Kubuntu on Netbooks

The release of Kubuntu 10.10 includes both the "standard" KDE Plasma Desktop and the special Plasma Netbook desktop.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

The release of Kubuntu 10.10 includes both the "standard" KDE Plasma Desktop and the special Plasma Netbook desktop. During the boot processing, KDE determines which of these two is more likely to be "correct" for your system, presumably based on screen size and/or resolution, although I don't know the exact parameters. On my HP Pavillion dv2-1010ez, which has a 1280x800 display, it comes up with the standard Plasma desktop, as I described in my previous Ubuntu 10.10 article. On my Samsung N150 Plus, which has a typical netbook 1024x600 display, it comes up with the Plasma Netbook desktop, which looks like this:

Kubuntu Netbook 10.10

Before going any further, I will also mention that if you want to switch between these two desktops manually, go to System Settings / Workspace, where you can choose either "Desktop" or "Netbook".

I would also like to say that although I have looked at the KDE Netbook desktop several times before, I have never really taken the time to understand and appreciate it. I always thought it looked nice, was an interesting alternative to the Ubuntu Netbook Edition, and had a lot of potential, but there were always a few stumbles along the way, or things didn't seem to work properly or make sense. This time everything has worked extremely well, and I am honestly blown away by the Plasma Desktop. It is really a completely different take on how to handle a computer with limited resources.

The Plasma Netbook desktop contains a "Favorites" area, where you can place frequently used applications and utilities, a "Search" bar for finding and starting other applications and utilities (more on this later), and some pre-configured folders which roughly correspond to the traditional Application menus. The top panel contains the usual icons and indicators, but in the middle rather than at the right end. Rather than try to cram everything from the normal KDE desktop into a presumably small screen, they have split the "Live" information into a second screen called "Page One", which can be selected through the top Panel.

Kubuntu Netbook 10.10

Of course, this can be easily customized with whatever news/weather/blog/RSS/whatever feeds you might be interested in. This screen shot doesn't show any actual data, as I was writing this without an Internet connection.

Things get interesting when you open an application, such as the rekonq browser. They open full-screen by default, so it looks like this:

Kubuntu Netbook 10.10

There are several things to notice in the top Panel on this shot. The title bar of the active application has been merged with the Panel, in somewhat the same way as the Ubuntu Netbook Edition does it. However, I find the controls much more clear, complete and easy to understand. At the far right, where most people expect it, is the "Close" control, and just beside that is the "unmaximize" control. I can't tell you how long I have spent scratching my head over this on UNE, and just when I had it figured out on 10.04, it has changed again on 10.10 with the Unity desktop, and now I often can't find it or figure it out again. No such problem here, just click that control and the window reduces, so you can work with multiple open windows visible. Next on the Panel is the title of the active window. Finally, at the left edge of the Panel is a "Menu" button, which gives you access to whatever menu functions are associated with the active application - things like File/Edit/View/Tools/Settings... All in all a very nice setup.

What if you want to have multiple applications running? Click on the Panel, in the area around the window title, and you will get the window selector. If there is only one window open, you will see that window and the "Search and Launch" desktop, which you can then select and from there you can launch another application. When there are more windows, they will be arrayed on the screen something like this:

Kubuntu Netbook 10.10

This assumes that the graphic controller in your netbook has adequate support; if it doesn't, such as on my HP Mini-Note with the VIA Chrome9 graphic controller, there will be a simple drop-down list of windows to choose from.

There are other ways to select between windows, of course. The most obvious is the familiar Alt-Tab selection. You can choose how the windows are presented by going to System Settings / Desktop Effects. I'll present just a couple of examples here; first the "Flip Switch":

Kubuntu Netbook 10.10

Press and hold the Alt key, and then each time you press and release the Tab key, the next window will be shifted to the front of the line. When you get to the window you want, release the Alt key.

Another option is the "Cover Switch", which looks like this:

Kubuntu Netbook 10.10

This functions the same way as described for the Flip Switch. There are a couple of other possibilities, such as "Box Switch", which lines up small windows in a box, or "Present Windows", which is the same as shown above when clicking the window title. Very spiffy.

If you have a netbook, I would encourage you to take a look at Kubuntu. While I have concentrated here on the Plasma Netbook desktop and user interface, the basic distribution is of course exactly the same as the "normal" Kubuntu. While rekonq is included as the default browser, there is an icon to easily install Firefox if you prefer. OpenOffice.org 3.2 is included, as is Gwenview for photo viewing and management, Amarok and Dragon Player for Multimedia, and much more.

jw 13/10/2010

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