Ubuntu to run on ARM-based netbooks

Ubuntu to run on ARM-based netbooks

Summary: Canonical and the chip designer are to collaborate on a version of Ubuntu tailored to ARM's architecture, with a focus on low-cost subnotebooks.

Canonical has announced it will be developing a version of its Ubuntu Linux desktop operating system specifically for ARM's Cortex-A8 and Cortex-A9 processor architectures.

ARM-based processors have traditionally been used in small devices such as mobile phones, but it emerged in October that ARM's technology would soon be used in netbooks, the new breed of small, low-cost notebook PCs. Thursday's announcement builds on that revelation, as well as on Canonical's announcement in June that it would create netbook-specific distributions of Ubuntu.

"The release of a full Ubuntu desktop distribution supporting latest ARM technology will enable rapid growth, with internet-everywhere, connected, ultraportable devices," ARM's vice president of marketing, Ian Drew, said in a statement. "Working with Canonical will pave the way for the development of new features and innovations to all connected platforms."

Drew told ZDNet UK on Thursday that the collaboration between ARM and Canonical would extend to such elements as drivers and graphics support. "Effectively, it's about moving [Ubuntu] from one instruction set [x86] to another," he said. "For us, it's really around the internet experience everywhere, and this is part of that."

The netbooks that have gone on sale thus far have carried either Windows or Linux operating systems. Some reports have indicated that Linux-based netbooks have a significantly higher return rate, but Canonical has suggested this is due to a lack of familiarity with Linux on the part of consumers, rather than any inherent inferiority in open-source operating systems.

Canonical's chief operating officer, Jane Silber, highlighted the opportunity that the ARM partnership would give her company in spreading Ubuntu's reach.

"This is a natural development for Ubuntu, driven by the demand from manufacturers for an ARM technology-based version," she said. "Joining the considerable community of free-software developers working on the ARM platform ensures that a fully functional, optimized Ubuntu distribution is available to the ARM ecosystem, providing wider choice for consumers looking for the best operating system for their digital lifestyles."

According to ARM and Canonical, the Ubuntu ARM distribution for desktops and netbooks will "be officially available from April 2009".

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Processors, Software

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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  • Really looking forward to an Arm netbook that will go a couple of days on a

    charge! Arm is way ahead of Intel on features needed for this form factor, and, Windows won't even run on Arm.
    • The question isn't Windows

      The question is whether Flash will run with 100% compatibility on an ARM. If the answer is yes, then it's a winner. If it's no, then it has no chance of success.
      Michael Kelly
      • Well, iPhone did not support Flash and was a big success, but, I am sure

        that Arm, Adobe, and others will make sure there is a version of Flash for Arm. It is just a matter of recompiling and testing.
        • The iPhone has a built-in customer base

          that's willing to overlook such details. Plus it's a phone too. A netbook, whose primary function is to surf the web, is going to need Flash.

          And quite honestly I don't know how we can trust a company that has had five years to come up with a 64-bit version of their program and is nowhere closer now than it was back then.
          Michael Kelly
          • Well, I do keep flash block on, and avoid sites with flash. But, this is a

            simple recompile, and you can be sure that Adobe will do it. Adobe is using universal availability on all platforms to battle with Microsoft, so recompiling for Arm is a no-brainer.

            But, this is also the problem of proprietary platforms like Flash and why we should not use it.
          • It's not just a simple recompile

            otherwise we would have had a 64 bit Flash plugin five years ago. And while I agree that it would be nice to have non-proprietary platforms, the fact remains that too many web sites not only have Flash on them but cannot function properly without it. And people expect compatibility.
            Michael Kelly
          • Arm is 32 bits, so, unless they have some assembly language code (I doubt),

            creating an Arm version of Flash will be trivial.

            The 64 bit version would be a lot more involved, but, if it was free software, it would have been done a long time ago.
          • Netbooks' Primary Function???

