Hacking the Eee PC

How to tweak your Eee PC.

ASUS' diminutive sub-notebook, the Eee PC, has so far exceeded expectations and is sold out virtually everywhere. Its simple interface and wallet-friendly pricing have contributed to making the Eee the most popular gadget this season.

It's in the hands of the power user that the Eee really shines. With hardware support already taken care of, the Eee offers an opportunity for beginning-to-intermediate Linux users to customise themselves a flexible Linux-based tool using the Eee's easy or full desktop mode.

In this article, we take you through tweaking your Eee, although in the interest of preserving your warranty, most of the hacks here are focused on software. The first and most important hack is to read the manual that came with your Eee to make sure you're completely up to date on everything. When you read the manual (because you are going to read it, right?), you'll notice that ASUS mentions the keyboard shortcut Ctrl-Alt-T to launch a terminal. Gaining root on the default Eee install is as simple as issuing the command:

sudo -s

There is no password; any person who can open a terminal is able to gain root.

ASUS' easy mode uses a customised IceWM (www.icewm.org), a standard X11 window manager that's been around for a very long time. It's relatively easy to customise to your liking. The first step is creating a directory for local modifications. Open a terminal using the aforementioned keyboard shortcut, and type:

mkdir ~/.icewm
cp /etc/X11/icewm/* /home/user/.icewm/

This creates a local customisation directory and copies the ASUS IceWM configuration into it, ready for you to modify. As not all of the software that ships with the Eee is accessible through the easy mode launcher, the first useful thing to tweak on the Eee is to add the IceWM panel menu and edit it to add those applications that aren't exposed through the easy mode interface.

To enable the menu, edit ~/.icewm/config, and scroll down to the option named TaskBarShowStartMenu. Change the 0 in the uncommented value to 1, and save the file. You need to restart your Eee for the menu to show up:

#  Show 'Start' menu on task bar
# TaskBarShowStartMenu=1 # 0/1

Figure 1. The IceWM Menu, with the Menu File in the Background

To edit the menu, open ~/.icewm/menu in your favourite editor. The menu format is pretty simple, following the syntax:

prog label icon command

where label, icon and command are replaced with the appropriate entries for the application you want to launch. For example, to add an entry that launches Konsole, the KDE terminal emulator, you would create an entry as follows:

prog Konsole konsole konsole

Submenus are described with the following syntax:

menu "Label" {


Program entries or further submenus are defined between the curly braces.

The first thing we all thought on using the Eee when we first received it was “the Windows XP theme doesn't look attractive on XP, let alone on Linux. How the heck do we change this abomination?”

You'll be pleased to know that this is extremely simple, now that the menu is enabled. The biggest theme repository for IceWM is at themes.freshmeat.net/browse/925, with hundreds of themes from which to choose. Once you've downloaded a theme, create the folder ~/.icewm/themes, and extract the theme to that folder. It will now be selectable from the IceWM menu under Settings→Themes.

Figure 2. A broad selection of attractive themes are available for IceWM.

You can find a wide range of other customisations by reading the comments in the ~/.icewm/preferences file. Some notable ones are showing the workspace switcher on the panel and adding a CPU meter. Traditional window manager settings, such as focus model, are available as well.

With a built-in Webcam, it's a shame that the Eee PC didn't ship with the Linux beta of Skype that allows video calling. It is, however, easy to install by hand. Navigate to www.skype.com/download/skype/linux, and elect to download not the current stable version, but the beta. When it asks you to select your distribution, download the package for Debian Etch. Once you've downloaded it to disk, open a terminal and navigate to where the file was saved. Type the following to install the package:

dpkg -i  skype-debian_2.0.0.27-1_i386.deb



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asus eee pc

ltpbattery's picture

give the asus laptop battery new life http://www.ltpbattery.us/

Hacking the eee PC

Steve315's picture

Wonderful article. Just what I was looking for. I might mention one tiny nit. In the section where Jes is talking about apt pinning, the entry for the pin should be:

Pin: origin update.eeepc.asus.com

rather than

Pin: origin update.eepc.asus.com

How to not lose those screws.

Jim Ramsey's picture

Go into the kitchen and get a tea cup or coffee cup, style doesn't matter, but I like wider ones than narrower ones.

Drop the screws and the memory panel and your small screwdriver, for that matter, into the cup.

Now everything is easy to find.

If you feel especially hygienic, wash the cup when you're done.

If you feel really hygienic,

Anonymous's picture

If you feel really hygienic, wash the cup before you begin.

new file engine search

mous's picture

http://newfileengine.com/ is the best search engine- new system which do really works!

Just wondering if installing

Anonymous's picture

Just wondering if installing an alternative OS, like Ubuntu EEE or eeexubuntu would void my warranty. I had an HP laptop at one point, I installed Ubuntu 7.10 and they said I voided my warranty by doing that. Hopefully Asus isn't as lame.

Asus eeePC hacks

frontierscientist's picture

More eeePC hacks, please! The installed Xandrox Linux system--which apparently is an offshoot of Debian--does not include very many advanced apps, such as a java interpreter, c/c++ compiler, or other developer tools. Xandrox.com has only 2 free tools for download (neither of which looks interesting!) and I am not sure if Debian or Ubuntu programs will run correctly (So it seems from the eeePC forums I have been looking at)..so please, more command line hacks, lists of compatible Linux software and sources, and help to "Xandrosize" other Linus Software!

frontier sciences group

A couple of tips

Anonymous's picture

The main IceWM config file on my Eee 900 is actually ~/.icewm/preferences

And after editing the file you don't have to reboot for changes to take effect; just issue 'killall -HUP icewm'

A couple of tips

Anonymous's picture

The main IceWM config file on my Eee 900 is actually ~/.icewm/preferences

And after editing the file you don't have to reboot for changes to take effect; just issue 'killall -HUP icewm'