The Next Generation of Netbooks
The Linux Option
Due to their underpowered Atom processors, minimal RAM, and (usually) tiny solid-state hard drives, netbooks generally don't do Vista. And though they can run Windows XP, they don't do it very briskly. Linux, on the other hand, runs extremely fast by netbook standards. And its low overhead helps keep the retail price low on these little machines. But not all Linux distributions are created equal, and not all netbook deployments of Linux are winners.
Each netbook vendor deploys Linux differently on the systems it sells, and most vendors include a customized menu interface to streamline the user experience. At their best, as on the Dell Mini 9 netbook with Ubuntu, these interfaces manage to be unobtrusive and yet provide full access to the Linux operating system underneath. When they're more obtrusive, they can restrict your mobility in the system, limiting productivity.
For your first netbook, unless you're already interested in Linux, you may want to go for a model with Windows XP preinstalled. The cost difference is usually minimal, and you can always install Linux on it later if you want to. If you are a fan of Linux, pick a device you like, regardless of the distribution it offers, and then install your favorite Linux flavor later.
For additional information about netbooks, check out these articles:
"Top 5 Netbooks" [chart]
"Top 5 Netbooks in Photos" [slide show]
"Six New and Notable Netbooks" [slide show]