Netbooks pre-loaded with Ubuntu

Monday, June 9th, 2008

The Canonical OEM team has been approached by a number of OEM’s who want to sell netbooks (small, low-cost laptops with an emphasis on the web) based on Ubuntu. Almost universally, they’ve asked for standard Ubuntu packages and updates, with an app launcher that’s more suited to new users and has the feeling of a “device” more than a PC.

There are some very cool launchers out there – AWN is a current favourite of mine – but people seem to prefer the more 2-dimensional tabbed approach, so the OEM team implemented a lightweight but still very classy launcher for this use case. The work received a detailed review in Ars Technica and has been covered in Free Software Magazine and elsewhere.

The aim was to do something very simple that could be tested easily, work with touch devices and made shippable very quickly. It also needed to be efficient on lower-power devices, and work well with Intel hardware, which seems to be the preferred platform for this generation of devices and allows us to slip a few nice effects in that would be hard without the right hardware support. Here’s a screenshot of a recent version:

The Ubuntu Netbook Remix launcher is laid out for new users

The new launcher is free software – so far, everything Canonical has funded, written and published for general public use on Ubuntu has been under the GPL. Currently we use GPLv3. You can grab the relevant packages from a public PPA, just add the following entry to your /etc/apt/sources.list:

deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/netbook-remix-team/ubuntu hardy main

The PPA contains a number of packages for the launcher, some GNOME panel applets, window manager tweaks and themes. These bits and pieces are small but improve the experience of Ubuntu run with the netbook launcher on screens with lower vertical resolution. There’s also some code in there specific to the Intel netbook hardware platforms, don’t install ume-config-netbook unless you are on the right hardware! This is all code produced by Canonical and published on Launchpad under free software licenses:

https://launchpad.net/netbook-remix
https://launchpad.net/netbook-remix-launcher

I’m particularly happy with the way it gives you more screen space for web browsing, which is probably the major use case on these form factors:

The screen layout is optimised for screens with fewer vertical pixels

There are still plenty of interesting corner cases, Ars calls out issues with the GiMP’s palettes, for example, so please do take the opportunity to test it with the apps you think you’d run on a small laptop (or as El Reg would say, laptot).  And feel free to push up and submit for inclusion a branch or two if you’re up to a bit of Clutter hackery!

For the rest, the netbook remix uses standard ubuntu packages from the standard ubuntu archive, with standard security updates. So it meets all of our usual commitments around security and compatibility. You can recreate the netbook remix just by installing 8.04, adding the PPA to your list of repositories, fetching the packages and configuring them appropriately for your system.

The netbook remix is not part of the “official Ubuntu editions”, it’s not like Kubuntu or Ubuntu or Ubuntu Server. It’s a separate remix published by the Canonical OEM team. It will probably get revved in October when Ubuntu 8.10 is released, but that’s up to the Canonical OEM team and their customers, and not the responsibility of the Ubuntu project team.

In working with manufacturers, the OEM team creates custom install images which are specific to hardware from those OEM’s. They have the free software packages I’ve described, and they may also include third-party software selected by OEM’s which Canonical cannot redistribute, so we can’t publish the custom installers that are produced under contract. Those images typically are hand-customised for a faster boot time, which means they will only work on the particular device for which they were intended, unlike standard Ubuntu which should auto-detect and configure itself for whatever hardware it is being booted on.

We specifically wanted to do this project as an Ubuntu Remix – based on standard Ubuntu 8.04 packages, with modified package selection and some additional code, but leaving the core platform packages unmodified. In terms of the trademark guidelines for an Ubuntu Remix companies cannot call their platform Ubuntu if they have modified packages (especially the kernel and desktop packages) but they can if they are just re-arranging standard Ubuntu packages. Canonical is in a privileged position as the Ubuntu trademark owner – we can certify a custom kernel if we believe it has been done in an appropriate way that won’t conflict with standard Ubuntu maintenance processes, and if we can keep the custom kernel up to date to the same standard as the normal Ubuntu kernel. So these are certified Ubuntu devices from Canonical, even though they are more customized than other people can within the Remix guidelines.

