ARM based platforms traditionally have a problem with graphics drivers and free software. Encumbered by licensing issues, many platforms only ship with 2D based drivers whilst the 3D driver-enabled offerings only frequent the poshest of circles such as Nokia’s N900. There are exceptions, but its a painful reality at the moment.
Vendors are trying to work around it, especially as there is the expectation of a ramp-up in the availability of ARM based hardware. Super long-life netbooks, low powered touch based computers, and even a flurry of smaller embedded devices are forecast to hit the market this year, many of which will be based on the Linux operating system. Ubuntu would be a great match for this.
Ubuntu and ARM
Ubuntu runs very well on some ARM based platforms and there is a sustained effort to make it work more ubiquitously across many more. To that end our goal is to have Ubuntu running on any ARM based device (as long as there is hardware available). A lofty goal but one which we would like to see happen.
So what can we do about the 3D graphics licensing issue? Legally not very much. The companies that own the IP (Intellectual Property) rights to these drivers often want large licensing fees for their technology. This is a model for single product lines (take the Nokia N900 for instance) but for Ubuntu where we are targeting a more broad approach, this isn’t ideal.
So when you buy your new, ARM based netbook that has an obscene amount of battery life and you just want to install the 3D clutter based, wonderfully rich UI that Ubuntu Netbook Edition offers, what do you do?
Well Ubuntu recognizes this problem and as part of the Lucid Lynx release there is an effort to bring a similarly wonderfully rich UI to non-3D-accelerated hardware.
The new 2D EFL based Launcher
Above you can see the default UI for Ubuntu’s ARM based releases starting from Lucid (10.04). It’s a direct clone of the UI found in the 9.10 Karmic release on i386 although this one is based on EFL (Enlightenment Foundation Libraries) meaning that its fast on non-accelerated platforms. If there is 3D hardware available it can use that but it works perfectly fine without.
Another great thing about the 2D launcher is that isn’t not restricted to ARM hardware only, in fact if you have Lucid installed now, getting the launcher couldn’t be simpler. At the command prompt just type the following (make sure you have the universe repository enabled):
sudo apt-get install netbook-launcher-efl
and voila, your UI switches to the new launcher. Of course a simple:
sudo apt-get remove netbook-launcher-efl
will remove it if you decide its not what you want.
Beyond Netbook Launcher
Theme files use the edje declarative layout format. By changing this file you can completely change the way the UI looks. For example, see the alternate UI screenshot above, both are based on the same code, the only difference is that they have a different theme file.
So if you have ARM based hardware but no 3D acceleration, fear not, you can get the same great user experience that your i386 cousins have in Ubuntu Netbook Remix.