BOOT CAMP 533 (15/07/08)

Tweaking the Eee PC part 3


Our first job this week is to do something about Thunderbird, the email program supplied with the Eee PC. Thunderbird is actually pretty good, it’s just that it was designed for a normal-sized monitor and does not fit well within the confines of the Eee PC screen. Quite frankly it is a real pain to use.


The main problem is the New Message window, and in its standard form it is virtually unusable with over large icons and too many address lines that leaves the message box impossibly small. You can bring about an instant improvement simply by installing a ‘Theme’ or add-on called minibird, which shrinks the size of the menus and icons and for most users it’s all you need to do.


Step one is to go top Tools > Add-Ons and click Get Themes in the bottom right hand corner Firefox opens on the Thunderbird Add-Ons web page, type minibird in the Search box, then Enter. Click Download now, make sure Save to Disk is checked and click OK. The next dialogue box asks you where you want to save it, the default My Documents is fine so click Save and you can now close Firefox and return to Thunderbird. 


Go to Tools > Add-Ons again and this time click the Install button. You now have to locate the download so in the left hand pane select User and in the right one, double-click My Documents and minibird-0.5.2-tb.jar should be listed. Double click on it and in the dialogue box that opens it should be listed, so click the Install Now button. It only takes a moment or two; click Restart Thunderbird but when it returns it will look pretty much the same. The final step is to activate minibird so once again go to Tools > Add-Ons, select the minibird entry, click Use Theme, close the box, exit and restart Thunderbird an you should notice an immediate improvement. If the Compose window icons are still on the large size right-click on the Toolbar, select Customize and at the bottom check the item ‘Use small icons’.


To reduce the number of address boxes in the New Message window is a little more involved and should only be tackled by more advanced users who know their way around the Eee PC filing system. Nevertheless the procedure is fairly straightforward and simply involves downloading and replacing a configuration file. You’ll find a simple to follow tutorial here:


Still on the subject of communications, you may have noticed Skype on the Internet tab, and very good it is too, allowing you to make and take VOIP phone calls to other Skype users, or, for a very small fee, dial out to landlines and mobiles at very low call rates. However, for some reason the version shipped with the Eee PC doesn’t support the built-in webcam fitted to 4Gb and 8G models. There doesn’t seem to be any good reason for this, but it’s easy enough to put right, by updating the program. All you have to do is go to Settings, click Add/Remove Software, wait until it has finished scanning then find Skype on the list and click the Update button. Reboot the PC and go to Internet > Skype and check that the webcam is working, click the menu icon (bottom left hand corner) and select Options > Video Devices. Click the Test button in the middle of the screen and you should see yourself. Make sure Enable Skype Video is checked, and if you want it to start automatically, make sure the second option is checked.   


We’ll finish off this week by going ‘off-road’ and install a program that’s not included in the ‘official’ Asus library. The program is question is VLC, a superb all-round media player that plays almost any type of media file, including sometimes-troublesome movie clips from digital cameras. This will also serve as a practice run for the big one, next week, which is to install a full Windows-type desktop.


There are thee basic steps: first we’ll use a text editor to modify the ‘sources list’ of Repository web addresses (see last week’s Boot Camp), step two is to update the list of programs available to the Eee PC and step three is to download and install the program.


We’ll begin by opening a Terminal window; press Ctrl + Alt + T and this opens a ‘Dos’ type window. At the flashing command prompt type:

sudo kwrite /etc/apt/sources.list  then press Enter


This opens the Kwrite text editor and displays the list of Repositories. There’s probably only one listed, so underneath the last entry, on a new line type: stable main contrib non-free

and click the Save icon (or go to File > Save). Close Kwrite and


Open a Terminal window (Ctrl + Alt + T) and update the list by typing:

Sudo apt-get update

Press Enter and allow the update process to finish, it could take several minutes. When the flashing Terminal prompt has returned type:

Sudo apt-get install vlc

Press Enter and if asked press Y for yes to proceed and the program will download and automatically install. The VLC program icon should appears on the Play tab and it’s ready use straight away. Alternatively you can launch it by typing ‘vlc’ in a Terminal window.


Next Week – Tweaking the Eee PC part 4





Command line interface for Linux, similar to Windows DOS



Package of configuration settings that alter the way a program looks or behaves



Voice over Internet Protocol - method of making telephone calls over a broadband Internet connection



Given its limited capabilities it is surprising how many powerful applications will run on the Eee PC but one program has, so far, defied all attempts and that’s Google Earth. Not to worry, there is alternative and it is almost as good. It is called Flash Earth and because it runs in a browser window it doesn’t sap any of the Eee’s precious resources. Just click the Explore the Earth link, select your mapping or image source (Microsoft Virtual Earth is a good place to start) and use the move and zoom controls to fly to the location of your choice


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© R. Maybury 2008, 2406

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