We’re also working with two companies that want more radical user interface innovation. Canonical is participating directly in the design and implementation of one of those UI’s, and we’re integrating someone else’s UI on an Ubuntu base for the second project. I haven’t seen either of those UI’s, for confidentiality reasons, but I’m told that the teams working on them think they have great ideas that will elevate, in different ways, the state of the art. All in all it will be exciting to see how the netbook era stimulates innovation in the Linux user experience, because there are a lot of companies wanting to build differentiated UI’s on a standard Linux base. And directly or indirectly Canonical will help to bring that innovation to KDE and GNOME and hence to the wider Linux ecosystem.

89 Responses to “Netbooks pre-loaded with Ubuntu”

  1. Book of Screed » Ubuntu Linux, netbooks, and the Next Big Thing Says:

    […] Mark Shuttleworth describes Ubuntu Remix edition for netbooks. […]

  2. furicle Says:

    I think this has applications outside the sub-notebook market – I really hope those packages could make it into the regular repositories.
    I’ve tried the packages briefly in a VM and I think this might be a great set-up for our corporate desktops.

    The bulk of our users run the same half a dozen applications day in and day out. Their skills are not in computers – that’s not why they were hired and not what they are expected to be good at. A simple launcher like this could be a great way to make them more productive.

    I know it’s not the primary focus, but I hope the devs keep use cases like this in mind – maybe it hadn’t occurred them even….

    I’ll be watching with interest.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    […]

  4. midtoad Says:

    Eee PC 701

    I have downloaded and installed the new interface on my Eee PC 701, and removed my bottom panel as suggested to give maximum vertical space for content. The new interface looks quite nice, and a good way to have a ‘simple’ Ubuntu desktop while still retaining access to all the full Ubuntu goodness.

    One comment: switching between tabs is quite slow – it takes about 2 seconds. It would be great if this could be made to be a little more snappy.

    regards
    S

  5. Mark Cahill Says:

    Yeah, stick with gnome. That’s why Ubuntu looks so sexy right now. KDE reminds me too much of windows

    I’m running eeeXubuntu right now on my eee. I’m not really a fan of the tabbed launcher, either on Xandros or Netbook. I think my wife summed it up perfectly: “How do I X out of this thing?” To be sure, we prefer a more traditional interface, even on the eee.

    As for essential packages, be sure to include tsclient. I use it for logging into my Dual-core windows box. Windows XP looks great on the eee, but I’m glad I can just visit when I want, and then return to the sanity of Ubuntu. 😀

    Keep up the good work. Perhaps you can talk Acer out of Linpus for their upcoming netbook. Seriously – Linpus?

  6. Evangelina Says:

    Do you ever reply to emails Mr.Shuttleworth?

  7. Smich Says:

    OMG!! What am i seeing on the right?? “ubuntueee” eee like eeepc?? which means Asus has contact Ubuntu for their eeepc?? :)

  8. Karthik Says:

    Dear Mark,

    I am too excited by this. Until the moment you announced netbook remix I was thinking that Ubuntu/Kubuntu is going to miss the new revolution. Thank for the new initiative. I think this is the chance for Linux to fix Ubuntu’s #1 bug. Its so difficult to unseat the Redmond guys not because linux lacks features but because PCs in general are an old platform and the majority of users don’t care what OS they uses as long it works. The dawn of a new platform is the opportunity for Linux to become #1 so this is the moment. Your efforts seem to be in the right direction

  9. slumbergod Says:

    I think it is a very exciting time for Linux. I have waited for years for laptops to come with something other than Windows OS. Now, OEMs are approaching Linux distributors! I run Xubuntu on a six year old laptop which is coming to the end of its life. I have delayed buying a new laptop because of driver issues. Hopefully, soon that will no longer be an issue. Good work!

