Thoughts on Kubuntu Netbook Edition 10.04

So after my last post on UNE 10.04, Kubuntu developer Scott Kitterman asked me to try out the Kubuntu netbook offering. I’ve been curious about it because:

  1. I like to check in on Kubuntu and KDE at least once each release just to see how things are going. I used to use KDE a lot back in the day, but have grown quite accustomed to GNOME these days.
  2. I think netbooks are pretty interesting from a user interface perspective. I think they are really difficult because they are somewhere in between a phone/mobile device and laptop.
  3. KDE as an upstream is tackling netbooks with their Plasma Netbook workspace. With Ubuntu Netbook Edition the netbook UI bits (netbook-launcher, webfav, etc.) are being done by the Canonical team, sort of working as their own upstream. I’m interested in how the methods will contrast long-term

Anyway, so on with the review. First of all I should mention that I didn’t install KNE fresh from an .iso but rather installed the kubuntu-netbook package on my existing Ubuntu installation. Here are my thoughts after spending an evening with it. On the positive side:

  • Kubuntu Netbook Edition does about everything possible to maximize screen usage for applications. 
  • The “Page One” workspace and widgets are kind of fun. There are so many widgets these days. I personally found the Remember the Milk widget really nice and practical, for instance. Having a few well-placed widgets can really provide a lot of useful functionality without taking up screen space.
  • The launcher is nice, but I really like the search functionality. I’m annoyed when I know exactly the app I want to start, but it is buried deep in a menu.
  • Performance was good. After killing off the virtuoso process mentioned below, the KDE desktop feels pretty snappy even on this Aspire One with an Atom N270 processor and 1 GB of RAM. This is especially nice considering the amount of functionality you get.

Here are the negatives I saw:

  • virtuoso/nepomuk is a pain. Nepomuk provides a “semantic desktop” (whatever that is) for KDE. It tended to rather bring my netbook to its knees. ScottK told me the Kubuntu team will be turning it off by default for machines with < 1GB of RAM as it does use a lot of resources initially. I consider this to be a fairly minor bug
  • plasma-netbook is a tad unstable. It seemed to crash a couple times while I was using it. Again, not a big deal, but a tad annoying.
  • Though the exposé-like window picking saves some screen real estate, I found I wanted to use a keyboard shortcut rather than the UI switcher. Since I rarely use Alt-Tab window switching I was missing the window-picker-applet icons from UNE.
  • The auto-hide feature of the panel does leave more room for windows, but I found it a bit awkward when dealing with application menus because I had to make sure and not go too far and unhide the panel.

Overall, I was really impressed with what Kubuntu and the KDE upstream developers have done with Kubuntu Netbook Edition 10.04. I was surprised to see a netbook version of Kubuntu come up this quickly considering it is an all-volunteer effort. I think it’s a testament to a good working relationship between KDE and Kubuntu. If you have a netbook and are remotely interested in KDE, this is a really good way to try it out. The netbook-specific interface is much more useful than the standard KDE desktop.

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