One of the most exciting things about the Ubuntu 10.10 release has been the delivery of the Unity ‘shell’ in Ubuntu Netbook Edition. For the uninitiated,  this delivers a very different user experience to that in the main desktop edition. For a start the icons of the most popular applications are permanently featured on the left-hand side of the screen. This borrows more from the smartphone interfaces but is adapted for use on, in this case, netbooks. So there remains a workspace where users still have sufficient room to watch video, edit photos, create documents, play games, read the web, write emails – all of the usual tasks we use a computer for, day to day.

Everything is optimised however for the more limited screen space. It is sub-optimal for instance to simply port an interface from the full-screen world, shrink it and expect it to be a great experience. Unity does away with the bottom bar for example that Windows, Ubuntu and Mac users will be used to. This is actually a radical step, but in my experience at least, it takes no time at all to forget that there ever was a bottom bar. The result is considerably more ‘vertical space’ for to use  – again maximising the useful area on limited screen sizes.

One of the coolest things though is one that will be experienced by the fewest people at this point – touch. Unity is fully touch-enabled – those big icons are screaming out to have a digit poked at them. But as ever, the boys in the lab, or in this case Duncan McGregor‘s  multi-touch team have gone a step further and created a multi-touch ‘gesture’ library. This allows finger combinations to do groovy things like expand and reduce windows, pull up multiple windows in one workspace, and call up the ‘dash’ automatically. These are in 10.10. In 11.04 we will see a lot more.

Because there are a very limited number of touch-enabled devices out there at present, we thought we would create a video to show some of the features. You can see it below. It has turned out rather nicely even with the clumsy paws.

Gerry Carr, Platform Marketing, Canonical

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