Three Top Linux Options for Your Netbook

Ubuntu Netbook Remix

Although it's based on the popular Linux distro, Ubuntu Netbook Remix (UBN) is not a pruned-down version of Ubuntu. Instead, this lightweight OS was built mostly from the ground up; its developers discarded old, legacy code not relevant to netbook system specifications. As a result, UNR is supposed to run with less memory and processor requirements than its desktop counterpart.

Also significantly different from the original Ubuntu: UNR places access to applications, the Web, user documents and media all under a simplified, quick-launch interface. Superficially, the only thing UNR and Ubuntu share in common is the orange-and-brown color scheme.

Dell offers Ubuntu Netbook Remix as an optional OS pre-installed onto its Mini 10 line of netbooks. But how well does this OS fare on other, non-Dell netbooks?

Installation: The Ubuntu Netbook Remix file download is almost 1GB in size. Installing UNR onto the Eee PC 1005HA took about 15 minutes.

What's to like: It's very intuitive to navigate UNR's quick-launch user interface. The left side of the main menu organizes applications into categories (e.g., "Accessories," "Games," "Graphics," etc.). Clicking a category lists icons (which are large and easy to identify) for the applications in the center of the launcher menu screen. The right side lists the folders of your personal files ("Documents," "Music," "Pictures," "Videos"); when you connect a USB flash drive or other USB external device to your netbook, its icon appears under this list.

Major applications loaded quickly: Getting OpenOffice's word processor or spreadsheet program running took only a few seconds. Firefox popped up pretty quickly, too.

Even though there were the expected compatibility issues with media files, clicking an MP3 file automatically caused the OS to search for, and ask for permission to download and install, the appropriate code to enable playback. It was a convenient click-and-fix process.

UNR places access to applications, the Web, user documents and media all under a simplified, quick-launch interface.

[Click here to see related slideshow.]

What's not to like: On the Eee PC 1005HA I used for testing, neither the wireless networking nor the Ethernet connection worked. The current version of UNR doesn't have the proper networking drivers for this particular Eee PC model.

Thus, I had to do some Googling to find a solution. The fix required using another computer connected to the Internet to download two sets of files, transferring them over to the 1005HA, evoking the Linux terminal in Ubuntu Netbook Remix, and carefully typing arcane and very long commands to get these two essential pieces of code installed and running.

As always, I recommend first checking the compatibility list for each of these alternative netbook OSes before deciding whether you want to try installing it. In the case of the Eee PC 1005HA, the site for Ubuntu Netbook Remix does describe issues with this netbook's wireless and Ethernet hardware.

Worth replacing your current OS? Ubuntu Netbook Remix has a tightly integrated and speedy feel to it, and an easy-on-the-eyes design. I found UNR's quick-launch UI not only attractive but so convenient and quick to navigate that I preferred using it on a netbook over the usual desktop interface. Text was large and clear enough to read on the 10.1-inch screen of the Eee PC 1005HA.

If you can resolve any issues it may have with missing drivers for your specific netbook model, this alternative OS performs superbly as a drop-in replacement for your netbook's pre-installed OS, especially if its current one is a Linux-based OS showing its age. Even if your netbook runs Windows XP or 7 (and if you have no need to run Windows programs on it), you should give Ubuntu Netbook Remix a try.

Subscribe to the Best of PCWorld Newsletter

Comments