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Ubuntu Netbook Remix enlightens ARM support

Feb 19, 2010 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive
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Canonical is developing a new 2D ARM interface based on Enlightenment Foundation Libraries for the upcoming Ubuntu 10.04 (“Lucid Lynx”) version of Ubuntu Netbook Remix. In other Ubuntu news, Ubuntu Live CDs in Lucid Lynx will boot 33 percent faster, and The Linux Box will market Ubuntu in the U.S.

With a lack of open source 3D graphics support on ARM devices impeding Ubuntu's use in ARM-based netbooks, Canonical has turned to the Enlightenment project's libraries to add visual panache to 2D interfaces. The Canonical project to use the open source Enlightenment Foundation Libraries (EFL) was announced in a blog post by Canonical Ubuntu Mobile Developer Jamie Bennett, and then echoed in a post at the Enlightenment project. Bennett's blog post posted two examples of EFL-based Ubuntu Netbook Remix (UNR) interfaces that should appear in the Lucid Lynx Ubuntu release in April.

EFL-based 2D launcher for UNR 10.04, ARM version
(Click to enlarge)

As Bennett explains in his blog post, the ARM port of Ubuntu, announced in November 2008, has been stymied due to licensing issues over 3D acceleration drivers and related software. As a result 3D Clutter-based interfaces such as those found in UNR, by way of its inclusion of Intel Atom-focused Moblin technology, are unable to strut their stuff.

As Bennett (pictured at right) explains, ARM-based platforms have traditionally suffered from licensing problems with graphics drivers and free software. This limits the use of 3D graphics acceleration in the growing wave of bargain basement ARM netbooks — especially popular in the developing world, and expected to lead to Linux dominating netbook sales in a few years, according to ABI Research.

"Encumbered by licensing issues, many platforms only ship with 2D based drivers whilst the 3D driver-enabled offerings only frequent the poshest of circles such as Nokia's N900," writes Bennett.

While Bennett claims that "Ubuntu runs very well on some ARM based platforms," and notes that vendors are working on the 3D problem, Canonical is in the meantime working on a more compelling 2D interface for the ARM version of UNR. "Our goal is to have Ubuntu running on any ARM based device," he adds.

Ubuntu gains enlightment

To support Ubuntu Netbook Remix on non-3D-accelerated hardware, Canonical turned to the Enlightenment EFL libraries. The new EFL-based 2D launcher can work on both ARM or x86 platforms, as well as both 2D or 3D-enabled devices, writes Bennett.

According to Bennett, the launcher is also more "theme-able" compared to UNR 9.10's Clutter UI. By modifying the "edje" declarative layout format, users can "completely change the way the UI looks." For example, the screenshot shown below is said to be based on the same code as the screen above, but uses a different theme file, writes Bennett.

Alternative 2D launcher screen
(Click to enlarge)

As the blog on the Enlightenment project notes, EFL was first developed in 2000, and the current version "was designed based on previous experience with Imlib and Imlib2, libraries known to be quite fast." Performance is accelerated thanks in large part to the "Evas" canvas (drawing) library, which is said to be fast in both software- and hardware-accelerated environments. Thanks to Evas, EFL is said to support a variety of rendering engines, including X Render, X11, DirectFB, and OpenGL ES.

In addition, EFL's "Eet" library, used for binary, read-efficient configuration and resources file, has "boosted Canonical's Ubuntu Netbook Remix startup time," says the project. Eet in turn forms the base for the aforementioned Edje theme system used by UNR.

In November, Enlightenment announced a partnership with Samsung to work on bringing EFL technology to its consumer electronics products. The company is also "actively sponsoring development on Enlightenment and EFL," says the project, which went on to state, "The Enlightenment team is proud its products are being used more and more on embedded systems, be they e-book readers, phones, or TV's; x86, ARM, or MIPS; accelerated or non-accelerated hardware."

You want MeeGo with that?

Considering that the recent version of UNR is based on Moblin, we are interested to see what will happen with UNR and other Moblin-based netbook OSes such as SUSE Moblin Linux after this week's MeeGo announcement from Intel and Nokia. MeeGo is said to be a Qt-enabled merger of Moblin and Nokia's Maemo open source Linux projects for netbooks and other mobile devices, including smartphones.

One would assume that the distros will follow Intel and the Linux Foundation to MeeGo, and that a transition process is already underway. However, different distros cherrypick different parts of the Moblin stack, integrating it with their own distros, including native netbook versions such as the original UNR, so there may be a few bumps in the road.

Ubuntu Live CD speedup

In an earlier Feb. 12 post by Bennett on Linuxuk.org, he describes how Ubuntu 10.04 has fixed a major gripe with users of Ubuntu Live CDs: glacially slow boot-up times. While Ubuntu 9.10 was widely praised for its much faster boot time when loading from a hard drive, and the upcoming Lucid Lynx (10.04) is said to flirt with even faster 15-second boot-ups, live CDs have until now been left behind.

The problem has been especially dire on ARM platforms, according to Bennett, who said that the Live CD ARM version for Ubuntu 9.04 takes a full three minutes to boot. This is especially important considering that for many users, their first experience with Ubuntu (and Linux) is with a Live CD.

Bennett and his Canonical team looked into the problem, and found that the debconf database and the related Casper set-up scripts were the culprit. By tweaking these elements in Lucid Lynx, Live CD startup time has accelerated by 33 percent, he claims, with the ARM version now booting in 1 minute and 53 seconds.

My Ubuntu in a Linux Box

Software development consultancy The Linux Box announced that it will market Ubuntu in the United States, according to a Darryl Taft story in our sister publication, eWEEK. The Linux Box, which customizes open source projects for clients for various vertical sectors, has become a Canonical Silver Solution Provider Partner, and will sell, install, and support customized Ubuntu-based solutions, says the story. The company will also provide businesses with large-scale migration deployment support and training services for cloud computing infrastructures and enterprise desktop alternatives, writes Taft.

Stated Elizabeth Ziph, CEO and co-founder of The Linux Box, "Ubuntu's game-changing operating system model is catching on with original equipment manufacturers and business organizations of all sizes."

Availability

Jamie Bennett's Linuxuk.org blog on the new UNR 10.04 ARM launcher based on Enlightenment libraries may be found here, and his Feb. 12 blog on the Ubuntu Live CD boot speedup should be here.

The Enlightment project blog on the launcher may be found here.

The eWEEK story on the deal between Canonical and The Linux Box may be found here, and The Linux Box site may be found here.


This article was originally published on LinuxDevices and has been donated to the open source community by QuinStreet Inc. Please visit LinuxToday.com for up-to-date news and articles about Linux and open source.

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