Having finally managed to buy a netbook computer (an Acer Aspire One A150 that cost me just £150) there was one thing I installed before anything else: a copy of Linux. The reasons for this were simple: I wanted a computer that started up fast and that wouldn’t be held back by security software hogging the (limited) CPU.
And yet I’ve since blanked the Linux partition and installed the RTM copy of Windows 7. So what went wrong?
I should point out that Linux wasn’t disastrous. I installed the Ubuntu Netbook Remix Linux distribution which, after a few command line tweaks, worked fairly well: the keyboard, display and USB ports were fine, and the wireless adapter connected. Over time, though, a few niggling problems began to bug me.
Firstly, the SD card slots didn’t work properly. No big problem, but annoying when you have to reboot to get photos from a card. More importantly, two key power saving options weren’t working: I couldn’t easily enable and disable the wireless, for example (no visual feedback when you toggle the switch), and attempts to turn the display brightness down were torturous, requiring me to hit the key combination dozens of times. No fun when you’re at a press conference and attempting to save what’s left of the battery. Flash video playback was also terribly stuttery.
Installing Windows 7
And so to Windows 7. Having seen the W7 beta running on a Samsung NC10 I thought I’d give it a try, and so far it’s worked very well. Installation from the RTM DVD was as simple as could be: no extra drivers were needed, and from the first start I had the wifi, sound and display controls working perfectly.
Windows 7 boots up in roughly the same time as Ubuntu – it’s certainly not so slow as to be annoying – and once loaded with all the same software (Firefox, VLC, Gimp etc) works very nicely. And using my extremely unscientific “how do anime videos encoded in Flash stream from Crunchroll.com” benchmark, Firefox on Windows rates as “plays them in 480p” versus Firefox for Linux’s “the lowest quality version just about plays”.
There are, of course, a few drawbacks to using Windows. For one, Ubuntu cost nothing – Windows 7 will set you back £150 (although I’ve seen the Home Premium edition for under £70, even after the price rise). And of course I now need security software – an OEM copy of Kaspersky set me back a tenner.
I haven’t given up on Linux for netbooks – ultimately I think a smaller, lighter OS with a stramlined interface such as UNR makes sense on this kind of PC, but on this hardware, and for the moment, it’s just not quite good enough. I’ll try the next versions of Xubuntu and Ubuntu UNR when they’re released, but if one does get installed I think it’ll be dual-booting alongside Windows.