  10. Tightwad Technica » Ubuntu Going After NetTops Says:

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  11. The Proliferation of Linux » Blog Archive » More Ubuntu Netbook Remix Details Says:

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  12. Brian Perry Says:

    You know how microsoft gets when they know they have been outclassed. They will come to you and try to buy you or find some other anti-competitive way to destroy your success. You have done an amazing job and I am behind you and your company. Keep up the good work! Microsoft will definately try to counterattack this with something. PLEASE, don’t sell us out like the other ‘nix’s out there. We have needed a hero for open source and in IT that can stand up to microsoft for a long time. I think your the hero we have been looking for. We are all counting on you. Please, please don’t sell out. Don’t quit. Don’t give up. I want to make my own software company and I want to follow your success. I look to you as a hero.

  13. Nathan Dbb Says:

    Window Selector 2.22.2

    This standard gnome panel applet works wonders on small screens.

    I use Window Selector and I eliminate the bottom panel with the window buttons. It works well, and harmonizes the desktop UI with the Firefox UI.

    I put Window Selector in the Top-Right so that it is in the same spot at Firefox’s too-many-tabs drop-down list. Just like Firefox’s list, the Window Selector list shows full titles so that you can quickly find the right window/tab.

    That way the OS and the main application have the same layout:
    -> New windows (new tasks/applications) in list on top-left corner
    -> Existing windows (open applications) in list on top-right corner

    I have set it up on a couple of friends’ 7-inch Eee PCs, and they love it. Under old versions of Ubuntu, I also set it up on a 10-inch Sony and the 11-inch Dell 700m/710m.

  14. Roscoe’s Public Notes » Blog Archive » Early links for Wed., 2008 May 11 Says:

    […] Mark Shuttleworth :: Netbooks pre-loaded with Ubuntu The Canonical OEM team has been approached by a number of OEM’s who want to sell netbooks (small, low-cost laptops with an emphasis on the web) based on Ubuntu. Almost universally, they’ve asked for standard Ubuntu packages and updates, with an app launcher that’s more suited to new users and has the feeling of a “device” more than a PC. […]

  15. Rahim Says:

    Wondering if there are plans to allow ume-launcher to run without compiz, my hp 2133 does not yet support compiz but I really really really love what you have done. In fact had I known that it didnt support compiz I would have purchased an Eee just to use this launcher.

    Is there a possibility to run it without compiz?

  16. Limulus Says:

    “I’m particularly happy with the way it gives you more screen space for web browsing, which is probably the major use case on these form factors”

    http://www.markshuttleworth.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/nb-remix-ff-notabs.png

    And yet, the screen space could be enlarged even more! :)

    Here’s how I did it a while back:
    http://members.shaw.ca/Limulus/files/ff2tm_top.png
    Use TinyMenu to collapse the FF menu
    https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/1455
    Use Stop-or-Reload Button to make more space
    https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/313
    Use small icons and use only a single toolbar

  17. Richard Says:

    This is a brilliant move forward and hopefully more manufacturers will come on board. Which hopefully will bring greater support for devices into the kernal.

    A win for Ubuntu is a win for Linux and the community and one step closer to fixing Bug #1

    Awaiting the full info on Netbook Remix and who will be using it

    Thanks for all you effort with Ubuntu, it is brilliant and please keep the good work coming

  18. Ubuntu stellt Bedienoberfl Says:

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  19. Jeremy Bicha Says:

    Rahim, you don’t need Compiz to run netbook-remix. In fact the current Hardy drivers for Intel have a bug that causes significant issues with the remix, so that I’ve disabled Visual Effects. It’s ironic because a lot of the netbooks will be using Intel hardware. There is a fix for this upstream, so by Intrepid this fall, I am expecting this to be fixed. With all windows fully maximized, there really isn’t as much need for Compiz with this interface though.

  20. ken Says:

    These are neat ideas, but they seem to be making rookie mistakes still.

    “Media”? That weird word that seems to be in every Linux UI, even though nobody would ever say it. If it’s a disk, please just say “Disk”.

