Over the past few years a number of custom Linux distributions for netbooks have popped up. And while some were designed from the ground up by large teams of developers with corporate backing, like Moblin Linux, Fedora Mini, or Linpus Linux Lite, others are maintained by just a handful of independent developers with a passion for Linux and netbooks.

One of the most popular distributions is Eeebuntu, which is actually a customized version of Ubuntu Linux that’s designed with a number of optimizations for Asus Eee PC and other Intel Atom powered netbooks. There are a number of other netbook operating systems based on existing distros, such as Easy Peasy (also based on Ubuntu), PupEee (based on Puppy Linux), and FluxFlux-SE (based on PCLinuxOS).

The advantage of hitching your project to a larger Linux distribution is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You can develop optimizations for low screen resolutions, low power processors, and other hardware that comes with netbooks. The problem is that every time a new version of Ubuntu, PCLinuxOS, or another distribution comes out, you either have to block all the updates or make sure that you’ve updated all of your code that might be incompatible with the next major release. And Ubuntu, for example, pushes out a new release every six months. That makes a lot of work for the folks who work in their free time to maintain projects like Eeebuntu.

And Eeebuntu developer Andrew Wyatt has apparently decided he’s had enough. A new version of Ubuntu is due out on October 29th, and Wyatt notes that Eee PC 900 users who try to upgrade will likely be greeted by blank screens when they boot their systems due to errors in Ubuntu 9.10’s Intel display drivers.

Wyatt lists a number of other problems, but his major complaint is that Ubuntu 9.10 is riddled with problems that could affect netbook users, and Eeebuntu users will likely blame the Eeebuntu devs, not the folks at Canonical that pushed out Ubuntu 9.10. Wyatt says it feels like Canonical is moving backward, as things that worked just fine in Ubuntu 8.10 are no longer working out of the box and developing Eeebuntu is something of an uphill battle.

In the end, Wyatt decided to quit developing for Eeebuntu. Now, he’s not the only developer on the project, so this doesn’t mean the project is necessarily dead. But it is a setback.

via IT Wire



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17 replies on “The problem with independent netbook Linux distros”

  1. I read recently that Linux software sales where projected to be
    8 Billion USD (8*10^9) this year.

    That makes for a lot of pushing and shoving among the major
    distributors for a piece of the action.
    It also leads to “Bragging Rights” wars, change for changes sake.

    That is not likely to change as long as there are 300+ distributions.
    Note:
    I am claiming that Monopoly Software is a better distribution plan.

  2. Sorry, how is this a problem? You say yourself that there are lots of netbook-optimized distros to choose from (CrunchEee, Easy Peasy and Linux Mint spring instantly to mind) — if one falls off the map and three others can pick up the slack, how is this a bad thing?

    1. Sorry if I wasn’t clear — the problem is for developers, not users. Wyatt
      is hardly the only person that has to constantly put out fires that new
      Ubuntu updates causes for his distribution. Eeebuntu may or may not go on…
      but the point is that at least two of the distros you mentioned are
      maintained in a similar fashion and if more developers get exasperated with
      the constant need to change their code to cover incompatibilities with the
      main branch of Ubuntu, then it could become a serious problem for users….

      1. Fortunately there are many other branches of Linux as well. : )

        I do see your point re: developers vs. Ubuntu, but I would submit that there are bigger fish to fry — namely:

        1. Microsoft’s hardware limitations on Windows/netbook licensees;
        2. Proprietary WiFi drivers – just as printing was a make-or-break issue for a Linux distro a few years back, if WiFi doesn’t work with a particular distro out of the box there’s not much that can be done but move on to something else…

  3. This doesn’t sound like a problem with a netbook distro, it sounds like Ubuntu is pushing out a release before it’s baked, which has happened a few times before. Maybe the devs should track debian stable instead. Deeebian, anyone?

