Open Ballot: Netbook distros


Now that we're back from our short Easter break, the podcast juggernaught rolls on like a leviathan standing on the shoulders of a colossus. As it's just us this month we'll not need a CLICK BEEEP WHIRR photographer, but we do need to know what you think of this fortnight's open ballot question: Should netbook manufacturers persist in using their own bespoke versions of Linux, or should they put their efforts into one base distro, like Debian or Moblin, that they can tweak themselves?

Of course, we think that all netbooks should use MikeOS, but what do we know? Remember: please leave a name so we don't have to keep on saying "Anonymous Penguin", and please provide some sort of reasoning beyond "yes" or "no".

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Your comments

When it comes to netbooks, I

When it comes to netbooks, I think a single unified distro would work better, especially when it comes to bringing more windows users onto linux. Something along the lines of an ubuntu netbook remix.

Keep It Simple

I think it's going to be fairly complicated to agree on One OS To Rule All the Netbooks, so the current plan (of leaving it up to the manufacturer to provide an idiot-proof OS that can reliably sort out wireless and get on the net without any crashes) is probably the best way. It's going to be much more difficult to try to form a consensus between the most pointlessly factional of all human populations (i.e. the Linux geek population). If a consensus distribution was agreed upon, it would have to be really robust and non-crashable. Probably Debian, definitely not Ubuntu (much as I like Ubuntu).

I actually installed Ubuntu on my Aspire One, but I thought the Linpus OS that came with it was fine. My only reason for switching was because I found the networking with my other machines through Samba was easier on Ubuntu.

Why not

I think having one specific version is a good idea, especially if that version has a 'full sized' counterpart.

This could help make the move from Windows on the desktop easier.

Netbook Remix

I've been testing a bunch of distros for deployment of ASUS EEEPC 1000HE's. Ubuntu Remix 9.0.4 fits the bill. It is so easy to navigate and configure, it's clean and simple. Boot time is under 50sec and apps load very quickly. The new set of HP Linux drivers makes network print configs easy. Wifi and Sound works about of the box.

Makes more sense to

I think with netbooks it makes moer sense to stick with a single unified system which manufacturers can modify to suit their needs (i.e. colour schemes, default apps and hardware support).

There is nothing stopping people making distro's which can be installed post-purchase but as these machines are more likely to be people's first experience with Linux it would be sensible to have a smart polished system and in respect to support it would be easier for people to search for an answer to a problem without having to specify the make and model of their netbook.

I don't want to say which distro I think it should be for fear that supporters of rival distros might find me and hurt me in ways which I do not even want to think about.


...Linpus Lite works fine on my Aspire One, but as it's based on Fedora 8, I can't install the programs that I use on my other machines (such as Songbird, gPodder and, dare I say it, Mono) without running the risk of breaking the existing bespoke areas of the distro by updating dependancies that need to be left alone.

I've tried other distros (Ubuntu Netbook Remix wouldn't connect to the wireless, Fedora 10 was too bloated, even with XFCE, and Moblin's in alpha so there's hardly any software packages for it), but nothing works "out of the box", which is what I want.

So what I want is a distro that I can install, that will work with all my hardware without tweaking config files and downloading new drivers. And this distro must link to a mainstream set of repositories, so that the latest versions of software can be installed. Where can I find this?!!!

Until there's something that meets the above, I guess I'm settling for Linpus....

bespoke vs tweaked generic distro

As an Acer Aspire One user personally I'd like to see the use of one of the major distros, with just a few tweaks to get the best out of the hardware, eg a custom Xorg.conf, installation of madwifi, extra kernel modules, etc. The reason for this is it will make keeping up to date much easier and therefore netbooks will be more secure and easier to use - no being stuck with Fedora 8 repos and Firefox two point something! It would also support the upstream/downstream flow of improved code which makes open source software so strong. Finally, without having to invest time and personnel in maintaining their own software, hardware manufacturers will be able to save a few bob, keeping linux netbook prices low!
I'm currently using UNR Jaunty (installed yesterday after I got tired of the hacks and limitations in Linpus Lite) and it's pretty slow. Think I'm going to go down the gentoo path and build myself something seriously lightweight.

I use EasyPeasy which uses

I use EasyPeasy which uses the UNR interface. I don't really think it matters what the underlying Linux system is, but I think the UNR is a real revolution in terms of netbook interfaces. It makes the best use of the available screen space, while at the same time doesn't restrict what the user can do. Compared to the eeePC's stock Xandros or a regular Gnome/XP destop on a 1024x600 screen, it's just better. If I was a netbook manufacturer, it's what I'd use.

OEM's are going to want to

OEM's are going to want to make deals that generates money on each sale. They will try to get a few bucks from the likes of Yahoo! for adding a toolbar to Firefox or something similar.

