Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Are There Operating Systems for Netbooks? Windows vs. The Ubuntus

Ubuntu - with large icons and large, clean menus

A few weeks ago, I wrote a series of posts about how I rescued two netbooks (which I usually call “minis”) from the trash heap by removing Windows and installing Xubuntu. Today I'm going to write about how Ubuntu and its variations (of which Xubuntu is one) are ideal specifically for netbooks. Tomorrow I'll share some info on specific customizations I made to Xubuntu.

Not for Netbooks!!!
Before entering the world of Ubuntu (the Linux operating system of which Xubuntu is a lighter variation) I had never seen an operating system for a mini. I just assumed that you had to deal with the fact that you would be seeing everything in fine print, simply shrunk down to fit on a smaller screen.
Windows 8 has addressed this somewhat with their tablet-like app-focused start-up screen, and automatic full-screen for all apps run out of the start screen make it visually ideal for minis. Menus and search bars also disappear and only appear on demand.
Visually, they got it right. Not perfect, but definitely the right concept.
Kubuntu's Netbook Remix
However, considering that Windows 7 and even XP bog down minis to the point of complete dysfunction and uselessness, I'm not sure that Windows 8 which is even heavier and messier woud work well on a mini. It's not worth my while to try.

The Ubuntu Solution for Netbooks
The Ubuntu family of operating systems includes 4 main options. Of these:
Ubuntu's desktop (called “Unity”) is already ideal for netbooks with a sleek sidebar for launching programs quickly, and a universal search/menu button in the top left corner. It searches your entire computer, and the web, as you type!
Lubuntu's bland & funtcional netbook option
Kubuntu has a built-in netbook “remix” (see the screenshot above.) When you run Kubuntu it automatically detects that you're using a netbook and runs the desktop as a visually-appealing full-screen menu with the menu headings (“Office”, “System”, “Internet,” etc.) appearing as icons across the top, and the program options appearing as icons on the desktop. Only the items in the category selected appear. There is an automatic search which (as with Ubuntu) searches as you type, bringing up any programs, files, folders and locations.
Lubuntu, the lightest-weight option (with which I rescued an abandoned PC in my parents' house 2 weeks ago) also has netbook desktop, but you have to log out and choose to log in again as a netbook. Like Lubuntu in general, it looks rather bland, offering the desktop as a full-screen menu, with tabs on the top for the menu headings and icons for each program – kind of like Kubuntu, but “stone-age” instead of “space-age” in appearance. Also like Lubuntu in general, it works at lightning speed and very clean.

But I Chose Xubuntu – With No Netbook Option
Of the 4, Xubuntu, the second lightest, is the only one without a netbook design or option. And it's the one I'm using. I've chosen to stick with Xubuntu because it's noticeably faster than Ubuntu and Kubuntu; both of those are much faster that Windows 7 on this mini, but I like the fact that I can open 6 programs at once and begin browsing the web immediately while the other programs load without any delay.
Xubuntu, nice but not visually netbook friendly - yet
My wife pointed out to me that I was talking about seconds of waiting. I'm being picky. But I like the fact that I can be picky and have my computer working almost exactly as I want.

The bottom line is that Xubuntu is almost as light as Lubuntu, but looks much better. Since it works fast enough on my Acer Aspire One mini, I'm sticking with it.
And the final point is that, perhaps more than the other 3 options, and 1000x more than Windows, Xubuntu is very flexible and adjustable to make it look how you need.
So tomorrow I will write about how I've tweaked Xubuntu to make it visually netbook-friendly.

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