Would you like an Ubuntu to go?Last month I mentioned Ubuntu’s Netbook version, designed specifically for the ultraportable, “4PC” market. Mark Shuttleworth (Canonical’s CEO, the parent company behind Ubuntu) just blogged more about the interface design for the “netbook” market: Almost universally, they’ve [OEMs] asked for standard Ubuntu packages and updates, with an app launcher that’s more suited to new users and has the feeling of a “device” more than a PC. The Asus Eee’s “basic” mode had a very device-like feel to it and has done reasonably well with it’s Xandros Linux backend, and with Ubuntu’s star performance as a Linux desktop for the masses, I can only imagine the UX (User eXperience) will be even better, and the review of the current product at Ars Technica sums it up as: The implementation is, overall, quite ingenious in many ways, but there are still places where it feels a bit clunky. The project is clearly early in its development and we will likely see the rough spots even out as it evolves.
Beyond just a more device-like application launcher and a tabbed window structure; Mark also mentions "two companies that want more radical user interface innovation":
Canonical is participating directly in the design and implementation of one of those UI’s, and we’re integrating someone else’s UI on an Ubuntu base for the second project. I haven’t seen either of those UI’s, for confidentiality reasons, but I’m told that the teams working on them think they have great ideas that will elevate, in different ways, the state of the art.
Who is Canonical working with?Now, you’ve got to wonder who those companies are. Could it be Walter Bender’s Sugar Labs? Mary Lou Jepsen’s Pixel Qi? Sugar is definitely an innovative UI, and PixelQi’s tagline is “The future of portable computing is all about the screen,” with a strong focus on holistic computer design and user experience. Other candidates could be OEMs like Quanta (which was planning to produce its own version of the XO laptop.
All in all it will be exciting to see how the netbook era stimulates innovation in the Linux user experience, because there are a lot of companies wanting to build differentiated UI’s on a standard Linux base. And directly or indirectly Canonical will help to bring that innovation to KDE and GNOME and hence to the wider Linux ecosystem.
With any luck, the 4PC market that the OLPC has helped to create will also spawn a new round of UI considerations which traditional software companies (Microsoft and Apple) will be interested in designing for as well, creating functional but light-weight versions of their OS (WinCE hardly counts, Apple's iPhone OS might be a sleeper candidate however).