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Installing Linux On ARM-Based Netbooks?

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the super-easy dept.

Hardware 179

An anonymous reader writes "I am sure that many other Slashdotters have noticed an increase in ARM-based netbooks over the past several months. For example, the Augen E-Go. It is a widely touted theory that it is impossible to install Linux on one of these notebooks, replacing the commonly installed Windows CE operating system. The sub-$100 netbooks carry decent specs, including 533MHz ARM processor; 128MB DDR RAM; and a 2GB Flash drive, as well as most expected netbook components (USB, Wi-Fi, etc.). I find it hard to believe that a computer with these specs is impossible to hack and install Linux to, but Google searches have been largely unsuccessful in finding proper information. Do any Slashdot readers have experience in installing ARM Linux distros to these cheap netbooks like this? If so, what distros do they recommend?" (In particular, I wonder if anyone can comment on Ubuntu on ARM.)

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This might be useful (5, Informative) (1195047) | more than 4 years ago | (#32300860)

Re:This might be useful (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32300894)

Debian GNU/Linux on ARM []

Indeed. I wouldn't recommend Ubuntu for these simply because it's designed for typical desktop machines with gigs of memory, and all the "pretty" is no good when all you've got is 128MB. But Debian with an appropriately lightweight window manager should be up to it.

Re:This might be useful (2, Informative)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301056)

I wouldn't recommend Ubuntu...

If it's good enough for the Beagleboard, it's good enough for a netbook. Also check Youtube for live demos.

Re:This might be useful (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32302498)

[quote]If it's good enough for the Beagleboard, it's good enough for a netbook. Also check Youtube for live demos.[/quote]
OK, let's put it this way: I just tried to install 10.04 on a 400MHz K6 with 160MB of RAM (and plenty of swap) and when it tried to boot the install, the only thing that appeared was a message that said the OOM killer had taken out the system logger.

Ubuntu is not a low-memory distribution.

Re:This might be useful (1)

udippel (562132) | more than 4 years ago | (#32302602)

Since you post AC, I can't give you mod points.
But your observation is fine, and important. This is a serious bug: One must not be able to install a distro into what cannot boot up.
File this bug for all of us, please!

Amazing! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32300916)

Isn't it amazing what one can find with a few seconds of doing a Google search?

I know it doesn't let you say "hey, I submitted a Slashdot story, yay for me!" but it does solve the problem a lot faster, plus it allows you a chance to be independent and forego unnecessary hand-holding, like having other people do your Google search for you because "type in the keywords you want to search for" is too hard for you and you don't see that as a problem.

Re:Amazing! (2, Insightful)

CAIMLAS (41445) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301098)

Yet, that does not actually solve the problem. If you think it does, you don't understand the problem.

These devices only have 128M of RAM. That's not much: you won't be running X terribly well, nevermind a modern desktop. And the available packages for 'lightweight' stuff is woefully unequipped for something like this.

What the OP really should be looking at is MeeGo/Moblin or Maemo - though with only 128M of RAM, they might be a bit under powered for even that.

Re:Amazing! (4, Insightful)

Larryish (1215510) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301168)

Debian with IceWM was perfectly usable on a p200 with 64 megs of RAM back in the late 90's, it should do very well on an arm533 with 128 megs of RAM.

Re:Amazing! (4, Insightful)

CAIMLAS (41445) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301476)

"Should" work?

Yeah, I've got a MobilePro 780 - it has 32MB RAM; I've got X running on it with ion3 under NetBSD. NetBSD 2.0. It barely runs - and this is an old TinyX (nanox? I can't recall) X server.

I had a P133 with 16MB of RAM, too. That ran icewm well.

The problem is that this isn't 1997, and X implementations are significantly bloated these days compared to back then. There have been a lot of changes - many have which have been acceptable improvements (memory use for performance improvements, support, etc.). Even the 'tiny' X implementations have this problem.

