First steps: Debian on an Asus t100, and some negative experience with Gnome

The Asus t100 tablet is this amazing and odd little thing: it sells for under $200, yet has a full-featured Atom 64-bit CPU, 2GB RAM, 32 or 64GB SSD, etc. By default, it ships with Windows 8.1. It has a detachable keyboard, so it can be used as a tablet or a very small 10″ laptop.

I have never been a fan of Windows on it. It does the trick for web browsing and email, but I’d like to ssh into my machines sometimes, and I just can’t bring myself to type sensitive passwords into Windows.

I decided to try installing Debian on it. After a lot of abortive starts due to the UEFI-only firmware, I got jessie installed. (The installer was fine; it was Debian Live that wouldn’t boot.) I got wifi and battery status working via an upgrade to the 4.1 kernel. A little $10 Edimax USB adapter was handy to spare a bunch of copying via USB disks.

I have been using XFCE with XMonad for so many years that I am somewhat a stranger to other desktop environments. XMonad isn’t really suitable for a tablet, however, so I thought I’d try Gnome, especially after a fairly glowing review about its use on a tablet.

I am already disappointed after just a few minutes. There is no suspend button on the menu. Some Googling showed that holding Alt while hovering over the power off button will change it to a suspend button. And indeed it does. But… uh, what? That is so common and so non-obvious. And pushing the power button does… nothing. That’s right, nothing. Apparently the way to enable some action when you push the power button is to type in a settings command in a terminal. There’s no setting in the settings panel.

I initially ditched Gnome some years ago due to its penchant for removing features. I had hoped that this much time later, it would have passed that stage, but I’m already disappointed. I was hoping for some really nice integration with the system. But my XFCE setup has a very clear “When power button is pressed” setting. I have no idea why Gnome doesn’t.

Also, the touch screen works fine and it registers my touches, but whenever I touch anywhere, the cursor disappears. Weird, eh?

There are some things to fix yet on the tablet (sound, brightness adjustment, and making suspend reliable) but others have solved these in Ubuntu so I don’t think it’ll be too hard.

In the meantime, any suggestions regarding Gnome? Is it just going to annoy me? Maybe I should try KDE also. I’ve heard good things about Plasma Active, but don’t see it in Debian though.

9 thoughts on “First steps: Debian on an Asus t100, and some negative experience with Gnome

  1. Hi, I have forced myself for about 1 year to try to get used to the new G3 thingy, with the effect that finally I ditched everything related to Gnome3.

    I have been using xfce for long since then, but have switched to Cinnamon which works suprisingly smooth and elegant and does simply what one would expect. I cannot report on the tablet mode, but it has all the configurations you are asking for, and well integrated.

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  2. You will need to use “gnome-tweak-tool” for this kind of “advanced” settings.

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    John Goerzen Reply:

    Thanks, that does the trick. Strange that it’s in such a separate place.

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    Ole Laursen Reply:

    Actually, it’s not really that strange. With the tweak tools, you can shoot yourself in the foot. They don’t want bug reports on people who’ve shot themselves in their foot.

    I could be wrong, but it seems likely to me that your power button deficiency is a bug in Debian somehow. I’m pretty sure the power button on my desktop used to work.

    Also, I think GNOME on a touch screen is still somewhat beta. They’ve been working towards it for some years now, but I don’t think getting all the kinks worked out has been a main focus.

    Regarding getting annoyed: with the plugin architecture of the shell, things have changed a bit, but if you stay on GNOME, you’ll still have to accept the direction they’re going in. Not that it’s much different from other projects, it’s just that this direction doesn’t include configurability or a ton of features. In that sense, it’s perhaps more like old simpler window managers like Fluxbox.

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  3. Hi, I’m using the T100 with Debian Stretch and Plasma 5. Plasma 5 it is not yet as reliable and complete as kde 4 and it has to be configured a bit to be used comfortably on a tablet. For common desktop activities it is however better then Gnome 3 IMHO. But I have to say that I tested G3 on another convertible device and, despite some deficiencies that you already found out, I found it pretty good to be used in tablet mode as it has some things useful working out of the box that I didn’t find on other DEs, such as a functioning virtual keyboard, swipe gesture to bring up the activities view and screen rotation with automatic adjustments of the touchscreen inputs.

    As you already mentioned the hardware support of the T100 is not yet complete, if you have time to test out new features and softwares please consider to add your findings and experiences to the Debian Wiki dedicated page (https://wiki.debian.org/InstallingDebianOn/Asus/T100TA).

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    John Goerzen Reply:

    Yep, I did note the virtual keyboard was decent in Gnome 3. It automatically shows up in some programs, but not others (shows up when I click in text areas in some programs, but not, for instance, Iceweasel/Firefox). I will update that wiki page as I find out tricks too.

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  4. FYI: I took the liberty of updating the wiki at:

    https://wiki.debian.org/InstallingDebianOn/Asus/T100TA

    I’m running the most recent kernel 4.3.0-rc3 from experimental, and currently sound and accelerometers work. I can change the brightness with xrandr – but do you know if this actually dims the backlight, i.e. reduces power consumption?

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    Lisandro Damián Nicanor Pérez Meyer Reply:

    If you can change the brightness then yes, you are reducing power comsuption. But don’t ask me on what amount you are reducing it :)

    Reply

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