Blog Post

10 Ways To Trick Out Your Netbook for Free

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

Netbooks are all the rage at the moment, with Asus predicting that it will sell 5 million of its Asus Eee PC netbooks by the end of this year. However, one of the tricky aspects of netbooks is that they have much more limited hardware resources than larger, traditional notebooks. For that reason, it makes sense to put applications on your machine that are both lightweight and powerful. The good news is that many of the best choices are free. In this post, you’ll find 10 ways to pimp out your Windows or Linux netbook, without breaking the hardware resources bank.

eeepc OpenOffice Whether your netbook is Linux- or Windows-based, one of the best free downloads you can get is this suite of open-source productivity applications. OpenOffice includes lightweight but robust applications that compete with the expensive Microsoft Office alternatives: Writer (word processing), Calc (spreadsheet), Impress (presentations), Base (database), Draw (diagram creator) and Math (editor for math formulas).

Related Posts:

A Quick Guide to Netbooks.

5 Things to consider before buying a netbook.

7 tools to make your WinXP Netbook Shine.

PortableApps For Windows-based netbooks, this is a great collection of pre-selected free and primarily open source applications that you can stick on a netbook — or even a USB drive — in one quick download. It includes the portable editions of ClamWin (antivirus), Mozilla Firefox (web browser), Gaim (instant messaging), OpenOffice (office suite), Sudoku (puzzle game), Mozilla Sunbird (calendar/task manager) and Mozilla Thunderbird (email client), among other applications. You can cherry-pick the applications you want, or run the whole suite in under 512MB.

Google Chrome I usually favor Firefox when using a high-end computer or laptop, but on a netbook, Google’s open source Chrome browser is an extremely lightweight browser that is winning lots of speed competitions. It’s only available for Windows for the moment, but will be out in a Linux version early next year.

LXDE The “Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment” is a fast, energy-saving Linux desktop environment maintained by an international community of developers. It has a slick interface and lots of useful features, including tabbed file browsing. Plus, it takes fewer resources than the popular KDE and GNOME Linux desktop environments.

GNOME The GNOME desktop environment is very popular with many Linux users, and is lightweight enough for netbooks. Within GNOME, you get e-mail, groupware, web browsing, file management, multimedia, games and more. The new version 2.24 includes the GNOME Mobile Platform for the first time, which will keep developers focused on mobile applications for GNOME on an ongoing basis.

KDE The K Desktop Environment (KDE) Project is a very good choice for Linux-based netbooks. It includes slick desktop applications, including the Kontact personal information manager, Dragon Player for multimedia applications, and the Konqueror web browser.

RocketDock RocketDock is an animated application launcher that I highly recommend for owners of Windows-based netbooks. It is much faster and more flexible than the object docks on most netbooks, and it has an easy drag-and-drop interface. Check out a video of it here.

TinyResMeter TinyResMeter is a lightweight application for tracking system resources in use. Netbooks, of course, often have stripped down hardware resources, so this is a good way to get on-the-fly views of memory usage, CPU usage and much more. Keeping it on hand will help you stay under the system resource wire.

VLC Media Player Depending what hardware resources you have on your netbook and the media player you currently use, you may occasionally run into problems running video and audio content. VLC Media Player is a lightweight, free and open source media player that will work on either a Windows or Linux netbook. It supports nearly every popular file format and is specifically designed for portability.

Online Hosted Apps. Of course, one of the fundamental concepts behind netbooks is that you can use them with applications that are hosted online. If you don’t already use these, there are excellent, free choices from Zoho and Google Apps. Ulteo gives you 1GB of free online storage, and access to all of the OpenOffice productivity apps online.

Finally, don’t forget that a USB thumb drive can be an excellent adjunct to your netbook. You can get lots of capacity for very little money, and one simple download such as the PortableApps download above can put countless free applications in your pocket for use on your netbook whenever you want.

