The likes of the Asus EEE PC, Acer’s Aspire One and HP’s Mini-Note PCs have sparked a new generation of portable laptops. Called netbooks, they are ultra-small – often shipping with just a 7-inch screen – and designed to be as easy to transport as possible.
The problem with them, however, is that small screen: a 7-inch screen doesn’t give a lot of room for displaying information and they quickly become difficult to use.
One of the responses to this new problem is Ubuntu Netbook Remix, a version of the popular Ubuntu Gnome desktop built to maximise the space available to applications. Although Netbook Remix is still in development, it is now usable enough to install on most netbooks for testing.
The first thing that Netbook Remix has done is to remove the old-style applications menu and install a full-screen launcher which has a whole lot of chunky application icons. The idea is that the chunky icons are big enough to use as a touch-screen, should your netbook have one. If not then they can just as well be clicked with the mouse.
The other major change is the top task bar which includes a window switcher. Open applications are displayed on the task bar as tabs, much like Firefox tabs. When clicked the application is maximised to full screen making as much of the limited screen space as possible.
Generally the window switcher – which is really just a task bar applet – works well and makes switching between applications simple. Where the interface doesn’t work is when the application has floating windows of its own. Because windows are maximised by default they consume all of the available space.
Although still in development (https://launchpad.net/netbook-remix) Ubuntu Netbook Remix is a good example of what the new generation of interfaces is likely to look like.