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Netbook for the Kitchen and Linux Mint: Refreshing

Soon after we moved into our house nearly 10 years ago I found myself with a spare computer and LCD monitor that I convinced my wife would be a great thing to put in our kitchen. As with a lot of my household experiments, she was skeptical, but soon realized that having connectivity in the kitchen was a great idea (this was before wireless was popular or easy to do).

For a variety of reasons (including a renovation and the introduction of an HDTV into the mix), my desktop kitchen computer was no longer practical. I initially thought I’d put my Vizio TV to double duty as a computer monitor, and did a short experiment with an Asus EeeBox PC B202 nettop that invisibly mounted behind our TV. Good idea, but the TV was simply too small to read the NY Times or recipes from a distance. So back to the drawing board.

I eventually decided that a cheap netbook was going to do the trick and went searching for something that had a decent keyboard, a 10″ screen (IMHO about as small as is practical), and was hoping to find something south of $300 ($200 would have been even better). Based on what I’d read about the keyboard and screen, I decided on a MSI Wind U100 ($289 back in September, but can be even had for less on eBay), and have not been sorry. MSI makes excellent equipment that meet my price for performance criteria–in this case, I was not looking to spend a lot for a muffler 😉

So not that buying a netbook for the kitchen is especially noteworthy, but for those of you not yet on the netbook bandwagon, a few things worth sharing.

  • Windows XP is a dog on these machines and you are likely to be very disappointed by system performance, even for things like basic web browsing and email. Windows 7 promises to be better, but why pay the extra tariff to Microsoft when it’s truly not necessary. After many experiments, I’ve arrived at using Linux Mint 8 (more on this later in this post), a very slick and easy to use (and setup) variant, that is like all other things Linux, free. I quickly ditched XP, and worked my way through Ubuntu 9.04, Moblin, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, and CrunchBang!, until eventually arriving at Mint (based on Ubuntu)
  • I consider the netbook to be a satellite computer, so having a big hard drive is irrelevant as is having lots of ports and or bundled software. Everything one needs software wise for a good kitchen machine can be had legally for free
  • 3-cell batteries that come with these machines by default will not yield acceptable battery life. You will absolutely want to go for the more expensive 6-cell batteries (I bought one on eBay after market)
  • Mozilla’s Firefox web browser can be a real dog on these machines. I opted for Google Chrome, which while not 100% compatible on all websites is much speedier and very much worth considering

So Ken, Why Mint? Why Now?
Most day-to-day users of computers either at home or the office didn’t make a choice (unless they specifically bought an Apple computer). They run what came with the machine, and according to STATOWL for nearly 9 out of 10 people that means some flavor of Microsoft Windows

Mint is different, think Apple different, but not driven by profit (or by elitism). You can learn more about it here.

Mint is indeed subtle, elegant, and unless you want it to be, not in the least bit geeky. While there are literally hundreds of variation of Linux distributions to choose from (I use Ubuntu on my main Thinkpad X61 laptop), Mint’s mission in life is to look good and be easy to use (yes Linux can be easy). In the case of my Netbook it installed perfectly without the need for any drivers or oddball configuration workarounds. Within minutes I was associated with my wireless network was off reading the New York Times, responding to emails, and looking up recipes (things one does with a Netbook in the Kitchen). You will find that Mint easily goes to sleep when you are done with your computing session, and if you visit my home, you will find the Netbook sitting on a shelf ready to be opened at any time if I want to check the weather, look up an oddball fact, or read and comment on my wife’s latest blog post (part of being an attentive husband in my world).

So How Do You Install Mint (especially if you don’t have a CD drive)
For those not especially technical the only problem you are likely encounter has to do with the fact that your Netbook will not likely have a CD drive (and you are not likely to have an external CD drive sitting around). More than likely you will have a USB Flash Drive sitting around, and with some help from the following tutorial, you will be able to make a bootable version of Mint that will allow you to try out Mint (without installing it on to the Netbook), and when ready, install it.

So if you’re on the fence about doing the Netbook thing, I would not hesitate, especially given that you could get something very usable for very little money (as of this writing $250 can get you a brand new machine with a 10.1″ screen from TigerDirect). The Linux Mint thing is also easier than you think, even if you’re not inclined to muck with such things. And while you could easily drag your work machine or family computer into the kitchen, it’s quite appealing to have a computer that’s not loaded up with business applications and all the other trapping that we tend to clutter our day-to-day computing environments with.  And of course, Mint’s cool green is especially refreshing in the kitchen 🙂

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