Ubuntu Spreads Out to Svelte, Lightweight Netbook Editions

by Ostatic Staff - May. 10, 2010

Canonical's Mark Shuttleworth is out with some very interesting news about Ubuntu in a blog post today. The company is seeking to innovate in the netbook arena with a lightweight new user interface called Unity, plans for other light editions of Ubuntu and instant-on features. These moves from Canonical precede the arrival of Google's Chrome OS, which is squarely aimed at netbooks, boots very quickly, and is also lightweight and possibly primed for running alongside other operating systems.

Shuttleworth says this about the reasons for the new branches of Ubuntu:

"The dual-boot, web-focused use case is sufficiently different from general-purpose desktop usage to warrant a fresh look at the way the desktop is configured. We spent quite a bit of time analyzing screenshots of a couple of hundred different desktop configurations from the current Ubuntu and Kubuntu user base, to see what people used most. We also identified the things that are NOT needed in lightweight dual-boot instant-on offerings."

He continues with some descriptions that sound quite a bit like what Google is aiming for with Chrome OS, focusing primarily on cloud-based usage:

"Instant-on products are generally used in a stateless fashion. These are 'get me to the web asap' environments, with no need of heavy local file management. If there is content there, it would be best to think of it as 'cloud like' and synchronize it with the local Windows environment, with cloud services and other devices. They are also not environments where people would naturally expect to use a wide range of applications: the web is the key..."

In a study of use cases on netbooks, Canonical researchers found that people typically have from 3 to 10 launchers on their desktops for access to commonly used applications. In developing the Unity interface, the company also took into account that netbook screens are typically wide but shallow. "Those constraints and values lead us to a new shape for the desktop, which we will adopt in Ubuntu’s Netbook Edition for 10.10 and beyond," says Shuttleworth. As you can see below, launch buttons for commonly used applications reside down the left rail of the desktop.

It's becoming more likely that netbooks will typically have more than one operating system, and that could be part of the future for Chrome OS. The idea that you can run multiple operating systems on a single computer is, of course, hardly new. Many people use virtualization software to run multiple OSes concurrently. Manufacturers such as Dell have long offered pre-configured dual-boot systems, and specialize in virtualized systems for data centers. Many people also use lightweight Linux-based instant-on environments such as Splashtop as secondary platforms. Canonical is wise to pursue this version of the future with Ubuntu, and it seems very likely that the new lightweight versions, and Unity, will increase adoption of Ubuntu.