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The best netbook distro of 2010 – Linux User group test

Linux User & Developer magazine reviews four of the best netbook distros currently available in a bid to uncover the ultimate open source user experience for your netbook computer...

Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook Edition

Canonical, the firm behind Ubuntu, has been experimenting with an interface designed specifically for netbooks for some time…

The current release of the netbook-oriented version of Ubuntu is the company’s second major attempt to develop a netbook-friendly graphical layer sitting on top of the Ubuntu base. The latter means that Ubuntu Netbook Remix (UNR) provides all the creature comforts Ubuntu is known for, including a user-friendly installer and excellent hardware support.

Similar to the latest Ubuntu release, UNR 10.10 comes with a redesigned installer that makes the process even more straightforward than before. The wizard asks a few simple questions and zips through the installation in 15-20 minutes. As you’d expect, UNR does a great job at detecting and configuring hardware. On our test machine, pretty much everything worked out of the box, including the wireless interface, the webcam, the Bluetooth module, and the sound and graphics cards. There were a few exceptions, though: neither the microphone nor the function key worked out of the box.

Although supposedly UNR (and the desktop version of Ubuntu for that matter) sports improvements in booting times, you probably won’t notice any difference on a system with a conventional hard disk. However, UNR boots mind-bogglingly fast on netbooks with solid-state drives. On our test system, UNR zoomed through the boot sequence in about 10 seconds.

Of course, UNR’s main attraction is the brand-new Unity interface, designed to make the most of a netbook’s limited screen estate. While the netbook interface in the previous version of UNR took over the entire desktop, Unity represents a more subtle approach. It adds a scrollable vertical task management panel to the left side of the screen which provides quick access to frequently used applications and destinations. In addition to that, the Application icon gives you access to the screen containing big colourful shortcuts to the most essential applications, such as a web browser and Ubuntu Software Center, as well as folders and software sections. Unity also offers a few convenient features that can boost your efficiency. The Search bar, for example, lets you quickly locate the application of the document you need. Start typing the name of the application or file and the system narrows the result in real-time.

While the Unity interface works surprisingly well, it does have a few annoying quirks. The vertical placement of the launcher makes a lot of sense, but it doesn’t seem to be possible to hide it when it’s not in use, so you can’t reclaim this portion of screen for use with other applications. You can remove and add applications to the vertical task management panel, but you can’t add folders. And you can neither add nor remove items from the shortcut screen.

Despite these minor shortcomings, Unity is an impressive feat of software design which, combined with the solid Ubuntu foundation, makes UNR a prime candidate for your netbook.

Here’s how  Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook edition measures up…

Installation & hardware support: 9/10
UNR’s installer is hands down the most user-friendly installation tool out there

Ease of use: 8/10
The new Unity interface is slick and easy to get to grips with. It does have a couple of shortcomings, though

Cloud & social features: 8/10
Similar to the desktop version of Ubuntu, UNR provides integration with the Ubuntu One service. The Me menu acts as a hub for all your social activities, but the default Gwibber social client is not
the best choice for the netbook

Software: 9/10
A couple of odd choices (Cheese webcam tool but no Skype?). However, they can be easily fixed using the excellent Ubuntu Software Center tool

The new Unity interface works surprisingly well, but it does have a few annoying quirks

Page 2 – Jolicloud 1.0

Goup test reviews:
Page 1: Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook Edition
Page 2: Jolicloud 1.0
Page 3: Easy Peasy
Page 4: Kubuntu Plasma Netbook desktop
Page 5: Final verdict

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