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The Economist Suggests Linux For Netbooks 445

Posted by timothy
from the and-they're-clever-guys dept.
Trepidity writes "In its roundup of how to choose a netbook, The Economist suggests that users 'avoid the temptation' to go for a Windows-based netbook, and in particular to treat them as mini laptops on which you'll install a range of apps. In their view, by the time you add the specs needed to run Windows and Windows apps effectively, you might as well have just bought a smallish laptop. Instead, they suggest the sweet spot is ultra-lite, Linux-based netbooks, with a focus on pre-installed software that caters to common tasks. They particularly like OpenOffice, which they rate as easier to use than MS Word and having 'no compatibility problems,' as well as various photo-management software." Besides which, does Windows offer spinning cubes for coffee-shop demos?
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The Economist Suggests Linux For Netbooks

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  • by TheKidWho (705796) on Saturday December 13, 2008 @08:06PM (#26106879)
    Nonsense, OpenOffice Word has a ton of problems with mathematical formulas, also I've had problems with images that open fine on msword but don't under OpenOffice. Otherwise it works well, I've moved from Word to OpenOffice.
    • by TheKidWho (705796) on Saturday December 13, 2008 @08:09PM (#26106907)
      The formatting got me, Converting between OpenOffice to word gives a lot of problems with Mathematical Formulas.

      Even for non net books, Linux is just better than windows for mobiles. It uses significantly less resources and my usable battery life has increased by at least 30% from switching from Vista to Ubuntu. Mind you this is on a high end laptop, Vista feels like a dog while Linux(Ubuntu) runs smoothly.
      • by Shikaku (1129753) on Saturday December 13, 2008 @08:53PM (#26107255)

        openoffice.org-dmaths
        Formula editor improvements for OpenOffice.org

        This is a package you can install on ubuntu to add additional support to openoffice concerning formulas. Have you tried this?

      • by digitig (1056110) on Saturday December 13, 2008 @09:33PM (#26107507)
        Formatting of mathematical formulae can break between MS Office 2003 and 2007, too. 2007 does support the old, compatible equation editor, but it's not the default, and the add-in for 2003 for viewing 2007 documents renders 2007 equations as poor-quality images. So although no compatibility problems might be an overstatement, OO.o is probably no worse for eBook compatibility (where macros won't matter) than Word.
      • Even for non net books, Linux is just better than windows for mobiles.

        Unlike with a desktop computer, you can't easily replace the screen, keyboard, and pointing device of a laptop computer. So how do you try a Linux laptop when the local stores don't sell any Linux laptop other than an ASUS Eee PC? Do you try a Windows model in-store and mail-order the Linux version? Do you try a Windows model, put everything listed in Device Manager into Google to make sure it works with Linux, buy the laptop, and wipe it with Ubuntu? Or do you buy your Linux laptops sight unseen and pay th

        • by SleepingWaterBear (1152169) on Saturday December 13, 2008 @11:03PM (#26108053)

          If you're planning to use Ubuntu, the best approach is to scope out the laptop on the Ubuntu Wiki [ubuntu.com] first. It isn't absolutely comprehensive, but it does cover the majority of popular laptops. I assume that other major distros have their own compatibility lists, and if your distro of choice doesn't, well, use the Ubuntu list, and at least you know that someone somewhere got your laptop working under Linux.

        • Boot the laptop with a live CD... Most common distributions have one now. The standard Ubuntu install CD is a live CD.

          At that point, you can test most (if not all) of the peripherals to see if they work nicely.

      • by Chordonblue (585047) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @01:33AM (#26108669) Journal

        I'm the tech director for a small girls' school and we've decided to experiment with the Dell Mini 9s... That is, until our rep at Dell informed us that we couldn't purchase the mini's in quantity as a school with Linux installed.

        Now, we want Linux because I don't want the girls filling these things up with crap software, slowing them down, killing them with viruses, etc.

        In addition, there's something to be said for such a quick startup time. Teachers want their students ready to be taught as soon as possible. What we don't need is little Ashley's Facebook virus-laden netbook taking 5 minutes to get to a usable state.

