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Ubuntu Netbook 10.10 -- Quirky and Simpler

The Art of Keeping Things Simple

October 25, 2010

Every netbook Linux distro makes the assumption that users want a simpler, lighter desktop for light work and social networking. But what about functionality and usability?

Bruce Byfield

From KDE's Plasma Netbook to EasyPeasy, every Linux desktop for netbooks that I���ve seen are designed with the same assumptions. Each assumes that, because of the smaller screen, the desktop must be simpler than a workstation's, and will be used mainly for light computing in general and social networking in particular.

Released at the same time as the Ubuntu 10.10 (Maverick) general version, the latest version of Ubuntu Netbook Edition does not question these assumptions. This conventionality may be questionable to many: workstation versions of GNOME, KDE, and Xfce work perfectly well on the smaller screens of netbooks for anyone with regular vision, and netbooks -- especially the latest generation, with their extra memory -- are capable of more than light computing. In addition, though, Ubuntu Netbook also has some design quirks that can make it less than ideal.

Ubuntu Netbook is available as a Live CD. Alternatively, you can create a Live USB drive, following the instructions on the download page. However, be warned that, like GNOME Shell, Ubuntu Netbook requires 3-D hardware acceleration, which means either using the still relatively few free drivers which meet this requirement or else finding proprietary ones. Unfortunately, this requirement is only mentioned in the final stages of loading, and the Live devices include only a limited set of drivers.

Although this is not a problem on many netbooks, most of which use the Intel Atom processor, it can be a problem if you try to run Ubuntu Netbook on another chipset. A message suggests that you boot with the regular version of Ubuntu, even though it is not included in the disk image.

Once you work around this problem, Ubuntu Netbook opens to reveal a desktop with a panel across the top and a launcher on the left that is a combination Favorites menu and taskbar of open applications.

With the pastel and gray buttons on the launcher and Ubuntu's luminous default, the visual impression is stunning. But is Ubuntu Netbook an effective desktop? That depends on whether your work habits are in keeping with the assumptions built into the design.

The Art of Keeping Things Simple

In interface design, simplicity is usually considered elegance...

Read the rest of Bruce Byfield's Ubuntu Meerkat Netbook story at Datamation.com

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