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Linux on Netbooks. A dropped ball?

Posted 12-01-2008 at 09:29 AM by Hangdog42

My main laptop is a Dell Precision M6300, and while it is a fantastic computer, there is no getting around that it is a pain to lug around. The thing is just large and heavy. So to give myself a new option, I decided to take the plung into the netbook world and picked up a Dell Mini 9 running Ubuntu. From both a power and form factor, this thing is just right for taking notes at meetings and doing email and other light tasks. While I'm generally not an Ubuntu fan, I decided to give it a try for a couple of weeks to see how I liked it. From that experience, and from seeing some of the netbook threads here at LQ, I'm starting to think that while netbooks will be introducing a lot of people to Linux, that introduction might not be such a good one.

For the Mini, the version of Ubuntu installed is a Dell-customized version of Ubuntu 8.04. Using this version of Ubuntu does make sense, since Canonical has deemed it a long-term support version. However, in order to take advantage of the Atom processor, Dell Ubuntu has been compiled as a series of lpia packages (Low Power Intel Architecture). At first glance, this might not seem like such a bad idea, but the real problem is that it cuts the user off from the vast Ubuntu software repositories. What is worse, is that unless the user does some digging, there isn't a very visible reason for why they can't install software from the normal repositories. Since the Dell repositories don't have a full selection of software (Open Office 3 is missing for example) either the user installs the normal version of Ubuntu (not exactly what most users will do) or they live with a poor impression of what software is available in Linux and how easy it is to use.

On other netbooks, the vendors have created even more customized versions of Linux. Take Linpus for example. Please. The Linpus team has developed a new interface that bears little to no resemblance to anything else out there. Why? Just to be different I guess. However, again this means that Linpus users are likely going to feel isolated and cut off from more mainstream Linux distributions, even if they bother seeking help.

The upshot is that netbooks could be a successful introduction to Linux for many people, but the manufacturers are getting in the way. To be honest, Dell and Canonical should know better and could have set a new standard. However, to me it looks like they dropped the ball and hopefully the impact on Linux can be remedied.
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  1. Old Comment
    Some very good points here. It is OK to install a customised version of Linux on a system but not really ok to make it too customised. I do like ubuntu and as you say there is a huge amount of software available, but should dell be sticking to lpia packages? Not in my opinion. If more "ordinary" people are to be enthused by Linux they need a system that is easy to configure, more stable than other os and see what a wide range of open source software there is out there. We don't want people saying "Well I tried that Linux stuff but I don't see what all the fuss is about." Their first exposure to Linux MUST be a positive experience or we will lose them.
    Just my 2 pence worth.
    Posted 12-01-2008 at 10:21 AM by ctsiow ctsiow is offline
  2. Old Comment
    For what it's worth: I agree with both the author of the article and ctsiow. Hope someone at Dell and/or Canonical reads this post and starts doing something about it.
    Posted 12-01-2008 at 02:40 PM by jozik jozik is offline
  3. Old Comment
    Some time ago I bought a Dell Precision with factory-installed RedHat. This RedHat lasted less than 3 hours; afterwards, I removed it and installed Fedora 8. The reasons:
    1. Redhat came with an old version of the kernel which did not had the built-in for the wireless card (Intel 4965AG). They shipped it with a wireless driver for the previous card. When I tried to get the driver from them, it turned out that I need to activate my redhat subscription first and wait for several days before it goes through the activation process.

    2. Redhat, being commercial, is very slow on introducing new versions of software packages: they want to be sure that they can provide support for their customers, that is, that the software has no hidden issues. As a result, you are very likely to be stuck, say, with OpenOffice 2.0 while everybody is already using OpenOffice 3.0.

    Well, I did not mind installing another distribution myself, but I can imagine that it might put off some people who decided to give Linux a try. Here you are: the computer arrived, you turn it on, but it has a major connectivity problem, and you cannot even correct it because you are in the environment where a wired connection is not available!
    Posted 12-01-2008 at 05:21 PM by jgrnst jgrnst is offline


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