        The end result (after some complaining) was that they would offer the netbook to us for the same cost as the XP version - which smells pretty suspicious to me, no?

        Dell is not as serious about Linux as people seem to think they are. Just because consumer models are available does not mean corporate and educational versions are as well.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 14, 2008 @05:57AM (#26109629)

          Tell your Dell rep you've decided to go with the Asus EeePC instead. Linux friendly and cheap.

          /me works for Dell and yes, we do suck at Linux

      • by theaveng (1243528) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @07:39AM (#26109957)

        You know I've seen the same problems *within* Word.

        I use Word 97 at home, and Word 2003 at work, and I often see formatting problems during the conversion. Sometimes even just moving from my computer to my bosses' computer causes problems (varying width of the document), even though we are running the same 2003 edition. How can we "blame" OpenOffice for compatibility problems, if even Microsoft can't keep its own suite of software compatible?

        Overall I think OpenOffice does okay. Certainly better than WordPerfect's reading of Word files (which was a giant fail).

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by man_of_mr_e (217855)

          You have a fundamental misunderstanding of how word processing works.

          Word processors are designed to be WYSIWYG with the "Get" being the printed page and the "See" being the displayed page, and therefore they format the page based on the printer definitions. You move the file from one computer to another and they have different printers, then the page is reformatted to fit that printer.

          Most people don't understand this, and expect the document to look the same. It won't. That's why Adobe created Acrobat,

    • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@@@hackish...org> on Saturday December 13, 2008 @08:14PM (#26106953)

      The target market for netbooks is generally "normal people", who are more or less by definition not editing Word documents with mathematical formulas in them.

      • by TheKidWho (705796)
        Still, I hope they fix it. I've been forced to submit documents as pdfs instead of .doc because of this issue... But you're right, the average user could care less about editing mathematical formulas.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 13, 2008 @08:25PM (#26107047)

          If editing formulas was really a big concern for you you would be using LaTeX like all the cool kids.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by digitig (1056110)
            Editing formulae is a big concern for me, but my customers demand .doc format, and laTeX to Word conversion just doesn't cut it, unfortunately. For college work I use laTeX, but even that is likely to change as they are moving over to electronic submission and require .doc format too (although to their credit they are promoting OO.o as the way to generate the .doc files).
            • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 13, 2008 @10:04PM (#26107735)
              Well, you'll only be in college for 4 years. Then, welcome to the mathematical community, where you will be laughed at for doing anything in word. Also (and more importantly) you'll probably get carpel tunnel syndrome from using "equation editor."
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by digitig (1056110)

                Well, you'll only be in college for 4 years.

                Nope. I'm a part-timer, takes a lot longer that way.

                Then, welcome to the mathematical community, where you will be laughed at for doing anything in word.

                Nope, I'm already in the engineering community (we use equations too) and like I say, customers want Word format documents.

                Also (and more importantly) you'll probably get carpel tunnel syndrome from using "equation editor."

                Yes, that's why I use laTeX when I can, but the option isn't always open to me. At least my present employer is relaxed about my having it on my work computer -- as far as my previous employer was concerned, it wasn't in list of official company software, so I couldn't have it. Those folks who think people get to choose the software th

                • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                  by redhog (15207)

                  Do they really want word, or just something they can read on their machine? I've heard that LaTeX to PDF conversion tools are pretty cool :P

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by timeOday (582209)
              I just render my LaTex equations into png images and insert them into my word document. Sounds crude I know, but entering an equation is enough work that outputting it to an image file isn't a huge amount of overhead, relatively speaking.
        • by Al Dimond (792444) on Saturday December 13, 2008 @08:38PM (#26107133) Journal

          Odd; I always thought most people would rather have a PDF than a Word doc, unless they were collaborating with you. Certainly, if you're submitting a final, formatted document you'd want to use a format that specifies the rendered output exactly (PDF, Postscript, whatever Microsoft's new-ish one is) instead of one like ODF, Office formats, and TeX input files, which don't.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Niten (201835)

            As a minor nitpick, TeX input (in conjunction with all images and other source files) does specify the rendered output exactly. Donald Knuth went to great lengths to ensure that a given TeX input will render identically on every machine on which TeX runs, even going so far as to use fixed-decimal numeric representations rather than whatever floating-point formats a given architecture may natively support.

