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The Future of Portable Linux Distros 107

Posted by Soulskill
from the a-penguin-in-every-home dept.
i_want_you_to_throw_ sends in a Tech Radar piece about the various portable Linux distributions, focusing on operating systems like Android, Chrome OS, and Ubuntu Netbook Remix. The article compares the distributions designed for similar purposes and discusses where they will likely go in the future. "As UNR is built on Ubuntu, it's highly likely that we'll see almost as many UNR respins as we have for the parent distribution. We've already seen one example in Jolicloud, and we'd put money on many community distributions, such as Linux Mint or Crunchbang offering a UNR overhaul alongside their standard desktop installations. It's also likely that Canonical will be able to forge stronger relationships with companies like Dell, which is already shipping a specific version of UNR on its Mini 9 platform. As Windows XP is phased out and the cost of bundling Windows 7 rises, manufacturers will be looking for a cheap and easily maintainable netbook OS, and UNR fits the bill admirably."
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The Future of Portable Linux Distros

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  • Diversity (Score:5, Insightful)

    by clarkn0va (807617) <apt.get@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @12:10PM (#30905544) Homepage

    Long live diversity. Arguably, one of MS's greatest weaknesses right now is its lack of diversity (ARM et al). The fact that they have conceded to continue selling xp on netbooks is the major reason they haven't been shut out of the growing netbook segment entirely.

    Linux, meanwhile, is in every growing market, and although I may run only 2 or three distros personally, these benefit from the work done in dozens of other distros. The fears of a Linux monoculture are misinformed FUD, as long as Red Hat competes with Ubuntu competes with Suse, and so on.

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I hate diversity.

      For one, the market is fragmented. To work steadily, you have to be up on a bunch of technologies because if you stick to one, then there's much less work and in some cases it drops off as it becomes established. As more phones come on the market, the iPhone work is starting to drop off.

      Two, you have to have a bunch of different development tools and development environments. They also have to be kept up with.

      the actual devices for testing. I can only afford so many devices to test and deve

      • by clarkn0va (807617)

        Admittedly, I speak primarily from a consumer's perspective. My expectation, however unlikely for an independent developer such as yourself, is that if an application proves valuable on one platform, some enterprising individual or company will pick that up and port it to another platform. The onus is not on you. Obviously this ideal poses some problems for small entities working on closed projects, but it serves the consumer very well, which is why closed models, such as those currently embraced by MS and

    • The fears of a Linux monoculture are misinformed FUD, as long as Red Hat competes with Ubuntu competes with Suse, and so on.

      You do know that officially 'linux' only refers to the kernel, which is actually a monoculture, though more by choice than anything else.
      But then again, Microsoft is a monoculture by choice too.

      • Re:Diversity (Score:5, Insightful)

        by clarkn0va (807617) <apt.get@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @12:35PM (#30905968) Homepage
        My assertion holds true for Linux proper. Every major distro (heck, even countless end-users) makes its own customizations to the kernel, and many of these are adopted upstream. What Ubuntu has done for the desktop, for example, Red Hat has done for the kernel. And so forth. Even collaboration between legions of MS kernel developers can't equal this effect, because they're all mandated by the same corporate directors. Linux distros, by contrast each have their own nuanced goals and methods, hence true diversity.
    • by Rogerborg (306625) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @12:50PM (#30906192) Homepage
      You know that whenever you say "diversity", a tech support fairy dies, right?
    • Diversity may be fine, but I'd prefer it if they limited it to just a few variants for the netbooks.

      Id like to be able to learn how one netbook works, and then be able to use any of the others. If there are to many versions, this isn't likely to be the case. It would be like trying to find a specific configuration screen in the different versions of Windows. you know where it is under XP, but they've moved it in Vista, and moved it again in 7, and it may or may not exist in 98. I'd prefer niot to follow tha

      • by SQLGuru (980662)

        A big problem with Linux mainstream adoption. Your Linux is not my Linux is not his Linux. Normal users don't want an overabundance of choice. They like the fact that Windows dictates a lot of what they experience. Moving from one Windows box to another is relatively invisible. For Linux, however, everything can change.

        • by clarkn0va (807617)
          It's not without its drawbacks, but overall it's a win. Tech-types will continue to play with/create distros and forks of distros, while those with more mainstream tastes will stick to the big-name distros like Fedora and Ubuntu that happen to have bigger backing, and therefore tend to be better at distilling all this diversity down to a positive, consistent and familiar user experience.
    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by westlake (615356)

      The fact that they have conceded to continue selling xp on netbooks is the major reason they haven't been shut out of the growing netbook segment entirely.

