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Ubuntu Lucid Lynx on ARM

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What a fantastic release Ubuntu 10.04, aka Lucid Lynx was. Many, many people helped to make 10.04 rock and as some of them attend the Ubuntu Developer Summit (UDS) this week to thrash out the roadmap for Maverick Meerkat, its a good time to look back at what happened to the ARM version of Lucid this cycle.

A new user interface

One of the most obvious changes is the user interface. The ARM version of Ubuntu’s previous release, Karmic Koala, booted to the default Ubuntu desktop. For some this was fine but typically today’s ARM devices tend to be different. At present, they tend to have smaller screens, less resources and little in the way of graphics acceleration. To overcome some of these limitations in the x86 netbook world, the netbook-launcher user interface was created. Based on Clutter, netbook-launcher could not run on the ARM devices Ubuntu was targeting due to a lack of 3D acceleration. Enter netbook-launcher-efl, a 2D version of the x86 netbook interface written using EFL packages.

Read more about the 2D EFL based launcher.

netbook-launcher-efl using the older karmic theme

Faster Live CD boots

Booting a Live CD is something that most new Ubuntu users do (and many existing users too). Its often their first experience of an Ubuntu release and should give a good impression. Well, on some ARM hardware, booting this Live CD image took over 3 minutes, not exactly the impression we would hope. So investigations happened into what was causing this slowness. In the end the final boot time was reduced by around 35% on all Ubuntu Live images, not just ARM ones.

Read more about the Live CD boot time improvements.

Web Office and Web Mail integration

Open Office on a resource limited platform isn’t the greatest experience and to make matters worse, on the ARM architecture there are issues building it correctly. A new way of viewing, editing and saving office documents was needed and for the Lucid cycle a web-based solution was integrated into the desktop called webservice-office-zoho.

Read more about the web office integration.

Similarly, Evolution could be considered too heavy-weight for ARM device needs. A solution was implemented to enable integration with several online mail providers.

Read more about the web mail integration.

Optimized Tool Chain Defaults

This release includes a complete archive rebuild using more modern tool chain defaults that the latest ARM hardware can take advantage of. As of Lucid Lynx, packages are built using Thumb-2 to reduce code size and improve performance, NEON for accelerate multimedia and signal processing, and are optimized for ARMv7A based chips. Although this means that some older hardware will not work with the latest Ubuntu release it does mean that the images perform much better on modern hardware.

Other Improvements

Much bug fixing went on this cycle. The fail to build list (FTBFS), a list of packages that fail to build on a given architecture, was a focal point of activity. For the first time ever, the number of packages that failed to build on ARM from the main archive was zero (apart from libx86 which refuses to leave the build queue for ARM due to a bug), a great achievement.

The Chromium browser now works on ARM, rootstock, the tool to build ARM rootfs tarballs gained a gui frontend, we added support for the very popular OMAP platform (beagle board) and many small improvements were implemented, making this the best Ubuntu ARM release ever.

We here at Canonical are very proud of the Lucid Lynx on ARM and are extremely excited at what future releases will bring.

Written by Jamie Bennett

May 11th, 2010 at 8:53 pm

Posted in Ubuntu

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Ubuntu’s New Web Office Integration

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Why Online?

Desktop Integration with the cloud is hot news. Ubuntu One is a great example of this. Currently Ubuntu One integrates file storage, contacts and notes sync, and now you can even buy music from the online store, delivered straight to the Rythmbox media player. But for some devices, integration with the cloud isn’t just a nice feature, it completely changes the user experience (UX). Take for instance a low powered, possibly mobile/embedded system with limited processing power and memory. A cloud based service for these devices could allow resource intensive tasks to be offloaded to an online server somewhere, greatly improving the UX. One set of tasks that are used often but can put a strain on resources are related to office document editing.

Ubuntu’s Current Offerings

The standard Ubuntu image currently contains the Open Office suite. For those that do not know, Open Office is, from the website:

“OpenOffice.org 3 is the leading open-source office software suite for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more. It is available in many languages and works on all common computers.”

