Ubuntu LogoThe world has gone officially netbook crazy. Netbook sales are skyrocketing, increasing quarter on quarter. It is no surprise then that Ubuntu offers a Netbook variant of it’s operating system. In fact, many Netbook oriented Linux flavors exist. You may be surprised that I do not consider Ubuntu Netbook Remix the best of the bunch – for my money that crown belongs to Easy Peasy – which will be reviewed next month.

Read on for my views on Ubuntu Netbook Remix

First Impressions

Ubuntu Netbook Remix, or UNR, sports the same purple theme that the Gnome Ubuntu release has. There is only a toolbar at the top, and then the Netbook Interface. Different to Gnome-Shell, which I spent some time with over the past seven days, I have none of that feeling of “where do I go now” that Gnome-Shell leaves me with.

UNR Interface

What You See When You Log In (Click To Enlarge)

Your Favorite Applications are readily available, and the shortcuts to the left of the screen are pretty self explanatory. A very pretty and user friendly interface.

Installation

Installing Ubuntu Netbook Remix can be a bit of a challenge to the uninitiated. Gladly it now comes available as an ISO and an image file, so if your netbook has an optical drive you should be able to install it from there. For those of us who have not got an optical drive, the best option is to DD the image over to a stiffy or external harddrive and boot from there.

That Interface

The UNR interface is optimized for touch devices. It comes across as rather clunky, but I think it serves it’s purpose well. The menu to the left might be a little small for the fat fingered among us, but the icons themselves are nicely sized and easy to interpret. One downside of this is that some applications do not have large enough Icons, and hence they seem to be stuck in 8bit land.

One area where the interface both fails and wins is with the “Files” menu. Look at the screenshot below:

Files Menu

The Files Menu (Click To Enlarge)

You cannot access your /home/ directory directly from the files menu. Instead you first need to open one of the other locations and then go to the root of your user directory from there.

A positive is the recent files menu. It is much more user friendly the way it is laid out as opposed to the cluttered list that you get in regular Ubuntu.

User Feedback

The feedback you get from your the interface is pretty good too. If you launch a program, say firefox, you will see the following happening:

Launching Firefox

Launching Firefox (Click To Enlarge)

Remember that Chrome will be the default browser for UNR come the next release.

Once you have an application open, the honeymoon is kinda over though. Every application is opened fullscreen by default. For me who likes having a bunch of terminals open and watching the output on all of them simultaneously this can cause problems. Unity will address this by adding a proper sidebar to the interface.

Firefox Open

Firefox Open - Maximised by Default (Click To Enlarge)

If you have more than one application open, there is at least some visual feedback on your top panel as to which windows are open, look below:

Multiple Programs Open

Taskbar With Icons for Multiple Programs (Click To Enlarge)

Note that the icon for the open windowd that is not currently displayed is greyed out. Clicking on the Ubuntu logo brings the menu to the front.

A good thing is that when the menu is displayed, some visual feedback as to which programs are running is given in the form of a little animation appended to the program icon. See Below:

Firefox is Running

Visual Feedback Indicating that Firefox Is Running

How does all this translate into performance in our Twenty Part Test?

Twenty Part Test

I have included four Operating Systems in this comparison. Windows 7 – because that is UNR’s main competition on netbooks currently, Mint – because that is to date the best scoring OS and Gnome based, PCLOS KDE – the best scoring KDE distro to date, and of course UNR. See table below for an indication of how well it performed:

Tests Win7 PCLOS KDE Mint UNR
Join Wifi Network 80.00 100.00 100.00 100.00
Join Wired Network 50.00 100.00 100.00 100.00
Set Proxy 57.14 80.00 57.14 80.00
Get Network Info 30.00 120.00 60.00 60.00
Change Desktop Background 80.00 100.00 100.00 66.67
Change Theme 100.00 100.00 100.00 80.00
Set Screen Rez 100.00 100.00 100.00 66.67
Set up Network Share 80.00 33.33 100.00 100.00
Access Network Share 66.67 100.00 100.00 100.00
Get Hardware Info 100.00 50.00 50.00 66.67
Get System Usage Info 100.00 2.02 50.00 100.00
Play Audio CD 100.00 66.67 100.00 100.00
Access USB Drive 50.00 100.00 100.00 100.00
Play Youtube 33.33 100.00 100.00 50.00
Play MP3 100.00 100.00 100.00 50.00
Open PDF 33.33 100.00 100.00 100.00
Look For Specific Software 28.57 40.00 66.67 100.00
Check For System Updates 50.00 50.00 50.00 100.00
Supported Architecture (32bit/64bit) 100.00 50.00 100.00 100.00
Shut Down 66.67 100.00 66.67 66.67
1,405.71 1,592.02 1,700.48 1,686.67
70 80 85 84

It almost matches Mint in the end. The sharp eyed among you will note that the base scores for the other OS’s has dropped a little. This is because Ubuntu Netbook Remix has set a new standard in “Check For System Updates” and “Look For Specific Software” that the others cannot get a perfect score on anymore.

I am pretty surprised that I did that well. I am adding more tests based on my experiences with Gnome-Shell and other interfaces like UNR and will make a dedicated SaGeek page where all the tests and latest results are shown.

Desktop Readiness

UNR is not aimed at the desktop market, but he netbook market. It is a bit harder to install if you need to create a bootable Flash drive first, and it is built with specific support for netbook hardware such as the Intel Atom processor.

The interface is very good, however, and I think it is one of the best around. I do have a gripe that will cost UNR a point – Package Management Issues. For some reason I keep running into broken packages with UNR. It was true for the previous release I reviewed on the Acer Aspire One, and with this release I had quite a few problems.

Desktop Ready 2/5 then. It would have got a 3/5 but for the four times I had to fix broken packages. Never had issues like that with Ubuntu, Mint or either of the PCLOS versions I tested.

UNR Scores 2/5!

User Friendliness

The UNR interface is very user friendly. It is easy to navigate and easy to understand what you want to do. If I score it purely on user interface alone it will score very close to four or five out of five. The need I had to dive to command-line to fix them broken packages docks half a point here, and the constant fullscreening of opened windows costs it another.

3/5 on the user friendliness scale then.

UNR gets a 3/5!

Q Rating

Remember I said Easy peasy was better? That assertion is based mostly on better hardware support versus UNR. Interface wise they are very similar, and they are built on the same base. I am putting my head on a block though since I will be reviewing Easy Peasy next month – if it scores worse than UNR I will have egg on my face.

As far as my Q rating goes I have to give UNR a good score based on User interface. Windows 7 has nothing on it as far as user interface goes. Windows 7 is also quite a bit heavier than UNR, and besides being less user friendly than UNR, it’s interface is not built for small screens as is the case with UNR.

That said, there are some under the skin problems with UNR – why do I struggle with broken packages? The latest was OpenOffice that was broken, no update for me! I have removed the relevant files in /apt to avoid an apt-get segfault more than twice, and have uninstalled and reinstalled OpenOffice to see if I could sort out the dependency issue.

Right now I have no OpenOffice.

Overall I give UNR a 4/5 minus one because it cannot score the same as Mint which has outscored it, and minus another because of broken packages, fullscreening of applications every time, and the fact that /home is not displayed in the files menu. 2/5 it is then. I am really saddened that the one area has failed Ubuntu Netbook Remix so much.

A disappointing score for UNR

Summary

Wow, I seem to be handing out 2/5 scores a lot lately. Ubuntu Netbook Remix would have scored a lot better had it not been for the failings noted above.

The UNR interface is definitely a better interface than Gnome-Shell, but then again Gnome-Shell has a different vision than UNR, and a different target audience. The jury is out as far as Unity goes though.

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