      Just for fun, try this:

      Search Google Shopping for ARM netbook. {about 200 hits]

      Search Google Shopping for Windows 7 SE Netbook. [about 9,000 hits]

      • I don't know why parent was modded troll.

        Honestly, Windows 7 Starter works fine on Netbooks. Having personally played with one, I did not feel that it was any more sluggish than using XP on a Netbook. The only thing I have beef with are a few limitation on Win7 starter.

  • Missing ones (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gmuslera (3436) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @12:11PM (#30905558) Homepage Journal

    If well aren't so focused on netbooks, Maemo should be included. Nokia N900 looks more like a subnotebook than a cellphone.

    Some tiny, but damn fast linux mini-distros like i.e. SliTaz [slitaz.org] could be interesting to put on the mix.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @12:12PM (#30905578)

    The biggest hindrance so far has been Cloud Computing. Device manufacturers, rather than focusing on making their portables more powerful and useful on their own, have been banking on Cloud Computing to make their devices usable by offloading any strenuous processing.

    As we've seen so far, Cloud Computing is a failure in virtually all cases, especially when semi-connected portable devices are involved. The service is spotty, connectivity proves to be a major issue, and the services implemented so far have been far, far, far inferior to more traditional approaches.

    What people want is basically their desktop system, with the ability to run arbitrary applications and store the data locally, but compacted down into a portable device that can be used on the go. They don't want to host their data on some third-party servers, they don't want to use web-based applications, and they don't want to have their application selection limited by a single vendor or network operator.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Abcd1234 (188840)

      As we've seen so far, Cloud Computing is a failure in virtually all cases

      It has, has it! Huh... funny, Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, YouTube, and god knows how many other services would tend to disagree with you.

      But you're right, web-based applications are a failure "in virtually all cases".

      • by tweak13 (1171627)
        With the possible exception of Gmail, I wouldn't call any of those applications. They're just websites.
        • by Abcd1234 (188840)

          Funny, all the people sending twitter messages from their phones (Twitter being nothing more than broadcast instant messaging, which I'd call an "application") and Facebook status updates would probably tend to disagree. The dividing line between a simple website and an "application" is increasingly blurry these days.

          'course, I could list others if you want to get picky. Do Google Maps count (complete with augmented reality features) or Docs count? What about Google Reader? (You'll notice a trend, here.

        • That is funny, I would call them time wasters. Including gmail. I hate webmail!

          Get off my lawn!
    • by thenextstevejobs (1586847) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @12:54PM (#30906258)
      sometimes there are just new words for old things.

      i don't think many of us are upset about having our email 'in the cloud' for example, but what we like is being able to sync it to our phones and computers. but this universally accepted and successful(?) 'cloud' model is near universal.

      i'd say the same about my other documents. i don't mind a 'repository' of my music, documents, etc., which I access over the net, but I do want to have local copies.

      sometimes it seems to me like internet companies are trying to stockpile data so that they "can't" go away, get propped up by governments, necessity of access to information. doesn't really seem healthy.

      makes me think of highly encrypted shared clouds done on a bittorrent/TOR like model, decentralize the thing...
      • by diggum (769740)
        I disagree somewhat. we don't like "syncing." we tolerate syncing because it's the only real solution right now for having our data at our fingertips on any device anywhere. but what we WANT is all of that to just work. the cloud is a fine solution if it secure, reliable, and accessible. it certainly makes sense to have backups of your data, stored locally somewhere safe. but does anyone really want their data duplicated on every device? isn't this wasteful? i acknowledge this is dreamy, pie in the
      • by oztiks (921504)

        The problem is what could be vs what is.

        Cloud computing would be great in theory if all PCs in the world could be setup so you simply login anywhere anytime and there is your personal desktop, files, apps, etc.

        The problem being, our economical growth of the internet. The why today's internet is designed stops this from being a reality for at least another 10 years.

        Large companies, Google, Microsoft, etc all adopt the reality that one day it can be a possible but unless we are all running super fast (IP6 of

    • Cloud computing will make more sense as Internet access improves further. That means when the broadband providers and mobile phone services stop dragging their feet.

    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by PRMan (959735)
      Exactly. I put Windows 7 Ultimate on my $279 EEEPC 900 and I love it. What a great portable machine that does almost everything.
    • by jellomizer (103300) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @01:29PM (#30906796)

      As we've seen so far, Cloud Computing is a failure in virtually all cases

      Details I need details... That is just a wild accusation.

