Linux on netbooks just became a whole lot prettier with a new user interface designed by HP for use with their Mini 1000 Mi Edition device.

As reported over on Download Squad yesterday, Hewlett Packard has been working on a little something to make its netbook offering stand out from an increasingly stagnant crowd. Built on top of Ubuntu 8.04 – chosen over the more recent 8.10 due to its long-term support by Canonical – the new interface will make even the most hardened Windows or Mac OS fan look twice.

The new GUI is drastically different to what you might be used to on a netbook device – or, indeed, a Linux-based system. Built around a 'home' screen which contains various applets – including a customisable mail client, a web search interface, graphical bookmark toolkit, and media gallery – the interface packs a lot of power into a small area without feeling too cluttered.

If you're worried that all this shine and ease of use comes at the cost of power – all too often the case when Linux is made 'user-friendly' – don't panic: all the core features of the OS are readily available, with the UI even offering a direct link to launch a terminal window for command-line access to the underlying system from the home screen.

Software is categorised under the “Start New Program” button into Internet, Media, Utilities, Work, Play, and an overarching All that gives access to every program currently installed. All the usual suspects from a stock Ubuntu install are present, with OpenOffice, Firefox, Thunderbird, and Pidgin all making an appearance. HP has also bundled its own custom media player, dubbed MediaStyle, which looks to integrate with the home screen while carrying over the visual aesthetic.

While custom interfaces for netbooks are nothing new – with Ubuntu creator Canonical currently labouring away on its Netbook Remix interface project – this is certainly the most polished version I've seen. Making good use of the smaller resolution of a netbook screen, the Mini Mi software seems to offer everything a netbook user could want.

There is a catch, however: the software is only available for the Mini 1000 netbook. While HP will be releasing a tool that will allow for the creation of a restore disc for those wanting to try out the Mini Mi Linux OS on their Windows XP-preloaded Mini 1000, it's unlikely that the disc will operate correctly on netbook devices from other companies. While there's nothing to stop someone trying, expect to spend a while fiddling around to get various bits of hardware working just so. Still, if you've got the hardware I'd certainly recommend giving the new interface a go – especially if you want something to show off your new gadget with.

Tempted by the new interface – of which there's a nice gallery over on DownloadSquad – or are you still not convinced by Linux as a day-to-day operating system, no matter how shiny the interface might be? Share your thoughts over in the forums.
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