Enter MiniWide, a Chrome/Firefox add-on that gives Gmail a netbook-friendly fullscreen mode. Specifically, it clears away some of the clutter (like ads, search, navigation, etc.), leaving you with more space for the guts of Gmail.
After installing MiniWide, you invoke "netbook mode" with a simple press of the w key. A second press restores Gmail to its original glory. And that's all there is to it!
Pair this with the Google Labs feature Remove Labels from Subjects and you should find Gmail a lot easier to operate on a netbook.
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