With the battle for netbook supremacy heating up Ubuntu is promising to roll out a much-improved interface for the ultra-portable netbook market when it releases Ubuntu 9.10 in October this year. Also known as Karmic Koala the next release of Ubuntu Netbook Remix (UNR) will include a noticeably streamlined interface and some speed enhancements.
Ubuntu’s UNR is a customised version of the standard Linux desktop aimed at making the most of the smaller screen sizes typical in netbook PCs. With its first attempt at the UNR desktop, Ubuntu’s developers removed the obvious top and bottom panels of the standard interface and melded them into the overall appearance of the desktop to maximise onscreen space. They also replaced the bulky panel icons with streamlined tabs for managing open windows as well as making sure all application windows were maximised. By doing this UNR makes it easier to switch between applications and removes the need to drag application windows around.
With the Karmic Koala version of UNR the Ubuntu developers have streamlined the desktop even further. The most obvious change will be that the right-hand bar, which housed links to the various hard drives, removable drives and common directories, is to be removed and this menu now integrated into the single left-hand menu under a “files and folders” menu option. The result is a pleasingly larger area for launcher icons and a less cluttered overall appearance.
The other major visual change is that launcher icons are now now longer animated when they are clicked which might seem a little like a downgrade rather than an upgrade but in fact will hopefully speed up the interface on lower spec machines with limited resources. The initial spinning icons design added some flash to the UNR desktop but under load they could actually give an impression of reducing performance.
Under the hood
The other good news is that the changes in Karmic Koala for Ubuntu Netbook Remix are more than just cosmetic. While they are also many other graphical improvements such as the better notification system, Ubuntu developers have also put a good deal of time into making UNR better suited to the smaller form factor. Among these are things such as popping up alerts when a user initiates a power-intensive process and the netbook is running on battery power which just make life on a low-powered netbook just a little more bearable. These sorts of small changes also make users realise that UNR is not just a one-size-fits-all version of Ubuntu but a version customised to make the most of the smaller machines.
The one area which hasn’t seen as much development as many had hoped is the issue of boot times. For some time now the Ubuntu developers have been saying that 10-second or less boot times were on the horizon. In truth real world boot times are closer to 20 to 25 seconds on most netbooks and faster start up times than that can’t really be expected before the Ubuntu releases of 2010.
Fortunately for Ubuntu, Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system, also due out in October, is sitting with similar boot times and so the two will likely be on par with one another for a while to come.
Ubuntu netbook interface discussion