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The best netbook distro of 2010 – Linux User group test

by Dmitri Popov

Linux User & Developer magazine reviews four of the best netbook distros currently available in a bid to uncover the ultimate open source user experience for your netbook computer…

Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook Edition

Canonical, the firm behind Ubuntu, has been experimenting with an interface designed specifically for netbooks for some time…

The current release of the netbook-oriented version of Ubuntu is the company’s second major attempt to develop a netbook-friendly graphical layer sitting on top of the Ubuntu base. The latter means that Ubuntu Netbook Remix (UNR) provides all the creature comforts Ubuntu is known for, including a user-friendly installer and excellent hardware support.

Similar to the latest Ubuntu release, UNR 10.10 comes with a redesigned installer that makes the process even more straightforward than before. The wizard asks a few simple questions and zips through the installation in 15-20 minutes. As you’d expect, UNR does a great job at detecting and configuring hardware. On our test machine, pretty much everything worked out of the box, including the wireless interface, the webcam, the Bluetooth module, and the sound and graphics cards. There were a few exceptions, though: neither the microphone nor the function key worked out of the box.

The best netbook distro of 2010 - Linux User group test

Although supposedly UNR (and the desktop version of Ubuntu for that matter) sports improvements in booting times, you probably won’t notice any difference on a system with a conventional hard disk. However, UNR boots mind-bogglingly fast on netbooks with solid-state drives. On our test system, UNR zoomed through the boot sequence in about 10 seconds.

Of course, UNR’s main attraction is the brand-new Unity interface, designed to make the most of a netbook’s limited screen estate. While the netbook interface in the previous version of UNR took over the entire desktop, Unity represents a more subtle approach. It adds a scrollable vertical task management panel to the left side of the screen which provides quick access to frequently used applications and destinations. In addition to that, the Application icon gives you access to the screen containing big colourful shortcuts to the most essential applications, such as a web browser and Ubuntu Software Center, as well as folders and software sections. Unity also offers a few convenient features that can boost your efficiency. The Search bar, for example, lets you quickly locate the application of the document you need. Start typing the name of the application or file and the system narrows the result in real-time.

The best netbook distro of 2010 - Linux User group test

While the Unity interface works surprisingly well, it does have a few annoying quirks. The vertical placement of the launcher makes a lot of sense, but it doesn’t seem to be possible to hide it when it’s not in use, so you can’t reclaim this portion of screen for use with other applications. You can remove and add applications to the vertical task management panel, but you can’t add folders. And you can neither add nor remove items from the shortcut screen.

Despite these minor shortcomings, Unity is an impressive feat of software design which, combined with the solid Ubuntu foundation, makes UNR a prime candidate for your netbook.

Here’s how  Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook edition measures up…

Installation & hardware support: 9/10The best netbook distro of 2010 - Linux User group test
UNR’s installer is hands down the most user-friendly installation tool out there

Ease of use: 8/10
The new Unity interface is slick and easy to get to grips with. It does have a couple of shortcomings, though

Cloud & social features: 8/10
Similar to the desktop version of Ubuntu, UNR provides integration with the Ubuntu One service. The Me menu acts as a hub for all your social activities, but the default Gwibber social client is not
the best choice for the netbook

Software: 9/10
A couple of odd choices (Cheese webcam tool but no Skype?). However, they can be easily fixed using the excellent Ubuntu Software Center tool

The new Unity interface works surprisingly well, but it does have a few annoying quirks

The best netbook distro of 2010 - Linux User group test

Page 2 – Jolicloud 1.0

Goup test reviews:
Page 1: Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook Edition
Page 2: Jolicloud 1.0
Page 3: Easy Peasy
Page 4: Kubuntu Plasma Netbook desktop
Page 5: Final verdict

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    • PabloCampis

      This is not surprise! Jolicloud offers a totally integrated GUI. Using it is awesome. But I believe in this tests MeeGo is missing, it is also awesome for netbooks (but still has holes to be filled)

      Have a nice day!


    • Chris

      I like Jolicloud, like Peppermint One (or its sister, Peppermint Ice) better for my netbook. If you do this again, they should certainly be included in the comparison.