Re:Amazing! (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301794)

MeeGo & Qt (on which MeeGo UI is being built upon) to the rescue, eventually? Qt Embedded can run without X, via QWS [] . Maybe there won't be much of a problem with having a MeeGo variant which gets rid of X (hence also compatibility with Moblin / non-Qt software...)

Re:Amazing! (1)

Larryish (1215510) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301920)

Older versions of Debian are still available.

At least, they SHOULD be.


There, I said it.

Re:Amazing! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32302066)

I ran Debian lenny on a laptop with 32MB of RAM, about 10MB used to get X11 running, if I remember correctly. It didn't take that much tweaking (it wasn't a straightforward install, obviously). Lenny is the current stable, btw, this was about a year and a half ago.

  Maemo runs on 128MB well enough, but one really has to cut down on the multitasking, old HDDs are a problem with this, SSDs not so much.

Re:Amazing! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32301838)

"should" is a weasel-word having no place in specs or answers requiring specific information.

Re:Amazing! (2, Insightful)

CityZen (464761) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301242)

Mod parent up. The biggest limitation is the amount of RAM. Sure, 128MB may be fine for certain limited applications, but it'll be the bottleneck for any decent web browsing or any kind of multitasking. I think 256MB may be the bare minimum for comfortable web browsing, mostly based on the fact that any device I've used with only 128MB seemed to just fall a bit short of being really usable. Perhaps someone with a 192MB device (T-Mobile G1?) can chime in with their experience.

bottleneck? (2, Insightful)

reiisi (1211052) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301376)

If it's a bottleneck on Puppy or basic Debian, it's going to be a bottleneck on MSWinxxx.

The RAM is not the problem. The problem is the wetware of engineers who deliberately throw up roadblocks to using a decent OS.

Re:Amazing! (1)

Peach Rings (1782482) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301540)

Maybe if you used a browser that just renders HTML instead of running a Javascript interpreter (mega bloat), 15 addons, and an XUL based UI then you wouldn't have trouble rendering a web page with 128MB of memory.. browsers worked fine back when 64MB was decent. Install uzbl or netsurf or something.

Re:Amazing! (3, Insightful)

slartibartfastatp (613727) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301680)

Well, then you'll be stuck on static pages, and will be impossible to render and navigate through "modern" pages.

Re:Amazing! (2, Interesting)

MaxToTheMax (1389399) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301948)

I've got SeaMonkey running just fine (if a bit slowly) on almost anything besides Flash content. This is on PuppyLinux 4.0, on a Pentium 1 with 64 Mib of RAM (2 used up by integrated graphics.) Although this is an older version of SeaMonkey from before it used XUL.

NetBSD (2, Informative)

reiisi (1211052) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301298)

Or OpenBSD.

Plenty useable.

Re:Amazing! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32301318)

i have an old hp with only 128mb, installed debian, xfce desktop, and serving rails stuff.
google for the always innovating touchbook, has better specs but still arm based. had a deb distro, and other ones. If they can pull it, it's only a matter of supported hardware. Like x86 :D

Re:Amazing! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32301320)

My laptop has 128MB of ram, it runs X w/ XFCE4 just fine, you need to do a stripped down, bare minimum install however. (I'm not aware of any binary distros that offer this.)

I would recommend compiling it on a different machine with a cross compiler however, it would be downright painful to compile X on this.

Re:Amazing! (1)

ffreeloader (1105115) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301380)

You can do this with Debian. You do a minimal install, and then add the packages you need after that. It's more difficult than a default desktop installation because you need to know what is required rather than have Debian make the choices for you, but it is very possible.

Re:Amazing! (1)

CAIMLAS (41445) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301520)

I'm a Debian guy, but I should note: you can do this on RedHat/CentOS, too - though the 'minimal install' has grown substantially in recent years.

I really wish the 'minimal install' would not include such 'necessities' like snmpd and a mail daemon. I neither need nor want those security-issue packages on many installs (or want an alternative) and they're not appreciated. (BSDs are particularly prone to this nonsense. Sendmail and bind? Seriously? Can I get the machine pre-rooted?)

