EasyPeasy and the Challenges of Linux Netbook Design: Page 2

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In fact, EasyPeasy has much the same options as a standard GNOME desktop. With its menu editor, you even have the equivalent of adding new icons to the desktop, since EasyPeasy does not distinguish between sub-menus and desktop icons.

With this interface, EasyPeasy generally lives up to its name and design assumptions. Its desktop requires little orientation and works well if you use a netbook only for light computing, and do not have half a dozen or more applications open at a time, as you might do on a laptop or workstation. However, if you do use a netbook like any other computer, you might conclude that EasyPeasy requires too many mouse clicks and changes of display to be a successful desktop.

The Same Old Same Old Software (Mostly)

EasyPeasy's software has few surprises for anyone familiar with Ubuntu's. Generally, it consists of GNOME components such as Evolution, or Ubuntu parts such as Computer Janitor or Software Sources. In fact, you do not have to look far to see uncustomized pieces such as an icon for Ubuntu Software Centre or Ubuntu One.

Nor does EasyPeasy avoid proprietary software such as Skype or Flash -- no doubt in the name of user convenience. Like Ubuntu, it also includes a number of Mono applications, such as Tomboy and Banshee. Since EasyPeasy openly declares its willingness to make such choices, you cannot be very surprised that it walks the walk as well as talks the talk.

EasyPeasy also follows Ubuntu's lead by prominently displaying tools for chat and social networking in the panel. This decision gives you the convenience of central managing these tools, but might frustrate those who use these tools lightly by making them both prominent and -- at least in the build I tried -- impossible to remove, despite the grayed-out right-click menu item for doing so. As with so many aspects of EasyPeasy, what you think of this arrangement is apt to depend heavily on how closely your netbook computing habits match those that EasyPeasy assumes.

Lingering Questions

EasyPeasy deserves to be commended for the clarity in which it states its design principles, and the thoroughness with which it carries them out. Yet I suspect that these principles may limit its users. Unlike a workstation's or laptop's desktop, EasyPeasy may lack the flexibility to appeal to a broad spectrum of users.

The possibility also exists that EasyPeasy's assumptions, which seemed reasonable when netbooks were just being introduced, are less valid than they were -- or perhaps even no longer valid at all.

Moreover, with many netbooks having two or more gigabytes of RAM today, and being carried by travelers because they are more convenient than a laptop, the assumption that they are used only for light or social computing may no longer be valid, either. In fact, to judge from what I've noticed in airports over the last month, netbooks seem to be used increasingly for normal productivity.

Then there is the question of how to solve the problem of limited screen size without requiring users to make endless mouse-clicks or learn a whole set of keyboard shortcuts. Can the trade off be avoided, or is it inevitable?

I don't pretend to have the answer to such questions, or to know how to design a netbook interface. However, at this stage in the history of netbooks, I am not sure that anybody does. That is what makes the various attempts to find answers or designs so fascinating.

Depending on your work habits or expectations, EasyPeasy may not succeed. Yet, even if you judge that it doesn't, its new releases can be fascinating because each is an effort to answer one of the major design challenges of this era in computing.

ALSO SEE: Is Ubuntu the Barack Obama of Linux?

AND: The GNU/Linux Desktop: Nine Myths

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