    I like the one that gives more vertical space to the browser, but the edge of the screen is easiest to hit, and this is doubly important on small laptops which don’t even have normal mice. Which will the user be more likely to want to click on: a menu in the current application, or the Terminal launcher? I think the former, but this layout is optimized for the latter.

    Then again, you don’t come up with something great if you’re not willing to try something crazy. So I hope these can evolve into something great, but right now they just look a little crazy.

    Mark Shuttleworth says:
    I know where you’re coming from, but I wonder what future generations will think of the word “disk” when they’ve only ever seen flash RAM which are chips! 😉

  21. GNUvox » Blog Archive » Netbook con Ubuntu preinstallato in vista Says:

    […] è di fare sì che l’utente percepisca il netbook come device piuttosto che come computer. Approfondimento (in inglese) Posted in Applicazioni, Da non perdere […]

  22. David Prentice Says:

    This is awesome!
    I immediately snagged Maximus and WindowPickerApplet, configured my top bar, and I’m incredibly happy. This is a great boon for us laptop users. I display a “mere” 1280×800, so every hack to maximize vertical screen real estate is highly valued. Very pleasing. Combine both with Gnome-Do for a very pleasing experience.

    I can’t get GoHomeApplet to do anything that ShowDesktop doesn’t already do, except have a prettier Ubuntu icon.

  23. Paul Sladen Says:

    @Limulus. Those are an interesting solution, certainly the first thing I normally do in Netscape/Firefox/Opera is to turn off the “bookmarks” bar to give more room!

    I think perhaps the most interesting development avenue is that found on the iPhone Safari-Mobile browser interface. The “address bar” area is pegged to the top of the page content; as soon as the page content is scrolled downwards (for in-depth reading) the screen-real estate has effectively grown, but the control area is always still available there “at the top of the page”.

    To solve the problem of a long-scroll-upwards after you get to the end, the UI also has a short-cut for returning to the top of the page… a single tap/click near the top of the screen area will do so, but could equally be a semi-transparent corner area.

    If you’re skilled with writing Firefox extensions, perhaps it would be interesting to try to experiment and see whether you can do the “in-page pegged scrolling address bar” with Firefox’s XML/Chrome! I offer it as a challenge!

  24. Personal notes » Blog Archive » Recommended links 12-06-2008 Says:

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  25. GoudaCast Podcast » Ubuntu zapowiada mobilna rewolucje Says:

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  26. Nathan Dbb Says:

    More UI thoughts:

    -> If the window-title-bar-in-panel applet is not coupled to the window-switching icons to the right of the title, then we could save even more space by getting rid of them. People can use Window Selector without wasting panel space and still get the title of the window on the panel.

    -> The same thing could be done with the Firefox interface, but it may be too much work. Eliminate the tab row and make all tab-switching happen from the right-top corner too-many-tabs menu.

    This would make all tab and window switching a 2-tap operation, but it should save a lot of screen space, and make the interface of the OS and the main application 100% consistent. It will also make switching tabs the same operation no matter how many tabs are open.

    I made some screen shots with VMware at 800×480 and GIMP, but I don’t have a place to post them.

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    […] jest tylko zwiastunem nowego desktopu dla małych urządzeń przenośnych. Tak to opisuje w swoim blogu Mark Shuttleworth. W ścisłej tajemnicy trwają prace nad nowym zupełnie rewolucyjnym wydaniem nowego interfejsu do […]

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  34. Sam Pattuzzi Says:

    mmm,,, msi wind plus netbook remix, sounds good.

  35. Sam Pattuzzi Says:

    Sorry for double posting but I just tried the netbook remix in virtual box. Fan-tastic. I’m not a gnome guy but I might make concessions for this. The interface looks fantastic, I wish stock Ubuntu looked as good as this does. Only problem I have is that the launcher must be pretty intensive because the whole VM is running slow. I’m sure this is an issue that will be smoothed out however.

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