            A netbook, whose primary function is to surf the web, is going to need Flash.???

            Not true, at least not true for everyone. My primary function for a netbook would be digital photography storage and editing, calendar/organizer and email. Web surfing would be a nice but unnecessary feature since I do all my web surfing at home.

            And the ARM is the nicest processor I've ever worked with. I'm delighted that once more I'll be able to buy and program an ARM based computer.
      • Adobe Flash clients available for ARM ...

        In fact they're Debian clients that run on the Nokia 800 and 810 and yes they are 100% compatible according to Adobe.



        Full Flash, not Flash lite, on ARM has been around for quite some time. ;)
  • Notice that MS is not even talking about a version for netbooks yet. Arm

    will be the best platform for this form factor, and MS does not have anything relevant to run on it.
    • Microsoft is always late to the party

      It doesn't mean they can't catch up.
      They really can pound them down.
    • It sounds like Ubuntu does not either

      [i]Canonical has announced it [b]will be[/b] developing a version of its Ubuntu Linux desktop operating system specifically for ARM's Cortex-A8 and Cortex-A9 processor architectures.[/i]

      It does not say that Canonical has anything relevant to run on it at the moment, themselves.
      • Ubuntu has been working on this for some time. Dell is also using Ubuntu on

        the Mini 9. MS just has the standard version of XP with no modifications.

  • Waste of time

    The GEODE is already a low power CPU (see Raon Digital's Everun) that runs x86 code. Not quite as efficient as an ARM, but x86 compatibility counts for a lot.

    A PDA is a special beast and people don't generally see it as a "computer". ARM does a great job there.

    But as a netbook? Come on. If the guys selling x86 Linux netbooks think their product returns are too high because of the Linux OS, they'll have a stroke when people start returning ARM netbooks running linux that are incompatible with virtually all third party software.
    • Product returns are not that high overall ...

      [i]Come on. If the guys selling x86 Linux netbooks think their product returns are too high because of the Linux OS, [/i]

      MSI stated that product returns for Linux were 4 times higher but never gave any data to quantify the numbers. They only blamed Linux as the culprit.

      Carphone Warehouse stop selling Linux netbooks stating they had return rates of 20%, but nobody every bothers to tell you that average return rate for electronics hover around 15%. Even GPS devices have a higher return rate:

      [i]GPS sales have an average return rate of about [b]25% in North America and as high as 40% at Wal-Mart[/b], with the return rate being much higher than other electronics products.[/i]


      Should we conclude that GPS Devices are utter crap and should be pulled from the market?

      Anyway Asus, Acer, HP, and Dell don't have the same problem with return rates as with these other vendors so the only conclusion anyone can draw is that it's not Linux per se but how it's implemented and marketed from vendor to vendor. :)
    • With Linux and free software, it is not a big deal to have a different chip

      architecture. You can recompile all of the archives for Arm and have all of the same software with minimal testing. Debian has supported Arm for sometime.
    • You also forget the purpose of a Netbook, and also how the software we use

      is changing. We are much more likely to use web applications, and in any case, for this type of device we need browser, email, web applications, word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, photo editing, etc. All handled VERY nicely by Linux and all of the free software alternatives.
  • Yes, I agree. I think that Intel will throw a lot of resources at this

    just like the Transmeta challenge. Intel will come close to the Arm power usage, and thus give MS a competitive platform. And, MS will undoubtedly come out with some version of Windows that has an appropriate user interface for this platform.

    But, for the short term, I do not see MS porting Win7 to Arm. For the next couple of years, Linux will maintain the advantage and at least 30% market share in this area.
  • RE: Ubuntu to run on ARM-based netbooks

    Well said. Flash needs to be either preinstalled (or very easy to install) if Ubuntu is going to compete in the education market.
    • Yes, Flash is important, and it is a simple re-compile for 32-bit arm. But,

      we should avoid using it for these very reasons.