I think each OEM will have it's own way. It will probably change a lot until each finds what works for them. They will make decisions based on customer feedback also. Some of which will come from those who are not familiar with Linux.

Variety is the spice of life.

The beauty of Linux is that there is something for everyone. From the latest and cutting edge to solid and stable, all distros all equally valid. What ticks all the boxes that one user requires will undoubtedly turn another user away. With the variety of netbooks on the market I think the choices of netbook variant distros should be celebrated. I use Cruncheee (CrunchBang) and it does everything I want and works perfectly on my eee701.

You can see from the posts above people want different things. Let people have the freedom to choose. That is the real strength of Linux.

Keep it Simple

I think they should focus on Ubuntu, not netbook remix or anything else, just pure Ubuntu.

I really believe that something that detracts people from Linux on Netbooks is;

1. So many obscure and crappy distros.

2. The interfaces, those icon based interfaces limit the user to what manufacturers say a netbook is for, many people buy netbooks because they can't buy real notebooks so they replace notebooks for netbooks.

3. Crap ass hardware for Linux netbooks, if you compare Xp's netbooks you will notice that those netbooks are not so weak, 1gb ram, 160 gb Hdd that might not mean too much today in the XP world but that's a lot of power for a Linux installation.

4. OEMs aren't really supporting Linux, everything they do with the platform is mediocre, they don't market it, won't install it on decent hardware and create ugly and limiting interfaces (except Hp's MI). Even Dell has a banner somewhere that says "Dell recommends Windows Vista" you can see that even on Ubuntu's section. Everything is inviting you to use Windows directly and indirectly!

I think there's certainly a

I think there's certainly a good case for a unified base distro between netbook manufacturers. It shouldn't be beyond the whit of man for the major manufacturers to get together and agree on a base system and set of applications. They could of course then go and modify their own branding/gui on top. I'm reminded of the "United Linux" failure, but for closed devices like netbooks, the concept might work.

The overriding reason that people are returning Linux netbooks seems to be software installation. A unified distro would surely help users by providing a consistent procedure for installing new software that all manufacturers could get behind, publicise and support.

All of the above

I am going to answer that question from two angles.

First, from the perspective of hardware vendors, a unified common distro would go a long way. It would take a lot of the work out of vendor's hands. A consortium effort could definitely fit that bill and allow the hardware companies do what they do best... focus on and deliver hardware. This would also be like the OS model they are used to with the "Other OS".. take the consortium's image and just mirror it to a bunch of netbook drives on the manufacturing line. They do nothing besides some regression testing (which they have to do with the "Other OS" anyways.)

Ok... the flip side.. I bought an Eee almost a year ago and I tried giving Xandros a good go but finally gave up on it. At first, it seemed to be ok but the more I used it, the more I hated it. This is when we need CHOICE! At this point a healthy choice of netbook distros (which we have now) would be great.

Bottom line... give the vendors a good distro to go with so they don't "buy" things like Xandros and inflict that pain on the unwary. Then if the educated user wants a different distro, he/she has options.

In the shoes of a newbie

I think it would be great if netbook manufacturers could agree on some sort of common base for a distribution. They have to be able to customize it for their own needs. If some manufacturer has a terrific interface design idea, they should be able to use it (its only healthy competition and drives innovation). But the underlying distro should be the same, so that Linux-newbies feel comfortable. Coming from Windows (most do) they probably would accept that their netbook used other kinds of installation files than what their Windows-PC does, almost as if it were a different computer platform (like a Mac). I think it would make the transition easier.

Put yourself in the shoes of a complete Linux-newbie, asking for help on this mysterious OS on his/her new netbook. First you realize that you can't use Windows-software, because you have this thing called Linux on it. Then every other suggestion you get is for you to change the Linux distribution because the people trying to help don't know exactly how yours work/it has some limitation/yada yada. No wonder Linux netbooks sees higher return rates! :)

Companies just didn't think it through

I run an Acer Aspire One now and before that bought an EEE Pc, after a few days I wiped both of them and installed a mainstream distro.
If a netbook was my first experience of Linux I never would have tried it again. I understand that these custom distros boot up very fast but it would have been better to use a mainstream distro with comparable features to Windows XP. If this had happened in the first place I think Linux would still have a greater market share of the netbook market.
Both Xandros and Linpus looked so Fisher Price and were inflexible. My vote would have been on Ubuntu with the Netbook Remix (I think Dell sell a netbook configured with this).

Yes and no!

If all manufacturers used the same distro and put their pooled resources into it, it would be great for the consumer. However, how would they then compete? Obviously the hardware and aesthetics would differentiate each netbook but probably a large majority of people who buy them, technically-minded or not, are most concerned with the OS. If all netbooks appeared to be the same when running, customer confusion would reign and most people would simply buy the cheapest netbook.

So no, I can't see it happening, but yes, I would like it to happen.

