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.

Speaking of Apple, another clear indicator that Canonical admire Steve Job’s work  comes courtesy of a work-space selector icon designed to make switching between active windows quick and easy. Its similarities to Apple’s Exposé are immediate and many, so it’s actually quite hard to fault in terms of style. Once pressed, the screen darkens slightly and the current window zooms into the background spacing the active applications and windows together. A simple click on another window will draw it back to the foreground for immediate access. It’s a smooth manoeuvre and one that eases workflow and drastically increases accessibility.

Up until this point everything appears impressive and fresh, though it still maintains a very ‘Ubuntu’ feel. That’s until you approach the file and folder or application docks. Nautilus file manager makes way for a new, distinctly blacker, replacement complete with its own menu bar black theme. For files and folders the screen is broken down into three – ‘Recent’, ‘Downloaded’ and ‘Favourite’ files and folders. The new menu bar at the top features a search bar for quick access to files, and tabs broken down into different file types to further pivot results. The same screen meets users clicking the applications dock icon too. The search bar remains (and offers multiple tabs broken down by software type) though the main screen features ‘Most Used’ and ‘Installed’ application icons. Searching for applications in the new menu bar not only throws up applications currently installed, but also those available from Ubuntu’s repositories.

With a double tap of the white Ubuntu logo in the top left you can also reach a new kind of home screen that features the same search bar and a selection of eight large icons broken down between Web, Music, Photos & Videos, Games, Email & Chat, Office, Files & Folders and a finaly one that triggers the new-look Software Centre, titled Get New Apps.

On the plus side it offers quick and immediate access to files and folders without the clutter and difficulty traditional file managers offer up in a netbook environment, but on the minus side, it’s a very distinct departure from the rest of the user interface and appears quite alien in comparison.

In this respect Ubuntu Unity looks and behaves like it has a split personality. Perhaps it wouldn’t matter that these two halves of the interface are so disparate if there was some kind of cohesion to bring everything together, but at the moment that special ‘something’ is notable in its absence.

Beta Verdict: 3/5
It’s clear that Ubuntu Unity is still in heavy development with some key features yet to be implemented, so we’ll naturally reserve final judgement for the final release. With just over a month between beta and launch, however, we wont pretend we’re a little anxious considering the bugs and UI problems we’ve faced in testing. Top marks for innovation and there’s no doubt it has remarkable potential, but let’s hope Canonical and the Ubuntu faithful can pull it together in time.

You can find the full gallery of Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook Edition beta in our Facebook gallery.

You  might also like: Ubuntu 10.10 (Desktop) beta review by Joe Brockmeier

See what else featured in the latest issue of Linux User & Developer here