Ubuntu Netbook Remix

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Canonical is developing a 2D ARM interface based on Enlightenment Foundation Libraries for the upcoming Ubuntu 10.04 ("Lucid Lynx") version of Ubuntu Netbook Remix. In other Ubuntu news, Ubuntu Live CDs in Lucid Lynx will boot 33 percent faster, and The Linux Box will market Ubuntu.

With a lack of open source 3D graphics support on ARM devices impeding Ubuntu's use in ARM-based netbooks, Canonical turned to the Enlightment project's libraries to add visual panache to 2D interfaces. The Canonical project to use the open source Enlightenment Foundation Libraries (EFL) was announced in a blog post by in Canonical Ubuntu Mobile Developer Jamie Bennett, and then echoed by a post at the Enlightenment project. Bennett's blog post posted two examples of Ubuntu Netbook Remix (UNR) interfaces based on the EFL technology that should appear in the Lucid Lynx Ubuntu release in April.

As Bennett explains in his blog post, the ARM port of Ubuntu, which was announced in November 2008, has been stymied due to licensing issues over 3D acceleration drivers and related software. As a result, 3D Clutter-based interfaces such as those found in UNR, by way of its inclusion of Intel Atom-focused Moblin technology, are unable strut their stuff.

As Bennett (pictured at right) explains, ARM-based platforms have traditionally suffered from licensing problems with graphics drivers and free software. This limits the use of 3D graphics acceleration in the growing wave of bargain basement ARM netbooks that are especially popular in the developing world, and expected to lead to Linux dominating netbook sales in a few years, according to ABI Research.

"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," writes Bennett.

While Bennett claims that "Ubuntu runs very well on some ARM based platforms," and notes that vendors are working on the 3D problem, Canonical is in the meantime working on a more compelling 2D interface for the ARM version of UNR. "Our goal is to have Ubuntu running on any ARM based device," he adds.

To support Ubuntu Netbook Remix on non-3D-accelerated hardware, Canonical turned to the Enlightenment EFL libraries. Its new EFL-based 2D launcher can work on both ARM or x86 platforms, as well as both 2D or 3D-enabled devices, writes Bennett.

According to Bennett, the launcher is also more "theme-able" compared to UNR 9.10's Clutter UI. By modifying the "edje" declarative layout format, users can "completely change the way the UI looks." For example, the screenshot shown below is said to be based on the same code as the screen above, but uses a different theme file, writes Bennett.

As the blog on the Enlightenment project notes, EFL was first developed in 2000, and the current version "was designed based on previous experience with Imlib and Imlib2, libraries known to be quite fast." Performance is accelerated thanks in large part to the "Evas" canvas (drawing) library, which is said to be fast in both software- and hardware-accelerated environments. Thanks to Evas, EFL is said to support a variety of rendering engines, including X Render, X11, DirectFB, and OpenGL ES.

In addition, EFL's "Eet" library, used for binary, read-efficient configuration and resources file, has "boosted Canonical's Ubuntu Netbook Remix startup time," says the project. Eet in turn forms the base for the aforementioned Edje theme system used by UNR.

In November, Enlightenment announced a partnership with Samsung to work on bringing EFL technology to its consumer electronics products. The company is also "actively sponsoring development on Enlightenment and EFL," says the project, which went on to state, "The Enlightenment team is proud its products are being used more and more on embedded systems, be they e-book readers, phones, or TV's; x86, ARM, or MIPS; accelerated or non-accelerated hardware."