    1. Perhaps… but the bigger problem is that Wyatt and other Eeebuntu
      developers don’t have complete control over their distribution. If they’d
      built the OS from the ground up, that would be another story — but it would
      also be a whole heck of a lot more work.

  4. Fedora Mini is NOT a separate distribution. It is a small team or group of people doing work WITHIN Fedora to make support for netbooks better. We might release a Live CD or two focused on netbooks but unlike other variants, all the work will be officially integrated into Fedora first. So the problem you talk about does not exist for Fedora.

    1. Right, as I pointed out Fedora Mini is *not* maintained by a small group of
      independent developers. Like Moblin, (or Ubuntu Netbook Remix, for that
      matter), it’s associated with a larger group.

    2. But it will still suffer from the more general problem of bitrot within the Linux scene. Any upgrade these days involves SOMETHING that used to work stopping.

      I just upgraded this Thinkpad from F10 to F11 last weekend. I put it off as long as I could, knowing what would likely happen. Yup, suspend was mostly working with F10 and now is utterly unreliable. Sound isn’t as useful, having trouble muting the internal speaker while docked. On the plus side the optical drive in the dock hasn’t vanished since upgrading.

      This sort of thing just seems more pronounced with netbooks because they are the tip of the spear of Linux moving into populations who don’t know how to edit config files. They expect to install a netbook distro and have it work out of the box. That was possible when ‘netbook’ meant a handful of EeePCs and a couple of Acers. Now with as many as a hundred similar but subtly different hardware platforms the idea of a small group of developers creating a distro that can support them all ‘out of the box’ is a fantasy. No small group will even have access to samples of the hardware and new slightly different models are spewing out of China at a speed none can support.

      Unless Linux support can be made to be seen as important to the vendors we are fighting a losing battle. A year from now netbooks will have devolved to the same chaos as notebooks in general, where a given release of a distro might work 100% on a particular model but the odds of surviving an upgrade and keeping 100% function will be close to zero. Heck, surviving a kernel update with Fedora is risky enough with many notebooks.

  5. I am a Lenovo S10 netbook user, pretty geeky, dual boot Win 7 and Ubuntu 9.04, I had been waiting for the new Ubuntu 9.10 release, having read that it is pretty good. Yesterday I created a Live USB boot from the latest 9.10 Beta, and I was seriously underwhelmed. It booted OK, but was very unstable, bad video drivers, network manager did not work out of the box, with proprietary wireless drivers, which also appeared to be buggy. One thing I did notice with Ubuntu 9.10 was that the power management was much better,i.e. better battery life, than 9.04.

    I have been running Debian Lenny for a while on another machine, very stable. Today I am backing up everything, wiping the drives, and reinstalling with a Debian, probably Testing or Lenny. I like being fairly close to the edge in terms of updates.

    I will probably try 9.10 after it has matured a bit and gotten through its first couple of cycles of bug fixes. The Beta is definitely beta, more like alpha if you ask me. For a while I am going to be strictly Debian while Ubuntu decides whether it wants to stick to strict release schedules.

    I for one, would not go down the Microcrap release process of bugs and fixes, but would prefer to stick with more stable releases. I think for major Linux groups like Ubuntu to release buggy versions will only hurt the Linux cause in the long run. People who do not know better will blame Linux itself and not understand the difference in the vision of different distributions.

  6. this gets especially worriesome given that ubuntu maintains its own netbook variant.

    still, this sounds like its mostly a 900 issue, right? its a somewhat older model, with celeron, and most users probably have a atom based machine.

    as such, ubuntu probably tested it on whats most likely to be out there in users hands.

    yes, it sucks for us that grabbed a 900 when it got cheap (but it still offered the best bang for the buck when it came to preinstalled linux machines right then, and i felt like sending a message) but i guess its time to have a look at pupeee or similar. Ubuntu, even with netbook modifications, seems a bit to bloated for my machine…

  7. Chrome OS wants to be a guarantee for Web consumers!So many distros with so many problems unsolved!Even geeks prefer to run them in live in usb key to avoid complications.

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