Netbook – Part 3

Thirteen months ago I wrote Part 1 about my experience with choosing a netbook to take on the very first SQLCruise. Part 2 continued with setting up the netbook for SQL Server development and education use.

Thoughts After a Year of Use

So after more than a year of use, what’s the verdict? Easy answer: success, no regrets.

The netbook not only went on the very first SQLCruise from Miami to Cozumel, but also the most recent SQLCruise to Alaska. On both trips I used it in the classroom as well as to VPN into the office to do work. Same for last year’s PASS Summit and some SQL Saturday events. For a year I carried it to the office so that I could work away from my desk for an hour or so each day. The netbook had a cost of around $300, throws off very little heat compared to a laptop, and only weighs 2.8 pounds. Most surprising: the estimate of 14 hours of use on battery power was not much of an overstatement (turning on wi-fi zaps it down a bit, turning on bluetooth zaps it down a lot).

So is that the end of this post? Am I going to end with “All is well, tune in next year when I will let you know if the netbook is still running” or something like that?

No.

Let us push-on and take the netbook to a new place. A wonderful place with everyone’s favorite creature of the arctic waters, the narwhal. In this particular case, a natty narwhal.

It’s Ubuntu Time

Ubuntu is a linux distribution. Unlike the olden days, you can avoid the disk partitioning stuff, boot loader configurations, command lines, having to do yet another operating system install where you have to babysit the machine in case you need to type in information and hit the enter key, etc. More on that later.

But first, why would I want linux on my netbook if it already works fine? Because sometimes I just want to grab my netbook and do some web browsing, but I don’t want to wait for Windows 7 to boot up. So I wondered if a minimal Ubuntu install would boot up faster on my netbook. No need for suspense… the boot up time is about the same, but the feature I like is that the Ubuntu user interface is very nice for smaller, netbook-size screens. This interface seems a bit awkward at first, but it doesn’t take long before you begin to appreciate it.

One way to get Ubuntu running would have been to use a virtualization solution such as VMware Player. But that’s not going to work in this case because then I’d have to boot to Windows first, then Ubuntu. That’s not much of a time-saver. Also, my netbook doesn’t have a lot of memory or CPU horsepower for pushing virtual machines. So it was looking like I would be setting up a dual-boot configuration.

At this point, I decided to try the option of running Ubuntu within Windows. This turned out to be very simple, and so far I’ve been quite satisfied with the result. With this installation option, Ubuntu installs into a folder in your Windows file system, and the experience is similar to installing a Windows application. So you don’t have to deal with partitioning your hard disk for a separate operating system. The Ubuntu installer uses your existing Windows installation to figure out the settings to use, so your interaction during the installation process is minimized.

If you want to try out Ubuntu then you can follow the instructions here, plus this page has more detailed instructions on installation as well as how to uninstall (you uninstall from the Control Panel just like you’d uninstall a typical Windows application).

Once you have Ubuntu installed, fire up the web browser and do some reading. A couple of links I’d recommend would be

So my netbook has become even more useful now. When I start it up, I can choose to boot into Windows to do some SQL Server work, or boot into Ubuntu for some linux goodness.

About Noel McKinney

Noel McKinney is the administrator of noelmckinney.com
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