MeeGo is a project to develop a series of interfaces for mobile devices. A merge of the Moblin Maemo projects, MeeGo is now hosted by the Linux Foundation, and includes such corporate members as Novell and Intel.
Like its other interfaces, MeeGo for netbooks is characterized by icons that have been described as either cartoonish or minimalist, depending on the speakers' opinion. Either way, they are often so simple that they are often impossible to decipher.
The Meego desktop is dominated by a toolbar across the top, with icons for different activities, or zones. The main zone, called MyZone, is a kind of control center, with a summary of tasks, feeds, email notifications, and application launchers. Other zones are oriented towards tasks, mainly online ones, such as email, web browsing, or chat. The applications used for these tasks are standard ones, such as the Chrome browser or the Evolution email reader.
Despite being designed for netbooks, MeeGo's interface does not seem to use the limited screen space efficiently. Its icons and title bars seem needlessly large, and the arrangement of icons makes the interface seem cluttered. However, part of the reason for this impression may be because MeeGo's interface is very different from most of the others for netbooks. Possibly, it might improve on further acquaintance.
For some reason, you don't hear much about KDE's Plasma Netbook. Yet, in many ways, it's one of the best of the netbook interfaces.
Strictly speaking, Plasma Netbook is not a separate desktop, but two "containments" or views of KDE. Underneath, its code is the same as ordinary KDE, which makes for easier code maintenance.
The newspaper containment fills the desktop with a two-column view of widgets for news, weather, feeds, and other widgets that you might want when first logging in. The exact widgets can be customized to suit, but, on the whole, it is less powerful -- and less useful -- than MeeGo's MyZone.
In the more standard Applications containment, you get a panel much like that in standard KDE, minus the menu. The menu -- or its top level, at least -- as well as the task bar, is transferred to the desktop. This arrangement makes for a readable, easy to use design.
The drawbacks to Plasma Netbook are those of most netbook desktops: a design that encourages the use of one application at a time, and a lack of detailed configuration options. But if your preference is for an interface that is reminiscent of the classic desktop but simpler, then you will probably prefer Plasma Netbook over any of the alternatives.
Originally designed by One Laptop Per Child, Sugar is now an independent project of Sugar Labs. As the full name implies, Sugar is not intended only as an interface for launching applications, but also as an educational aid that encourages users to reflect upon their experiences and record them. One result of this intention is that Sugar talks about activities rather than applications. Another is that Sugar includes one view that helps you find other users nearby who are also using Sugar.
Sugar opens on a menu in which activities are arranged along the perimeter of a circle. Since this menu can quickly become crowded, the opening view also includes a panel with a search field and a favorites and list view.
Sugar's activities are often modified versions of existing free software -- for instance, its Write activity is based upon AbiWord. Clicking an activity opens it on a new screen, and, upon exiting, you may be encouraged to write a reflection upon what you have just done, depending on the activity.
Sugar is sufficiently different from the classical desktop that you might take a few minutes to acclimatize. Some adults, too, might find its simplicity too child-like for their comfort. However, if you are involved in teaching elementary school, need an interface for a child, or have basic computer needs, then you should consider Sugar as a possible alternative.