As promised in my previous post, I gave Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Koala) Netbook Remix a test drive on my MSI Wind U100 last night. The results were promising yet disappointing. Karmic Koala is clearly not ready for the MSI Wind, but I’m crossing my fingers that the situation will change soon.

Had I done a little research beforehand, I’d have discovered this in advance. The release notes mention two separate issues: one with USB, and the other with the screen flickering. Indeed, I experienced the screen flickering, which was enough (in my opinion) to render this version unusable. Hopefully that’ll be fixed soon.

I was impressed with the ease of installing Karmic Koala, though.The installer’s user interface gets easier to navigate with each release of Ubuntu. I was pleasantly surprised at the simplicity of specifying how to modify existing partitions in order to make space for Ubuntu. By default, that screen offered to shrink my single existing partition to half its size in order to make space for a partition for Ubuntu. I simply manipulated a slider bar to change the sizes allocated to each of the partitions, and the installer took care of the rest. The installer happily shrunk the size of the Windows partition, created a new partition for Karmic and installed it there, and then set up the netbook so that it would dual-boot to either Karmic (the default) or Windows. It did take me a while to change the default OS–Ubuntu now uses Grub 2, which does things a bit differently than Grub–but I managed to figure it out.

If not for the two issues mentioned above, I think my initial user experience would have been mostly positive. The Netbook Remix has a different user interface than the normal Ubuntu desktop, and that might take some getting used to, but it was easy to navigate. In the Remix, the entire desktop is a menu. Categories are listed on the left side of the screen, and the right side shows large icons for each item in the category. Given that most netbook users will do little more than surf the web and check email, this is probably okay. It didn’t appear that there was any easy way to switch back to a classic Ubuntu desktop (but I could be wrong on this).

When you select an application from the menu, it opens in full-screen mode. Icons for each open application are shown in the launcher bar at the top of the screen so you can quickly switch from one to the next. Given the size of most netbook displays, this isn’t a bad approach. I didn’t see any evidence of the ability to have multiple desktops, but I could have missed something somewhere.

I didn’t really explore the choice of applications included with the netbook remix, but there probably aren’t any surprises there if you’re a seasoned Ubuntu user. Firefox is the web browser of choice, of course, and Evolution is the choice for email (though I’d probably replace it with Thunderbird, but that’s just me). Rhythmbox is the media player, and Empathy is used for IM. Open Office is included, t0o, of course. Supposedly, the netbook remix includes the necessary (free and legal) codecs for various media formats, so you don’t have to chase those down for yourself.

The user interface looks pretty polished–more so than previous releases. In some ways it looks almost a little cartoonish, but in a good way. Canonical definitely applied some resources to making the icons and graphics look good. I’ve always felt that user interface elements in Ubuntu were a little on the large side (compared to Windows XP, anyway), but you get used to it. It’s probably even an advantage on a netbook.

Getting connected to my wireless network was a no-brainer, although using the function key to enable and disable the wireless did not work consistently–Karmic seemed to think that wireless should be enabled when I’d tried to disable it, and vice versa. However, the function keys for changing volume and enabling/disabling the touchpad (the touchpad worked flawlessly, too) seemed okay. I couldn’t find any way of turning on the built-in webcam (its function key was ignored), and the function key for sleep also had no effect. Neither did the “suspend” and “hibernate” selections from the shutdown menu, or closing the lid of the netbook. The function key for changing power settings (F10) was also ignored (but Karmic did recognize when I unplugged the netbook). Finally, Karmic didn’t seem to recognize the existence of the built-in microphone.

I suspect that many of these issues can be fixed by tracking down the right drivers and changing some settings, but I haven’t investigated any of this. One place to start would be the forum at InsanelyWind. I’m sure there’s some info in the Ubuntu forums, as well. If I find some fixes, I’ll post them on my blog. In the mean time, I’ll have to consider Karmic on my netbook as an unfinished work.

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