Linux: Your netbook’s best friend

April 18th, 2010 in .Laptops & Netbooks .Products
Bobby O’Reilly
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It’s just two weeks to go until leading Linux developer Canonical releases the latest version of its Ubuntu operating system. It may not have the marketing spend and public profile of a new Windows launch, but for some of us it’s every bit as important.

Ubuntu is version of Linux, which is an operating system, just like Microsoft Windows or Apple’s OSX, which enables programs to talk to your PC’s hardware and gives you control over how they look and behave. There are lots of versions of Linux, including Fedora, OpenSUSE and even Google’s Chrome, which all differ slightly in what they offer. Unlike Windows or OSX, Linux is ‘open source’, which means anyone can download the full code, change it, and give it away again for free.

Before you start thinking that ‘free software’ means ‘second rate software’ though, let’s get one thing straight. A lot of open source development comes from software giants like Oracle and Google, both companies in the same design league as Microsoft or Apple. There are many smaller organisations, like Canonical, which have designed successful business strategies wholly around ‘free software’. They give their operating system away and make money by offering support services to large corporations who want to use it professionally.

The truth is, though, that you may never have heard of Linux because it doesn’t have anywhere near the market penetration of Windows or OSX on desktop PCs, and there’s little reason to change the operating system that came with your machine. When it comes to netbooks, though, there are a lot of reasons you might be interested in downloading the latest version of Ubuntu and giving it a go.

For a start, it’s small and fast. It won’t fill your hard drive, it boots quickly and it’s very responsive. Unlike Windows, it will stay that way too – it doesn’t slow down over time, and you don’t need to run a resource hungry virus checker in the background, because there aren’t any dangerous Linux virii out there.

Some versions of Linux, like Ubuntu, come with a special netbook optimised interface too. Rather than the traditional taskbar and start menu, application launchers are kept in a layout designed to be easy to use at the netbook screen resolution of 1024×600. It makes a lot of sense and means that unlike, say, the iPad, you don’t sacrifice any features like multitasking in favour of a streamlined look.

Things are going to get better for netbook owners. Later this year we’ll see machines based on Google’s Chrome operating system, and iPad rivalling tablets which use the Android platform.

Did we mention it’s free too? That’s not just the operating system, either. With a standard Ubuntu install you get a word processor, a graphics editing program, multi-protocol instant messaging program, Twitter client and more included. And installing new programs is as simple as opening the Software Centre and clicking on the ones you want. If you’re interested, most versions of Linux can be run from a USB stick too, so you can try them before you install them properly.

The myth of Linux is that it’s hard to master. That’s just not true. So long as you’re prepared to accept it’s slightly different to Windows, and that the word processor is called OpenOffice, not Word, you’ll get along fine.

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