    • John Mc

      I love jolicloud, its great but when is 1.1 coming out, meant to be nove and dec next week

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    • kaddy

      what a misleading review

      Unity has major usability problems, it’s slow, and the overall design is counter productive. Anybody who uses it for more than a couple of hours would realise this….
      Not saying that it won’t be improved in maybe 6 months to 1 year’s time… but for now, it is a steaming pile of horse manure

      here is my extensive overview/review

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    • Labatts

      Completely agree with Kaddy.

      “As you’d expect, UNR does a great job at detecting and configuring hardware… neither the microphone nor the function key worked out of the box.”

      That doesn’t sound great to me.

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    • Paul Olinger

      I would say at least 97% of all netbooks can run a full desktop without a hitch. I really don’t get the need to install a “netbook distro.”

      I have a hp110 and it runs great with xfce4, kde, or gnome. Before that, my eee900 worked just as well on a full desktop environment.

      Now a specialized interface for some of the upcoming tablets I can see. I hope to see more netbook/tablet hybrids come out too besides the one from Dell.

    • Abe

      Good effort at comparing but ending up short. The article is too diplomatic and the author is afraid to hurt any ones feelings.

      Being based on KDE, Kubuntu has the best of all features for user to be able to switch between Netbook & Desktop interface on the fly.

      What makes support for Ubuntu One a requirement for a Netbook? There are many other social networking that are more important to support.

      Isn’t flexibility/reconfigurability and scalability important enough to considered and add them as their own category? They definitely should be.

      A combination of KDE Plasma Interface and Jolicloud Graphics would make the best interface for both Netbook and Desktop interface.

    • Guy

      What FUD! You missed so many distros, like aurora and many others. Stupid.

    • joe hulanmann

      This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever read. What about other netbook worthy distro’s. This list is like ya, heres ubumtu’s one, oh, here’s another thats based on ubumtu, oh, here’s another based on ubumtu. Sound like some idiot just googled netbook ubumtu and posted the results. Screw netbook versions. You can run any flavor of linux on a netbook, with any of the major desktop environments with out a problem.

    • lighans

      Well, using a netbook on a daily basis, I made totally different choices. My netbook is first for doing my job and then for the cloud or private things. Even better. The cloud shouldn’t be loaded too much while I am working. And the Desktop should be small because of the ATOM N270 inside.

      My final choise for a few months already is ….. Salix OS. Yes it’s even not specially designed for a netbook. But it loads faster than UNR, is better supported, installed with all codecs (if you want) and is desktop centric, not cloud. And with XFCE one can work instead of wait.

      my 2 cents

    • Paddy S

      Jolicloud 1.1 is even better! Just installed it on an Intel netbook. Actually it’s all Ubuntu based.

    • Kelley Green

      I currently use Linux Mint 9 on my EeePC 1000 and it works great.

    • Pietro Pesci Feltri

      Good comparison but as some other points, all appear to be Ubuntu based distros. Maybe other non Ubuntu related distros can be compared.

      Good article anyway.

    • Glen

      I have to agree with others’ posts. Way too many great and viable distros left out here. Personally, Linux Mint 9 (yes, I know this is an Ubuntu derivative) works awesome on my eMachines netbook. Everything just worked.

    • paldepind

      Giving Jolicloud 10 out of 10 regarding software is a joke. The cloud apps are pretty much useless since you could access them just a easily with your browser. And the amount of available native apps is amazingly low!

    • YetAnotherBob

      I would think that Puppy Linux would be a natural here.

      I have to agree with a previous poster, that this is limited to selected Ubuntu knockoffs. These are all for Atom or equal powered net books. what about Arm type processors? They have as much power, and usually cost less.

    • A Netbook showdown without reviewing Peppermint, Aurora, Meego, or Firefly seems like a main event featuring fighters from the undercard. Jolicloud is good, to be sure — but why not pit it against some true contenders and interesting concepts?

    • Vandrvekn

      For me, I think that a cloud-based distro is a poor choice for a netbook. The reason I bought a netbook was that it is light enough to carry with me easily when I travel. Sometimes, I’m in a place where an internet connection just isn’t available. I prefer a OS that is still useful when you can’t get to the ‘cloud’.

      I agree with a lot of the other comments about the choice of distros for this roundup. You pick four Ubuntu-based distro and then criticize some for looking too much alike. It would have been better to spend some time checking out some of the other distros made for netbooks.

