10 Things You Must Do To Get Along With A Netbook

In a very short period of time I’ve found that in order to get along with a netbook properly, there’s 10 things you absolutely must do.

1. Use Google Chrome

Those who know my browser preferences find this a bit of a shock being that I’m a diehard Firefox user, because I’ve made it no secret that I can’t stand the Chrome web browser.

On a netbook however it’s a totally different story.

Chrome gives you the most usable space for your monitor with the least amount of memory munching. Being that you’re only dealing with a 1024×576 (or 600) screen, space is at a premium. Granted, you can F11 it for full screen with other browsers, but it’s better if you see your menus and tabs. Chrome allows you to do this easily.

If you’re using Firefox the tabs will munch up vertical pixels easily, and so will IE 8. Chrome gives the most vertical space because the status appears as a bar that fades in but isn’t locked – and that’s good. And when you open up new tabs, no extra vertical space is taken up either.

It’s the best browser to use on a netbook, period. And coming from me, that’s saying a lot.

2. Spend quality time with your mouse configuration program.

No matter what model of netbook you use, you will probably hate the touchpad. And I mean really hate it. That’s okay because most people do. The netbook format at this point hasn’t exact found the happy medium for a mouse design, so to speak.

Side note: I do know the perfect design for a netbook’s touchpad – no touchpad. It should be the rubber eraser-tip style thing Thinkpads have. This would work perfectly on the netbook format. Yes, you lose your mouse gestures but I’d happily give them up for the mid-point joystick and two tactile buttons below the keyboard.

Fortunately on the Dell mini 10v and all other netbooks, you can control every single thing it does. It even has sensitivity recognition, so not only does it detect touch (obviously), but also how hard or soft you touch.

It is required for you to sit with this and spend a good amount of time tweaking the settings. There is no fast n’ easy way around it. Fortunately once done, it’s done and you don’t have to do it again.

Or if you still hate it, spring for a laptop mini-mouse.

3. Spend quality time with your monitor settings.

Like with the touchpad, this will take time to set correctly as well. In my situation, the screen was just too bright and too blue. And this wasn’t fixed by putting the brightness setting down a few notches. I had to manually go into the config program for the colors/brightness and set it that way. Once I did, I said to myself, “Okay, that’s the way it’s supposed to look.”

The Dell mini 10v in particular has a really, really bright screen. This is a good feature, but it’s set to FULL-ON BRIGHT out of the box.

4. Know your keyboard.

On more or less all netbooks, certain keys on the keyboard do double duty. On the mini 10v this is seen in the function and arrow keys. This is a non-standard layout, and you won’t take it to like a fish to water. For example, I use PgUp and PgDn a lot – but these are on the arrow keys whereas I have to do Fn+Up to page up and Fn-Down to page down. Being that I’m a keystroke freak, this takes time to get used to.

It should also be noted that most netbooks do not have the faux number pad, that being where the right-side keys serve as number keys when Fn is pressed.

5. Purposely seek out lightweight apps.

Instead of using AIM, use AIM Lite.

Instead of using WinZIP, use 7Zip.

Consider using AbiWord instead of OpenOffice Writer or Microsoft Word.

It’s not that the “heavy” apps won’t work on a netbook as they’ll work fine. But whenever you can use less processing power, the better because it increases battery life and they obviously run faster.

6. Purposely seek out apps that can be installed with no media required.

This means to use apps that can be downloaded and installed rather than something that requires a CD/DVD installation method. You could get around this by purchasing a 50-dollar USB external optical drive or creating ISOs and virtually mounting disks within XP, but that’s a pain to do. You’re better off if you use apps that can be downloaded. Sourceforge will be your best friend here.

7. Spring for the 6-cell battery.

This screen shot speaks for itself:


This is not Windows XP making a mistake as to how long the battery will last for. It literally will run for over 5 hours on a single charge. And that’s with wi-fi enabled! You can easily get 6 if you decrease the screen brightness a few notches and disable wi-fi when you don’t need it.

8. Know your wi-fi hotspots.

Most people don’t bother taking their laptops with them to open wi-fi hotspots because the laptop is too big, too heavy and barely holds a charge over 2 hours and 30 minutes. The netbook gives you over 5 hours with a 6-cell battery and it’s under 3 pounds, so yeah, you’ll want to hit more wi-fi spots.

How to find them? There’s two ways:

First way: OpenWiFiSpots

Punch in your ZIP code and you’ll see the closest wi-fi spots near you.

Second way: Searching for “wifi” in Google Earth.

Use the Google Earth software and position the map close to where you live, then search for “wifi”. Both business and user-contributed wi-fi listings will appear.

Obviously both ways are dependent on where you live. If you live in a more metro area, you’ll find more spots. For example, the metro downtown area of Tampa Florida has an entire area covered for wi-fi called the S.U.R.F. Zone.

9. Get familiar with netbook specific resources for your model.

Each netbook offering has at least one independent web site that is dedicated to what you use. The Dell Inspiron mini for example has www.ubuntumini.com. If you wanted to know everything and anything about Ubuntu on the Dell mini, well, there you go. No matter which make/model you decide to go with, chances are there’s a world of informational resource available to you outside of the company’s web site who manufactured it.

This happens because there’s almost a cult-like following for netbook computers. Except this is a really good type of cult. 🙂

10. Know your operating system choices.

The most popular OS on netbooks right now is Windows XP. However Ubuntu does have a “Netbook Remix” version of their own OS. The best part? You can install the whole thing to a single 1GB USB stick and test it out if you like. I’ve done so on my Dell mini 10v and yeah, it runs great.

