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I finally got round to trying several Linux distributions on my netbook, one of them being the Android OS that was recently ported. The process is straightforward, and I’m now trying to decide whether to install Linux Mint or openSUSE Linux.

The unetbootin Program
This should be listed in the software managers of the common Linux distributions, and I believe it’s also available for Microsoft Windows. This program provides three options: unetbootin can fetch an OS and create a boot disk, athough the ones listed are over 5 years old and definitely aren’t good for netbooks. The second option is to load a Linux kernel and some other code, but this is for developers. The third option, and the one I’ve chosen, is is to find and download an ISO file manually, and use unetbootin to install it to a spare USB drive.

Linux Mint
Linux Mint 11 was released not long ago, and it just happens the LXDE version makes a fine OS for netbooks, with a little configuration. The following should only be tried by those prepared to ditch the EEPC’s original user-friendly system for something more hackable. Familiarity with Linux and the installation process is important.

There are probably unofficial netbook editions of Linux Mint somewhere on the Internet, but I recommend using the LXDE or XFCE version of the full desktop OS. It has better hardware detection and there’ll be fewer dependency problems later on. LXDE also has the advantage of being easy for Windows XP users, and with less overhead than the Gnome desktop.

Getting the netbook to boot from the USB drive is straightforward after the BIOS is configured. On the EEPC, this involves setting the primary disk first, and then the primary boot device. The Installation option should be set to Finished and Quick Boot set to Enabled.

With some distributions the screen goes completely blank instead of showing the splash screen while loading. Pressing the ESC key will bring up a load of status messages that confirm the system hasn’t gone dead. Most of those will be error messages, as the Linux kernel determines what hardware and resources are available, and which modules to load. This is perfectly normal.

After a couple of minutes (live versions always load slower) we have the LXDE desktop and applications, which are perfectly rendered and usable on the netbook’s small screen.

Linux Mint LXDE desktop

Applications running in the LXDE desktop

The Mint Installer provides a few options, the two main ones being a standard install that formats the whole drive, and the dual boot option which theoretically sets up a partition for the OS alongside the existing one.
There are a couple of important points to consider before installing anything. The installer doesn’t show the volume names, but lists them as sda, sdb, and sdc. Users should run the disk utility to be absolutely certain which drives they refer to.
There’s also the possibility of data loss or bootloader problems after setting up a dual boot system, so make sure the data is backed up and a recovery disk is handy. The Mint Installer might set its own volume as the boot partition and configure GRUB to display a boot menu, but I haven’t checked to see if this is the case.