    • Scrubby Creek

      I installed 10.10 on my Lenovo S3-10 and promptly dumped it. I am accustomed to being able to modify a Linux desktop but Unity (in this form at least) does NOT allow modification.

      The other thing that this author and most other netbook reviewers seems to fixate on is the relationship with the “cloud” and social networking sites. Quite frankly I don’t give a brass razoo about the cloud and social networking. I am dumbfounded by this stupid assumption that netbooks are one step up from a cell phone! I use mine on the road because it is light and does a very good job office type work, skype, and internet searching etc. The Lenovo has a good size keyboard which means that I can type at good speed.It is in fact a mini laptop – but half the weight and price.

      Finally, this idea that 10.10 recognised the hardware is an absolute joke.

      I reverted back to 10.04 and am very happy with it. One writer said: UNR 10.10 is Ubuntu’s Vista. I heartily agree! On my machine it is a complete dud!

    • Ron MacPhee

      Sorry, but what’s the point. MS has locked up the notebook OEM’s. The few retailers that carry Linux distros or whiteboxes, bury them so deep inside their sites, you need the Hubble space telescope to find them. What you can find is significantly overpriced compared to their Windows counterparts even with the cost of the WIndows license. You want Linux on your notebook – send a cheque to Redmond.

      A couple of years ago, the dream lived when Linux netbooks ruled. That utopia has been crushed.

    • Geordi LaForge

      I tested the Kubuntu 10.10 and after two weeks, and a lot of problems on some kde bugs (like someone forget some line of code in PowerDevil to manage the dimming keys…), suspend problem and the best bug: instability on intel video driver with kde; i reverted my installation to ubuntu 10.04…
      I tested for a few days ubuntu 10.10…some problems on usability (like selecting more than one file to move it!!!) take me to consider all 10.10 distribution “a problematic release”. I think that ubuntu/kubuntu forget a gold rule for every release: stable code permit the use of a software…
      If i want to test unstable code i use release candidate, but when i work, i need that the system must be stable…

    • Russell Barnes

      Thanks for all your comments
      We reviewed four of the biggest netbook dedicated distros – it was an article in a print magazine so we had to limit the options.

      Some of the other more promising options out there are either not ready yet, or are being kept in the sidelines for another forthcoming feature.

      Here’s your chance to give us a shortlist of what you want to see!

    • John Meyer

      I would like to see Pupeee included as a small distro for netbook PCs.
      It seems to find and set up all the hardware out of the box and has enough applications that one does not need to be connected to the net to maintain productivity.

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    • stasik

      this review is a bit useless. many distros are missing, way too many. but as many mentioned, u can run a non-netbook OS on netbook with no problems. if all u need it use ur netbook just to surf the net, maybe u need netbook os, otherwise try normal os. i run suse 11.3 with no problems on my netbook (sansung nc10), and i love it. so, if u have a netbook, dont limit urself to a neetbook os, first try ur preferred desktop os, it might work just great!

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    • Dan

      The question is, which netbook is best for a newbie linux user? I’d like to walk in to a store, buy a netbook, go home and install Ubuntu (or Mint) and everything works as it should. Ubuntu can only go so far (think GMA 500), so rather than try to make Ubuntu work with my netbook, I’d like my next netbook to work with my preferred distro.

      I’ve tried EasyPeasy, Lubuntu, gOS, and UNR, and I still prefer the default Gnome desktop.

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    • I run Jolicloud and like it but I do admit that it does not deserve a perfect score. I would honestly rate 9 out of 10 for the fact that apps installed out side their center do not appear on the launcher. but other then that way better then Unity and the cloud integration is present but you can still work offline like the others. And yeah web apps can all be accessed from a web browser but when on a netbook the fullscreen is much better then having a bar take some of my screen real estate. and for the local apps, open up the terminal and get what you want. in 1.1 you have a local app folder on the desktop so you can easily access your fav local apps and just hitting the menu button gives the gnome menu with everything so problem solved!

      About the whole desktop distos fuss, no one can deny the awesome ideas and features added into netbook oses. I love the designs and find that they can be just as good as a normal gnome desktop. I admit that customization is not as awesome as in the desktop OSes but there are still the possibilities. And netbook Oses are still pretty sweet when it comes organization and UI in general.