Ubuntu 9.10 - Hell on Wheels for Netbooks!

The newest Ubuntu release came out in late October with little fanfare (no surprise, especially given that they have two new releases a year). I’d initially had some resistance to upgrading because I heard there were issues with the upgrade, but it was seamless and the benefit is fantastic.

For those of you unfamiliar, Ubuntu Netbook Remix is a version of Ubuntu put out by Canonical with tweaks specific for netbook hardware, specifically the chipset and the screen size. The biggest benefit to this is the Graphical Environment/Window Manager.

It uses a pseudo-tab-based environment that keeps most applications maximized by default (yet apps that prefer to be Windowed, such as Pidgin, are not, plus you can always change this yourself on an app to app basis) and does the best job with screen real estate I’ve seen anywhere this side of wmii (which has a learning curve akin to Mount Everest), while maintaining ease of use. It was still pretty clunky in the previous iteration, but in 9.10 it is fast and they’ve eliminated a lot of interface hiccups.

Video playback, including fullscreen, has been improved dramatically, and Skype appears to be working better now in Ubuntu than it does in XP. Power management and volume control have also improved, and the applets become more accessible.

They have also improved your ability to turn the multitouch features on and off, though they still have a ways to go for customization without editing a xorg.conf file (right-click is double-tap and middle-click is triple tap, and there still aren’t built-in three-finger swipe gestures without adding in custom code). These edits aren’t too hard, but mean it may not quite be ready for mainstream yet.

There are still a couple of hickups here and there with On Screen Display notifications blinking on and off, one annoyance with a disappearing shutdown button that you have to add yourself (though it only takes a couple of clicks).

Anyway, these are my initial impressions - I’ll post again periodically with some more thought-out impressions and the problems it still has as I see them, but I definitely recommend trying it out if you have a netbook!

Also if anyone has any questions, or tries it and needs help, let me know!

I recently upgraded my server to 9.10, and I haven’t messed with any of the new features, but the upgrade has already proved itself worthwhile just because they finally folded in the latest Realtek audio drivers so I don’t have to rebuild and reinstall the vendor’s own package every damn time there’s a kernel modules update. Ugh, that was driving me nuts.

Oh yeah! My sound was pretty buggy in 9.04 and I never tried to fix it, but the upgrade appears to have taken care of that. Definitely post if you mess with any of the new features, though! Most of my experiences are going to be netbook-centric until I get it on a desktop.

Hm, the video up at canonical is set up a bit differently from my installation. Their Windows are all full-page, but still Windows - windows that are actually maximized look and act like tabs until you tell them to do otherwise.

Also, it is themed differently for me - I had assumed mine was the default, but upon closer inspection it is a custom theme that was either set up for my hardware or (more likely ) carried over from before the upgrade. Either way, it’s really easy to switch between and customize the themes. I’ll post a screenshot later, since i like the way it looks on my system better than the video (the top bar is mostly black, with gray making an appearance where applicable, plus of course icon colors).

How’s battery life? Usually it’s worse than Windows.

I’m certain the battery life still won’t be as good as Windows, but I’ll have to get back to you on that after I’ve used it since you can’t really know for sure without putting it through its paces. It’s been a while since I’ve actually let the battery drain, particularly while keeping track of runtime. FWIW, the power meter claims to be at 72.7% with 5.5 hours remaining, suggesting a total life of 7.56h, but those are rarely reliable on any OS.

In 9.04 the battery tended to last around 6h compared to 7-8 on XP under normal use (IE with wifi on, bluetooth off, camera on).

Can’t wait to try 9.10 network remix. I tried 9.04 remix on 2 things (one is the original tiny EEE PC, one is a Dell Latitude D610), and I ran into different problems on each. They kind of left a bad impression on me.
EEE pc: graphics was decelerated, sound stutters
D610: screensaver cannot restore proper brightness; brightness scale hosed; wireless needs separate driver