As someone who has only a basic knowledge of computers, I'm most comfortable when working in a familiar Windows environment or, at a stretch, Mac OS X. PC Advisor decided to throw me in at the deep end, tasking me with getting to grips with Ubuntu Light. It wanted to know whether Ubuntu really was as user-friendly for Linux novices as enthusiasts would have you believe.

Dell has installed Ubuntu Light as a pre-boot environment on its Inspiron 1120 Windows 7 laptop, allowing you to go from power off to browsing the web in just seven seconds. And it really is this fast, provided that you look out for and select the Linux option on boot up (otherwise you'll end up in Windows 7). The Dell instantly found and automatically connected to the office wireless connection (we’d previously set the password). To boot up and get online with Windows 7 took just shy of two minutes on this AMD Athlon II-powered system with 4GB RAM.

Of course, as a complete newbie, I didn't realise that this pre-boot environment was designed primarily for browsing the internet, chatting away on a social network or quickly accessing multimedia. Where was the Windows 7 Taskbar, and how was I to open Word and type up an essay? Could I change the wallpaper? An option to continue booting into Windows 7 in the bottom left corner provided some comfort, handily placed exactly where I might expect to click on Windows' Start button.

But having got over my initial shock, I found Ubuntu Light surprisingly easy to navigate. Icons for useful features or apps are smartly ordered in a list on the left side of the display. This allows the desktop to be otherwise free of shortcut icons, showing only what you need. Open windows can be minimised, disappearing into an icon at the top left corner; clicking this returns all your open windows.

I'd used Google Chrome before, so the default Chromium web browser - which uses the same underlying code - came as no great shock. More surprising was its Yahoo home page, but this can be changed.

A few other things are similar to Windows. Clicking the battery icon tells you how much battery power remains, for example, and high-resolution videos and images look just as good on the Dell's crystal-clear display in either operating system.

Ubuntu Light still took some time to get used to, but I appreciate its usefulness for when you need to boot up the laptop in a hurry. The preinstalled Skype for Linux app is great for quickly making a web call, for example, and really keeps things simple.

Ubuntu Light is ideal if you need to check your webmail, the news or even the weather, quickly and efficiently.

See also: Meet Ubuntu 11.04 'Natty Narwhal'... Linux just got cool