With the average netbook struggling to run Vista, we reckon Ubuntu Linux is a more suitable operating system. Here, we explain how to install it on your Windows machine.

Netbooks have soared in popularity over the past year, offering consumers portable PCs for word-processing and web browsing at rock-bottom prices. Such mini laptops use inexpensive processors that consume a minimal amount of power and thus offer a far longer battery life than most portables.

But there's one problem: Windows Vista is a resource-hungry operating system (OS), and it will run painfully slow unless your system has plenty of memory and processing power. Installing Windows on a netbook also adds a significant amount to the machine's overall cost.

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To get around this, netbook manufacturers tend to favour Windows XP, Microsoft's older, cheaper and less resource-hogging OS. But you may find that Linux, which this runs perfectly well on just 512MB of RAM, is a better alternative.

Linux will be unfamiliar to most users, but it's a far more attractive proposition than it used to be. While most of us are put off by our lack of knowledge of the OS, the addition of graphical user interfaces to its various distros and the widespread availability of free Microsoft-compatible applications, such as OpenOffice.org, mean you no longer have to compromise on usability.

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Over the following pages we aim to demystify Linux. It's not just netbook owners who will benefit from using this alternative to Windows; as a free, open-source OS, Linux is also a great option if you want to breathe life into an elderly machine.

You can install Ubuntu alongside your existing OS, too, so if you don't want to dump Vista entirely, you can keep it as a secondary option. You'll find it's faster than Vista Home Premium and less restricted than Vista Basic.

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If you've tried Linux before and were put off by the setup process, fear not. If Windows is already installed on your PC, adding Linux is a simple, two-step process, with no drive partitioning required.

There are, of course, a few differences between the Ubuntu Linux distro we've installed here and the Windows interface, you can get to grips with most features very quickly. We'll show you how to set up Ubuntu and get started with the most common apps.

Installing Ubuntu Linux

1. Ubuntu is available in server, desktop and netbook editions. The easiest way to get the latest version is to use Wubi. This installs Ubuntu as a standard Windows application. Simply indicate the drive where you want to load the OS, then click the Install button.

Ubuntu Linux Step 1

2. Ubuntu will appear as an option in your boot menu; select this and log on. The OS's Gnome interface is similar to that of both Windows and Mac OS X. At the top left you'll find menus to access Applications, Places (folders and drives) and System (tools and settings). To turn off your PC, click the symbol at the top right.

Ubuntu Linux Step 2