Indeed the Ubuntu NE UI feels much heavier than MeeGo's, even though both are muter based.It's what I have right now in my netbook, although I modded the crap out of it. In fact ubuntu-netbook isn't installed anymore. Too slow, and uses too much power as you said. I'm going to install meego next.
It is a sad story. Can't stress enough how important this is. I think the Linux netbook didn't gain enough market share because of it (or at least partly because of it). If linux had a clear advantage in battery life, that would have been newsworthy all around the internet.You are right. It's about time a linux distro takes the lead in the field of power consumption on netbooks. Windows XP really sucks for netbooks, but it is still waaaaaaay better than win7 starter.
Actually, I spoke to soon when comparing MeeGo to WinXP. After killing the various background processes running on the WinXP install (anti-viruses and whatnot), I got a 7:30h battery life report. The difference could be due to the way the two systems report/estimate their battery life though. I haven't done an actual test (leave them to 'dry out').