Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook Remix

by Jinryu

Warning: You may not be interested in any of this in the slightest unless you use Linux.

My sister downloaded Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook Remix for me the other day while downtown. Why does she have to do that? Because for some reason, every copy of Ubuntu I download at work gets corrupted (fails the MD5 checksum test), and the internet conenction at home, shared by three people, would just get killed if I tried to download something like that. Plus, it would take like 4 hours.

Anyways, here are my thoughts, in comparison to other current OSes.

First of all, making the bootable USB was a total pain. There’s a bug in the 10.10 .iso that, when created with Ubuntu 9 (or in my case, the Linux Mint derivative) the linuxconf.sys file has some errors in it, and that means manual tweaking. Not exactly impressive for what’s supposed to be an instant burn and go live USB experience. I can kind of overlook that– but I don’t feel that having problems even prior to clicking ‘install’ bode well.

The installation program, thankfully, is much nicer. I mean, it looks friendlier and smarter. Most of that is cosmetic (like how you can click to advance the features slideshow while installing, which wasn’t possible in previous Ubuntu versions). But one part that is smarter is how it gives you the option of downloading updates while you install, which is a godsend for people who want to save time and who have relatively slow internet. The ‘advanced’ menu for setting up your hard disk partitions hasn’t gotten any more intuitive though, that’s still about as fun as using a sledgehammer for nails. It’s the same installation program for the last couple of revisions, just skinned differently.

once you get to the main desktop, you run into something pretty much like what you found in previous Ubuntus.

But wait. Where did Unity go?

The Unity interface was the whole reason I wanted to give Netbook Remix a whir. It’s supposed to be to optimize screen real estate and performance for netbook usage of Ubuntu.

Because I neede to download proprietary graphics card drivers (who wouldn’t?) I started off without 3D support, and without 3D support, Unity is shut off. So, really, what I have is standard Ubuntu. After installing the appropriate drivers, Unity didn’t come back on the next time– I had to fiddle around a bit to turn it back on at the login screen (which, I had to enable also, since I prefer automatic login by default).

Before we discuss Unity, I’d like to say that one of the main reasons why I don’t use Ubuntu is because it tries really hard to be your best friend. That’s fine in some circumstances, because it’s eager to please and it has a lot of tools meant to do just that, but if you’re running it on older machines, you want something that just does what you want it to do. That might mean a bit of extra settings turned on to your customized wants. I do find it better to add what I want instead of having to remove what I don’t want though. So, that’s kind of annoying. This has gotten a lot worse lately– Ubuntu has really gone all out with social networking, so it tries to add a lot of integrated functionality by default for things like Twitter and Facebook. I don’t hate Evolution and Empathy, but the programs are built into the bars and I don’t like that so much. It’s extra overhead on loading for things that I feel people will choose to load themselves when they run an initial setup, service by service.

Unity itself isn’t such a bad idea– but it’s nothing special. It’s basically a dock on the side of the screen that replaces the taskbar at the bottom. Added to it is a GUI sort of popup overlay, which replaces the standard GNOME menu (the one you could bring up by hitting Alt F2). It looks nice, has a lot of fade effects and stuff. A big plus is it finally adds the live text search that Ubuntu has always lacked (that MintMenu from 9 and bove does so well). The problem is– it’s horrendously ressource intensive.

My laptop is more powerful than the average netbook– but the Unity HUD really grinds slowly, and the effects are sluggish. I think it’s because Unity somehow uses live rendering of all the complicated lighting and icon effects rather than just using simple pre-rendered substitutes. In this case, it’s not a plus.

There’s also this mysterious drain of CPU processing power at bootup, reminiscent of Windows (“you’re booted up and can see the desktop, but you haven’t started doing anything yet and your CPU is running at full speed for another couple of minutes or so”). Yes, I can actually hear the fan on max for quite some time at bootup, and it annoys me. I like my box to be a silent machine.

Certain programs are also hidden from the Unity HUD… things like the Terminal. Sure, you can access it by typing Terminal in the automatic live search field, but should I need to know the program’s name to be able to use it? I suspect this is done to reduce clutter, but they could have at least put an icon somewhere for all the ‘miscelaneous’ stuff. Plus, as far as I can tell so far, the Unity HUD cannot be customized.

The Ubuntu Software Center is better than what I remember Ubuntu using though.

Ubuntu One, the built in, free Ubuntu Cloud service, is a cool idea– but annoying in some other ways. For example, when using the integrated Ubuntu One Music Store (meant to rival iTunes , I guess) you can download music– but it’s stored in a hidden folder. This is because your main folders are auto-synced to Ubuntu One (if you set it up) and you’re not allowed to put synced folders within synced folders, or something. Long story short, it’s a pain to find your music. Plus, the music store only charges in british Pounds, and that doesn’t seem to be changable.

General Conclusion: Pretty lackluster for my uses. It is probably the first distro that seemed really interesting in a while that actually seems to go out of it’s way to piss me off.