As was expected, Ubuntu announced a new version of its operating system specifically targeted toward netbooks [via Engadget]. This is following the success of OLPC XO laptop in bringing about subnotebooks such as the now famous Asus Eee PC and a number of followers including the HP MiniNote, Elonex ONE, Everex Cloudbook, MSI Wind, the newly announced Dell mini-Inspiron, and many more. A subnotebook is meant to be an extremely small, inexpensive, ultra-lightweight portable computer that is geared towards people who simply want to be able to carry around a computer to browse the internet, check email, compose documents, and play simple games. They’re not meant to replace a desktop computer or more full-featured laptop, but they focus on ultra-portability. Many of these subnotebooks have featured Linux-based operating systems to keep costs down and promote ease of use, but now it seems like nearly all of them offer a more expensive Windows XP option. With the success of the Intel Atom processor, it appears as though this genre of computer will continue to grow in the future and many manufacturers are trying to get in on it.
One of the main criticisms of the Linux-based operating systems used on these notebooks (besides the fact that some people just want nothing to do with Linux) is that the Linux distros being used have been lacking some functionality. Enter Ubuntu, a.k.a. “Linux for Human Beings“. Canonical’s announcement of a light-weight, full-featured version of Ubuntu that can be incorporated for free into any of these sub-notebooks has got to be good news for manufacturers. With companies like Dell already incorporating Ubuntu-loaded products into their lineup, it is only a matter of time before Ubuntu becomes an even more accessible operating system alternative to MS Windows and Mac OS.
There are just a few points that I’ll mention here where I think Canonical, Ubuntu’s parent company, is making particularly good decisions. First, they’re optimizing their release for Intel’s Atom processors via the Moblin project (Mobile Linux Internet). The Atom processor was designed to be used in subnotebooks and mobile internet devices (MIDs) so that you can have good processing power with little power consumption (long battery life). In other words, I think it’s good that Canonical’s focused on creating a custom operating system specifically for the hardware that it will be used on. This will make it an ideal choice for the new and old devices using Atom.
Canonical also appears to be working with ISVs to make sure that a lot of software will be available on this platform. This could mean an increase in software (and hardware) portability to the Linux platform. It’s also great that they’re giving preference to hardware with open-source drivers available. This will give preference to Intel, who has open-sourced their video and wireless drivers, while excluding companies like Broadcom and nVidia who insist that their hardware stay closed-source. Considering how much this subnotebook field could grow over the next year or two, this could pressure these closed-source companies into change their tune. This would be fantastic for the Linux community.
I look forward to hearing a lot more about this in the near future.