I like the Yes and No idea...

I'd love to see a menu of distro's customized for the machine.

I don't think we will see overall market share increase with netbooks, as long as the window$ version of the machine has a beefier hardware config. I have a Eee pc - the linux version came with a 40 gig ssd, the window$ version with a 120g hdd - the window$ version cost $3 more... Why buy the linux version? The linux #'s will always be low when folks want the most hardware for the $$$.

Standard Interface

I don't think that a standard distro is necessary for the netbook market. It would only be geeks that cared about it anyway. What I think would drive Linux adoption in that market is a standard interface regardless of what is under the OS hood, so to speak. HP MIE is a nice interface for the non-geek and the Jaunty Netbook Remix is elegant in its simplicity. The overarching thing Linux needs to accomplish in the netbook market is simplicity. The interface, regardless of distro, should be so simple that it doesn't matter if the end user is Windows guy or a 70 year old retired school teacher who knows Macs.

That said I also think a pooling of resources behind a standard distro would provide some much needed innovation in areas like battery life, hibernation, and so on. It certainly couldn't hurt the adoption on Linux in the market.

I have long thought variety is the spice of life and I love my choices in the Linux arena. I run Ubuntu's Jaunty Netbook Remix on my Mini 100, I run Intrepid on my desktop, I administer CentOS and RHEL on HPC clusters, I run OpenSuSE for my MythTV/XBMC mashup media center. However the normal everyday computer user doesn't want that variety. They don't even want to know if it's KDE or Gnome and there is no need to mention Fluxbox! A standard interface would be, in my opinion, the single most important factor to Linux being adopted in the netbook market.

Those that would change anyway can

This important thing is that first time users get a clean simple interface that does all the basic web, flash, mp3 stuff that they expect a machine to do.

Moot question

Since it will never be a single distribution, why ask? If you have bought a number of assorted vendor's notebooks, they don't run the same distribution of XP, why should things change? People will want one thing or another for good or bad reasons, and the users will customize some as well. Whatever this poll shows, I believe it's meaningless.

"Divided we prosper"

Variety is the strength of Linux but, for Netbooks aimed at soon-to-be-former Windows users, special special special care should be taken that the chosen distro be tweaked to be foolproof. If that isn't done we risk making enemies. If the companies won't do it, then they might need help.

I like choice: Tweak the distro so that the CLI is available for geeks but so that EVERYTHING can be done by a newbie in an extremely simple GUI with good context howtos and no config files. Simple and more complex desktops should be provided, or at least the opportunity to download something like Xfce/KDE with good instructions when desired. Also, provide a way for newbies to very gradually get their feet wet in the CLI - IF they want to.

I use Ubuntu 8.10 & I am

I use Ubuntu 8.10 & I am testing 9.04 on my hard drive Aspire One, both work fine for me, but I have to say that I hate the netbook remix, and other netbook frontends that are around (I have tried HP harbour). I think by using these interfaces that you are loosing a huge chunk of what your machine can do.

Linux strength is in the Community

Creating your own community divides the pool of users further. Go with an already existing community and share the development work, thereby reducing your own work whilst simultaneously adding to the greater cause.

no no no no no no no no

Let there be choice. That's all, as you were folks.

Manufacturers should pick a

Manufacturers should pick a major distro, nevermind which, as long as it is one with a large user base, of their choice, make the machine(s) work properly with that distro, and, if needed, provide a description on how to redo their tweaks from a fresh install of that distro.

That way, it could be easier for the users that prefer other distros to make everything work.

NetBook Distro

If trying to appeal to users of propriety OS users I agree that a unified Distro would be a good idea. I bought an EEE PC 901 and although the default Xandros install is Ok I find that EEEbuntu NBR is FAR better and should be the default install as it's perfect for the little machine. I haven't come across a distro that is more suited to this market with the ease of use and full usability of Ubuntu but none of the restrictiveness feeling you get with Linpus or Xandros simpleUI.

One unified distro would be best...

and I'm sure all the distro producers would agree, as long as it's *their* distro that's chosen.

The manufacturers have definitely picked sub-par distros to use so far though. :(

Linux Administrator

You guy's should have a video podcast, not just audio podcast. Myabe something like Revision3? Thank You. You guy's are the best.

It won't matter next month...

Because all the distros will support netbooks, so you can pick and choose

Proper distros please

I use Ubuntu 8.10 on my eeepc900 these days.

I think the whole Fisher Price "My First Computer" look of the the default Xandros is a real turn off. It makes the thing look like a toy.

The original Eee PC was designed as an APPLIANCE!!

