It is probably fair to say that the Unity interface in Ubuntu 11.04 is quite controversial and has led to some mixed reactions. Last October Mark Shuttleworth, the leader of the Ubuntu project, announced that Unity would be the default interface on desktop as well as netbooks where it and its predecessor had become commonplace. I've been using Ubuntu 11.04 across three devices; a laptop, a touchscreen netbook and a computer connected to a television. I've decided to give up on Unity on the laptop and go back to the classic interface, but on the other two devices I quite like Unity. Here I am going to try to work out why Unity is a desktop no-go for me.
There is a lot of talk about how tablets might kill off netbook sales. I thought about buying a tablet to replace my broken netbook but then I found another rather interesting option. The Samsung NB30 Touchscreen in some ways occupies an uncharted land between netbooks and tablets. It is a netbook, but you could also think of it as a tablet with a keyboard. This machine fitted my requirements a bit better than a tablet and I felt that it would offer me a bit more flexibility. In my last blog post I examined how to set up Ubuntu on this machine, in this post I want to reflect on my first week using it.
Netbooks are often thought of as just being "little laptops", but that is not the entire story. The rise of these ultraportable machines at a time when mobile broadband was becoming both more affordable and popular has arguably created a much closer relationship between these machines and the Internet, with consumers using them to check up on social networking sites, use web applications such as Google Docs and keep up to date with their email. The physical characteristics of netbooks, such as the small screens, have driven innovation in netbook interfaces up until now, but recently some alternative ideas have begun to surface about what a netbook experience should be like, with new ideas such as making web sites and social updates "first class elements" of your desktop. An interesting example of these new ideas in action is Ubuntu Moblin Remix.
Every time I look at my netbook I keep thinking I've got a new machine, and an expensive one at that, but I haven't, I just installed the new Ubuntu 9.10 (code named Karmic) Netbook Remix on it. The upgrade cost me nothing, not even £25, and I've still got an operating system with designer good looks, a new user interface that even more elegant and user friendly than before. Installing it is easy and everything just seems to work out of the box. The changes in this new release of Ubuntu though are more than just skin deep, and show signs of the cloud based future ahead for computing.
Netbooks are very useful devices, not just for web surfing and looking at your email for for all sorts of different purposes, some more obvious than others. These devices are all about mobility, but while you are out and about there could be situations where setting up a wireless network to connect a group of machines might be handy and of course Internet access makes this even more useful. Maybe you have a device you would like to use with the Internet while you are away, but it only has WiFi connection (e.g. some portable media players like the iPod Touch) and you cannot plug your 3G mobile broadband modem into it. As long as you have 3G coverage you can have a WiFi hotspot wherever you go, and you don't need to bring a dedicated router as a netbook powered by Ubuntu (or Easy Peasy) can easily fulfill this function.