Ubuntu Netbook 10.10: Usability vs. Constraints: Page 2

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Similarly, you could argue that having all applications open and maximized is logical given the limited screen size. Yet, for some, this default makes tracking down open applications difficult. Keeping track of the little arrows on the launcher that indicate an open application is far more finicky than actually viewing the windows. Nor, unlike a workstation desktop, does Ubuntu Netbook remember the last size at which you opened a window; each time an application starts, it opens maximized. In effect, the default behavior for opening application encourages you to open only one application at a time, just so you don't have to spend time floundering through the desktop.

Those who only want to get into their applications will never notice such concerns. But, for those for whom doing things their own way is important, Ubuntu Netbook's efforts to simplify can easily seem like over-regimentation.

Social Networking vs. Productivity Computing

Ubuntu Netbook's design assumes that netbooks are used mainly for light computing. Part of this assumption is inherited from the general Ubuntu desktop, whose defaults include panel applets for centralizing social networking.

However, the assumption is also visible in other ways. For instance, the first buttons in the Home view's menu are labeled Web, Music, Photo & Video, and Games. Office is sixth of the eight buttons, Files & Folders seventh, and Get New Apps eighth.

The same priority is shown in the launcher. The most important applications are at the top of the launcher, where the user's eye is likely to fall first: Firefox for browsing, Empathy for messaging, Evolution, and the webcam controller Cheese, and the Rhythmbox music player. Files & Folders, whose main purpose is navigation, is third from the bottom, and office productivity is not even on the launcher at all, but three clicks lower down.

These priorities reflect recent reports about how people are using the Internet -- notice, for example, the placement of messaging in a higher position than email. Personally, I am not sure that a profile of Linux users would show the same priorities, but the point is not that there is anything wrong with these priorities so much as the fact that only one user profile is included in the design philosophy.

If you are a high school or university student, Ubuntu Netbook's design might suit you very well. But if you are a business traveler, using your netbook to do some serious work while you wait in the airport, you are probably going to find it less convenient.

Design Inconsistencies

In addition to these design assumptions, Ubuntu Netbook has several inconsistencies that, if corrected, would bring it closer to the apparent goals of simplicity and efficiency.

To start with, Ubuntu Netbook is often inconsistent in its naming of buttons. For instance, in the Home view menu, the button for starting a web browser is labeled Web. On the launcher, it is Firefox Web Browser. In the list opened by the Applications button, the name is also Firefox Web Browser, but it is found under Internet. The same is true for other applications, such as Rhythmbox.

Such inconsistency is common on workstation desktops, where usability was an afterthought and tidying continues. But when you are building a desktop from scratch with usability a priority, there is really no excuse for such sloppiness.

In much the same way, buttons on the launcher seem partly color coded, with pastel buttons indicating general applications, and orange and gray buttons system or administrative functions. However, the usage is by no means consistent, and seeing the pattern only leaves you wondering if yellow, blue, or some other color might have a specific meaning, too. Although the launcher does seem to show a half-hearted organization of buttons by function, that does not seem consistent, either. Perhaps dividers that grouped buttons would make the arrangement clearer.

Next Page: Ubuntu Netbook: Theory and the Real World

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Tags: Ubuntu, Linux downloads, open source tools, netbooks, netbook

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