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Linux Distros For Netbooks

Our Linux expert tries out netbook-ready Puppy Linux, Ubuntu Netbook Remix, Xubuntu, gOS, and Moblin, and reports on how they stack up.




The Mac-like gOS interface might be a bit tight on a netbook screen.
(click for image gallery)

gOS, That's A Good OS

Short for "Good OS" (which it is, pretty much), gOS is for those who mainly use the Web as their operating system, rather than the PC itself. If you spend a lot of time using online apps and services, this one might be worth a try.

It originally appeared as the OS for the Everex gPC, but has since become its own animal. With a desktop that sports Google Gadgets, native integration for Google Gears, and your choice of native interface or a more netbook-style simple view (the latter a community add-on), it's a quirky choice.

Keep in mind that "quirky" doesn't always mean "well-suited": you might find the menus tough to navigate with a tiny touchpad, or find the array of desktop gadgetry more annoying than useful. These are all reasons by themselves to give gOS a whirl in live-CD format, both to see if the interface metaphors are comfortable or confounding and to see how well your connectivity and graphics hardware hold up. My Lenovo test machine's wireless driver was detected but not enabled by default, since it needed a proprietary driver. Fortunately, that wasn't difficult to turn on and get running.

In short gOS is a bit of a mixed bag. In some ways, it's discouraging. Key programs are out of date: the only version of OpenOffice available in the repository is 2.4, for instance. Yet it has appeal. Wine, the Windows application compatibility subsystem for Linux, is preinstalled; that makes it easier to drop in existing Windows apps and run them.

It's absolutely worth a try on your netbook, but don't be surprised if gOS turns out to be a tough fit.

Moblin

Moblin is officially still a project under wraps, so you're encouraged to use it only if you feel adventurous or want to stick your neck out and beta-test it. But for a project that's alpha-bordering-on-beta, it's remarkably stable and functional.

Most of the work that needs to be done on Moblin seems to fall into two realms: proper integration of hardware drivers, and the applications available for the distro. In the case of the former, it turned out to be my netbook's wireless drivers (again!). They weren't detected automatically, and it was back to the wired connection for me.

With the latter, there's not much yet available in the repositories -- even productivity chestnuts like OpenOffice and AbiWord aren't there yet. On the plus side, stuff like suspend/resume and other power-management features all worked excellently.

In short, Moblin is unfinished, so don't expect anything other than a bumpy ride even for trivial work. But do check back often, since the insanely fast boot time and support from a major hardware maker (in this case, Intel) means it will be more than worth the wait when it's baked all the way through.

Conclusion

Most Linux distros are suitable for netbook use. But fine-tuning your particular flavor of netbook by finding an even friendlier Linux distro isn't too difficult. Matching up your rig's configuration: screen size, devices, and drivers -- and your own style of work and play -- with the most conducive Linux distro, you'll get the max out of your mini-laptop.


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