            Not that I'd send a TeX/LaTeX input file to someone when a PDF or PostScript file would suffice, of cou

    • by forkazoo (138186) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .snarcesorw.> on Saturday December 13, 2008 @08:21PM (#26107013) Homepage

      Nonsense, OpenOffice Word has a ton of problems with mathematical formulas, also I've had problems with images that open fine on msword but don't under OpenOffice. Otherwise it works well, I've moved from Word to OpenOffice.

      In my experience, OpenOffice certainly does open some documents in a way that looks strange. In the vast majority of those cases, those documents also look strange when moving between different versions of Word. So, compatibility isn't absolutely 100% perfect with a specific version of word, but it is damn near 100% compatibility if you consider "Word" as a whole, rather than "Word" as the exact specific version of Word you happen to have installed on the specific system you use most.

      And, most of those documents are indeed stuff like formulae which aren't widely used, and for which Word is sometimes not really the best tool for the job. When I worked in academia IT, I had the insane good fortune to work in a department where everybody was comfortable with the idea of using latex for their papers. I think I had to deal with fewer than half a dozen issues related to latex in the whole time I worked there. OTOH, when I was in Windows support, I'd call half a dozen MS Word issues a light week!

    • by blind biker (1066130) on Saturday December 13, 2008 @08:35PM (#26107113) Journal

      I guess you mean OpenOffice Writer.

      Let's see: I write scientific articles choke-full of all sorts of formulas. And I have never ever had a single problem with OpenOffice's formula editor. To be quite frank, I find it superior to Word's, in that I can better predict the outcome of what I'm doing, and can better control the layout of my formulas.

      So, I don't like to say this, but your arguments against formulas in OpenOffice is really some kind of horseshit.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Nonsense, OpenOffice Word has a ton of problems with mathematical formulas, also I've had problems with images that open fine on msword but don't under OpenOffice. Otherwise it works well, I've moved from Word to OpenOffice.

      That's been my experience as well. I use NeoOffice on my Mac; and while it is generally compatible I occasionally get some strange artifacts when opening PowerPoint files. Overall, however, NO/OO is compatible enough to be a viable alternative; you just need to verify the files will open properly if it is a "mission critical" file; such as one you are planning to have printed, or will be use as a presentation, from a machine that may not be running NO/OO.

    • by Animats (122034) on Saturday December 13, 2008 @11:40PM (#26108239) Homepage

      I've been using OpenOffice since 1.0, and I'm now on 3.0. I don't think I've used Microsoft Word in the last year, although I still have a valid copy of Word 97 around.

      OpenOffice actually works now; it doesn't crash or garble documents. But its interface is painful and amateurish.

      • "Help" brings up some vaguely relevant section of a manual, often one that's meaningless without context. The menus described in the manual tend not to be exactly those in the program. It's like someone ran a manual through a program that converted it into a help file.
      • Functions like envelope-making never quite work right. Envelope info is mispositioned or clipped wrong. Even in Word 97, this just worked.
      • It's not clear whether printing settings are part of the document or part of the user preferences. I once had a serious problem with a project done in OO 2.0 because, when the final version was printed, the user printer settings of 8.5x11" paper were used when printing an A4-sized document to A4 paper, the document was silently clipped, and a bad version went out the door. Some items, like "manual feed" for envelopes, can be set in several places, and they're not crosschecked.
      • I tried the formula editor. I closed the formula window. Now it's gone forever. How do I get it back? The help file won't tell me.
      • Mail merge and envelope/label generation do roughly the same thing, but have totally different interfaces.
      • The default heading styles are ugly and lame. You don't mix serif and sans-serif fonts like that. The defaults should be reasonably good-looking.

      With enough effort, you can work around these problems. But this is just a word processor. It should just work. And this is version 3; they've been at this for a decade now.

      This is a generic problem with open source user applications. They need real usability testing, where naive users are videoed doing various tasks while commenting on what bugs them. They seldom get it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Brandybuck (704397)

      The vast majority of people using mini-notebooks aren't going to be concerned about math formulas. Really, they aren't.

