairly unusable now, and it’s still within the warranty period, so I called up Sylvania’s support number for help.  The company that actually makes these netbooks is called Digital Gadgets, and it is them who I have dealt with.  So, how did it go?

I haven’t been this happy about a customer service experience EVER.

I explained to the tech that I bought the netbook in October 2008, that I run a computer service shop, and detailed heavily what was wrong and the evidence that I had gathered to make my judgment call that the netbook was screwed up.  Apparently the ink used for the serial number sticker is poor, because it had smudged off to the point that it was unreadable, which I made very clear early on in the call.  This is about where you would expect me to spew off about the run-around I was given and the stupid hoops I had to jump through to prove to the person that it was indeed screwed up, because 99.9% of service and support agents have almost no authority to help customers and are usually in the business of preventing warranty returns at any cost.

But that didn’t happen, not even a tiny little bit.  No run-around?  Surely I jest, right?  WRONG!

The tech support agent, named William Lee, promptly started the process of generating an RMA and took my shipping address to send a totally free return shipping box to.  About eight hours later (and after business hours, no less) I had an RMA number in my email inbox, with instructions on what to do when the box arrived.  As of this writing, the box hasn’t yet appeared, but that’s because I only called them a couple of days ago.

It is astonishingly refreshing to be able to deal with someone like William.  He did everything exactly right, without a single flaw in his procedure.  He LISTENED TO THE CUSTOMER’S PROBLEM, taking the time to ensure he understood exactly what was going on from my perspective.  He also BELIEVED THE CUSTOMER’S STORY AND EXHIBITED BELIEF IN THE CUSTOMER’S GOOD FAITH, which is the exact opposite of what most suppot agents do: showing a lack of faith and general distrust of the customer right off the bat.  Because he LISTENED and BELIEVED, this brought about the UNDERSTANDING  that there was a clear issue covered under the warranty which needed to be resolved quickly as possible.  Within a reasonable time frame, he PROVIDED A SPEEDY RESOLUTION TO THE CUSTOMER’S PROBLEM.

Let me explain exactly why I am writing in this fashion.  William’s example should be followed by all companies, and sadly it is almost nonexistent in the corporate customer service landscape of today.  The benefits to the customer (in this case, myself) are fairly obvious: the problem was resolved quickly and the customer’s precious time was not wasted to achieve that resolution.  But what about the benefits of William’s actions to the BUSINESS?

  1. William spent as little time as possible chatting it up on the telephone.  This left William free to service other customers, reducing overall load on the customer service department at Digital Gadgets.  It also made William a much more valuable asset to the company, because William is able to service more customers than an agent who is given no authority and is required by the company to simply  toss customers through hoops.
  2. On the flip side, William did not abbreviate our conversation.  He spent the time required to understand my situation, but did not ask me to perform senseless exercises when it was quite clear that the problem was hardware-related and not fixable over the phone.
  3. I was heard but not patronized, AND a SIMPLE solution was presented QUICKLY.  This greatly increases my faith in Digital Gadgets as one of their customers, increasing the chances that I will purchase from them in the future AND RECOMMEND THEIR PRODUCTS TO OTHERS  AS WELL.  Over time and across many customers who are similarly situated, this leads to MORE SALES, which can quickly and easily exceed the cost of a warranty repair on my one individual netbook.

William is doing it right.  Other businesses could take a few lessons from how he handled my situation.  I can’t wait to get my fixed toy back in good working order, and I’m very happy to have bought a computer from a company that treats me like a customer should be treated.

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