10 Ways To Trick Out Your Netbook for Free

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).

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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