With the average netbook struggling to run Vista, we reckon Ubuntu Linux is a more suitable operating system. Here, we explain how to install it on your Windows machine.

Netbooks have soared in popularity over the past year, offering consumers portable PCs for word-processing and web browsing at rock-bottom prices. Such mini laptops use inexpensive processors that consume a minimal amount of power and thus offer a far longer battery life than most portables.

But there's one problem: Windows Vista is a resource-hungry operating system (OS), and it will run painfully slow unless your system has plenty of memory and processing power. Installing Windows on a netbook also adds a significant amount to the machine's overall cost.

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To get around this, netbook manufacturers tend to favour Windows XP, Microsoft's older, cheaper and less resource-hogging OS. But you may find that Linux, which this runs perfectly well on just 512MB of RAM, is a better alternative.

Linux will be unfamiliar to most users, but it's a far more attractive proposition than it used to be. While most of us are put off by our lack of knowledge of the OS, the addition of graphical user interfaces to its various distros and the widespread availability of free Microsoft-compatible applications, such as OpenOffice.org, mean you no longer have to compromise on usability.

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Over the following pages we aim to demystify Linux. It's not just netbook owners who will benefit from using this alternative to Windows; as a free, open-source OS, Linux is also a great option if you want to breathe life into an elderly machine.

You can install Ubuntu alongside your existing OS, too, so if you don't want to dump Vista entirely, you can keep it as a secondary option. You'll find it's faster than Vista Home Premium and less restricted than Vista Basic.

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If you've tried Linux before and were put off by the setup process, fear not. If Windows is already installed on your PC, adding Linux is a simple, two-step process, with no drive partitioning required.

There are, of course, a few differences between the Ubuntu Linux distro we've installed here and the Windows interface, you can get to grips with most features very quickly. We'll show you how to set up Ubuntu and get started with the most common apps.

Installing Ubuntu Linux

1. Ubuntu is available in server, desktop and netbook editions. The easiest way to get the latest version is to use Wubi. This installs Ubuntu as a standard Windows application. Simply indicate the drive where you want to load the OS, then click the Install button.

Ubuntu Linux Step 1

2. Ubuntu will appear as an option in your boot menu; select this and log on. The OS's Gnome interface is similar to that of both Windows and Mac OS X. At the top left you'll find menus to access Applications, Places (folders and drives) and System (tools and settings). To turn off your PC, click the symbol at the top right.

Ubuntu Linux Step 2

With the average netbook struggling to run Vista, we reckon Ubuntu Linux is a more suitable operating system. Here, we explain how to install it on your Windows machine.

3. To modify the interface, go to System, Preferences, Appearance. The resulting dialog box contains separate tabs for Theme, Background, Fonts, Interface and Visual Effects. The last of these lets you alter visual settings, whether for aesthetic reasons or to speed up performance on a low-powered system.

Ubuntu Linux Step 3

4. Because Linux mounts drives before you can access files, no disk drives are displayed on the desktop when you first log on. Files, folders and drives are accessed via the Places menu at the top of the screen. For some of these you'll need to provide your password before you can access the contents.

Ubuntu Linux Step 4

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5. To set up a web connection, go to System, Administration, Network Connections. In the resulting dialog box, click either Wired or Wireless and hit Add. Enter your setup details in the next window. Click the Security tab and select the encryption type. Enter the key that you need to get online, then click Close.

Ubuntu Linux Step 5

6. To customise Ubuntu's Applications, Places or System menu, right-click it and select Edit Menus. From here you can select icons and choose which apps should appear in the menu by ticking the box next to them. To add a new entry, go to File, New Entry, enter a name and browse to the command that launches it.

Ubuntu Linux Step 6

>> NEXT PAGE: Getting to grips with Ubuntu Linux

With the average netbook struggling to run Vista, we reckon Ubuntu Linux is a more suitable operating system. Here, we explain how to install it on your Windows machine.

Get to grips with Ubuntu Linux

7. Much like Windows' Toolbar, Ubuntu's panel allows you to load applets for helpful tasks such as keeping an eye on the weather or storing ‘sticky' notes. You can run multiple panels on one screen. To add an applet, right-click the panel and select Add to Panel. Select an applet and click Add.

Ubuntu Linux Step 7

8. Several applications come preinstalled with Ubuntu. The Firefox web browser is accessible via an icon next to the System menu; Pidgin instant messaging and the Evolution email client can be accessed via Applications, Internet. To use Evolution you'll need to enter a username, password and details of your email server.

Ubuntu Linux Step 8

9. OpenOffice.org is another application that's preinstalled with Ubuntu. To use this productivity suite, go to Applications, Office and select Writer, Calc or Presentation. OpenOffice.org is compatible with Microsoft Word and has a similar interface. Those migrating from Windows should find it extremely easy to use.

Ubuntu Linux Step 9

10. Ubuntu also preinstalls The Gimp, a highly capable image editor that gives Adobe Photoshop a run for its money. Go to Applications, Graphics to launch it. As well as offering the basics for cropping, drawing, painting and adding text to images, The Gimp includes a number of filters and support for multiple layers.

Ubuntu Linux Step 10

11. To add new programs, right-click the Applications menu and select Add/Remove Applications. The Application Manager displays applications that are guaranteed to work with Ubuntu. Tick the box next to any you wish to install and then click Apply Changes. The app will be downloaded and automatically installed.

Ubuntu Linux Step 11

12. To access Ubuntu's multimedia options, go to Applications, Sound & Video. Brasero Disc Burner creates discs for data, audio or DVD; Rhythmbox is a fantastic audio player that supports internet radio; and Totem is a fairly versatile video player. If you wish to play DVDs on your PC, follow the instructions at help.ubuntu.com.

Ubuntu Linux Step 12

13. Like Windows, Ubuntu requires regular updates. To check whether any updates are available for your PC, go to System, Administration, Update Manager, then click Check. Select the updates you want, then hit Install Updates. Click the Settings button if you'd prefer for your PC to be updated automatically.

Ubuntu Linux Step 13

14. To share your desktop with other Linux PCs on your network, go to System, Preferences, Remote Desktop and tick ‘Allow other users to view your desktop'. To access your desktop from another machine, go to Applications, Accessories, Terminal. Enter the command vncviewer -fullscreen and the IP address provided.

Ubuntu Linux Step 14