I'm not a fan of Windows, and as good as windows 7 is, I find that even the cut down version used on netbooks, is big, slow and doesn't come with the types of features I need to run on a computer. As a result I decided to replace windows with a Linux Distribution, since linux is inherently lighter and more efficient, yet equally powerful.
I'm currently running Linux Mint 9 on a Dell Mini 1012 (Intel 1.66 GHZ Atom 450 processor, 2GB RAM, 325GB HD, IntelĀ® NM10 Express Video card, & 10.1" 1024x600 screen). I Uploaded the DVD version of Mint 9 which includes multiple sessions, and I also have a Qimo session installed.
I originally bought this notebook with the express intention of turning it into a full featured and responsive computer (as opposed to a rippled web appliance), that could run a full compliment of local and cloud based apps; and that I could easily take on the road and have it do double duty as a learning and entertainment center for my 2.5 year old (that's what the Qimo session and the big hard drive are about). There is no reason why a computer can't be highly portable and powerful right? I wanted my operating system to have a nice balance of speed, responsiveness, ease of use, usable local features, cloud based features and eye candy. Mint was the first distro I installed on the machine and originally I did it mainly because it was the one I was most familiar with.
On installation, everything but wireless ran out of the box and was configured for my screen. The system flashed a hardware detect notice after initial install for the wireless card and gave me the option of two broadcom drivers to install. I chose the STA driver and was off to the races.
After that it was just a matter of configuring everything to my liking. I normally like things small, so reducing Icon sizes, the widths of the panels, and the default font was necessary. To maximize screen real estate, I also made the main panel hide when not in use. I'm a real fan of app-docks and wanted to use one in conjunction with mint. I tried several (AWN, Cairo-Dock, Docky, simdock and reconfiguring a second panel to act as a dock). with the exception of the configured second panel, every single dock consumed too many system resources and noticeably slowed mint down (mainly it showed as pronounced lag between commands or application launches). Enabling compiz didn't help either. I've since disabled both compiz and all the docks, and instead I'm running Mint in stock format, with a few default start up routines disabled. Now the system is very responsive and fairly fast. Being able to configure the start menu to show favorites is a big help and makes me not miss the dock too much.
On the performance side of things, as currently configured, Mint 9 has remained easy on the battery (I get between 5 & 6 hours on a full charge, running the screen at max brightness and having wireless always connected). The wireless connection, even though it works well enough, does seem like it could be faster. I've tried setting it manually to default to its maximum transfer rate, but only managed to deactivate the card, so I reversed the changes (any advice here would be appreciated).
Personally in such a small screen, I prefer my panels to be transparent. This is easily done in the panel preferences. However the preferences only allow you to modify the look of the main body of the panel and the start menu. The launcher bar, the open app panel and the desklet/applet panel remain in the default theme. I'm sure they can be configured manually, but it would be nice if they had graphical configuration inputs for their background look.
Other than that, I found the stock software installed to be very complete and very well organized (Mint's scrolling start menu is freaking brilliant). My only gripe has been the mint search add-on that is added by default to firefox's google search bar (removal of it is disabled). If I could suggest any other prepackaged software for future releases, it would be the addition of Prism, which allows you to create launchers for web based applications or web pages that run in their own windows, independent of the web browser. It's a great tool for adding cloud features to your machine.
Because of my screen's resolution, I find that my preference for making things smaller than default tends to lead to mild pixelation. As a result, I'll probably be upgrading the screen to Dell's HD option for this rig. Doing this will allow for higher default resolution and increased desktop real estate.
Since installing Mint 9, I've tested about 30 other distros on the machine, and found that there were some that were much nicer from a user experience and responsiveness POV (Elive being the main one - would have installed it but it wouldn't recognize the 1012's screen and their support is abysmal); there were others that were super light and fast but not terribly flexible (Puppy and its puplets, and LXDE distros I tried); there were others that were more thoroughly integrated and where more visually rich (PClinuxOS 2010 being the main one, but most KDE based distros it tried fell into this category - but they all where terrible at managing netbook resources); others had a nice balance of speed and flexibility (Mainly the XFCE based distros) but were not quite as user friendly as the main Gnome version of mint; and others where specifically made for netbooks, but I found them to have dumbed down interfaces, too focused on cloud based apps and having nowhere near the flexibility I was looking for (the sole exception being Peppermint, which is wonderful but a little spartan and LXDE is not flexible enough for my liking).
If I could find a stable Mint-based E17 version that was able to run mint's original tools (especially it's scrolling gnome menu and software manager); ecomorph; used Enlightenment's Engage dock (not the default E dock); and included Prism (or an equivalent) to create cloud based apps (while allowing you to run local software), That would be the ultimate netbook distro that I could imagine, as it would be fast, responsive, visually appealing, light on resources, and full featured. Sadly Enlightenment is not stable and from what I understand it is a bit of a pain to compile.
My search continues for that perfect distro, but thus far I have found nothing that gives me the right balance of speed, flexibility, integration, ease of use (mint's original tools rock here), responsiveness and good resource use, the way stock Mint does. Mint might not be the perfect distro for this application, but it comes very close and I've yet to find anything better.