The state of Ubuntu as a Netbook OS

Remember netbooks ? Still have one ?

I my case, my Netbook is my primary home computer. This Atom “powerhouse” received HD and RAM upgrades… and the external monitor and wireless keyboard/mouse is really making it a decent workstation.

I find this setup is good for all my needs : Programming (Python, PHP), Web Surfing and MP4 watching.

My biggest problem with this rig is the graphic card. It is fine when the extra screen (1680×1050) is not plugged-in… But the problem comes when I try to find a Linux distribution able to correctly display on the extra screen, that is easy to setup, at that does not suck all the (somewhat limited) power in my setup.

In the last 3 weeks, I tried three : Debian Stable(Lenny), Debian Testing(Wheezy) and Ubuntu 11.10 (Oneiric Ocelot)

Lenny was great while it lasted, but is way too boring

I have great words for Lenny. As I always come back to “pure” Debian when Canonical push it too far (Unity introduction, anyone ?). I been with Lenny for the past 3 months with great results, but as always, the problems are :

  • Having to fight for last versions. (Backports, alternative apt sources)
  • Gnome 2 (almost) stock, nuff said.
  • Stable, vanilla, working, old, plain… (qualities for servers, not desktops)

Then I made a mistake. In my quest for trouble, I decided  the current “testing” version of Debian may feel sexier. I was very very wrong.

Wheezy is still working on is whistle

Wheezy is still very much a testing distribution. 3 hours after upgrading, I decided to give Ubuntu a new try. The bugs with Wheezy (this week) were:

  • Broken Wifi
  • Broken eclipse packages

I know it’s my fault. Expecting the “testing” version to be usable so near of the last stable release was madness… anyway, I’m glad if at least you don’t do the same.

Ubuntu, saving the day (for once ?)

Being tired, needing my wifi… I made a move that was maybe pushed on me by despair. I tried Ubuntu 11.10. Last Time I did, on the very same Netbook, I ended my “relationship” with Ubuntu for the following reasons :

  • They” introduced Unity, and took back the good netbook interface I loved (I assume I was the only one)
    • Unity was not ready, but it was made default for some reason.
  • “They” introduced Ubuntu One… And we were all lab rats. (Heavy integration, syncronisation was releasing odd messages when offline, program and/or website failing)
  • “They” changed the UI radically, going as far as removing nautilus. And while nautilus is not perfect, it is better that M$ explorer, and *WAY* better that the first Unity suggestion.

Boy, they made me hate that OS… And they drove me away for a year or so… But now I F$%@ up my Debian setup, and I am ready to give “Them” (Canonical) another chance.

I did the right thing.

Ubuntu 11.10, my comments so far

So far, I notice:

  • Canonical improved it’s own installer. (yet again)
  • The OS is working faster than before. (after some adjustments, see below)
  • I now have modern version of Firefox, and Libre office, by default. (Debian, this is why you fail me on the desktop)
  • Unity is still there, but nautilus is back. (I’m so grateful by the way)
  • As usual with Ubuntu, Wifi setup and encryption setups went very quickly and painlessly.
  • The new UI now feels simplified, and pure.
  • I still use Synaptic.

I’m overall very optimistic for the future, and can say I am slowly coming back on the orange side.

Small adjustment I had to make for my Netbook

Here is the things I had to do to make the Stock Ubuntu 11.10 more friendly:

  • This excellent list of things to do after 11.10 installation on
  • I installed “synaptic” (# sudo apt-get install synaptic)
  • I rebooted, and choose the “Gnome 2D” option before login. This allow for 2 things :
    • It removed “Compiz” from the picture entirely (see the picture below).
    • It allowed my (limited) graphic card to display at higher resolution.
This is the reason Compiz is no longer a "Netbook friendly" software. I made that screenshot by simply moving a nautilus window around.

3 thoughts on “The state of Ubuntu as a Netbook OS”

  1. Hey There

    Thanks for the review! Its helpful to me, I have a Gigabyte q2005 n570 Netbook and I have installed Ubuntu 11.10 on it. I must say that I am loving it! But there are a few issues I am concerned about and not sure if it is buntu or the machine, I noticed it runs quite hot and swaps a lot to disk (I have 2GB of RAM) . Was thinking of trying Debian to see if it is a tad less resource hungry? I will try the live disk.

    Anyway, thanks for the review

    1. Debian is (still) one of the best distros out there (no wonder so much distros are “apt based”), but it needs a lot work to adjust according to the tastes of one specific user. Still the best distro there is for a server setup, IMHO.

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