Open Office also has around 9 million lines of code spread over 30 thousand files, in short, its a large project. Running this on a device with limited resources is a recipe for disaster. Of course there are alternatives, Abiword and Gnumeric are examples of two applications that replicate functionality found in Open Office’s Writer and Calc respectively. There are also online services such as Google Docs and Zoho but neither of these are tightly integrated with the desktop, until now. Enter webservice-office-zoho.

Why Zoho?

First off, why Zoho and not, for instance, Google Docs. Both services offer great functionality and are very competitive but the ultimate decision came down to which suited our use case the most. What we wanted was for a user to double click on a document which would then seamlessly open ready for editing. From there the user would edit, read, and maybe even save it back to the local device. No fuss, no logging in, no other requirements, just open and get on with it. Similary, when a user launches the application on its own, we wanted the correct type of service to open ready for the user to concentrate on their document. The service that allowed us to do this was Zoho. Zoho allows the user to do all of this without ever registering or logging in. Of course you get online storage with Zoho if you do register, but if you choose not to you can still get a full featured experience.

Integrating Zoho with the Desktop

So what do you get with this new integration. Well as alluded to before you can:

  • Open, read, edit and save email document attachments.
  • Open, read, edit and save local documents.
  • Open, read, edit and save remote documents linked to with a url.
  • Launch the required application, Writer, Show or Sheet (Word Processor, Presentations, Spreadsheets) which will present the user with an empty document of that type ready to edit.
  • More functionality to come in Maverick Meerkat.

webservice-office-zoho shown here installed along side Open Office

The Future

This functionality is currently only available as default on Ubuntu’s ARM images, typically where limited hardware resources are more commonly found. But that’s not to say webservice-office-zoho can’t be used on any other Ubuntu install. As the package is in the main Ubuntu repository, a simple:

sudo apt-get install webservice-office-zoho

will install it on your Lucid based machine or if you are feeling brave, checkout the latest bazaar branch with:

bzr branch lp:webservice-office-zoho

There are lots of things planned for the future of webservice-office-zoho. If you have comments, idea’s or just want to rant, come along to the web integration UDS session this May, either in person or via online methods or just leave your thoughts here.

Written by JamieBennett

April 8th, 2010 at 1:49 pm

Posted in Linux,Ubuntu

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The New UI for ARM Based Ubuntu Devices

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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.
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Written by JamieBennett

February 15th, 2010 at 9:38 am

Ubuntu live cd’s, now 33% faster

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One of the goals for the Lucid cycle was to investigate why it took so long to boot an Ubuntu live cd session. Why is this important I hear you ask? Well the live cd is usually the first thing a potential new Ubuntu user sees. They get an Ubuntu Desktop (or other flavour) cd from their friend/colleague/random person, insert it into their machine, wait for a while and are then presented with a live session. All well and good but if your running on slower hardware, even a different architecture such as ARM, this initial slowness can be orders of magnitude more than a fast desktop/laptop. For example, the ARM images we shipped for Karmic took over 3 minutes to boot into a live desktop session.
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Written by JamieBennett

February 12th, 2010 at 2:27 am

Posted in Linux,Ubuntu

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Ubuntu Platform Sprint

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Taken from the dinning area in the Hilton Portland & Executive Tower Hotel

So its that time of year again, a great Ubuntu release was made late last year and the team is frantically trying to make the next release even better. So to facilitate this the Ubuntu platform team got together for a sprint in the most awesome city of Portland, Oregon last week. Whoever designed the city must be commended, its easy to explore, well laid out and you never get the sense that you are lost, much kudo’s to them.

Anyway, back to team business. The mobile team managed to get a metric tonne of work done (possibly more) in the 5 short days. To date we now have a new default UNR styled UI, 33% faster-to-boot live-cd images (thats across all images, not just ARM), mature and optimized (can you say Thumb2+NEON) images, the Chrome web browser on ARM, greater integration of testing and many, many, bugs squashed. All this and we are only half-way through the cycle.

ARM hardware is only just proliferating onto the market but when it becomes mainstream, we hope our hard work will make Ubuntu the default operating system. The team is working hard to make Lucid the best ever ARM optimized Linux release and we invite you, if you have hardware, to use, test, and contribute to make Linux the choice for ARM hardware.

