Canonical Ports Ubuntu on ARM Platform

Nov 18, 2008

End of last week ARM Ltd and Canonical Ltd announced that they would port Linux to the ARMv7 processor architecture. If all goes well, the two collaborating firms should provide further hardware manufacturers with the basis to develop new, energy-efficient mobile devices, especially for the popular netbooks and so-called hybrid computers.

According to their announcement, Ubuntu sponsor Canonical wants not only to customize the Linux distro for certain devices with ARM technology, but provide commercial support services. The goal is to offer a complete Ubuntu desktop distro for ARM systems with integrated graphics and video on system-on-chip (SoC) technology, with less energy expenditure. Meanwhile ARM, known for its mobile phone chips, also promises that the resulting devices will be more energy efficient, with longer up-times (up to a day) to make them virtually online continuously.

The partnership between ARM and Ubuntu is supposed to be mutually beneficial. ARM hopes for increased market share against Intel with its Atom platform, and Canonical expects opportunities not only for Linux, but hopes to expand its own distro market. The partners also believe that their work will encourage third parties to develop their mobile devices more quickly.

The ported Ubuntu desktop should run on systems with ARMv7 architecture, with a focus on the Cortex-A8 and the newer Cortex-A9 processors with multiple kernels. (A Cortex-A8 kernel is already humming along in Pandora game boxes.) Canonical's implementation seems to hark back to the Armel (ARM endian little) porting of the Debian project that, in turn, is based on the new ARM embedded ABI (ARM EABI). The developers are currently starting Ubuntu on the old ARMv5 platform and will optimize it for the corresponding ARMv7 libraries and applications in the second development phase. Meanwhile Canonical is working with manufacturers on hardware drivers for a number of ARM-based devices. The complete porting should be available officially through the usual Ubuntu distro channels in April 2009, concurrently with the next Ubuntu version 9.04.

Canonical recently gained some experience on small, energy-efficient devices with its special distro for netbooks such as the Ubuntu Netbook Remix and Mobile Internet Device (MID) Edition,

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