What Netbook Operating Should You Use? "Linux," suggests The Economist

16 December 2008

http://img165.imageshack.us/img165/4457/p7288141eb9.jpgThe Economist recently published an article on Netbooks, suggesting that users should 'avoid the temptation' to go for a Windows-based netbook, and in particular, to treat your netbook simply as a 'mini laptop'. Their perspective is that in order to run Windows and win apps efficiently, you might as well just buy a small laptop.  The recommendation was to stick to a Linux based netbook, with a focus on pre-installed software that can manage your daily common tasks. 

With most netbooks in the £150 range, such as the most basic version of the ever so popular Acer Aspire One (which I have myself) for a mere average of £179 in the UK (or less if you search HUKD), The Economist suggests that the "8 gigabytes (GB) of flash storage and 512 megabytes of RAM... is perfectly adequate to run the customised version of Linux that comes pre-installed on it..." They also rated Open Office to be easier to use than MS Word, stating that it has 'no compatibility problems'.

Now from an 'economical' viewpoint (it is THE Economist, after all), are those specs 'adequate' for what the majority of us want with our Netbooks? How many of you have bought one that came pre-installed with Linux, and actually wished in hindsight that you paid the extra £40-£50 and got an XP version with a 120GB HDD instead, or a larger screen? And for those of you who think 'Linux Rocks', why?

[The Economist]