You can expect other Linux flavors to offer “remix” versions of their own distributions in the near future.

Side note: You’d be surprised how much faster a netbook remix version runs compared to the ‘full’ version of a Linux distribution. If you have an older laptop, you may want to check it out.


  1. Thanks so much for the tips! I personally use macbook:) so I really liked the post because you opened my eyes for something else, btw chrome is not out for Mac yet:(

    • The Macbook is what I deem to be the most “get what you pay for” Mac out of Apple’s lineup. She’s a decent rig for the $999 price tag. The current model will do 5 hours on a single charge, but only when the screen brightness is set to 50% (that’s from Apple’s own tech data on the subject). Unless you need something that can run 5.5 hours (6 if you set the screen brightness down), stick with what you have.

  2. Hey, Rich! While I agree with you on most points, especially concerning touch pads: I could never get used to that thing on any notebook I’ve tried, there is one that I just can’t let go.

    I’m Opera user, probably as die-hard as you are for Firefox and Opera can be customized however you like. But as I like to say Opera is a geeky browser for the geeks so users that do not enjoy tweaking it won’t even imagine the kinds of things it is capable of. For example, you actually can enable tab bar, address bar and status bar in any combination to be visible in full screen mode. Or if you need to see the taskbar, but steel want more real estate you can switch on and off any bar at any time you want and that’s includes the title bar as well. All this can be enabled/disabled with keyboard shortcuts, mouse gestures or a button. So yeah, there’s a lot to Opera than meets the eye and the best part about this quality is that Opera comes with all those features and possibilities without dependence on add-ons that only break things.

    Okay, I agree that Chrome is more lightweight, but where functionality and stability is concerned it is not the best choice, witch if I remember correctly you stated yourself. What I personally don’t like about it would be a) every tab launching a separate process and b) no helpful features whatsoever especially compared with the other browsers. The first might be more secure in theory, but just ends up confusing the hell out of XP. In my experience – and I have tried it on multiple machines for multiple people, all of witch by the way stopped using it after a while – it just starts to either launch more processes that it has tabs and consume all the memory low spec PC have or it one process will crash, but XP will still think that the whole program is busted and close it.

    Between all the troubles and lack of functionality of Chrome and the fact I can’t comfortably browse without mouse gestures and good bookmark manager and java-script blocker and control over the whole layout of the page and a way for the browser to introduce itself as IE of Firefox coz some *cough* bad people *cough* make some sites not display in certain browsers and good zoom feature and… need I go on? I mean its not like all those things are less important on a netbook. If I want more real estate on my laptop surely I’ll have to do some work on my browser, tweak some setups, maybe even go into command files, but I’ll get what I need while not loosing any of the functionality or comfort. In my book its preferable than to switch to entirely different browser just because of the space.

    • My only yap about Opera 9 is that it looks decidedly old and the user interface is clunky at best. HOWEVER, Opera 10 is around the corner. I’ve tested the beta release http://www.opera.com/browser/next/ and it’s absolutely awesome. When it goes from beta to official I’ll be sure to give it a go on the netbook. Said very honestly, version 10 is far superior in overall user experience compared to 9; it’s finally got that clean “buttoned up” look that puts the browser back in the saddle again. And the new Opera Turbo feature will help out greatly when connected to slow wi-fi hotspots, no question.

      • I’ve been using 10 since alpha and you’re right its absolutely awesome. Also I have to agree: sadly Opera wasn’t till now visually appealing to the general user. It does have the most advanced skinning feature and integration with community page I know of in a browser, but most people who try it out don’t even know it’s there or how to use it. Really sad.

  3. First thing about the browsers i think google is develping an os for netbooks using google chrome as the interface also are netbooks worth the money im wanting to buy 1
    incase anyone wants to know other small ubuntu versions their are xubuntu my personal favorite and fubuntu

  4. hii … that is really very nice post… thanks a lot for sharing with all of us… you have great writing skills

  5. Another one is have a USB stick for storage and back up, especially if you switching between machines.

  6. Great List. I would add have a USB stick for storage or backup especially if you keep switching machines.

  7. Hi There
    I have a couple of Netbooks:- an MSI Windbook and a Compaq 702 and I would agree with most of your points. Generally, I hate trackpads, and I would say that on the Windbook, the trackpad is very average. On the Compaq, however, I was suprised that the trackpad works so well. Something to do with the buttons being to the left and right of the pad maybe, but it works for me.
    Pcmech is a great site and addresses lots of interesting areas.
    BR DaveT

  8. Agreed on the comment on the incomprtences inbuilt into Googlle browser. Same with incompetent Apple Safari browser. Try opening 50 tabs simulataneously, then save each into ONE COMPRESSED MHT FILE, INSTANLY. Only Opera can do this.

    Or try crashing your machine (anyway you can, any time. Then see which browser can instantly remember ALL the sites that you were using at the “crash” or close down. Opera and some IE-based shells can do this.

    Safari & Google browsers should NEVER be recommended nor used by anyone, ever!

  9. I think a wireless notebook mouse is a must when using the netbook in a static area.

  10. this is a really nice post so is the tips in it. But i don’t like google crome. I used it once but it doesn’t gave me satisfactory results. And i am completely agree with your rest of the points. Thanks for you helpful and valuable tips.. good luck.

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