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DEATH-PROOF your old XP netbook: 5 OSes to bring it back to life

Or: How to talk your child out of using an iPad..

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My son's school has decreed that next year he'll need a computer of some sort.

Mr 12 wants an iPad. I want him to use the 2009-vintage Lenovo S10e Netbook gathering dust in the study, because it's already been paid for. The netbook is also fit for purpose: it was the very model handed out in Australian schools circa 2009.

It's also alive and kicking. That Redmond will turn it into a curiosity next April rankles, so I want to find something useful for it to do.

Mr 12 scoffs at such sensible arguments and cares little for the family budget. All he knows is that the single core 1.6Ghz ATOM N270-powered machine with its 2GB of RAM, 150GB hard disk and oddly proportioned 1024 x 576-pixel 10.1-inch screen runs like treacle.

After some back and forth, a compromise has been reached: if I can show him an operating system that makes the netbook faster and look cool, he'll give it a go.

To meet that challenge, I've installed five netbook OS alternatives – onto the bare metal when it's easy to do so and onto USB sticks in other cases. Virtual machines, we decreed, would not give a decent look to an OS.

Mr 12's assessed them for usability, Minecraft availability, and classroom cred. I've assessed them for general utility.

And so, without any further ado … let's get into it.

Ubuntu 12.04

Yes we could have gone with Lubuntu, but the extra bling of full Ubuntu seemed a useful way to get Mr 12 interested. Full Ubuntu installation is also stupidly simple: the 2.2MB Wubi download means just a few clicks get you to dual boot heaven … at least until Windows 8 comes along. More of that later.

Ubuntu is of course a sysadmin's dream, offering all the command line Linux goodness anyone could want. There's also a fine GUI that Mr 12 found in no way confronting.

Performance was poor: even though I defragged the drive in both Windows and Ubuntu, the laggy XP experience persisted.

Mr 12 was able to navigate the OS and had no trouble firing up a browser and finding Libre Office. He decreed the latter decent, if not as good as Office or Presi, the slideware-as-a-service he's used in class.

Ubuntu 12.04

Ubuntu 12.04's software manager: VLC yes, Minecraft no

The killer lack-of-app was Minecraft. I'd assumed the game was so cool Ubuntu's Software Centre would bring it to the netbook in mere moments. When it instead produced a Minecraft clone, Mr 12's mind closed to Ubuntu. Probably forever.

I could run Ubuntu happily. It's pleasant to watch and use, even if it doesn't improve the netbook's performance.

MacPup

Mr 12 prefers the Macs at home, largely because they're newer and faster than the PCs, so I thought perhaps MacPup – a distro that tries to reproduce the MacOS Finder in Linux - was worth a try.

The results aren't pretty and Mr 12 decided it looks like “A Mac made by someone who's only seen a Mac once,” a wisdom from the mouths of tweens moment if ever there was one.

Finding apps in MacPuppy proved its undoing: only Firefox awaits on the desktop seen at startup. That a left-click on the desktop rather than a right-click summoned the menu proved confusing.

MacPup in action

MacPup in action: A raw install has the faux dock but none of the other excitement.

On the upside, MacPuppy frolicked at delightful speed while running from a 2GB USB stick. It's Linux with a skin, so has all the possibilities of any Linux.

Bottom line? Mr 12 wasn't in the slightest bit interested. Nor was I, even if the OS was wonderfully swift when booting from a USB stick.

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