Image courtesy Asus

42 Responses to “10 Ways To Trick Out Your Netbook for Free”

  1. I’m using Moblin right now.
    You should really add this os to the list.

    ” Moblin, short for ‘mobile Linux’, was an open source operating system and application stack for Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs), netbooks, nettops and embedded devices ” -Wikipedia

    My boot time on the Acer Aspire One is 7 seconds.
    That’s really fast compared to other os’es.
    (I really mean Start up, not recovering out of stand-by.)

  2. anonymous

    Suggesting OOo and Portable Firefox makes absolutely no sense on a netbook. OOO is almost entirely based on Java which is perhaps one of the slowest scripting languages in existence. Firefox takes forever to start and all the menubars take up half the (already smaller) screen. Just go for chrome and office2007/office2010, at least you’ll be able to produce documents which people are actually able to edit without messing up the layout..

  3. Google Chrome is probably not that good for netbooks as it is sucking all CPU power by using multiple processes – and that drain your battery quickly. I found that Opera browser have smallest CPU and RAM foot print and it’s quit quick also.

  4. As for as media goes don’t forget Pandora, for online music, and if you like even more defined music list and top 100 playlist, try nutsie. Both are free, and great. If you like video try or upstreamtv. Netbooks are filling the gaps for many users, as netcentric computing gets bigger, so will netbooks. I use a Full size laptop HP HDX, but I am considering a HP Mini 311 with 320GB and 3GB Ram, in a netbook running Windows 7. Almost forgot, if you like games try gog, and wildtangent. Have any questions or comments, hit me up on twitter. djsolutions

  5. first off i have a dell mini 10 which is great so i dont know if this applys to netbooks, if you buy an exteral dvd drive and it has nero,
    took me ages to figure it out also google chrome ( i think) messed up the card slot. if this affects any other netbooks could you let me know. thanks

  6. I’m biased but installing Live Mesh on a netbook is a great free way to trick out your device – it get’s you 5GB cloud storage but more than that, it’s 5GB that syncs with your other PC’s, Mac’s or WinMo devices. for me it’a killer app for a netbook.

  7. Linda Bailey

    I have a Samsung netbook and I would like to use it to watch vidoe taken on a Panasonic camcorder,but it keeps saying that i need a dvd decoder for mpeg 2. Can anyone give me any suggestions?

  8. I would have to disagree with your browser choice, Om. While Chrome is a very advanced and speedy browser, the plug-ins for Firefox provide endless productivity and expansion. IF you’re a blogger, check out ScribeFire. For GTD, there is ahwole library of Apps. Firefox, if anything, helps you to consolidate your goals into the browser. And hopefully, you’ll be taking advantage of cloud computing on your netbook anyway, so the browser is the most important entity. For more information on netbooks and the mobile lifestyle, check out

  9. I like the advice about OpenOffice and Portableapps. As far as browsers and most other apps, though, my MSI Wind performs great with most of the same apps I use on my desktop. I use Firefox, IE, Windows Media Player, etc., without any performance problems.

  10. I agree that using Chrome is an excellent idea. I generally use it on my Dell Mini 9. The clean interface and the speed are especially beneficial when using a netbook.

    As for everything else, I am probably the user profile that the netbook makers intended: I use mine for checking email, Web surfing and typing light documents. We have a fast and powerful notebook I like to use at home if I’m not near the desktop, or for taking on trips—but for carrying to the office and about town, a netbook is just right.

  11. Netbooks are great portable TV watchers. Four sites that every netbook owner should consider to watch video on the go are Netflix,Hulu, Sling Player (the new web version works quite well on a netbook, and Amazon Video on Demand. Netflix and Amazon are not free, but both stream well. I agree with the comment on using Chrome, but in Windows I use IE for most of these sites as they seem to have better support for IE. I am sure there are more, but these are the ones I am using.

    Great Article.

  12. Headless

    Confused about the Ulteo bit. The link takes me to the Ulteo website where all I can find is stuff about deploying it in an Enterprise environment – nothing about accessing OoO online or 1Gb free storage…