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Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.10 Shines Bright

Optimized For Smaller Screens, Technical Advances

  • November 5, 2009
  • By Paul Ferrill

Canonical released Ubuntu 9.10 in various forms last week including the Ubuntu Netbook Remix (UNR) edition. UNR has been around since Ubuntu 8.04 (see Mark Shuttleworth's blog for a good summary of UNR) and has taken on some pretty stiff competition of late from Moblin. Enquiring minds want to know which version is better for my netbook? We hope to answer that question in the text that follows.

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One of the first things we have to establish before we get too far in the process is the fact that there is a significant difference in the two options when it comes to target audience. UNR is targeted at Ubuntu users looking for a compact and small display-friendly version of their favorite distribution. It brings the majority of the applications found in the desktop distribution along with a few user interface (UI) tweaks to make it a little easier to do what you need to do.

Moblin's stated goals include such things as minimal boot time, high productivity centered around social networking tools like twitter, last.fm and all the popular chat services. It also uses a completely different desktop approach using what they call zones. The idea behind this concept is to group activities into zones for quick access and context switching. With this context we'll proceed with our investigation.

Installation

One of the best features added to Ubuntu 9.04 for netbook owners is the USB Start Disk creator tool. This makes it drop dead simple to create a bootable USB disk from any number of different distribution formats including IMG, ISO and others. You'll find the program under the System Administration tab from the applications menu on any Ubuntu distribution after 9.04.

With a bootable USB containing UNR 9.10 in hand, we proceeded to boot and run from the USB disk without installing. This option actually works quite well and includes the ability to save files and make modifications (like adding new wireless drivers -- more on this later) to the OS. You'll even have the ability to view local file systems including Windows partitions.

Installing to a local hard drive is painless. The Ubuntu team has made installing a new OS about as simple as any OS on the market today. A minimal number of questions coupled with a good presentation of disk partitioning options makes the process almost idiot proof. The process is fast, too, so don't stay gone too long after answering that last question.

UI Tweaks

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UNR uses a few tricks in an attempt to maximize the available screen real estate. One of these is to combine the top status bar to hold both the typical launch bar icons and what would normally be the top status bar of an application. It also adds a horizontal tabbed list of applications on the left-hand side of the screen starting with Favorites and then Files & Folders, Accessories, Games, Internet, Office, Sound & Video and System.

This is a slight change from previous versions that had files and folders as an additional horizontal tab on the right-hand side of the screen. By default, the icons for each item are large and easy to select when you move your mouse over them. Another nice touch is the plus sign that appears when you hover over the icon with your mouse for adding that application to your favorites menu.

Application switching works the same as you would expect from the desktop edition with a slightly added visual touch. When you hold down the Alt key and hit the Tab key, you'll see a familiar dialog in the middle of the screen with the active applications, but you'll also see either the active screen outlined or the icon highlighted as you cycle through them by hitting the Tab key again.

Moblin's answer to screen real estate issues is to auto-hide the toolbar at the top of the screen. The home page (or Zone) provides a quick snapshot of recently accessed web pages, calendar information and social networking updates. It's not hard to see the emphasis on ease of access to a mobile user's most frequent applications.


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