Still, the various kinds of Linux interfaces available today, while simple on the surface, remain a challenge for folks who spent the last decade or two using Windows PCs. A process as simple as installing a new program, while not difficult, is completely different than it is on a Windows XP machine.
Plus, external device support under Linux is iffy, even for basic tasks such as playing back a DVD (remember, nearly all of these machines lack built-in optical drives). Many Linux netbooks also cant read Office 2007 documents (such as Word files with the .docx extension).
Regardless, Linux is a good choice if youre looking at in the lower-priced range ($300 to $400) for netbooks, if you already use the Web for document editing (such as with Google Docs or Netvibes), and if you dont have any specific applications in mind that you have to run.
If possible, look for models with Intels new Atom processor, which is significantly more powerful than prior Intel Celeron or VIA-based netbooks. Examples include the 8.9-inch Acer Aspire One ($399), the 10-inch HP Mini 1000 ($379), and the 8.9-inch Dell Inspiron Mini 9 ($349).
Windows XP netbooks
Windows XP netbooks have the benefit of familiaritypractically everyone who has used a computer during this decade has touched a Windows XP machine at one time or another.
The OS means you can install copies of Microsoft Office applications (including Outlook), as well as (in a pinch) run iTunes, Windows Media Player, or other media applications that synchronize with portable devices. You can plug in printers, external hard disks, and other common peripherals, confident that theyll work just as well as they usually do with regular Windows XP desktops and laptops.
Finally, if your work requires a certain specific application thats not available on Linux, an XP netbook is your only practical option.
On the other hand, Windows XP, while not nearly as bad as Windows Vista, still requires more CPU power and memory than Linux in day-to-day operation. To cite one real-world example, in my own personal tests I found that a lower-end Asus Eee PC running XP wasn't capable of maintaining a two-way video call in Skype, even when no other applications were running.
The jerky video feed would freeze on occasion, and the audio stream would continually drop packets as well, which rendered the application unusable. (It worked fine with audio-only calls in Skype, as well as when sending video in just one direction.)
Plus, Windows XP laptops don't come with the same bundle of free software that the Linux machines do. Free options are available, but remember that if you're expecting your comfortable XP experience to extend to third-party software (such as Microsoft Office), you'll need to purchase that as well if you already don't have licenses.
Finally, youll need to buy a security suite subscription to protect your XP laptop against spyware, viruses, and other forms of malware, just as you do with a regular desktop or laptop PC.
A practical recommendation would be to bump up the budgetsay, to the $450 or $500 rangein order to ensure the machine you buy is powerful enough to run Windows XP. Again, an Intel Atom-based netbook is a wise choice here now that theyre widely available.