  • by click2005 (921437) on Saturday December 13, 2008 @08:07PM (#26106895)

    Besides which, does Windows offer spinning cubes for coffee-shop demos?

    No, just flying chairs

  • by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Saturday December 13, 2008 @08:10PM (#26106929) Homepage Journal

    The big problem here is whether you'll be allowed to buy a mini notebook with 1GB and a 120-160 MB hard disk without Windows. Microsoft certainly does not want notebook vendors selling them that way, and has effective strategies to induce them not to do so.

    I expect they start with legal bribes, price structures effecting both the vendors larger systems and the smaller ones, and if that doesn't work the patent portfolio comes out and they discuss whether you'd like to cross-license on their terms or be sued.

    All of which means you won't see many of the Linux machines at retail. So, the customer has to self-install, which is beyond most of them.

    • microsoft will lose, they can not dictate what hardware specs or what operating system is installed other companies put in to their laptops, this bullying by microsoft needs to stop some judge with cajones and integrity needs to put microsoft in their place...
      • by Aranykai (1053846)

        Theres nothing illegal about it. Microsoft does dictate hardware specs to manufacturers, as they have in the past and will continue in the future. If the manufacturer wants to continue selling MS products on their machine, they have to play by their rules. Why do you think they cant sell you a system with no OS?

    • by Ckwop (707653) <Simon.Johnson@gmail.com> on Saturday December 13, 2008 @08:29PM (#26107077) Homepage

      I'm not quite as cynical as you in that I don't think Microsoft can stop this revolution.

      In order to make money they have to charge something for their software. Linux will always be cheaper than a Windows machine.

      Apple were smart in positioning themselves as the luxury computer brand.

      Linux has made inroads in cheap ultra-portables. Windows has no-where to go. It's too slow for ultra-portables, it's too low quality for a luxury product.

      Ultra-portables are probably the future of computing. We're getting to the point where mobile contracts are being sold with a free ultra-portable.

      To me, it's much like what happened when the RIAA got in bed with Walmart. The RIAA stabbed record stores in the back by dealing with Walmart.

      The record stores had their interests aligned with the RIAA. The more music they sold, the more money they made and the more money the RIAA made.

      However, Walmart was a different animal. To Walmart, music was just something that took up shelf space. Suddenly the RIAA was competing with every other product.

      The RIAA found that it couldn't dictate the terms any more because Walmart had no qualms about dropping their product if they couldn't get a good deal. The RIAA, owing a good chunk of its revenue to Walmart, suddenly found itself to be Oliver saying: "Please sir, can I have some more?"

      In the past Micrsoft could bully system builders because they are like the record stores used to be . They have a vested interest in selling units which is mutually beneficial for both the system builder and Microsoft.

      However, computers are now becoming so cheap that they're being given away as a part of other deals. The people crafting these deals don't give a crap if it's Microsoft or not. They can't be bullied because their main line of business has little to do with Microsoft.

      Economics is a force more powerful than any individual company. Microsoft is not above this. Vista, to me, just confirmed that Microsoft is just another company. They don't need to make too many more mistakes before it starts to hurt really badly.

      I think we're beginning to see the end of the Microsoft monoculture.

      • by zrq (794138) on Saturday December 13, 2008 @10:20PM (#26107805) Journal

        The advertisements all over the Economist page (top and bottom banners and embedded in the article itself) are for the Asus N series [asus.com] notebooks. Which make a point of promoting the Express Gate [wikipedia.org] instant-on linux environment built into the motherboard.

        So even if they buy one with Windows XP or Vista installed, the first thing to run when they switch it on will be Linux with FireFox.

    • by fm6 (162816) on Saturday December 13, 2008 @08:31PM (#26107091) Homepage Journal

      You talk as if this is something MS might try, when we all know that they've been doing it routinely all along. But this kind of tactic doesn't seem to be working with netbooks. Companies seem to have no trouble making and selling simple Linux netbooks.

