While it’s correct to consider Windows 7 the most accomplished OS for any conventional computer, there are a couple of alternatives you should look at when deciding what kind of OS to use on your netbook. These 10 to 12 inch mini laptops give lots of freedom to users, on the go, and this also means you can run alternative operating system if they have what you need.
Windows is the most integrated OS of them all, being able to run any kind of app you might throw at it, but requires significant system resources, something most netbooks usually lack. Other OS, like Android or Linux, require less juice to run, but are not able to run Windows dedicated apps (OK, they can, but most of the time they run kind of tricky and there aren’t enough apps developed for them).
But many people opt for open source OS more as a secondary boot option just for fun or as an alternative for when Windows is buggy. Next, we’ll try to talk a little about each worthwhile OS for netbooks, going through the pros and cons of each one. Stay tuned.
The first netbooks to run Windows were using Windows XP SP2 or SP 3 most of the time, in order to take advantage of the modest hardware. Windows moved fast (no pun intended) and released Windows 7 Starter, a very light version of Windows that now is found on most entry level netbooks. The OS runs decently on machines packing single core or dual core Atom/Fusion hardware, while more pretentious netbooks go for 7 Pro or 7 Home.
Starter is a pretty basic OS, comes with support for only 2 GB of RAM, you can’t change the desktop background and generally you’ll feel very inhibited in comparison with the full version of the OS. Still, Starter is good enough for running browsers, text documents, media players and any type of software (including some games) you’re used to on a desktop PC or large laptop.
If you’re willing to spend a little more on a Windows operating system, you can go for Windows 7 Home Premium or Professional, which comes with anything you might want from an operating system, as there’s nothing the OS can’t handle in terms of compatibility. For this, however, you need a decently packaged netbook (dual core processor, at least 2 GB of memory) and more money in your pocket.
Mainly aimed at tablets, Android made its way on netbooks as well. Android is designed for ARM hardware, while Intel and AMD use a different hardware platform, so there’s no native support for this OS for netbooks. Some x86 versions were made available, though, and enough users, out of sheer open source love, run Android on their netbooks.
The OS is light and doesn’t require strong hardware to run, and also gives you access to a wide range of apps. Still, keep in mind that most Android versions compatible with netbooks were designed for smart phones and the experience will be a little awkward, to say the least, but if you already use Android on a smart phone or slate, the learning curve might not be that steep.
Jolicloud is an open source OS especially built for netbooks. Ideally, this OS will fit perfectly on any netbook, no matter the hardware profile of your machine and will assure a decent, web oriented experience. You get cloud services and storage and an app directory that gives you access to new apps all the time. Jolicloud plans a new launch this fall, but their current version is available on their website.
The pool of apps includes media players, text editors and many social media tools, so expect pretty decent integration from this OS. Also, you can run it as an app inside Windows just to see how it works. Its only major downside is that it’s not very useful when not connected to the internet and not because it’s not complex, but because offline UI is not very detailed. Anyway, you can get the hang of it if you install it and play with it for a while.
Chrome OS is a cloud based, browser looking OS for netbooks and mini laptops created by Google, in their long term effort to offer a solid alternative on the mobile market for Windows and Apple software. Chrome OS is basically a Chrome browser with an attitude, meaning you can run apps directly in the browser, store data in the cloud and basically do anything you want…as long as you’re online. Chrome OS comes with its own fully compatible laptops, Chromebooks from Acer and Samsung, and offers a pretty solid experience thanks to the great Google apps like Gmail, Gtalk, Maps and others.
Ubuntu is probably the most appreciated open source computer software out there, being the “educated” alternative to Windows for quite a while. Many programmers or IT enthusiasts use Ubuntu and say that, besides the less user friendly interface, the OS offers one helluva ride. Ubuntu’s netbook version, Ubuntu Netbook Remix comes with a few changes of appearance, as the menu structure is a little different in order to take advantage of the smaller displays on netbooks.
As any respectable netbook OS out there, this version of Ubuntu can run on rather modest hardware and offer a solid experience both online and offline. Also, there are many Windows apps that run on Ubuntu, so you won’t feel isolated from the rest of the world in terms of compatibility.
In essence, you have to choose between paid or open source OS. For Windows you have to pay, while for Chrome OS or Ubuntu you don’t have to, but you won’t benefit from the same compatibility and integration like the ones Windows offers. In the end, it’s all about what you need from a netbook- a productivity machine that’s recommendable to run the resource intensive Windows, or a light open source OS for browsing, social media tools and fooling around with apps.