Netbook interfaces

in technology

I’ve always interpreted being a power user as being a person who know exactly and precisely what they want their computer to do for them, and having the means to extract just that. As a power user I want an abject lack of distractions and annoyances from my user interface coupled with the ability to quickly handle any one of several repetitive tasks. In my case I long-ago settled upon Openbox and supplemented it with a small clade of helper scripts.

With Openbox there isn’t either a GUI or any arbitrary limitations on reconfigurability to stop me curating the exact experience I want. Every application on its own virtual desktop. Zero transition effects. Complete keyboard control through rc.conf. Extensibility: Openbox ties excellently into Gnome, to the point that I load my Gnome settings at launch. When I typically want to go and binge on a fuller user experience for a day or two I’ll drop into Gnome – because as we all know, Gnome is one of those things that Ubuntu and Canonical have turned into a fantastic user-friendly offering. I gets me my eye-candy and I gets to click the buttons that makes the stuff happen.

At the same time I’m always been keeping a weather eye on those Linux projects that are hoping to offer a user experience optimized for the small Netbook form: Meego and Jolicloud, which are full operating systems; Canonical’s Unity and Gnome Shell are simple(r) modifications of the standard Gnome environment that you can install alongside. I have the latest builds of Gnome Shell and Canonical’s Unity – both of them modified Gnome environments running on my Ubuntu – installed. I have the latest releases of Meego and Jolicloud – both of them modified Gnome environments running on…wait.

My first, most disappointing discovery about Jolicloud and Meego came about two minutes in. I picked away at the virtual scabs and discovered that both distributions/user environments are apparently just modifications of Gnome. Jolicloud is even built right off of Ubuntu 9.04/Jaunty Jackalope, to the point that I can add the current Ubuntu apt-get repositories and patch up to 10.04. Ho hum.

My disappointment is shallow: Somehow I expected to peek behind the pretty facade and really find little magic faeries carrying packets to and fro from the Cloud. The fact that I find Linux and even Gnome shouldn’t be any kind of a shock.

My second shock was just how well Meego and Jolicloud hide all of the fun and useful applications. Instant messaging? Check. Web browser and web applications? Check. Email, calendar and task management applications? Check. Terminal, advanced text editor, file system access and niceties like VOIP clients? Good luck. I can Alt+F1 for a terminal (and the win!) in Jolicloud, Shell and Unity. They are present, but hidden, which is a minor gripe. Even if I choose to use a Netbook-friendly interface I still want to have access to my full breadth of applications.

My third (and most minor) problem is that these interfaces are best run on specialized hardware; when you trust your information to the internet, you trust your laptop to always have an Internet connection. Wifi just doesn’t cut it.

March 20

in me

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