The ASUS Eee PC is a great little machine for $350 but is also an illustration of how Linux is not quite the system for your average consumer.
My younger son recently became a real estate agent and in the highly competitive Boston market he was looking for a way to access listings while he was in the field with his clients. Pocket devices such as the iPhone and Blackberry couldn't display enough information on the screen and his Thinkpad was too large to haul around the cty. He ended up purchasing the ASIS Eee PC. which has a 7 inch 800x480 color display, 900 MHz Intel Celeron CPU, 512 MB DRAM and 4 GB of solid-state memory and a full QWERTY keyboard for a very reasonable $350. He was assured by the salesperson that it could run an EVDO modem, although that requires using a USB model since there is no PCMCIA slot. It also runs Linux which is very fast and efficient but, as we discovered, not quite as easy to upgrade as a Windows or OS X machine.
The Sprint site provides detailed instructions on setting up their modem with Linux, but as it says on the cover:
This document is provided forinformation purposes only. Sprint cannot accept any responsibility for the use of information provided in this document. Please do not call Customer Care with Linux questions. Our current Customer Care support is only trained on Windows platforms.
Indeed, the contents bear little resemblance to the environment that comes with the Eee PC. No problem. There are plenty of helpful sites on the Internet with advice on how to type commands such as
sudo modprobe usbserial vendor=0x1410 product=0x4100
as soon as one figures out to type CTRL-ALT-T to get a command window to open. Except that in order to get modprobe to work you first need to install the C compiler, rebuild the Unix kernel, and then find out that you really want to modify airprime.c. That gets the USB device connected, but now you need to configure PPP. Watch out if you copy the files from your PC - remember not to save them in "DOS Mode." That got the modem working, but required opening a shell window every time the machine was booted. No problem. It turns out it's easy to add a Start button with one's own commands once you find the helpful documentation, except that to get them to work with the proper permissions one needs to write a little C wrapper that can get around Linux's paranoia about setting user-ID on shell scripts. Don't forget to use execlp() instead of execl().
Not as much fun as going to parties at SXSW but better than going out in the cold in Boston. And for $350 you have a powerful little portable computer connected to the Internet wherever you go.