So you’ve bought a brand new netbook and you’ve got Windows XP Home on it. If you chose a really cheap netbook, you would have one with Linux or maybe no operating system at all. There have to be a few tweaks and modifications before that OS can be deemed usable. Netbooks were designed for people using the internet for browsing, chatting, downloading, etc. Quite a few distributions have come up in the last few months with cloud computing kept in mind. They’ve also been designed to keep computing really simple. Google’s Chrome OS is one of the first to approach computing this way.
This post should introduce you to some of the best netbook operating systems available for free on the internet. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to buy a cheap little netbook and then spend a bomb on an operating system that isn’t properly designed to be used. Google’s Chrome OS isn’t fully ready as an OS for download.
Jolicloud is one of the more flamboyant Linux-powered netbook operating systems around. It’s definitely not lightweight or compact at around 600MB. Something about the interface makes it look very much like a very sleek phone or PDA interface - fine lines, colorful icons on a black background on a compact netbook screen.
The OS can be run as a Live OS on a USB drive and also can be installed easily on a flash drive. Performance once installed is decent – boot up and loading of the user interface is slow though. The great thing about Jolicloud is that it’s not just a cloud-based OS. Applications are available locally and many more can be downloaded with its built-in installer that downloads programs for you. Web-based add-ons are available as well – the number of applications keeps on increasing. With these apps, you can now open up your Twitter and Facebook accounts like you would say, Google Talk.
The end result is a very interactive, yet very usable computing experience. The interface and way of doing things is simple for anyone to get used to. Data is still stored locally.
Ubuntu Netbook Remix
When you first start up Ubuntu Netbook Remix, it’s almost like Ubuntu’s desktop but with the same layout as some of the other netbook distros around. The panels contain most of what makes up the desktop Ubuntu distribution. The default Ubuntu theme is also maintained. It feels as light or heavy as the default desktop distribution as well. Installation steps are also very similar.
When you get it running, you’ll notice many more settings you can fool around with. Unlike Jolicloud or some of the other netbook operating systems, Ubuntu Netbook Remix doesn’t hide away all the settings dialog boxes – it simply puts them in a format that netbook distributions have come to use.
This is another distribution that allows saving and accessing fi les stored on a local drive than using the cloud. There is however, Cloud One that you can register for. Cloud One is Ubuntu’s online web space that can be used to sync all of your important documents. This has been integrated well with UNR. Being Ubuntu, you have loads of applications from the repository that can be installed. One of the hiccups we noticed was the short period of time where the application starting runs in a window mode and then maximizes.
Easy Peasy (www. geteasypeasy.com) is another Linux distribution based on Ubuntu. It’s almost identical to Ubuntu Netbook Remix but with a different theme. There are a few additional packages in comparison to other operating systems. It comes with Skype and Picasa for example.
Unlike most of the other distributions, Intel is the one that backed the Moblin project. After all, it was Intel’s Atom that drove the netbook phenomenon. While a lot of people were excited about Moblin at first because it was one of the first of its kind, it’s no longer the case anymore. Many more alternatives are available.
Still, Moblin puts up a very good fight. For those who haven’t seen it yet, it’s clearly one of the most unique looking operating systems and it has no resemblance to Linux whatsoever. Installation to a flash drive is simple and once you boot into the OS, it’s all very quick.
A simple panel at the top ensures you have all the width of the screen to use. The panel gives you access to the applications, settings and connectivity options. It auto hides, letting you use the entire screen as much as possible. Netbook users know all too well that there isn’t a lot of it.
It’s also good to see support for most netbooks – for example, all the shortcuts the EeePC 1000H worked and also the multitouch functionality! Once online, installation of applications also is simple – simply press the Install button next to the application you want. With your Twitter and last.fm accounts setup right, your dashboard shows updates from all your friends - it’s a very nice experience.
gOS by itself looks like any other Linux distribution. The one difference is the dock below – similar to the one found on OS X. All of the applications are put into shelves within this panel. There are fewer desktop applications and a lot of emphasis is on web based content. A community developed application called Netbook Launcher allows users to transform the gOS interface into the similar layout found on Ubuntu Netbook Remix. gOS is more of a cloud-computing OS than the rest. For those with speedy connections, it’s not a hurdle. For those with limited bandwidth, surely, the rest of the distributions are worth looking at.
Xpud, a 64MB distro is the featherweight champion for netbooks or even desktops for that matter. The distro loads quickly into a simple four menu interface. The menus are basic but the size and space used up is unnecessary.
The settings menu contains the very basic configuration programs. Data can also be backed up and recovered from it. It’s kept very minimal and you could possibly have problem with drivers on unusual hardware. The main menu is for programs and it too has very few programs that come preinstalled owing to its low download size. Multitasking between applications is a little difficult as well.
The number of downloadable applications isn’t very impressive either. This is then a very minimalist OS for those who are looking to browse, chat and maybe watch a few videos on YouTube every now and then. It isn’t as slick as say Jodicloud.
When you keep everything in mind, there is no doubt that Jolicloud and Moblin are some of the best netbook operating systems around. Ubuntu Netbook Remix feels like Ubuntu in Jolicloud clothes and it’s the same story with Easy Peasy as well. If performance and simplicity is what you want, Xpud is the netbook OS to use. Honestly though, they’re all good fun to use and I recommend everyone with a netbook to give them all a try. All you need is a flash drive and the disc ISOs.