Getting Seesmic to work on the Asus EEE PC

Having Flash 10 on your EEE PC opens up some interesting possibilities. One of these is the use of Seesmic, a website currently in beta that is designed to allow people to have conversations via video. The idea of this is that people can just use the built in webcam of their computer to record a short dialogue, this can be much quicker for somebody to do than composing a written comment and possibly could speed up the flow of a web-based discussion. The problem for EEE users is that this site just isn't designed for this type of machine. Hopefully the rise of netbooks means that we will see less and less sites being developed that do not work on them (that would be sensible after all) and let's hope that Seesmic will be able to correct this problem once they are out of beta. The way that the site is currently set up means that it is not possible to use it with an EEE. However, this is not the end of the story, open source has a habit of providing amazing flexibility, and we can put this to good use to make this site work for us. You mileage may vary with what is written here, but I have had seesmic working on an Ubuntu-powered EEE. If you get this to work with a standard EEE let me know.

On the EEE we have two problems with Seesmic. Firstly, the camera doesn't work, this is because Flash 9 does not support the internal web cam. Secondly, the interface does not fit on the screen. To make matters worse the makers of the site have disabled the scroll bars on the browser making it impossible to pan the page to get to the elements that are off screen. Additionally, the website is produced using Adobe Flex which seems to only render the interface up to the screen dimensions. This pretty much kills the site for EEE users as one of the things that falls off the screen is the Login option! Fortunately we can correct these problems.

To get the built-in webcam working you will need Flash 10, which is currently a release candidate (so it may not work as smoothly as the eventual production version) from http://labs.adobe.com/downloads/flashplayer10.html, download the version that says "Plugin for Linux (TAR.GZ)" and extract it with:

tar xvzf flashplayer10_install_linux_081108.tar.gz

In your filesystem will be a file named libflashplayer.so, this is the actual Flash player. Close all browsers and backup this file. It can be found at /usr/lib/mozilla/plugins/ on standard Xandros-powered EEE PCs, or if you have swapped to Ubuntu it is under /usr/lib/flashplugin/nonfree/. Back it up with a command like:

sudo cp /usr/lib/mozilla/plugins/libflashplayer.so /usr/lib/mozilla/plugins/libflashplayer.so.9.old

or:

sudo cp /usr/lib/flashplugin/nonfree/libflashplayer.so /usr/lib/flashplugin/nonfree/libflashplayer.so.9.old

Drop the new Flash player into this location, it will be in the directory created when you ran the tar command above, so you will need something like:

sudo cp install_flash_player_10_linux/libflashplayer.so /usr/lib/mozilla/plugins

or:

sudo cp install_flash_player_10_linux/libflashplayer.so /usr/lib/flashplugin/nonfree/

You should be able to launch a browser now and confirm that Flash 10 is installed by typing "about:config" into the address bar. So all fairly straightforward so far, now on to how we are going to get the browser to override a few of the ways the Seesmic site works in order to make it render in a usable way on the EEE.

This image shows how the seesmic interface does not render correctly on the EEE's screen

The problem we face is that the scroll bars on the browser are turned off by the site and the whole website has been made with Adobe Flex which renders content using Flash, unfortunately, because of the size of the screen, the area available is not large enough to fit the entire interface on. We can fix this though by addding some rules to a file named userContent.css which Firefox, and browsers derived from it such as Flock, look to find any locally specified rules that affect the way it should render a website (thanks to AJ Cann of Leicester University who made me aware of this feature when we were discussing how to make FriendFeed look a bit nicer). We will probably need to create this file so type:

cd ~/.mozilla/firefox/[some string].default/chrome (if you are using Firefox)

cd ~/.flock/browser/[some string].default/chrome (for Flock)

The ~ (tilde) part means the current user's home directory, it is an abbreviation we can use instead of the full path, the [some string] part will be different for every system, it is an alpha-numeric sequence that means Firefox can have different profiles for different users. By default there will be two files in this directory named: userChrome-example.css and userContent-example.css. Create our userContent.css file by typing:

cp userContent-example.css userContent.css

You can now edit this file with your favourite text editor and these lines:

@-moz-document url-prefix(http://seesmic.com) {
body {min-width: 1024px; height: 768px; overflow: scroll !important;}
}

These lines tell Firefox (or Flock) that it should apply some extra stylesheet rules to the site seesmic.com. The body of the document now has minimum dimensions set and the scroll bars are turned on. The !important declaration tells Firefox that this rule should not be overriden by the site itself. You will notice that the minimum size is set to 1024x768 pixels, this will not change the size of the browser itself, but will change the size of the "canvas" that Flash can draw the interface on. As far as it is concerned it will now have enough space to render the complete interface and you will be able to use the scroll bars to pan the site. You should now be able to register, login and use the site, recording short video messages.

After the rules have been added to userContent.css the interface renders in a usable way

I found when using the site that I did need to use an external microphone, for some reason I could not get anything usable from the internal one. However the site was usable, and raises an intriguing possibility of being able to participate in video conversations on the move. If you get this to work, why not send me a message on Seesmic (I am liamgh)! I also found that I had to refresh the site occasionally to get the camera to switch back on after an initial recording, not sure why this, it could be a glitch in Flash 10.

The techniques we used here can be applied to many other circumstances, getting Seesmic to work was one example of how we can rescue a situation where a site makes itself incompatible the EEE, but many other example may exist. The best solution is of course for web site producers to keep the rise of netbooks in mind when designing sites, and produce designs that are capable of coping with screens smaller than 1024x768 pixels! However it may not always be possible to change the site itself (a factor particularly relevant to legacy systems) so this technique can be used to make such sites work for us.

Comments

Hi Loic here, Seesmic's founder thanks for your interest and try to make it work on the EEE PC I would love to try to. We're about to release a new UI that won't be Flex so should work.

Add new comment

Comments are always very welcome, but please note the following:
  • Sadly due to the high number of spam comments recently all comments are now manually moderated. You comment will therefore not appear on the site instantly.
  • Comments on this web site are monitored for spam using Mollom. By posting a comment, you accept that your message and other personal details about you will be analysed and stored for anti-spam and quality monitoring purposes, in accordance with Mollom's privacy policy.
  • Please use your own name not a company or website name to submit comments. Your comment will be removed if you don't do this.
  • All links in comments will be marked with a no follow attribute. That means posting a link to your site here won't help your search engine rankings.
  • By submitting a comment you agree that your comment can be reproduced under the same licensing terms as the rest of the content on the site.
  • Comments can be removed at any time without explanation, but won't be removed just because you disagreed with something I said.