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14 November 2008, 09:37

Ubuntu desktop for ARM CPUs

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The ARM processor foundry and Canonical, which sponsors Ubuntu, together want to port the Ubuntu Desktop Linux distribution to the ARM v7 architecture. The primary aim is to give a complete Linux interface to mobile internet devices (MIDs) and other mobile equipment fitted with Cortex A8 and A9 CPUs. ARM is promising that such devices could be "always online" and yet last much longer on one battery charge than comparable devices fitted with x86 CPUs.

Exactly how cooperation between ARM, Canonical, and the Ubuntu developers will be organised is not yet known, but ARM support is to be shifted into the regular distribution so that device and system-on-a-chip (SOC) manufacturers won't have to bother about patches and updates any more. ARM is quoting April 2009 as the release date. The Ubuntu roadmap says this is release 9.04, codenamed "Jaunty Jackalope", which will be on final release on 23 April 2009. An initial alpha version of 9.0.4 is promised in about a week's time, but we don't yet know whether this release will support ARM CPUs.

Also unanswered are some further questions: What desktop environment will ARM devices get? Many desktop interfaces and applications are only usable at 800 × 600 or better resolution. For that reason, Moblin and some other embedded distributions provide their own slimmed-down interfaces. And who will supply updates after the 18-month Ubuntu support expires?

The Handhelds Mojo team, sponsored by Nokia, ported Ubuntu to ARM PDAs at the start of this year. Market watchers see Linux as a leading operating system for mobile internet devices (MIDs) and similar kit. Intel is putting its money on Moblin, while Google's Android operating system for smartphones is based on a Linux kernel for ARM CPUs. Asus too aroused a lot of attention with the Eee PC, which also runs under Linux.


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