In one of my previous articles I talked about the use of Linux as a free alternative to Windows. Now most people choose to use Windows on computers mainly because of compliance, as some software/games run only on Windows. We wouldn't even argue that some software are better functionally than their Linux-based alternative. No contests for guessing the superior office suite between Microsoft Office and OpenOffice.
Since the last two years, the inception of Netbooks has brought in a new wave of affordable computers that can be easily carried around anywhere. Netbooks were not designed to replace laptops and are meant to be used for basic tasks. Tasks such as browsing the net, working with office productivity suites, watching a movie or playing a few songs etc. You really don't want to try and run 3D MAX or encode HD videos on it.
Most Netbooks that were sold in the last two years came bundled with Windows XP Home; an ancient OS in today's date, but probably your best bet since it ran smoothly on that low-power hardware. Windows Vista's heavy system requirements must have also prevented Microsoft from bundling it.
Today many Netbooks come with Windows 7 Starter; a heavily skimmed version of Microsoft's latest OS. So skimmed that you can't even change the default wallpaper. Plus it is also observed that Windows 7 running on systems with 1GB of RAM tend to act sluggish on multi-tasking. We're not saying that Windows 7 Starter is pathetic; in fact, it is better in terms of usability when compared to XP. But think of it this way, Netbooks are going to be used for basic computing, and I can safely say that Linux has enough alternatives that will get your basic tasks done easily. Linux has Google Chrome or Firefox for browsing, OpenOffice for office work and media players like VLC that will play even 720p MKV videos. All these popular apps that you've used in Windows are also available for Linux.
Since people saw the big impact of Netbooks in the market, different Linux distributions came out that were customized for Netbooks. They were designed a little differently to optimize viewable area on small 10-inch screen sizes. We've got many such iterations but I am going to talk about three compelling contenders -- Easy Peasy, Jolicloud and Meego. These OSes have been tested specifically to work with Netbooks. All the necessary drivers are built right in, so it pretty much works out-of-the-box. The best part is that they support Live-booting. This lets you run the entire operating system from a flash drive. So, there's no need to re-partition, as it can be used with Windows 7 Starter side by side.
But why should one even bother installing Linux on a Netbook, let alone live-boot it off a pen drive? Here are three concrete reasons;
1) Basic stuff works: Some of the Linux distributions we're going to talk about has everything you need pre-installed. OpenOffice, multi-protocol instant messaging, Skype, codecs to play all types of audio and video files etc. So, like I said before, it works out of the box.
2) There's no need to install an antivirus: Netbooks already have paltry power resources. On top of that, running heavy-duty antivirus suites like a Norton or a McAfee is only going to make it worse. If you are able to accomplish your tasks by using Linux instead of Windows, then it will save you a lot of worries.
3) It is ideal to have a Live-boot flash drive handy: Think of a scenario where your Windows unexpectedly refuses to boot up for some reason. Having a Live-boot enabled flash drive could save the day, where you can simply boot into Linux and continue working. I know many people are skeptical of connecting somebody's flash-based media for the risk of transmitting viruses. You could live-boot into Linux to do all your file transfer work without the fear of a malicious 'autorun.exe' working in the background. I sometimes have also taken the job of being the antivirus myself, manually deleting all those suspicious files and folders that cannot be seen in Windows, but can't escape from the eyes of the Penguin.
OK, I guess that's more or less what you really need to know about Linux, but which one should you use with your Netbook? Let's find out.