Getting the Most out of Your Netbook

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:

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To all of the gnome3 haters:

I’m honestly disapointed to see so many people saying they won’t upgrade and whining about how they’ll eventually have to migrate to a different desktop environment without even testing gnome3/gnome-shell. YOU HAVEN’T EVEN TRIED IT YET. At least upgrade and use fallback mode. (Or, at the very least, stop complaining about how the gnome team is taking the “my way or the highway” approach of apple. Gnome is opensource. Fork it if you’re so attached.)


No, gnome3 isn’t “perfect”. I’m personally back to openbox in my neverending quest to maximize netbook performance. But you have to at least give the devs credit for trying something new. Because that’s what they did, and not even being willing to test it out (especially if you’re already a faithful gnome user) is pretty much saying you can’t handle change and would prefer it if your computer always appeared exactly the  way it did in 1995.

Yes, trying something radically different will mean changing your habits. It’s not the same as upgrades that minutely increase speed or efficiency. I believe that an unwillingness to change is holding us back. Maybe it’s just because I’ve been reading about cyborgs for one of my papers lately*, but maybe changing one’s habits is necessary to progress closer to a sublime computing experience? It’s at least worth a shot. I suspect that there is something out there that would be at least as good as panels.

*in the sense that cyborgs were sort of conceived of as an alternative to terra-forming space, rather than change the environment, change the astronauts so that they can survive in it


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