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Netbooks Are Little Notebooks, and Linux on Netbooks Rocks

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This newfangled netbook phenomenon has brought with it a bit of confusion, which is understandable since it is so new. The EeePC 701 launched the modern netbook craze, a tiny little low-powered thing with a 7" screen, 512MB RAM, WiFi, and 4BG of storage. It ran a stripped-down Linux, and at two pounds and $399, it quickly won many hearts.

But it seems that vendors didn't really have a good vision of what these little machines could do and marketed them as Internet clients, rather than little notebooks that could do almost everything their big siblings could do. Which was, and still is, a big mistake, a mistake shaped by the paranoid, restrictive proprietary software world and a lack of understanding what customers want.

In the tail-wagging-the-dog world of Windows and PCs, everything is a big fat pain, and you're always forced to settle for less. But not pay less. You can't just buy a desktop computer or a notebook, you have to buy a Windows computer whether you want to or not, unless you are clueful to alternatives and know where to find them. You cannot easily comparison shop. There is small chance of getting competitive bids. It is rare to get a notebook built to your specs, and Microsoft dictates specs to netbook vendors. (Hello DOJ and EU, anyone paying attention? Forget your silly obsession with browsers, this is the real anti-competitive deal.)

You can't even buy a new machine to replace an old one and move Windows to it, unless you pay through the nose for a full retail Windows version. Gotta love the genius in re-packaging the exact same Windows a half-dozen different ways at a half-dozen different price points, and the only differences are which features have been removed. Though you'll always get a full ration of trialjunkware.

And that's just the beginning. If you want to do anything other than play Minesweeper you have to buy and install software. Lots of it. Office apps, games, security....if you're lucky your PC will have a few CPU cycles to spare for doing something besides running Windows. Oh, and how do you install these new apps on a netbook with no optical drive?

Happy Linux World

A PC running a 1gHz CPU and 512MB RAM can handle nearly any Linux distribution just fine. Make it a gigabyte of RAM and you're golden. Want secure Internet? Check. Want thousands of great applications to choose from? Check. Want easy software management, installation and removal with a few clicks? Check. Want something reliable and peppy and even on lower-powered hardware? Check.

Want to use your netbook strictly as an Internet client, using Google Apps and other online applications? No problem. Want to use both 'net and local apps? Easy peasey. Want to try out different applications and different Linuxes? Piece of cake. Want to use a cool 4GB solid-state Flash drive? My Debian workstation uses 1.8GB for KDE, Fluxbox, and XFCE and a gazillion applications, including photo and audio production, OpenOffice and KOffice, games, network and system utilities, and other apps. And all without having to answer to the mothership, without being under the watchful eye of Big Brother Windows Genuine Advantage and his thumb-breaker, the Business Software Alliance.

Most computer users don't want an inflexible little Internet machine that runs only a Web browser, especially not for three or four hundred dollars or more. Something like that should come free in a box of cereal. Most want all the functionality of a full-sized notebook, only smaller, lighter, and with significantly longer battery life. A little less power is OK, and these days let's get real-- what we consider low-power is the supercomputer of a few years ago.

It's too bad that ASUS, who launched the modern netbook craze, couldn't resist the siren call of Microsoft and threw Linux away. But it's their loss, as thankfully other vendors are releasing small Linux notebooks and netbooks, whatever you want to call them, and are actually showing some competence with Linux. Like making sure that all the hardware is supported, and that everything works. I don't know why so many vendors make such an uphill struggle out of OEM Linux, it's magnitudes easier than any other OS.

No matter how you parse it or what you call them, Linux on netbooks is a winner for both vendors and customers. And that's not all, there is another new kid moving in to the 'hood: the Crunchpad. It's taken a long time and heroic efforts, but at long last we're seeing a bit of choice and some real invention and creativity returning to the personal computer space.

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