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The New Ubuntu Netbook Remix is Totally Karmic: An Early Look

If you've been looking for a lean, sleek, well supported operating system for your netbook then look no further. Due out next month, Karmic Koala Netbook Remix has a cleaner interface, complete hardware support and numerous other improvements. Let's take a look.

The Bad

While the new interface is clean and takes up less screen real estate, it’s not all peaches and cream.

The layout of applications with big shiny buttons looks good, but it makes it very hard to find programs when it’s full. Take the System package group for example, it’s full of useful tools but it’s hard to scan both left to right and down in order to locate the utility needed.

The Games category also has a screen full of applications to choose from, but they aren’t even in alphabetical order (see below). The icons are large and the interface works very well, but finding what a users wants is not as easy as it should be. I’m sure that after a short period of time, finding what you need will become become second nature but in the mean time it can be a little frustrating.

As such, it would be great if there was a fast, lightweight search facility implemented. Hey, we can dream can’t we?

karmic-netbook-games.jpg

The Ugly

The use of Maximus is a great hack. It enables the applications to make better use of the small number of pixels available by overlaying the title bar and system tray. Unfortunately it’s just that, a hack.

Opening a program causes it to flicker half a dozen times while it adjusts itself on the screen, finally settling itself into its new snug full screen position. It’s not too bad and of course people will put up with it, but it simply looks unprofessional and detracts from the awesomeness of the rest of the system.

The other issue with Maximus is that it doesn’t work on all applications, especially KDE based programs. Given that on a Linux box users have tens of thousands of applications to install and use, that’s probably fair enough. It does, however, mean that the desktop will lack some polish when users start exploring.

Undoubtedly this will improve overtime and getting more applications supported by the system is probably a higher priority, but if it’s to be the long term approach for netbook remix it just might need a little re-work in this area.

Although admittedly still a development release, there were some issues with applications occasionally not actually taking their rightful place, as seen below.

As it stands currently, these small issues with Maximus just helps to make the desktop feel amateurish and unstable.

karmic-netbook-maximus.jpg

Looking ahead

Koala is certainly on the right track. The interface is much improved, but it’s far from perfectly clean. Sure, users can put up with the flickering and applications which don’t maximize full screen, but it’s just not nice. Unfortunately that means we will probably need one more release cycle before it becomes top notch.

Things are moving in the right direction however and with dedicated resources, perhaps next year’s 10.04 release could be the killer Linux desktop of all time. Lots of improvements like ext4, kernel-based mode setting and the new X.Org will all be more stable and well tested. Any issues with the cloud could also be sorted by then. The upcoming 9.10 release will certainly be a milestone along the journey, but it’s not there yet.

Perhaps Canonical should do an “Apple” – that is, make 10.04 a bug fix only version like the recent release of OS X, Snow Leopard. Sure, include the latest upstream GNOME and KDE desktops, but they should really focus on their core technologies and clean them up. If they can do that, Ubuntu might just be ready for wide stream consumer adoption.

Canonical is also working with the Moblin project to improve the performance and enhance the user experience of netbook remix, but it’s certainly no Moblin, yet. If it is warranted down the track, perhaps we might see a completely separate version of Ubuntu, entirely optimized for the Atom architecture, which might even be based directly off Moblin and its custom desktop.

In the mean time, despite the few minor issues raised above, the netbook remix is perhaps the most complete experience available and certainly a great achievement.

What Does the Future Hold?

Linux started strongly in the netbook market, only to be steam rolled by Microsoft. Still, what this has achieved is to show consumers that there are other choices out there. It’s not too late for Linux to make a come back, but it needs something clever and simple that just works (and works really, really well).

With a bit more work done on the interface to make it smoother, netbook remix is a operating system which could reclaim that lost market share. Canonical is certainly onto a winner here and hopefully more computer manufacturers will notice that as well and engage with the company to put Linux back in a store near you.

While we wait for the market to sort itself out, Ubuntu just keeps getting better and better. Don’t forget that anyone who already owns a netbook (including those purchased with Windows) can download and install Ubuntu free of charge. With the various improvements coming in Karmic, it will be the best and most complete option for Intel based netbooks anywhere.

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