It was supposed to allow people/kids to collect email, surf the net and do other stuff. Cheap and cheerful, want to blow £350.00? get a normal full size laptop! So "Easy mode" was all that was needed to shield the punters from the unknown Geeky Linux beneath. (I find it more frightening when an ATL crashes and you find <shudder!> Windows lurking underneath...)
Well, OK, so my Easy mode lasted all of ten minutes till I had configured advanced mode. Just couldn't let it be, could we... "Hey! Pandora, is this your box? Any chance of a peek inside?" :))
Even so, Xandros lasted the best part of 9 months. Skype, Google Earth, Firefox, Thunderbird, etc all worked OK. I could watch ripped videos on the SD card or BBC iPlayer stuff.
It's now got Mandriva 2009 which worked straight out of the box, mainly because I got fed up with Unionfs hogging half the SDD. Load the Distro that suits your needs.

There will never be one unified distro!

Not as long as Linux remains so diverse. Though it would be good if there were a standard that addressed OS capabilities on netbooks. Had to setup one of the more worthless Sylvania books running gOS for a neighbor and the thing required CLI to manage users, had the minimize/maximize/exit buttons on the wrong side of the window, and violated most of Gnome's interface standards.

Mind you the book had larger issues hardware wise--Sylvania deserves to be slapped for that micro touch pad.

Not really

I've settled on eeebuntu base on my Eee PC 701. The whole idea of the netbooks has been hijacked by the need to run Windows XP. The lack of updates to Asus' default Xandros meant an alternative was required. The specs and prices of the new 10" netbooks are making them compete with the cheap 15.4" wide-screen notebooks that feature much larger HDD and DVD-RW built-in.

The higher resolution of the 10" screens is much better but the drop back to SSD HDD, which is the major "unbreakabilty" feature, with any of the new distros that support wired LAN, wireless LAN, bluetooth, SD-HC cards, second monitor and multiple USB ports is what will differentiate netbooks with Linux from miniature notebooks with Windows 7.

Regards from

Distros should support netbooks & easy mode

I use Fedora 10 XFCE, tweaked to get a 25sec boot to the desktop (Aspire 1, 1.5GB RAM / 8GB SSD), but my wife uses the preinstalled Linpus on hers (1GB / 16GB SSD), and all I did was update it for Firefox 3, Thunderbird 3 Beta, Open Office 3 (oh and VirtualBox for WinXP to support a proprietary Sewing Machine memory card!).
It would be better if distros started to provide a "Netbook" optimised selection as part of the install, reducing the services that are installed/started, etc.

Linuxmint 6

I'm using Linuxmint 6 on my aspire one and it works really smooth. Using this kind of distros make life easier of the users who just want our netbook to work fine without much tweaking. In addition, there's a lot of tutorial out there, specific for this netbook and this distro (or ubuntu, wich is the same in many things)

Dumbing down is fine, but make it easy to smart up

My two cents... I bough an Asus eee 901, and I have nothing against Xandros, but a) they are not the most up to date distro, so I could not get all my specialty software (I teach math at college level, and I still do some research, so I like to have stuff like Lyx, Kayali, and what not, in versions that are compatible with the ones on my bigger comps). b) There was, supposedly, an "enhanced desktop" (aka more or less full KDE) option available, but I could not get it to work.

After a few days of griping, I ended up installing LXF's Ubuntu 8.10, and, after a short fight with the webcam, changing to the custom kernel (at this time, I installed the EasyPeasy distro, which makes it even easier), so that everything is good now.

The moral of the story is, in my view: it's OK to provide a dumbed down distro if the marketing people will swear on their mothers that that's what the average customer will be happy with, but it makes no sense to force the slightly different from average customer to jump through hoops to make a netbook a working istrument (and, since I don't need a gaming machine, my netbook does all that my bigger machines do, as far as my work is concerned -- at a fraction of the weight and size!). So, why not install a reasonably full standard distro, with the necessary drivers, and set up a dumbed down UI for those who like that, allowing others to easily open up the hidden power?

Crunchbang all the way!

Like Phil I have an Aspire One. I struggled with Fedora (sound and wifi problems) and Ubuntu (didn't seem to boot from my memory sticky but that probably wasn't a problem with ubuntu!)
but I installed Crunchbang linux and everything worked fine! Sound, flash, mp3s, divx files, wi-fi etc! The only thing I had to ask google for was how to access SMB shares but that took 5mins tops!

So, don't overlook the lesser known distros!


I played around with the xandros install for about 5 min on my eee 1000... then switched over to Easypeasy/eeeubuntu .... and got fed up with that after about a week... and have been on Cruncheee ever since ..... I won't be going back ... Openbox works flawlessly, I've become a geek for all the old school terminal apps .... THAT WORK AWESOME AND FAST, like Midnight commander file browser, MuTT e-mail client, MOC music player .... I've even been converted to some respects over to elinx --- Jacob Nielson eat your heart out...
I love Cruncheee so much that I've even thought of installing the full distro on my desktop.... er ... but then I'd have to give up kde ..... not likely ... sorry guys..


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