      I have seen Cloud Computing succeeding far more then it fails. As well it has opened up the gates so people on different environments can run the same application.

      People don't care if it is their desktop system. They want to run what they want and when... They really don't care if it on a server or on their computer. They want the data they are looking for, and the program to run quick enough.

      Why does cloud computing limit people to a single vender or network operator? I can use Bing Maps and Gmail...

      Oddly enough your data is safer in the cloud then in most peoples hands. Sure you can get the geeky with their own raid and offsite backups... However that isn't the real case. The cloud allows you to put your data in a place where it will have some real infrastructure behind it. And not just one drop away from being lost, and easily stolen.

      Even for me the Cloud has saved my butt more then once, The times the Cloud has failed on me was a minor inconvenience...

      Just because RMS makes a Rant about the Evil cloud. It doesn't make him right, He just likes to rant about stuff and be overall negitive about anything he didn't think of himself.

      • The cloud allows you to put your data in a place where it will have some real infrastructure behind it. And not just one drop away from being lost, and easily stolen.

        Is your data really stolen if you don't know somebody stole it from you? Being in the cloud means you cannot know what happens to your data.

        If you keep your data yourself and it is stolen from you, then you know it is stolen and you can decide to do something about it. Ditto if it is lost.

        • You are making the assumption that your data is safe on your computer.

          A delayed patch. Or a file server just sitting there when you forgot to turn back on the firewall after doing some tests. Or just a flaw in your web public web server or a back door that you think only you know about. Someone gets in downloads some stuff cleans or wipes out the data. Do you know you data has been stolen.

          Data is only valuable when you use it. If you are going to be perfectly safe were no one can steal it you probably a

          • Let's agree that expertise is needed to handle data safely/securely/etc. This expertise can be in the cloud (ie it belongs to the engineers who build and maintain the servers etc) or it can be on your computer (ie it resides in you and/or in the software you run).

            I don't think you've convincingly explained why this expertise should (ie preferably) reside in the cloud rather than in a personal computer. Surely, it is just as difficult to build a high quality piece of software that runs in the cloud as it i

            • Well it is a case your data is better of on your own system in an ideal world... But we don't live in one.

              Chances are your IT will not get the funding it deserves. You will be put on projects that distract you from maintaining a server. If you have a good cloud company their job is to make sure their systems are running have over redundant systems... All this stuff if you gave you bill to your boss he will tell you to back up on USB drives.

              Backing up from the cloud or to the cloud is a good idea

    • by farble1670 (803356) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @01:35PM (#30906886)

      "They don't want to host their data on some third-party servers,"

      yes, the average person *loves* to manage their own backups.

      i have an android phone. my pictures, music, calendar, mail, videos, and contacts are all in the cloud. it all works quite well for me.

      it's not as simple as connected or not. intelligent client apps cache data locally and sync it when there's a connection.

    • Be happy !

      Once again opensource will save the day be providing the infrastructure for doing the right thing. Doing it well, Doing it for the user.

      http://dot.kde.org/2010/01/24/kde-gears-free-cloud [kde.org]

      It will work because it is essentially there to help, and not generate a revenue stream, which implies preying on your data, on your privacy, or your goodwill.

      For the lazy, it is the KDE project for cloud computing. A platform for distribution, backup and revisionning of data and apps. Encrypted. Local as well as d

    • The biggest hindrance so far has been Cloud Computing. Device manufacturers, rather than focusing on making their portables more powerful and useful on their own, have been banking on Cloud Computing to make their devices usable by offloading any strenuous processing.

      This is quite obviously false; device makers continue to make laptops and other portable devices where power is a central focus, or at least one of several key focusses along with price and battery life. That's why there are notebooks using Cor

    • by oztiks (921504)

      Yes and No (re desktop). The corporate world is really buzzing with the word cloud. Almost every big brand has something out there and are continuing to develop rapidly to keep it going.

      People want cheap, then they get upset that the Manufacturer finds a cheaper method of production? too bad because the Manufacturer knows that even though there are draw backs ... Cheaper always wins the fight in the eyes of the masses.

      Its too soon for Cloud, but its hardly a failure.

