Some users believe that Windows is the best netbook OS. But others - such as Jack Wallen - think Linux is a much better fit. Check out his reasons and see if you agree.
I've read countless Microsoft-funded "studies" trying to persuade me that Windows is already dominating the netbook space. According to these studies, Linux might as well just take a curtain call because its act is over in the world of netbooks. That is simply not true. If it were, Asus wouldn't be selling netbooks with Linux preinstalled.
Linux is not going anywhere but up in the netbook market. Here are 10 reasons why I can say that.
Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.
1: Netbook hardware is the perfect match for Linux
One of the biggest arguments people use for Windows over Linux is that "You can't play games with Linux." Well, guess what? You can't play games on a netbook (outside of Web-based games). And there are tons of other software types you can't (or won't) use on a netbook. No Photoshop, no Quark, and none of those proprietary apps that people seem to need to do their day-to-day business. Nope. Netbooks serve a small purpose — to let you get online — and they do it well.
Linux is the perfect networking operating system. It plays well with other OSes, it's secure, and it's fast. But one thing any purchaser of a netbook should know is that space is prime. Although a fresh installation of Eeebuntu might take up nearly 2.8 gigs, you can quickly trim that down using the Synaptic package manager by removing the applications you won't be using. Windows XP with SP 2 takes up 2.5 gigs of space so the tradeoff there is minimal.
2: Netbooks require a secure OS
If you are using Windows XP on an ultra portable piece of hardware, you are a mobile risk for viruses. And you won't be installing Norton's or McAfee on your Netbook — especially if you are using a flash-based storage netbook. With Linux, you won't need those tools in the first place. Your Linux-based netbook can travel anywhere you want and you won't have to worry about picking up viruses or spyware like you would with a Windows-based netbook.
3: It's all about the interface
If you have limited screen real estate, why not use a desktop interface designed for that real estate? Instead of using the standard desktop metaphor, the Eeebuntu Netbook Remix desktop introduces an interface that is perfectly suited for the desktop size offered by netbooks. This interface makes the netbook experience far more efficient than any Windows interface. Sure, it's not what you're used to. But it's cleaner, faster, and more user-friendly, and it will soon become familiar to you. And this interface isn't different just for the sake of being different. It's obvious that the interface was well thought out and aimed at the new PC user as well as the new netbook user.
4: Your netbook can be more than just a slow laptop
When I purchased my last netbook, one of the first things I did was install Eeebuntu (over the purchased Xandros Linux). Why did I do this? Because Xandros is a limited operating system, whereas Eeebuntu is a full-blown Linux distro that happens to install on an Eee PC. When using Eeebuntu on a netbook, you really feel like you have the power of a full laptop at your fingertips. You can even install a full-blown LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) server on your netbook if you like.
5: Linux will keep your cost down
One of the reasons why netbooks are so popular is that they're cheap. Where, other than ebay, can you find a PC for near or under $300? And soon, the magical $200 price tag will be reached when Freescale releases its Linux-only ARM-based netbook. Remember, Linux is open source, so any software you are installing will be free. Because of the cost of the Linux operating system, the cost of netbooks can continue to fall. If Microsoft were to attempt to use Vista or Windows 7, the cost of your average netbook would not fall. And any extra software you want to install - or any antivirus or firewall software you'll want to use when you're running a Windows operating system on your netbook? You'll pay for it.
6: Linux offers more flavors to choose from
There are plenty of Linux varieties to choose from. Even with netbooks, you can go with the basic Xandros or even try the full-blown 3D Elive+Compiz — yes, even on a netbook! I have witnessed the 3D goodness of Compiz running on a netbook and it's impressive. Of course, it's not for everyone. But that's okay, because there really is a Linux distribution for everyone. Just be careful when you make a choice: Some of the distributions (such as Eeebuntu and OpenGeeeU) include the array kernel, which has wireless for netbooks built in by default. Some of the others will require you to take a few extra steps to build in wireless support. And with some of these distributions, there are different sub-variations. Eeebuntu has the standard release, which is just like a standard Ubuntu desktop, along with the Netbook Remix, which is a special desktop designed with the Eee PC user in mind.
7: You'll gain speed
I have used the same netbook running both Windows XP and Eeebuntu, and there is no comparison. The Eeebuntu desktop was noticeably snappier than the Windows XP. The Web browser and mail clients opened nearly twice as fast on the Eeebuntu install than they did on the Windows XP install. Of course, there are differences between the various Linux flavors. For instance, the Xandros distribution is slower than the Eeebuntu distribution, but the Xandros is noticeably faster than OpenGeeeU and Elive.
8: Improvements will come faster and more often
Just like any software in the open source community, the Linux netbook operating systems will continue to improve at a much faster rate than the Windows operating systems for netbooks. For one thing, more people are working to improve the experience. It is well known that open source bugs are found and fixed far faster than Windows bugs. This will help improve the Linux netbook OS far faster than anything Microsoft can manage. Open source users are more apt to submit bug reports, and open source developers implement patches faster. These patches and bug fixes will not come in the form of Service Packs (as they do in Windows), which are released infrequently and in large chunks. Because of this you are less likely to fubar your network when updating a Linux-based netbook.
9: The next version will work
Are you sure Windows 7 will work on your Eee PC? And if it does, how well will it work? You can be sure the next release of Eeebuntu will work on your Eee PC because it was made for that hardware. From release to release, you never know what a Windows operating system will work on. Vista was a total bust on the netbook. Windows 7 has yet to be released or to even prove it can work well on the netbook hardware. And XP is eventually going to meet its demise. So why take a chance on purchasing hardware that Microsoft will make irrelevant with its next release? Instead, rest assured your Linux OS will continue to work whenever you upgrade it.
10: Support is better (believe it or not)
Finding support for a Windows-based netbook isn't as easy as it is for a standard laptop or desktop. The nice thing about the Linux netbook community is that the developers are interested in making sure the OS works well and are quick to listen to their users. So you know if you have a problem with your Linux-based netbook, a quick search on Google will most likely find a simple solution to your problem. And if you don't find an answer on Google, you can go to the Web site of the distribution developers, where they'll either have a support forum or a contact form (or email address). Getting help on your Windows-based netbook will require a call to the company that sold you the netbook or a call to Microsoft - or you'll have to hope your problem has already been reported and fixed so you can find it on Google.
Give it a shot
I am always amazed that people think, even for a moment, that Windows is a better OS for netbooks. If you are curious, try a couple of Linux distributions on your netbook. Not only will you be thrilled with the difference, you will most likely find yourself having to install that same OS on your friends' and family's netbooks. And you'll be all the happier that you did.
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Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.