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Netbook-optimized Operating Systems

Got a first generation netbook?  The small 8.9" screen with a lowly 1024x600 resolution cramping your workflow?  Then why not try out some of the free OSes that are geared towards netbooks?

Honestly, even the new netbooks aren't suited for full-blown Windows.  While Windows 7 runs decently, I keep finding myself needing more verticle space.  Sure, there are ways to customize Internet Explorer and FireFox to keep the tool and address bar small, but then there's the Windows taskbar!

Netbook-optimized OSes like Jolicloud, Moblin, MeeGo, Chromium OS, and Ubuntu Netbook Edition seem to be more fine-tuned for the slower and lower-resolutions.  What's even better is that you can test-drive these OSes without actually installing it on your hard drive.  Just download them and follow their instructions on putting the OS on a USB flash drive, and give it a spin before committing.

Netbooks are used mostly for internet-related tasks: web browsing, chat, webcam, and VoIP.  It's rare to use them for heavy content creation like word processing, spreadsheets, photo editing, and audio/video editing.  Mostly because the Intel Atom CPU isn't very powerful, and because the low screen resolution isn't conducive to producitivty.  Thus, these netbook operating systems are designed mostly for internet-related tasks.  Besides, isn't the term "netbook" lends itself to be used this way?


Ubuntu Netbook Edition 10.04
(Formerly Ubuntu Netbook Remix)

 Ubuntu Netbook Edition 10.04 homescreen

If you've used the full Desktop version of Ubuntu 10.04, then this netbook-optimized version should feel right at home.  Don't let the radically different interface fool you.  It is very much Ubuntu underneath the pretty skin.  This is a good thing for those who want the full functionality of a Ubuntu OS, but just wished it was more aware of the low netbook screen resolution.

Most of the applications included in the full desktop version is here, too.  This includes the media player, the remote control software, bittorrent client, and even OpenOffice.  Because of this, Ubuntu Netbook Edition is also one of the heavier, resource intensive netbook OSes.

It's not as graphically animated as MeeGo, Moblin, or Jolicloud, but it's a bit more animated than the standard desktop edition.  Basically, if you take the applications organized in the menus and placed them on the screen with large icons and text, you get the netbook edition.  Again, it's the full Ubuntu OS with software, but easier to navigate.  In fact, this version of Ubuntu is perfect for my mum.

Because it was built with netbook's small screens in mind, most applications will open in full screen.  Running applications show up on the upper-left hand corner as small icons, while the title bar uses up space where the menu bar would be on the desktop edition of Ubuntu.  This frees up a lot of vertical space.  The only gripe I have is that the included FireFox browser's navigation icons are still too big, and I found no way of reducing their size.  I found the Chromium browser (not included, but can be downloaded in the Ubuntu Software Center) makes better use of screen real estate.


Chromium OS Flow

Chromium OS Flow menu screen

Google's Chrome browser makes great use of limited screen space already.  So to base an operating system around this browser sort-of makes sense.  However, it's a bold move to use a web browser as your OS.  You're basically putting your chips all on web-based (they call it cloud) computing.  Will it work out?

With Google Docs taking care of most of the productivity part of computing, Gmail and other web-based mail doing good on the email front, Google is trying to prove web apps are the way of the future.

Google Chrome OS (Google's offical build of the OS) is still not ready yet, but they are putting out the source code that ChromeOS is based on for all to see and use.  This open source version is called Chromium OS.  In fact, on the official site, there is no ready-to-use download available.  It took outside developers to actually create usable builds for you and me to try out.

One popular developer for Chromium OS builds is Hexxeh.  He's a 17 year old boy in the UK who took it upon himself to take the source code and create something that's actually usable.  There were a few builds before this version I'm using here.  There was Zero, Cherry, and now Flow.

Much like Jolicloud, Chromium OS requires you to create an account online, and then logging in the OS with those credentials.  While you probably don't already have a Jolicloud account, with Chromium OS, you can use your Google login that you probably already have.  It's the same login you'd use for Gmail, Voice, Google Talk, etc.  This may give Chromium OS (and Chrome OS) a leg up in adpotion rates when it is offically released.


More to come soon...

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