More computer shenanigans!

The single biggest reason I have never gone over to the Mac side is that Apple has a policy of discouraging you, at every possible turn, from noodling around with your devices. It's great for people who just want their doodads to work the way they worked when they left the factory -- and would rather gnaw their own mouse hand off than dig around in the guts to change anything themselves -- but I much prefer to own computers I can get into without three security Torx drivers and a hand grenade. It's mine now, I'll break it if I want to.

The IdeaPad has an interesting hardware configuration. It first came out after solid state hard drives were made available to the public, but before the prices had come down to any reasonable level. They shipped from Lenovo with Windows installed on an eensy little 24 GB SSD for booting (just a chip smacked directly on the motherboard, so far as I can tell; Linux views it as /dev/sda1), and a secondary 500 GB platter drive for file storage. It's a clever way of making sure the single heftiest piece of software on the machine always runs from the speediest drive without making the computer expensive enough to rival Alienware.

I, naturally, had the computer for less than 24 hours before I pried the bottom off and performed a transplant. 500 GB is nice, but it's still nice in a USB enclosure, and I don't actually need that much in the laptop all the time. I worked IT all through undergrad and have spent quite enough of my life staring at the progress bar on the disk imager, thanks, so I just yanked the 120 GB SSD out of the ASUS and stuffed it into the Lenovo. It took some faffing about to convince the computer that no I did not want to say hello to grub every time I restarted and it could just boot from /dev/sdb1 please, but I did eventually get the message across.

[Not that the faffing was unproductive. I discovered that the SD card reader on this thing is run through the USB hub. You can boot off of it. You could run the entire machine off an SD card, if you felt like it. Technically, USB 3.0 isn't quite as fast as eSATA, but one supposes that if you're down to running your computer off of a chip so small you could accidentally insufflate it, you have bigger problems than waiting an extra half-second for Chrome.]

Linux and everything else I use with Linux fits in 120 GB with plenty of room to spare, which leaves me with a weird little 24 GB drive/partition that is physically separate from the rest of the storage. It occurred to me that I could just put a different OS on it. My tablet is working with about this much (8 GB internal storage + 16 GB SD card) and my phone is working with less (2 GB internal +16 GB card). Surely there is a version of Android that works on grown-up computers, yes?

Yes. RemixOS is unfortunately discontinued, but someone out there is still determined to port Android to the x86 architecture. Judging by the filenames, the latest build is 7.1/Nougat. (The Kindle Fire runs 5.1/Lollipop. I don't do things on my phone; I replace the damn things only when forced, so it's a special-needs model that won't upgrade past 4.2/Jellybean.) Android branched off of a long-term stable release of Linux in the first place, and I haven't managed to set any hardware on fire screwing around with Lubuntu. No reason it shouldn't work.

I like Android as an OS. The first few versions were rather naff, but they've since figured out how to arrange the settings so you don't need to consult the sheep entrails to figure out how to turn Bluetooth on and off. A good 85-90% of what I do in life only requires me to have a window to open onto the internets. I would have replaced the ASUS with a cheap Chromebook in a heartbeat, except that the other 10-15% of my life involves print-resolution graphic design, at which cheap cloud based Chromebooks are shit.

[Graphics work really requires fast local storage and a good bit of RAM + swap file. Files get big very quickly, and when trying to work on a huge file remotely, the internet connection is a terrible bottleneck. I don't work with video much, but if you need to get a large amount of high quality HD video from point A to point B, it is often still faster and easier to just FedEx a drive.]

I tried RemixOS on the ASUS at one point, but that hardware was kind of borderline for running Nougat off the USB port, and it was a surprising PITA to do everything via touchpad. On the other hand, I now have a laptop that encourages me to smash my mitts all over the screen. Whee.

Works rather well, I must say. It's not glitch free. A lot of websites will ignore the flag that says 'give me the desktop page' once it sees the request is coming from Android/Chrome, which is annoying, but expected. Nobody expects you to be running Android on a laptop. Linus Torvalds claims that they intend to fold the Android kernel back into the main Linux line 'real soon now', but Linus says a lot of things.

It's zippy as hell. My main OS is Unity Desktop on top of Lubuntu, because I want it to look kind of pretty like Windows/OS X without also having it lumber around like a drunken milk cow, but Android is quite a bit faster. It was originally developed as a lightweight OS for mini-computers of limited resources, so it makes sense that a real computer would skate right along. The touchscreen makes it much easier to deal with -- Android is really NOT designed for being secondhand poked by a mouse pointer.

YouTube also looks considerably better. Not wonderful, but better. There is something with either Chromium or the HTML5 encoder in general that results in a lot of banding and something weird with the blacks that looks almost like clipping. I'd thought it was the viewing angle on the touchscreen being less than stellar, but no; the YouTube app in Android actually doesn't do that. No idea what's wrong. I'll get around to fixing it right after I figure what the fuck issue Lubuntu has with the Bluetooth stack, which in turn I will probably take care of the day after I see a squadron of pigs winging their way past my window.


  1. Don't forget that for the price of an entry level Macbook, you can buy a fully customized Dell laptop.

    1. Less relevant for me. I haven't bought a new computer... ever, actually. They're refurbs at best. I could find a Macbook in my price range, it would just be beat to hell and have no warranty, thus costing me an arm and a leg if I ever needed to take it to the Apple store.


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