The Definitive Guide To Making The Most Of Your Netbook

The Definitive Guide To Making The Most Of Your Netbook

Netbooks are a great compromise between pecking away a smartphone keyboard or hauling a tank-size laptop around — but they aren’t without shortcomings. Make the most of your netbook with these netbook-friendly tips, tricks and applications.

Although often derided for being under-powered and a poor substitute for a full laptop, netbooks fill a nice niche. They’re tough to beat for portable browsing, note taking and mobile computing when a laptop is overkill, the battery life is too short, and using your phone is impractical or uncomfortable. Still, you can do a lot to make life with a netbook easier.

Accept The Hardware Limitations And Tweak When Possible

If you already own a netbook, the best thing you can do is shell out and upgrade the 1GB of RAM to 2GB of RAM. It’s a cheap enough upgrade and it provides a significant performance boost. If you’re shopping for a netbook, the best advice we can give is to focus on two things: battery life and the physical inputs, like the spacing of the keyboard and arrangement of secondary buttons — physical design is about the only thing distinguishing one netbook from another these days.

Strip Your Netbook Of Bloat And Crapware

Photo by Fabio Bruna.

You can dig through the bloatware and delete it manually, but some bloatware — we’re looking at you Norton Anti-Virus trial! — is a huge pain to remove by hand. Fortunately, applications have been created that are specifically tailored to giving bloatware the boot, like PC Decrapifier — seen in the screenshot above. PC Decrapifier is great for any new computer including netbooks and will help you get ride of applications like Norton Anti-Virus, Microsoft Office Trial Edition and other annoyances.

One caveat regarding gutting the crapware from your new netbook: Although 90 per cent of the junk that is installed is in fact junk, be careful not to delete software that actually does something useful. For example, on my Asus Eee netbook there were two very similar programs with similar Eee branded names. One was a useful aggressive battery monitoring application designed to squeeze even more life out of my 6-cell battery and the other was a fairly useless application dock only for Eee netbook apps. Had I blanket nuked all the installed apps, I’d have kicked out the useful battery tool with the rest of the junk.

Once you’ve booted the factory-fresh crapware off your netbook, it’s really important to keep things clean for optimal future performance. If a little bit of crapware and software creep slows down your beefy desktop a tiny bit, a little on your netbook will definitely gum up the works. Make sure to install an application like CCleanerone of our favourites — and run it on a schedule to keep things clean.

Learn To Love Full-Screen Mode And Keyboard Shortcuts

Unfortunately no standard exists for which a keyboard shortcut will switch an application to full-screen mode. Check the menu bar in your application or hit up Google with a “myapplication fullscreen shortcut” query to find it. The full-screen shortcuts for a few common applications are: Firefox/IE/Opera/Chrome – F11 (press again to return to normal view) and Microsoft Office – ALT+V+U (press ESC to return to normal view).

this guide to using the Opera web browser completely sans-mouse. Photo by Declan TM.

The best thing about improving your keyboard chops with the netbook is that all the new shortcuts you learn are transferable to your main workstation. For more information on handy keyboard shortcuts, application tricks involving keyboard shortcuts, and how to make them if your application lacks for them, take a stroll through the archives of the keyboard shortcuts tag here at Lifehacker.

Select Applications With A Netbook-Centric Attitude

Selecting applications for a netbook is a lot like packing for a camping trip. When you pack for a camping trip you select things for your pack that are efficient and lightweight versions of things you use every day at home, and you also pack things that are distinctly related to camping that you’d never use at home. Photo by 玩具王 the Nictoyking.

For example, you may use Firefox loaded down with 1,001 extensions on your quad-core home computer but opt to run Firefox with only one or two critical extensions or Google Chrome on your netbook. Also, just like with camping, selecting lightweight tools that are multifunction is valuable. Why use a bloated media application when something snappy and light like open-source VLC can take care of all your movie and music needs? In the same vein, look for ways to ditch software that is known for being bloated and resource hungry, like swapping out Adobe-gonna-eat-all-y’RAMs-Reader with FoxIt Reader. If you’re unsure where to start when it comes to selecting lightweight software, you might want to check out past Lifehacker Hive Five topics. We tend to gravitate towards the fastest and lightest-weight solutions even when constraints like using a netbook aren’t brought into the equation.

Aside from searching out lightweight versions of applications your normally use, the netbook also benefits from applications you’d likely never use on a desktop computer.

Netbooks, for example, make pretty handy ebooks. They’re full colour, they have no annoying DRM or restrictions, and they’re lightweight with a long battery life. I’ve been experimenting with using my netbook as an ebook reader and don’t have any complaints to log. If your netbook doesn’t already support screen rotation, you can easily remedy that situation by downloading EeeRotate — in use in the screenshot above. The tiny application allows you to rotate your screen using CTRL+ALT+RIGHT (you can rotate it so that you hold the netbook with the screen on your right or left hand side) and it reverses the axis of the mouse so you can still use your mouse without hassle. Pressing CTRL+ALT+UP will return the screen to normal.

If you’re a Gmail user, you’ll definitely want to enable Offline Gmail to allow you to compose emails in Gmail when you’re between wireless hotspots and unable to access the net. If you’re not a Gmail user it’s worth downloading an full-fledged email client like Thunderbird and configuring it to use your web-based email so you can enjoy the same functionality.

Even if your keyboard chops are up to par, it’s still a pain to launch applications on a netbook. Although I’ve yet to install Launchy — as much as I love it! — on my main Windows 7 desktop, most netbooks run Windows XP and Launchy can go a long way towards making application launching pleasant on the tiny keyboard and touchpad.

Being able to shuttle files between your main workstation and your netbook, as well as keeping them backed up, is a must. Dropboxhere

Netbooks serve as an excellent go-between tool for lightweight and portable notetaking and web browsing, especially with the proper tweaking and software selection. While our list of tweaks and software suggestions is long, it’s certainly not exhaustive. If you have a netbook of your own, it’s time to sound off in the comments with your tips, tricks and favourite applications for maximising your netbook’s capabilities.


  • Full-screen mode is quite useful in firefox, but the slide animation can be pretty choppy on netbooks.

    Disable it by:
    1. In a new tab type about:config in the address bar and press enter
    2. In the filter field type browser.fullscreen.animateUp
    3. In the results listed double-click on browser.fullscreen.animateUp
    4. Change the pop up box value to ‘0’

  • A good thing and a bad thing about EeeRotate.

    Good: On my MSI Wind, after rebooting, ctrl+alt+any arrow key rotates the screent in the expected direction. So, lefties can use the left arrow key and then use the dominant thumb to manipulate the touch pad while reading in ebook format. And the down key can be used to quickly show someone standing in front of you a screen without spinning the netbook around.

    Bad: Even though you can choose to install somewhere other than C:\Program Files, the application expects to be installed at %ProgramFiles% which equates to C:\Program Files on almost everyone’s PC.

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