Why not take Windows off my netbook and replace it with Linux, just like I'd done with the old laptop?
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983


Netbook screen too small? Not for this Linux software

Dec. 13, 2009

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2009, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2009, The Post-Standard

   I love my little "netbook" laptop computer, barely the size of a small hardcover book. But running programs on it turned out to be more frustrating than I'd imagined.
   The problem? Programs written for standard computers often come with toolbars along the top, status bars along the bottom and a dozen other gadgets that take up precious room on a netbook screen.
   Take Microsoft Word, for example. PLEASE take Microsoft Word! It's got so many toolbars that my netbook's screen can hardly show any documents at all. And I know that I can reposition or turn off any of those toolbars, but why should I have to?
   And what about all the other one-size-fits-none Windows programs I was running? I started to feel like nobody really understood the needs of netbook users.
   But I came up with the solution while I was typing away on the old Windows laptop I rescued last month by putting a slimmed-down version of the Linux operating system on it. (Read about that at www.technofileonline.com/texts/tec111509.html.) I had a flash of inspiration: Why not take Windows off my netbook and replace it with Linux, just like I'd done with the old laptop?
   I hunted for an appropriate Linux version (called a "distribution") for a netbook and found just the right one, Ubuntu Netbook Remix. It's a distribution of Ubuntu, the most popular version of Linux, made especially for netbook computers. It forces all program windows to take up the entire screen, banishes toolbars and lets only one program onto the screen at a time. You can download it free from www.canonical.com/projects/ubuntu/unr.
   If you're not sure what Linux is, I'll give you the 25-word explanation: Linux is software that runs a computer, like Windows does, only safer. Linux is nearly always free and has thousands of excellent (and free) programs.
   Best of all, Linux isn't porky like Windows is, so it's ideal for computers that don't have a lot of disk space or memory. An added benefit -- a huge added benefit, if you're as tired of spyware and viruses as I am -- is that Linux is free from those threats. And its overall security is outstanding.
   What makes UNR different from regular Ubuntu is the way all program windows are handled. Each one is made to fill almost the entire screen, automatically. At the top left, in the space that remains, is a small taskbar that shows icons for all running programs. Clicking on an icon either hides its window or brings it back on screen, making program switching very easy. Big buttons on a screen of their own launch any of UNR's many programs.
   Ubuntu Netbook Remix can be installed in addition to Windows (letting you choose which to run at bootup) or in place of Windows. I choose to have UNR replace Windows entirely. UNR comes with all the software a Windows user probably needs -- an office suite (a good word processor, spreadsheet program, and so on), an excellent Web browser, a professional-grade e-mail program, music-playing software and a great deal more. And all without cost.
   The file you download is an ISO file, which you then turn into a CD using a CD burner. If you'd rather not do this, Canonical will send you a free installation CD. Details are on the Web site.