Written by JamieBennett

February 9th, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Posted in Linux,Ubuntu

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XBMC + Acer Aspire Revo = Awesomeness

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Its not often that I get suckered into buying something based solely on the advocacy of a few people on a mailing list but when a said few people, on different lists, all recommended the XBMC + Acer Aspire Revo combination almost simultaneously, I went to investigate.

Now I’m a big media fiend, just ask my wife. We now don’t have a garage because I went and converted it into a home cinema room (8 foot screen, HD projector, 500+ films archived, DVD+Blueray+HD-DVD sources …). I hack on the Entertainer Media Center project (although its a little stale at the moment, effort really appreciated) and I’m a former user of XBMC on the first generation XBOX’s from Microsoft and now uPNP of the XBOX 360. So when someone says to me they have a £150 tiny and silent PC, running Linux and decoding HD material, I got a little credit card jumpy.

A couple of days later the Revo arrived. I was a little in two minds on whether this was a good purchase or not. I count at least 23 computers in my house so another was probably not a good idea but none-the-less, I justified it as a replacement for the excellent but slow Viglen MPC-L which, coupled with many USB disks, was a great file server. The first thing I did was install Ubuntu Karmic Koala. Out of the box it worked great (no surprise there ;)). Install the Nvidia drivers, tweak the screen resolution for my plasma TV, install XBMC and away we go. One tweak every media concerned individual must do on this device is to disable compiz. For some reason, on full screen playback, compiz causes video tearing. It took me a little while to figure this out and I don’t mind admitting that I was initially disappointed to see video playback on this machine (when compiz was enabled) but my god did things change.

I enabled my old Windows Media Center remote, added all my video sources to XBMC, tweaked the interface a little and now, all I can say is WOW. The Revo+XBMC combo ranks up there with the best of my purchases. The interface is wonderful; the little things like showing you the actual time a video you are watching is going to end, the UI which puts every set-top-box maker to shame and the shear extensibility of the thing is immense. I won’t even mention that this is running Ubuntu, doing my work-related backups, downloading (legal) torrents, running scripts, mail, and a whole host of other services, and drawing a trickle of power.

If your considering replacing a uPNP enabled XBOX (which I did) or PS3, getting rid of your aging server or just wanting a great media experience, I whole-heartedly recommend this combination.

Written by JamieBennett

December 20th, 2009 at 10:49 pm

Posted in Ubuntu,Uncategorized

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The future of Linux for the mass market?

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There was a little uproar in the open source community here in the UK when the BBC covered the Windows 7 launch. It was rightly pointed out that Apple didn’t get any coverage for Snow Leopard and Linux in general never really gets a shout at all so what’s going on?

Well in the interests of fairness one Canonical employee decided to send the reporter a netbook with a copy of Karmic (the next Ubuntu release) on it.
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Written by JamieBennett

October 26th, 2009 at 10:29 pm

Posted in Linux,Maemo

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Testing Ubuntu Netbook Remix in a Virtual Machine

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So you want to help test the Ubuntu distribution that is customised specifically for netbooks but don’t have a netbook to test it on? That’s not a problem. What you need is a virtual machine and an Ubuntu Netbook Remix (UNR) image.

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Written by Jamie Bennett

September 25th, 2009 at 12:40 pm

New Development Machine

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Recently I decided to build a new PC which was to become my main development machine. Before I started looking at the price and performance of all the major parts I had a good idea what I wanted, fast CPU, lots of RAM, fairly large hard drive e.t.c. but what I ended up with wasn’t exactly what I first imagined.

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Written by Jamie Bennett

September 23rd, 2009 at 1:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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New Ventures Ahead

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As a follow-up to my work related post about me losing my job to the economic crisis, I though it would be only fitting to announce my new role, that of Ubuntu Mobile Developer for Canonical. I’m really looking forward to working with a hugely talented team and helping Ubuntu continue to be the first choice OS for Linux based machines.

Written by Jamie Bennett

September 15th, 2009 at 8:15 pm