      The sad thing is that this is not entirely a win for Linux. Yes, it means increased market share. But it only succeeds because there's a basic set of Internet tools that everybody uses and that can be implemented on any widely-used OS. That being the case, vendors might as well use an OS that doesn't come with license fees.

      But that means nobody will be able to make a living writing applications for these netbooks — they already have all the software their users need. Most desktop applications will continue to be coded against Microsoft's convoluted, inconsistent, and buggy APIs and platforms.

      • by jbolden (176878)

        Lots of people make money coding for cell phones and PDAs. There is plenty of demand for software for netbooks and Unix platforms are easy to write for.

      • But that means nobody will be able to make a living writing applications for these netbooks — they already have all the software their users need. Most desktop applications will continue to be coded against Microsoft's convoluted, inconsistent, and buggy APIs and platforms.

        My nephew runs commercial games on his ipod touch.

      • by MtHuurne (602934) on Saturday December 13, 2008 @08:58PM (#26107293) Homepage
        It means more people will view the web through a browser that is not IE. More people will use an office suite that supports ODF. More people will want music and videos without DRM. Even if not a single extra Linux app will be written (which I doubt), Linux as a platform will be supported better.
      • But that means nobody will be able to make a living writing applications for these netbooks -- they already have all the software their users need.

        Netbooks increase the application space, which means more opportunities for niche software. For example, now that netbooks are so cheap, more companies will give their employees one to use on the road. So now there's more opportunity to add value by writing code for a particular business need that just opened up because of the cheap netbook? Or for charging for modifying gpl software to cater to a particular need, and contribute back to "the community" at the same time?

      • by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Saturday December 13, 2008 @09:26PM (#26107463) Homepage Journal

        People can make a living writing applications that have depth, like PhotoShop, or are timely, like TurboTax for the specific tax year, or that have tremendous liability and accuracy issues, like TurboTax, or that, again like TurboTax, aren't written for love, and aren't written by programmers at all but by accountants.

        If your software doesn't have depth, or timeliness, etc., it's too late to make money from it. This isn't particularly an Open Source issue.

        That leaves us with games, and netbooks aren't game machines, and all of the content you vend via web sites, which is probably where any money to be made will come from.

    • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Saturday December 13, 2008 @08:46PM (#26107205) Homepage Journal

      The big problem here is whether you'll be allowed to buy a mini notebook with 1GB and a 120-160 MB hard disk without Windows. Microsoft certainly does not want notebook vendors selling them that way, and has effective strategies to induce them not to do so.

      I expect they start with legal bribes, price structures effecting both the vendors larger systems and the smaller ones, and if that doesn't work the patent portfolio comes out and they discuss whether you'd like to cross-license on their terms or be sued.

      That won't mean anything to a chinese company willing to sell a netbook online for a hundred bucks.

    • So buy it with Windows and get [networkworld.com] your [linuxjournal.com] refund [linux.com].

      Consider the refund as a payment by Microsoft for you installing Linux.

  • It's a wash (Score:5, Informative)

    by westlake (615356) on Saturday December 13, 2008 @08:46PM (#26107207)
    Walmart.com currently lists 13 mini-laptops.

    gOS Linux at $300
    7" screen, VIA CPU, 512 MB RAM, 30 GB HDD

    Windows XP at $350
    8.9" screen, Atom CPU, 1 GB RAM, 120 GB HDD.

    SUSE Linux at $400

    9" Screen, VIA CPU, 512 MB RAM, 4 GB Flash, and a webcam. Not sold in stores.

    Windows XP at $400

    9" Screen, 1 GB RAM, 160 GB HDD and a webcam. In some stores. Mini-Laptops [walmart.com]

    The Economist ~ understates ~ the advantages of being able to run your Windows apps on your netbook - and there is really nothing in F/OSS of interest to the general consumer market that isn't available for Windows.

    • by Mista2 (1093071)

      MS will litteraly give XP away to the vendors now ratherthan risk having people/customers break free of the win32 app stack.

  • Finally! (Score:4, Funny)

    by jonaskoelker (922170) <jonaskoelker@gnu. o r g> on Saturday December 13, 2008 @08:48PM (#26107229) Homepage

    Finally, the big breakthrough.

