Canonical wants Netbook partners to open drivers for Ubuntu
Shuttleworth says that Canonical is currently collaborating with several hardware manufacturers (though he can't disclose their identities at this time) to create custom installation images that are tailored to particular mobile products. These installation images will focus on hardware-specific optimizations for increased performance, shorter boot times, and extended battery life. They will not be released to the public alongside the regular Ubuntu builds because they will contain third-party components that can't be freely redistributed (like proprietary drivers and Adobe's Flash plugin). Since the optimizations are based on very specific hardware configurations, Canonical will not be releasing a generic Netbook Remix version alongside other flavors of Ubuntu.
"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," Shuttleworth wrote. "In working with manufacturers, the OEM team creates custom install images which are specific to hardware from those OEMs."
Canonical is also making the open source components of the Netbook Remix widely available, which means that they can easily be rolled upstream or incorporated into community-driven Ubuntu derivatives like Eeebuntu. Currently, the open source components are primarily user interface enhancements that increase the usability of devices with small screens. As we demonstrated last week, these can already be added to a standard Ubuntu 8.04 installation.
Although Canonical is actively releasing the public components of the Netbook Remix under the GPL, hardware makers will obviously be the ones who decide whether to release their own drivers as open source. Shuttleworth says that Canonical strongly encourages open driver development.
"We take the strong view that drivers are best developed in the open and contributed to the mainline kernel. Western companies (Intel in particular) have embraced this approach to good effect, and we hope this leads to a measurable advantage in design wins for those companies," Shuttleworth wrote in a comment on his blog entry. "We often find, however, that some companies adopt a proprietary approach initially, then open up as they start to understand the pace of change in Linux, and with that, appreciate the real benefits to them of openness."
The revelation of OEM partnerships implies that we will likely see the Netbook Remix on upcoming subnotebook devices from mainstream hardware vendors. In light of Dell's existing relationship with Canonical, the recently unveiled mini laptop from Dell is a likely candidate for Ubuntu Netbook adoption. What we have seen so far of the software is impressive, and the final product will likely be a lot more polished than current options like the flavor of Xandros that Asus ships on the Eee.
By Ryan Paul | Published: June 10, 2008