Netbooks are fantastic portable devices. They’re portable, lightweight and–perhaps best of all–really cheap. But netbooks can seem hopelessly limited when used with standard desktop operating systems such as Windows or Ubuntu. This is why I recommend every netbook owner look into getting a netbook operating system.
A netbook OS is, simply put, an operating system designed with netbook users in mind. These will leave out features netbook users never need, such as CD burning. They also typically feature a user interface that keeps in mind the limited real estate netbooks feature.
Currently, the best netbook operating systems on the market are Linux-based, and most of those are based on Ubuntu. If you’re not sure what your options are, you’ve found the right article. Below are four excellent systems you can download right now, and another to keep an eye on for later this year.
Ubuntu Netbook Edition
Most Linux netbook systems seem to be based off of this one in some way or another, so it’s really worth starting with Ubuntu Netbook Edition (previously named Ubuntu Netbook Remix.) In March of 2008, the folks at Canonical launched this operating system, attempting to establish the Ubuntu brand on the rapidly expanding netbook market. It worked: Dell sells Ubuntu netbooks and Canonical is reportedly working out a bunch of other deals.
This operating system wasn’t exactly designed from the ground up. It’s a Gnome-based system including most of the standard Ubuntu apps (Firefox, Open Office, F-Spot, etc.) What makes this setup different is compatibility with netbook hardware, and a GUI tailor-made to take advantage of the limited real estate netbook screens feature.
You don’t need to buy a Ubuntu netbook to make use of Ubuntu; you can install it on your netbook right now. Find instructions for doing so and a download over at Ubuntu.com.
I’m not going to lie: this is the OS on my netbook right now. In fact, I’m writing this post from Jolicloud. I explained my love for this system in a recent post.
I won’t rehash too much here, so read the above article to find out more, but know that this system takes all that is good about Ubuntu Netbook Edition and builds from there. You’ll find an incredibly easy to use app installation process, apps customized to work well with your netbook and much more.
It’s also worth pointing out that this system is compatible with most netbooks on the market; check out a list of working computers here.
Find Jolicloud over at Jolicloud.com; you’ll even find instructions for a simple installation.
This one’s not exactly a netbook operating system per se, but it can make a pretty good one. Crunchbang is based on Ubuntu but focuses on “speed, style and substance” to quote their website. Based on the lightweight Openbox window manager, Crunchbang certainly is fast and could run really well on your netbook. I highly suggest trying this out if traditional netbook operating systems don’t work out for you.
Find a download over at crunchbanglinux.org.
It’s worth noting that in 2008, a group of EEE enthusiasts made a custom Crunchbang for EEE users: CrunchEEE. Check out Cruncheee here, but know that it’s over a year out of date.
Ubuntu Netbook Edition is great, but a lot of things don’t work out of the box. MP3s, for example, can’t be played until you install the codecs. EasyPeasy aims to be simple by offering propietary applications and codecs out of the box. You’ll be pleased to find MakeUseOf favourites including Skype and Picasa included by default.
Installing EasyPeasy is pretty easy. Check out downloads and installation instructions over at easypeasy.com
Honorable Mention: Moblin/Meego
Back in December, I raved about the Moblin project in an article entitled “The Moblin Netbook OS – Giving Chrome OS a Run For Its Money.” Well, since I wrote that article, Moblin merged with Nokia’s Maemo project to become Meego. There’s no downloadable version of this system yet, but based on how excellent Moblin was, I’m expecting big things. Keep an eye on this project, and know that I’ll write a review here at MakeUseOf as soon as something solid comes out.
There are a number of great netbooks on the market, and a bunch more great netbook operating systems worth trying out. I’ve only highlighted a few of the pack leaders worth checking out, but there’s a lot more beneath the surface if you’re willing to dig.