Ubuntu Light is an alternative OS designed to sit on a separate partition to a PC's Windows operating system. With a look and feel that'll be familiar to users of Ubuntu Netbook Remix – whose Unity interface has now been rolled out across all versions of Ubuntu – it's neither full featured nor powerful. But it is fast.
So fast, in fact, that there's no real comparison with the Windows start-up time on the same AMD Athlon II-powered Dell Inspiron M101z laptop with 4GB RAM.
This took two to three minutes to boot and surf to a web page with Windows 7 Home Premium. Canonical says users with hard-disk drives in their systems should expect 20 seconds boot time. On our Dell with its stock Seagate Momentus 320GB hard disk? Eight seconds.
Ubuntu Light is intended only as a quick-launch alternative to Windows, for some of the basic tasks we require on a laptop: instant messaging (IM), internet browsing, browsing music, video and pictures, as well as social networking.
In fact, all the non-work-related tasks you might use a notebook PC for - except email.
You can access Windows media files from within Ubuntu Light, so there are no issues with partition space. Ubuntu Light itself takes up less than 1GB on the hard disk, of a 4G partition reserved by the OEM when setting up the laptop.
Ubuntu's Unity interface has been criticised by long-time Linux users for its simplicity: but that misses the point here at least. Ubuntu Light exists only to be simple, and fast. As such, it may be better to think of it as more like smartphone or tablet skin, and less 'Linux OS’.
Instead of Firefox, you get the Chromium web browser (Chrome, in essence), and an IM client that allows you to chat via Google Talk, AIM, Yahoo, Windows Live and Facebook.
There's a media player, Skype beta, and links direct into Yahoo Answers and Facebook. There are no native social apps, however, just web links.
And why no email app? It's difficult to work out. A quick launch into web and email is all many computing sessions entail. You can use webmail, of course, but you can't install Thunderbird or any another email client. If it's real email you want, you have to boot into Windows.
A handy Windows logo on the bottom left of the Unity interface lets you leave Ubuntu easily and wait for the full Windows boot; but you can't make the return journey back to Linux without restarting the machine (despite a confusing Ubuntu Light logo in the Windows start menu).