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Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook Edition beta review

Ubuntu Unity is a bold step for Ubuntu caretaker Canonical and its Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook remix. It offers a completely new user interface built on the backbone of key features due in GNOME 3 including Mutter and Zeitgeist. Russell Barnes tests it to breaking point (and found that it did.

This article originally appeared in issue 92 of Linux User & Developer magazine.

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Not only does the Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook Edition beta boast features due in GNOME 3, namely Mutter (compositing window manager) and Zeitgeist (activity logging engine), it’s also forward looking, with a view to touch-screen compatibility. That said, it still only represents the tip of the iceberg as far as Canonical is concerned.

While Ubuntu Unity is designed to take on the netbook market with a full-frontal attack, a different spin on Unity called Ubunty Light has been designed alongside it to make in-roads into the dual-boot, instant-on market. As the name suggests it’s a considerably lighter version of Unity designed to reach a web browser within ten seconds of hitting the instant-on button.

This is something Asus is currently actively pursuing with their Monolithic Linux-based (though proprietary) Express Gate 2.0 offering called Splashtop, which features in the Asus U35JC we’re reviewing here next week, and its a market Canonical are clearly earmarking for mass growth in the short term.

We’re here to talk about Ubuntu Unity, though, so let’s kick off with perhaps its strongest suit, which is its cunning use of desktop space – the art of keeping documents and applications accessible without compromising precious desktop real estate.

It’s all part of Mark Shuttleworth’s much-publicised drive to free up vertical screen-space, which – in the Netbook world where low resolution widescreens rule – is considerably more ‘expensive’ than space across the horizontal. This being the case the sideways-standing icon-based dock on offer today makes perfect sense, and for the most part it works admirably.

Default ‘pinned’ applications include Firefox, Gwibber, Thunderbird, Rhythmbox and a graphically tweaked (not to mention considerably more appealing and accessible) Software Centre. Non-default application, folder destination and external drive icons appear in the dock when activated and can be pinned, dragged around for re-ordering or removal using a combination of the mouse and a right click menu.

When the number of destinations exceeds the length of the screen mouse gestures up and down the bar can scroll it. The top and bottom buttons can collapse in a very Apple-like fashion too, though at the moment usability is a little slow and unresponsive on the whole, though we’re confident this will be addressed by final release.

Turn over for the conclusion of the review…

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