20 comments

  • b33r
    I think you have missed the point, I think it is about buying what you need it for, if you want it for chatting, surfing, looking at pics, vids, few little fun games etc. then you are wasting your money spending the 40-50 for an insecure operating system and a more fragile 120GB HDD. If there is a program you MUST use which only works under windows and you must store loads of music and video then the NETBOOK market is not the right place to be looking in.
  • Andrew D.
    I'm thinking of getting a Netbook. I'm definitely going to go for Linux (Ubuntu, ideally), and I'll set it up so that I can use VNC or similar to access my regular Windows laptop over the network if I need to.
  • meee
    This is a case of the 'experts' getting it wrong. Whilst manufacturers had envisaged selling a cheap-to-build, low-spec machine at the highest possible price it is clear that a growing number of consumers are demanding a more sophisticated package for their money. Linux and 8GB SSDs are all well and good if all that is required is a mobile web browser, but then why not include an integrated mobile modem as standard? The popularity of models such as the MSI Wind and Samsung NC10 would attest to the fact that there is a definite market for a more versatile low-cost unit, functioning as a mobile media centre and mobile office as well as a web browser. XP and Office 2003 for me!
  • aphexbr
    "How many of you have bought one that came pre-installed with Linux, and actually wished in hindsight that you paid the extra £40-£50 and got an XP version with a 120GB HDD instead" Nobody I know of . "Larger screen" usually means a bigger/heavier laptop and most netbook users want a small unit with no need for anything requiring that much disk space. If you want a desktop replacement, you buy a "proper" laptop. If you want something light to work on documents, email, etc., then you buy a netbook. presumably, the reason why they picked Linux over XP is because XP is still a resource hog, so Linux will run better under any kind of load than XP will on 512M. "And for those of you who think ‘Linux Rocks’, why?" Everything's free for a start. You have access to thousands of programs with most distributions and installation of anything in the main distributions' repositories is as easy as installing a Windows program. You can get pretty much anything you want for any task, as long as you're not a slave to brand names, and there's a lot of very good Linux only software (e.g. until recently Amarok, my favourite music player, and KOffice, a very lightweight office package that does everything I want to do with an office package but faster than the bloated OpenOffice/MS suites). Then, there's security. Linux is by design much more secure than XP or previous Windows versions. It's also far less susceptible to viruses. Since most software is open source, spyware is virtually non-existent (if a program introduced spyware into a program, someone could just remove it and re-release a spyware-free version). Finally there's the freedom aspect. Nobody is trying to force you to upgrade or use their software for any reason other than because it's better. For example, Microsoft deliberately hid and obfuscated the way its Word .doc format worked to prevent other packages from using that format - they wanted you to not only stick with using Word, but made it so you had to do upgrade to continue using it. That's why OpenOffice had problems in its early days - the .doc format was so poorly documented that even Microsoft couldn't get it to work consistently (try opening a Word 95 document properly in Word 2007). With open source, you're never forced to upgrade if you don't want to. Linux is a fantastic operating system unless you just want to use (insert brand name here). When it has problems, it's usually something to do with Microsoft/Adobe/ATI/whoever refusing to support it than anything wrong with Linux itself.
  • JeffT
    Linux is OK if you are an "enthusiast" but XP is better in the real world and works fine on netbooks.
  • Gus
    Linux is "fantastic" indeed if you are a top nerd! For a common user it might be a challenge sometimes. Reason why most of the people prefer windows.
  • j.l
    The only reason people find linux difficult to use is because they have not been brought up with it - if it was the other way round and people had been brought up with Linux then they would find Windows difficult to use. There is also the markeeting aspect - people have heard of windows because of the amount Microsoft spend on advertising year after year. Ever seen a linux ad on the t.v?
  • aphexbr
    @Gus: I tend to find that most people who prefer Windows have either not used Linux, cling to ideas of how it was 5 years ago (try a modern distro some time) or just want to use specific applications that aren't available for Linux. I'm yet to have one of these conversations online that doesn't devolve into "there's no easy way to install software" (there is in any version released in the last few years), "you have to use the command line" (no you don't) or "I can't run Crysis/Dreamweaver/Photoshop therefore it sucks". The "nerd" argument is about 5 years out of date. Any alternative intelligent argument would be appreciated.
  • meee
    Excel macros just don't run on Open Office.
  • JeffT
    Nerd is as valid today as it was 5 years ago. There is still a lot of "command line stuff" and Linux is just not as compatible as XP.
  • Gus
    Well, if linux was such a wonderful portrayed by the 21st century “geek” (or put another or for nerd) it would have taken windows out of its throne. I still believe that the reason that Linux is not very popular is because its commands and is tough for newbies to learn. ( and of course... obnoxious fanboys!)
  • Smiff
    yes i have to use the command line sometimes on my eee 701 linux - but then, i seem to need to use the command line almost daily in windows (quick example, closing down multiple instances of a hung app - its quicker to type taskkill /f /im taskname.exe in windows than to try to use task manager!) linux is better for a netbook because its faster and more reliable. er, that's it, that's enough reason. no it cant run games, but then the machine cant run games well, on any OS. better to have a small laptop which does some things really well than most things badly, which is what windows laptops always seem to end up doing.. the economist is correct, it's a shame more consumers aren't more educated, they are only hurting themselves by making poor buying choices.
  • aphexbr
    @Gus: Try buying a computer from a high street store or mainstream supplier without Windows pre-installed. The sad fact is that most computer users will stick with whatever's pre-installed on their computer and use that. You're already pretty much forced to pay for Windows if you buy a computer, that's the reason why so many people use it. In fact, most users who spend their day complaining about things breaking in Windows don't have any idea that there is an alternative. That's what's holding it back. For the same reason, there's a lot of users who stick with Internet Explorer instead of Firefox or Opera - they don't realise there's an alternative or prefer to stick with what they know. that's why these netbooks are important - they expose people to new things and lets them realise there is a choice. @Jeff: "There is still a lot of “command line stuff” and Linux is just not as compatible as XP." Command line - only as much as in Windows for most purposes. I still have to go to the command line in XP to reset the Windows group policy, and it's easier to reset DNS from there (still necessary for home users even if they don't realise it and reset the PC when they have a problem instead). Does that make XP a lesser OS somehow? I can count the number of times I've needed to use the command line in my Mandriva install on one hand since I installed it - the command line argument is from around 10 years ago when most graphics cards weren't supported properly and there wasn't a decent GUI. Things have come a long way since then. As for "compatible" - it's compatible with all Linux programs, just as Macs are compatible with all Mac programs and Windows is compatible with all Windows programs. Not sure I'm following you there. Unless you mean "not compatible with Windows", which is a total red herring. Windows isn't compatible with Mac programs - does that mean it's bad somehow?
  • Gus
    I am not against linux or Bill Gates fanboy. I am just pointing out the main reasons that Linux is not so popular among common users. 20 years ago when I had to teach my aunt how to programme the vcr to record her soaps. it took me a while to learn myself and then teach her. Nowadays you don't expect this kind of system anymore... I am pretty sure that my aunt would learn how to use windows easier than Linux.
  • Matt S.
    The argument about the command line, isn't quite right. You see the thing is, it's not that you can't do something from the GUI in linux. But it's because linux comes in so many different flavours and then versions of those flavours, that the GUIs all differ. And most linux support comes from other users on forums, so that user probably doesn't have the exact same version of whatever linux distro you're using. All linux versions share the same basic command list, and the same syntax, so it's just easier to tell people how to do something from the command line. In contrast to windows, where just about everyone uses the same thing, so you can tell people which windows to open, what they look like, where a menu will be etc. Personally I like linux, but the trouble I have is that I'd consider myself to be a windows power user. For day to day stuff linux is great, but I like to do complicated things and I like to tweak things, and I know how to do that in windows, and I don't know where the heck to start in linux, I don't even understand the file structure, like programs install themselves into several different directories, so you search everywhere for a conf file and then you don't have write permissions for that directory, so then you have to go back and open the file manager as root. It's very difficult for people who only know a bit about what they're doing. and I've never yet managed to compile anything from source, and I know you'll say it's easy but i've tried a bunch of times over the years and always get errors of some sort.
  • JeffT
    It's interesting that Smiff and aphexbr have to go to the Windows command line regularly. I don't have to, my Windows installation doesn't have these problems it works OK. Sounds like they need to set their windows up properly.
  • AAAAAAAAA
    I'm tired of my Vista. Its constantly freezing, and I am always ending tasks which I know cause problems. E.g. my printer monitor runs my CPU at 100% sometimes for no reason. I tried linux but had problems connecting to my wireless network - this is because I have never tried it before, so have ended up abandoning it for now. I'll get Kalyway then I'll venture into Linux again in the future and when I learn more about how it works - its hard for common Windows users to convert.
  • Andrew D.
    I use the CLI as much in Ubuntu as in Vista, and that's not much at all!!
  • Smiff
    JeffT, tell me how you close multiple instances of hung apps? how you globally add a network printer for all users? how you disconnect idle sessions on a windows server? how you reliably setup network drives? how you keep a user profile clean? you can't do any of these things, or tons of other tasks, properly in windows without batch files or vbs scripts. don't even get me started on registry problems.. if you don't need the command line, you probably aren't doing much with windows or you've found good 3rd party utils.
  • Andrew D.
    It turns out I'm going to go for the MSI Wind, and most probably dual boot Ubuntu and Windows.

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