If netbook computers have done nothing else, they have increased the choices of desktops for Linux software users. Some existing desktops have found a new niche in netbooks, while the last couple of years have seen new ones designed specifically for the restraints of memory and screen size imposed by netbooks.
Of course, assuming that your vision is somewhere near the statistical norm, you might be perfectly satisfied with GNOME or KDE on a netbook. The classic desktop metaphor is roomy even on a ten-inch screen, and the most you may need to do is increase the font sizes.
However, if you're looking for an alternative, here are nine that you might want to try:
Developed by Google, Chrome OS is currently available as a release candidate, with general release expected early in 2011. Although according to Wikipedia, Chrome OS will not be available as a download, but shipped pre-installed on computers, a download is still available on lie.
Chrome is the most extreme example yet of an operating system designed for use with online applications. It installs with little more than the Chrome browser and a panel with a few basic utilities on it, and almost all the available apps are online.
Whether Chrome is worth investigating depends on what you think of Web-based applications. If online applications will handle the work you do, then Chrome is a potential netbook interface for you. If you prefer local apps, either because of their full feature sets or because of general concerns about privacy and availability, then Chrome is unlikely to be worth considering for your netbook.
Designed specifically for netbooks, the EasyPeasy distribution emphasizes online applications and social media. A modification of GNOME and Ubuntu, its interface, like many for netbooks, consists of a top panel, a left hand pane for the main menu, and menu items on the desktop. The main difference is that the menu is wider than in similar desktops like Unity, making it easier to read.
Stressing convenience rather than software freedom, EasyPeasy also installs with a number or proprietary applications, including Skype and Flash. For some, its inclusion of Mono applications like Banshee may be a concern.
EasyPeasy performs about as well as GNOME does on the same computer, but its version of what is becoming the standard netbook layout is more legible than most on a netbook screen, and worth considering mainly for that reason.
Jolicloud is a distribution designed for use with online applications. The default installation includes few standard productivity applications, and, although you can install them if you prefer, the obvious assumption is that you will be using tools like Google Docs rather than local applications.
The Jolicloud interface consists of two panels: the top one for first level items, and one below that for second level items. Third level items display as icons, with online and local applications mixed.
Jolicloud is not quite as wholeheartedly dedicated to online applications as Chrome OS, but the difference is small. Offering more local apps than Chrome, Jolicloud retains more of the desktop metaphor that Chrome OS does, which reduces the desktop to a browser launcher. That makes Jolicloud seem more familiar, but less radical than Chrome, even though the orientation of the two interfaces is general similar.
Originally designed for workstations, LXDE is enjoying new popularity, in part because of the rise of netbooks. The project members seem to pride themselves on their UNIX and free software roots, remaining true to them by borrowing from existing projects, such as GTK+ and using existing window managers such as Openbox, instead of writing their own.
If you are a GNOME or KDE user, LXDE may strike you as sparse, and less user-friendly than what you are used to, especially in its configuration options. However, what LXDE does include is carefully selected, and what it does include should be sufficient for most people, especially if their priority is a fast-responding interface.