  • From what I have seen the NBR only does some hotkey mappings, fullscreen force, and that annoying (my opinion of course) navigation thingy to get to your applications. On my eeepc 1000H I prefered to just install the full version and fix the few things wrong. Couldn't the install just run like a dmidecode and then say hey your running a netbook model blah blah blah do you want the hotkey mappings?
    • So you're complaining that UNR, Moblin & all exist and that you have to choose which distro to install?
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        So you're complaining that UNR, Moblin & all exist and that you have to choose which distro to install?

        ahh no that isn't at all what i said. what i mean is, is there really any difference between UNR and Ubuntu besides like one or two packages and a hotkey mapping. Couldn't that just be included as a prompt after the nic works to install the NBR package and the hotkey mappings based on your model that can be found using dmidecode. If i change a splash screen and add a game should i really call it another name than the distro it is? Is there really that much change in the NBR is what I am getting at?

        • ahh no that isn't at all what i said. what i mean is, is there really any difference between UNR and Ubuntu besides like one or two packages and a hotkey mapping. Couldn't that just be included as a prompt after the nic works to install the NBR package and the hotkey mappings based on your model that can be found using dmidecode. If i change a splash screen and add a game should i really call it another name than the distro it is? Is there really that much change in the NBR is what I am getting at?

          A non-tec

        • by Rennt (582550)
          NBR has less in common with Ubuntu then say, Ubuntu and Xubuntu. An engineer might say "well lets have do base install and let the user choose the environment after that" but that is EXACTLY what Canonical are trying to avoid.
  • by westlake (615356) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @01:00PM (#30906358)

    As Windows XP is phased out and the cost of bundling Windows 7 rises, manufacturers will be looking for a cheap and easily maintainable netbook OS

    Walmart.com currently stocks 125 Win 7 laptops. Fifty Win 7 desktops.*

    The retailer is looking for sales.

    Which Windows and Win 7 have proven they can deliver. Top Operating System Share Trend [hitslink.com]

    This isn't rocket science.

    The buyer sees the Win 7 Atom netbook on sale with a 10' screen and a 250 GB hard drive.

    What to fill it with?

    He has tons of Windows software at home which will load and run without a problem.

    Software he knows.

    Software he uses. Software he likes.
    _____

    * But only two netbooks in stores. That's a fast fade-out even by Walmart standards.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That's quite a netbook to have a 10-foot screen. Most of the netbooks I've seen top out at about 11".

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by LWATCDR (28044)

      What software?
      The only software that I buy these days is stuff that will not run on a netbook at all.
      Games like FSX and TurboCAD.
      Most home users tend to use web stuff, Quicken, maybe games, maybe Office but more and more people I know are going to OpenOffice because it is free.
      I am not saying that there isn't a market for Windows 7 netbooks but I think you are missing just how much software developers would love a new platform.
      Let's say that we start to see ARM+Linux netbooks start to take off. Adobe will

      • The problem though I think is advertising. Or lack of it as the case may be. If people think of Linux as a cheap alternative to Windows and don't appreciate it as a separate platform in it's own right, then most people are going to pay the slightly higher price tag for the "real thing".

    • by langelgjm (860756) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @01:41PM (#30906956) Journal

      He has tons of Windows software at home which will load and run without a problem. Software he knows. Software he uses. Software he likes.

      What Windows-only software lacks a reasonable open-source or Linux equivalent and would also be useful on a netbook?

      People seem to use netbooks to... browse the web. Maybe listen to music. Work on documents. I suppose you could argue Microsoft Office, etc. I've seen someone using Word 2007 on a netbook. It was pathetic - the ribbon takes up way too much screen real estate on a netbook. Also, I guess people are pirating Office to run on their netbooks - who in their right mind is going to spend $250 to $300 on the netbook, then turn around and throw down another $100 to $300 for Office? I guess you can get it pre-installed for less.

      Games, maybe. But any serious game isn't going to fun on a netbook, and probably won't run well anyway.

      Actually the average netbook buyer can't load their "home" software onto their netbook, because their netbook doesn't have a CD drive. They have to download it, which either means pirating Windows apps or downloading free Windows apps. And free Windows apps likely have a free Linux equivalent that is easily downloadable (or better yet installable via a package manager).

      I just wish there were some decent ARM offerings on the market - beating the Intel Atoms on battery life and price. Anyway, my point is that I really doubt the average netbook user has a bunch of Windows-only apps that are forcing them to remain with Win 7. I've installed two Win 7 machines so far, and the screen dimming every 30 seconds is enough to keep it away from my desk for good.

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by westlake (615356)

        I guess people are pirating Office to run on their netbooks - who in their right mind is going to spend $250 to $300 on the netbook, then turn around and throw down another $100 to $300 for Office?

        The geek quotes list for Office and forgets every other legitimate distribution channel known to man.

        The volume license agreement that supports Microsoft's Home User program. The $60 Ultimate Steal for anyone with student ID. Office Home sold retail boxed with a three seat license.

