RATING: 3.0 out of 5

I also looked at a version of the Acer Aspire One that came pre-installed with Linpus Linux Lite, a popular Linux distribution for netbooks. Other than a white case color, both netbooks had the same external hardware configuration. The Linux version shipped with 512MB RAM, and came equipped with an 8GB SSD drive instead of the 120GB traditional drive found in the Windows variant.

Related: Review: Acer Aspire with Windows XP

Thanks in part to the faster SSD drive, the Aspire One running Linux booted in mere seconds, whereas the Windows XP version took much longer to load. A user-friendly opening screen presents users with available program applications and options, broken down into color-coded categories. Despite the attractive display, Linux Linpus Lite obviously isn't Windows. In fact, numerous netbook customers have returned their Linux netbooks for a version running Windows XP. Nearly all variants of Linux can be a bit rough around the edges for computer novices; even many Linux advocates agree this situation has to be addressed before Linux can make any serious headway against Microsoft and Apple in the consumer space.

While the Linux option may seem quirky and non-standard to users accustomed to running Windows, opting for Linux does have some advantages. First, there is the aforementioned boot speed; even accounting for the SSD drive, Linux Linpus Lite boots much faster than Windows XP. Versions of the Aspire One pre-installed with Linux also tend to be a bit less expensive (about $20-$30) than versions installed with Windows. Microsoft has had some success in painting the price differential between PCs running Windows and the Apple's Macintosh computers as an "Apple tax", but Linux devotees could arguably make the same claim here: isn't paying more for a netbook running Windows essentially a "Microsoft tax"?

If you’re an IT admin running Windows, the convenience and familiarity of having a netbook running Windows XP will likely make that option a better choice. Yet in an era when more consumers are leveraging the Internet for their computing needs, an inexpensive netbook running Linux – especially for the computer-savvy—can serve as an ideal platform for checking your webmail, editing and uploading photos to Flickr, working on short documents, or visiting social networking sites such as Facebook.

The IT industry has historically been locked in an ongoing upgrade cycle that involves Microsoft releasing powerful new software than needs powerful new hardware to run properly. That model may have worked with success for the past two decades, but does the belly-flop failure of Windows Vista and the arrival (and booming popularity) of low-cost netbooks mean that the old upgrade model is broken? If you can use a powerful, inexpensive, low-cost computing device—paired with the rapid development and availability of free web apps and services—to accomplish your basic computing needs, do you really need to upgrade your PC and OS every 2 years? I guess we'll see.

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