    This time it's definitely true: 2009 is the year of Linux on the deskt... netbook!

  • by 9gezegen (824655) on Saturday December 13, 2008 @10:01PM (#26107711)
    I bought an Asus EEE PC 900A from Bestbuy. At $280, it is a bargain. However, I really hated Xandros on it (disclaimer, all my machines are either Debain or kubuntu). What kind of f*ck head installs an OS on 4GB SSD and leave on 100MB or so for updates. What is more, after my first update attempt the disk became full and update applet stopped in middle of a download. After several reboots, the applet always started automatically and always hanged. Wireless was also similarly not connecting. Add this to the fact that several programs took forever to run, I said f*ck with Xandros, and installed Ubuntu-eee. The difference is like night and day. I suggest EEE PC with ubuntu to everybody. Install once and leave it there. The moral of the story? If a dedicated linux user since 1994 is frustrated with a linux based netbook, why the regular people shouldn't be? The manufacturers MUST use Ubuntu-EEE or similar stable, easy to use and efficient distro.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jbolden (176878)

      Xandros has been around a long time. If you count the old Corel Linux they have been active since 1999. I don't know what happened in your case but Xandros is not some fly by night, incompetent Linux.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Just Some Guy (3352)

      BTW, Ubuntu's "Netbook Remix [launchpad.net]" desktop is absolutely brilliant on tiny netbooks like the 701. It's as easy to use as the Xandros desktop, but fully functional and customizable.

  • by jamescford (205756) on Saturday December 13, 2008 @10:51PM (#26107975) Homepage

    The blurb may be a little misleading, since it seems to suggest that this is some kind of recommendation from the Economist, which doesn't do product reviews in general.

    This is part of a (very interesting) collection of "end of year technology roundup" type articles (see for instance my favorite article [economist.com] on quieter tank treads). All the writer really says is "if you buy one of these the point is low cost and simplicity -- so don't be tempted to spend extra on Windows, or you might as well buy a laptop".

    The author is actually kind of against the choice of Linux in a way, as he makes it sound like adding extra software is a royal pain: "Admittedly, installing third-party software can be a bit of a fiddle, and some of the advice available online threatens to lure users into the tangled depths of the Linux undergrowth, where few people will want to venture"...

    JF

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by spazdor (902907)

      True, but it's not like he's wrong.

      As long as the software you want is in the package manager you're probably OK, but keep in mind that for normal people, they're already in the tangled undergrowth by the time they've gotten to "dependencies".

  • Weird advice (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dzimas (547818) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @12:03AM (#26108347)

    I just got an Acer Aspire One with 8GB SSD and their bizarre Linpus Lite distro installed. It runs fine, but I torched it in favor of Win XP by the end of the evening, simply because XP was the only other OS that fully supported the hardware. As far as performance goes, the thing actually runs OK under XP (format as FAT32). The big drawback is that the Intel SSD is brutally slow when writing, so the trick to getting good performance is to disable unnecessary writes and caching wherever possible in the OS.

    Honestly, it makes more sense to spend the extra $50 to get the Asipre One with larger battery, 160GB HD and pre-installed Windows for almost everybody. The keyboard is 89%, which is large enough for me to touch type on without issues, although the touchpad has to be one of the most craptacular pointing devices ever incorporated in a notebook - the buttons are located beside it - one on the left, one on the right. Nasty.

  • Screw you (Score:3, Insightful)

    by RzUpAnmsCwrds (262647) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @03:30AM (#26109135)

    People who think that netbooks are some special kind of device don't get it. Netbooks succeed where devices like the N810 fail because they *are* real notebooks.

    I have an EEE 900HA, which I upgraded to a 100GB 7200 RPM Hitachi HDD (taken from my ThinkPad after I upgraded it to 250GB Seagate) and 2GB of memory. I run Ubuntu 8.10 and Vista on it.

    It's a full laptop. It's not a limited, special-purpose device.

    I can load Eclipse on it. Or VS2008. Or Word. Or Firefox. Or iTunes.

    People who say, "Why not just buy a small laptop" don't get it. I did buy a small laptop. It just happens to be a cheap, low-power, small laptop.

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