        What Windows-only software lacks

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by langelgjm (860756)

          The geek quotes list for Office and forgets every other legitimate distribution channel known to man.

          Not really, I mentioned you can get it pre-installed. I've been a beneficiary of MSDN-AA inter alia in the past, too. But your point was this hypothetical user has a bunch of software at home they can just load up on their netbook, not that they have to go out and buy again.

          Chances are if they have Word on their home desktop or other laptop, it's an OEM copy that came will their Dell or whatever. Not easy to load on the netbook, and the licensing is questionable. Besides, netbooks are supposed to be cheap.

          • If you use iTunes for play music, there are plenty of alternatives.

            Not if you want to use the iTunes store, and know that it will seamlessly work with all the variations of iPods, and get the benefits of being in the mainstream.

            If you have an iPhone or Touch, maybe you're right, I don't know what the status of those is.

            Which is millions of users, hardly something insignificant to ignore.

            Of course if you aleady have one, it's probably already synced to your primary machine, in which case it's not an issue.

            What primary machine?

            Any FPS on a 10" screen would suck.

            Of course. Nobody would want to do that. Instead, they would use their game console for that.

            Do people really purchase netbooks to carry around and play old games available on Steam? Seems unlikely. I see them playing Flash games.

            Bingo. The vast majority of games are console games, and casual games of various lightweight flavours, most commonly flash games on Facebook, or on the general web, or

            • by langelgjm (860756)

              What primary machine?

              How likely is it someone already owns an iPhone or (better yet) iPod Touch, but does not own a computer to which it is synced, and then goes and buys a netbook and not only intends to use that netbook as their primary machine, but intends to sync their iPhone/iPod Touch to it?

              That strikes me as farfetched. If you already have an iPhone or iPod Touch and you are looking to buy a netbook, I'd wager you already have another desktop or laptop with iTunes and your iPhone is synced and backed up with it.

              We can si

            • by Rennt (582550)

              If you use iTunes for play music, there are plenty of alternatives.

              Not if you want to use the iTunes store, and know that it will seamlessly work with all the variations of iPods, and get the benefits of being in the mainstream.

              What an odd thing to say - If you predefine your requirements for an alternative to iTunes as "must be iTunes" then you really arn't looking at alternatives are you!

              • No the requirements were to use the iTunes store, seamlessly work with all the variations of iPods, and get the benefits of being in the mainstream. If something else can do this, rock on.

                • by Rennt (582550)

                  Wut? you just did it again. Lookit -

                  Requirement #1 : use the iTunes store. Surely you should have specified access to a music store. iTunes can only be accessed by iTunes - Translation "must be iTunes"

                  Requirement #2 : seamlessly work with all the variations of *iPods*. Not media players in general? Why specify the devices set up to only work with iTunes - Translation "must be iTunes"

                  Requirement #3 : Get the benefits of being in the mainstream - I suspect what you are getting at is the acceptance that co

                  • Ah you are right .. except that Amazon music store isn't accessible to me (outside the US). Keep waiting for that :( so basically for me the only decent music store is iTunes.
                    Thanks for the thoughts.

          • Chances are if they have Word on their home desktop or other laptop, it's an OEM copy that came will their Dell or whatever. Not easy to load on the netbook, and the licensing is questionable.

            If, like many desktops, it came with a time-limited Office Home and Student demo, which most Windows (XP Home and 7 Starter and Home Premium) netbooks also come with, and they spent the money once to buy a license for Home and Student for the desktop, when they get the netbook, they probably just have to enter the lic

        • by Rennt (582550)
          This doesn't invalidate your whole post, but the GOG back catalogue works just as well for linux users. You do know those games aren't running native under Windows?
  • Ubuntu Netbook Remix is not mobile. It is mobile in name and user interface, but certainly not by its architecture. It should have all of the usual read/write bits mounted on a ramdisk so as to not use the flash drive (or hard disk) for anything. It should also have tweaked Mozilla to also use ramdisk for its temporary storage. And don't log errors anywhere. Don't load a zillion daemons. Don't load the regular kernel.
    Just be more like Damn Small Linux, Familiar, or the Eee PC and Acer Aspire One's sys

    • UNR has a GUI to make a LiveUSB (even from a LiveCD). That is pretty portable, you can even use some free space to store your user profile. And I find UNR pretty fast even when booting from flash.

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  • Right now, the majority of tablet devices use ARM processors. If this continues and M$ is creating an ARM-friendly version, linux could be the OS of choice.

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