Most, if not all, of the advice pertaining to laptops will pertain to netbooks. However, this article is an attempt to consolidate advice that is very specific to our favorite cheap, tiny, underpowered computers.
ratpoison – ratpoison is a tiling window manager; however it’s focus is on fullscreen windows. On a netbook you’ll almost always want your windows fullscreened to maximize screen real estate. Ratpoison makes this the default behavior without any screen-wasting window borders or cpu/ram wasting overhead. And for the rare case where you want two windows on screen ? Ratpoison makes that easy as well, although splitting further gets to be a bit ridiculous.
xrandr - xrandr -o left (or xrandr -o right, or xrandr -o normal…) rotates your screen. This is great for reading ebooks, where optimally one wants a longer, narrower column of text. Just stand your computer up like a book
gmabooster – gmabooster allows you to overclock the shoddy integrated graphics card in the intel atom processors found in most netbooks. It’s not going to let you run Crysis, but it will make lightweight games run noticeably better. And if you ignored my advice about window management, it can make ‘eye-candy’ desktop environments run a little smoother.
dzen2/conky - In my quest to maximize screen real estate, I went without any kind of panel or system tray for a long time. I found that I really missed having a clock that I could see all the time (even having to mouse over toward a screen edge to make something appear felt like too much of a pain). So I have a thin dzen bar at the top of my screen to display the time, the wifi network I’m connected to, the volume, and the remaining battery.
terminal-based audio player – while pretty much any change to a lightweight app will help your netbook, this is one that I specifically recommend. Most times you’re using your computer to listen to something, you’re probably using it for something else at the same time, thus it’s especially important for your audio player not to be bloated. I personally can recommend vitunes, cmus, and moc.
Update: Here’s a screenshot of chromium full-screened in ratpoison, with conky piped into dzen at the top: