Best netbook Linux distros

Dual or triple boot your netbook with the best Linux distros

There are now some fantastic varieties of Linux that make ideal replacements for the operating system that's currently installed on your netbook.

The latest version of Ubuntu UNR, for example, features brilliant hardware support alongside the expanding Unity interface, which Canonical is pinning its hopes on as a Gnome replacement for the next mainstream Ubuntu release.

Moblin and Maemo have also combined to create a new netbook operating system, known as MeeGo, and version 1.1 is a great choice if you particularly enjoy social networking through a streamlined interface.

Then there's Jolicloud to consider - a connected Linux-based operating system that blends local applications and storage seamlessly with those offered by the cloud. It's had some fantastic reviews and has been updated very recently.

Any one of these would make a great replacement for an older netbook distribution, such as Xandros or Linpus, and can even make better sense than a Windows installation if you can do without the compatibility offered by Microsoft's OS.

New Linux netbook distributions have the advantages of active community support and development, but the best thing about this list of distros is that they can all be installed on your machine at the same time. The only trick here is knowing how to do it.

1. Install USB stick

step 1

Most netbook Linux distributions use a custom utility that turns a downloaded ISO of the distribution into a USB-bootable installation. This is because most netbooks don't have an optical drive and will default to booting from a USB device if one is detected.

You'll need to go through this process for every distribution you want to install, but start with UNR.

Like Ubuntu, it first boots to a live desktop mode that you can then use to prepare your netbook's hard drive for as many distributions as you want to install on it. Before you get to that point, though, get hold of the UNR ISO and place the file on your desktop.

From an Ubuntu desktop, open the Administration menu and click 'Startup Disk Creator'. In the utility that appears, select the 'Other' button and use the file requester to find the UNR ISO.

Back in the main window, insert your USB stick and make sure it's detected in the 'Disk to use' list. You should also erase whatever files you may happen to have on the device before clicking the 'Make startup disk' button.

A few minutes later, you should see the 'Installation complete' message. It's now time to move the USB stick to your netbook.

2. Partitioning

step 2

Your netbook should automatically boot from your USB stick if you start the system with the stick installed. Booting UNR should take a few moments more, and when the main desktop appears, you can choose between 'Try Ubuntu netbook' and 'Install Ubuntu netbook'.

Because we want to use a graphical tool to repartition the internal drive first, you need to choose the first option. This will drop you onto a proper live desktop without stepping through the installation.

The tool we now need to open is the partition manager, which can be accessed by clicking the 'Applications' icon in the left border toolbar, followed by 'GParted' in the list. This should be familiar if you've ever done some partition tinkering.

Each partition is visualised within a block representing your drive, and you can click and drag on this to delete or resize your current configuration, or create a new one. You'll get the best possible results by removing all existing partitions and creating a new one for each operating system you want to install.

Make sure you select 'ext4' as the filesystem for each, and that you add a 2GB swap partition to the end of the drive. You'll obviously lose all data currently on the drive, so make sure none of it is left behind.

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