Ubuntu Netbook Remix: Questions Answered
Timed perfectly with the deluge of mini-notebook news coming out of Computex, Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu Linux, announced its new operating system: Ubuntu Netbook Remix. Set to arrive preinstalled on mini-notebooks later this year, the Ubuntu Netbook Remix will feature some of our open-source faves such as Firefox 3, Thunderbird, Pidgin, OpenOffice, Rhythmbox, FBReader, Lifrea, and F-spot. We sat down for a conversation with Gerry Carr, marketing manager at Canonical, to discuss the new Atom-powered OS that’s designed to make Ubuntu the face of the mini-notebook space. What is Ubuntu Netbook Remix and how does it differ from other Linux distributions? It’s not a distribution. Those are products with daily builds for end users to get the ISO and put on any PC. This isn’t. We’re calling it a remix, so basically it takes the core elements built into the desktop edition and it’s optimized for the Intel Atom processor. It’s built for small-factor machines and is fast-on, fast-off. It’s all about getting on the Web quickly, as that’s the primary user experience on these machines. It’s built equally for touch as it is for mass driven. Do you see touch becoming an important part of this space? Oh, yes. Maybe not in the first generation of these machines, but I think in the second generation you’ll quickly see touch being utilized as well as mass driven depending on what you’re doing. It’ll be a much more important part of that category; that’s why the interface is built for that type of experience. You’ve got much larger icons that you can use with your finger. I was surprised when I saw the redesign because it’s so radically different than anything else we’ve seen from Canonical. Yes, it is. Really, it’s not for the end user, so we give much more of a blank canvas than with our standard desktop edition. So the Netbook Remix is really for OEMs, for people who build machines. It’s a fast way for these guys to get into the netbook market. These guys are experts in hardware, not generally operating systems. So we’re giving them an operating system that we tested against their machines and certified. It shouldn’t take much if it’s built on the Intel Atom processor. What have you done with Intel to optimize the new platform for Atom? Canonical has been working closely with Intel for more than a year on support for the Intel Atom processors. The optimizations mostly center around taking advantage of the power-saving extensions afforded by the Intel Atom processors, as well at some boot optimizations. What are the minimum requirements? An Intel Atom processor, 512MB of RAM, and a minimum of 4GB of storage capacity. What is the maximum screen resolution? The minimum screen resolution for UNR is 1024 x 600, and I have not yet seen any devices with higher resolution. The UI certainly works at higher resolutions, but I think we need more feedback to know whether it is practical. What’s the boot time like? It’s about 5 to 10 seconds. Is there a chance that you’ll work with VIA or are you Intel only? What we’re announcing today is Intel. Will the Netbook Remix have a standard interface across the board, or can OEMs tweak it? It’s a little bit of both. The standard interface is the fastest way to get into the market, but it can be configured to a specific manufacturer’s requirements. What advantages does Netbook Remix have over other flavors of Linux or Windows XP? There aren’t many Linux flavors in this space. Through a number of initiatives, it’ll have access to a much richer base than XP has. But what’s interesting is that it’s up to the consumer. So when you go into a retail store at the end of this year and you see two systems—one running Linux and one running XP-there certainly won’t be any vast differences in the price, or the advantage of Microsoft coming pre-installed and working out of the box—it’ll be the same on both. You mentioned that Linux has a much richer base than XP due to a number of initiatives. What did you mean by that? I meant that there is a much richer world of commercial and open-source apps available though the use of an open platform like Linux than in using a proprietary vendor. For a manufacturer stepping out with an open platform, this will allow them access to a constantly growing, rich development community where they will benefit from the gravity effect of the investments being made through projects like Moblin to get more and better software on devices. Using a recognized and popular OS like Ubuntu only accelerates that process. For the user, there is the reassurance of selecting a constantly evolving platform that is a nexus of innovation. You might experience this passively as cool new apps or functions, but an open platform is also the chance to participate, to [exchange] feedback, make requests and get involved in improving the platform you use—an experience virtually unknown to users of proprietary systems. What exactly is Moblin’s role in Ubuntu Netbook Remix? Mobiln is a big move by Intel, not unlike Google’s Android, to be a center of gravity for open-source applications. For example, a calendar could be developed in Moblin and lots of other developers can take it and put it in their product. We’re a contributor to Moblin, and a lot of the stuff we’re developing will be pushed into Moblin and made generally available. We’ll also be taking from Moblin. Who is the target demo of netbooks running your OS? The target audience, we’re told by the hardware manufacturers putting this into market, are millions of machines. In developing markets, it may be a primary notebook between $300 and $500. In the developed market, it’ll be a second PC. Think the soccer mom, or someone that wants to take it to the café. You’ve mentioned that Ubuntu Netbook Remix isn’t for the end user; can a person actually download it? We traditionally make an ISO available that can be burned to CD. But there’s been some confusion about the Netbook Remix being made the same way. It won’t be. If you are an experienced Linux user you can go to our PPA—what we call our personal product archives. They’re basically storage repositories. There you’ll find the launcher. If you know what you’re doing and are willing to do things that we don’t recommend, you can get that PPA and put that on top of your desktop image and make it work. We make it available, but it is absolutely not recommended for someone with a Eee PC who, say, decides to get the Netbook Remix and try to make it work themselves. It can be done, but it’s not recommended for the standard user. Why did you move away from the ISO model for the preinstalled model? Because the netbook is a different category of computer without a dominant OS. To put it another way, if the PC market started tomorrow likely we would make Ubuntu available as a free option preinstalled. The fact is that the majority of the world’s PCs ship with Windows, so we make an ISO available to displace Windows on people’s machines or give them something to install on a clean machine. We work tirelessly with PC manufacturers to ship Ubuntu preinstalled and have success like the well-publicized Dell deal, but also very large shipments in Brazil, Russia, India, and many other emerging economies. The netbook is new, there is room for more than one player, and it is of enormous convenience for the consumer to have their OS certified and preinstalled. It is likely that we will, over time, make an ISO available, but it is less a market about displacement. If you want Ubuntu, and you want this device, you can simply go and buy it.