I recently purchase the wife a new netbook for her to use when teaching while we are on the road, or hanging on the couch, or when I'm using the big computer to play Minecraft. It was about time for a new netbook anyway as the old Acer Aspire was being a real dog. It seems to have gotten caught up with a conflict somewhere between an Acer update and a Windows update and it just wasn't happy.
Once I got all of the old files off, and there weren't many as it was only a net book and we're pretty good about network drive usage, it was time to install Linux. I've been away from looking at different distributions for a while so I got to work looking around. there are dozens (hundreds?) of Linux distributions, all with a following, and many made for specific reasons. There's Scientific Linux which is focused on stability and uniformity. There's Arch and Puppy Linux that are focused on being super small.
In the past I've used Ubuntu as a mainstay for bringing old desktop computers back to life. I like Ubuntu, and what they stand for. I think if you have decent computer, and you're sick of Windows and all its BS updates, memory leaks, anti-virus needing non-sense, then you really should give Ubuntu a go.
But I didn't use Ubuntu for this effort. While I like Ubuntu when I have a regular power machine, and it flies with a strong machine, as a netbook OS it seems to drag. Ubuntu wants to be everything for everyone, and so it automatically installs a lot of awesome, powerful, but resource hogging applications. You can install it slimmed down by doing an alternate install, but by the time you're doing that, you might as well invest the time in installing any version of Linux because you'll be using the command line a lot.
They do make Xubuntu which is the Ubuntu platform but uses the XFCE desktop instead of the Unity desktop. While it's fast, it's also rather rough, and the desktop hasn't been updated since 2012. I've had lots of small annoying issues with sound cards, wifi, microphone, etc with XFCE. I can't trust that it won't go wonky on me, and I don't think its going to convert anyone from Windows because at least in windows, the mute key generally works.
One item that seems to have crept up on me, and it shouldn't have is Linux Mint. Its been around for a while, and its based on Ubuntu, but its a better, lighter, smoother package. It also comes ready to go for multi-media, which has been a problem for me in the past. It's also Steam friendly, so you can download many games and they'll run just fine. It has several desktop choices, but you'll want to either focus on Cinnamon if you've got the power, or MATE if you're using an older machine like mine.
I've tried both the Cinnamon and the Mate desktop and I'll be sticking with the Mate. I also tried the XFCE version, and had several issues. I spent an hour fixing a few but in the end it just wasn't worth it. They make live disks for all of them, so you can try the whole operating system before even installing it.
Oh, and in case its not obvious, its FREE.