Re:Amazing! (2, Insightful)

CronoCloud (590650) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301588)

It comes from the "ZOMG, you want to run Linux, therefore you want to run a server/are a sysadmin/are a programmer" mindset. Of course, if they didn't include Apache, sendmail, bind, etc by default, you'd have all those programmers/sysadmins saying how Distro-foo is dumbed down for the masses.

Re:Amazing! (3, Interesting)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301612)

Take it from someone who admins RedHat/Centos boxes for a living, install debian instead.

Re:Amazing! (1)

Animal Farm Pig (1600047) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301470)

I used to run a minimal Debian install with OpenBox + fbpanel for the desktop. By not running non-essential services and careful software selection, total memory usage after booting into a GUI was only 20 MB.

Re:Amazing! (1)

slartibartfastatp (613727) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301660)

The first time I installed linux in my life, it was a 8mb 486 66MHz ( I even managed to install it in a 4mb 386 sx 25MHz - but no X as it got a CGA card) However, it took forever to run mozilla... or it was the 14,400 bps modem? =)

Re:Amazing! (3, Insightful)

Concerned Onlooker (473481) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301102)

Perhaps. But consider that if the user hadn't submitted the story there would have been other effects lost. For instance, by reading this article I found out about the E-Go, which I'd never heard of before. I also found out about Angstrom for the ARM architecture.

If we all kept as quiet as you appear to want then the spread of ideas and information might happen at a much slower pace.

Re:Amazing! (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32301736)

Perhaps. But consider that if the user hadn't submitted the story there would have been other effects lost. For instance, by reading this article I found out about the E-Go, which I'd never heard of before. I also found out about Angstrom for the ARM architecture.

If we all kept as quiet as you appear to want then the spread of ideas and information might happen at a much slower pace.

I am the AC who wrote that post that you replied to.

Thank you for taking the time to say that. Sometimes people say things that makes me reconsider my position and you Sir did me that favor today. I was hasty and didn't think about what you might call the positive externalities. Still, I think having independence and being able to find your own answers is a very important skill. It is something that separates the helpless and needlessly dependent sheep from those who have some guts and are willing to put effort into a thing before it crosses their minds to seek help. I'd rather the Ask Slashdot be more like "I did research on this topic and I found solutions X, Y, and Z but all of them involve various trade-offs. What would you the community do if faced with the same situation?"

I think that's reasonable and it shows that the inquirer is serious enough to have at least tried. Maybe they found the answers and maybe they didn't but either way it gets the community involved in a more meaningful discussion, rather than so many one-liner posts containing a link or saying obvious things like "full-blown X with a desktop environment requires more memory than that device has."

Thank you again though for providing me with real, non-inflammatory constructive feedback. It makes quite a difference. Perhaps I am too disenchanted with the sheeple who are so convinced of their own helplessness and so convinced of their inability to educate themselves using the finest information network that has ever appeared in all of history (the Internet) that these things might as well be true even though they are false. I don't know which is more worthy of blame, the public schools that teach (train) them to be this way or the people themselves for failing to question it and failing to push their own boundaries and see for themselves how real they are. Still, I should be more constructive about how I point this out and you did well by making that clear.

Re:Amazing! (1)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 4 years ago | (#32302112)

What I want to know is where one actually picks up these "sub $100" netbooks, because every time I try to find one to actually purchase it is "coming soon" or delayed. Hell I wouldn't give a shit what OS it runs if you can pick one up for $100 or less and it has Wifi.

Re:This might be useful (3, Informative)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 4 years ago | (#32300968)

And if all else fails, you can always try here [] . Only problem you'll have then might be the drivers, although in that case there still may be help for you [] .

Re:This might be useful (1)

owlman17 (871857) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301608)

Mod parent up. I've resurrected several old (Win95/98 era) PCs around the house with LFS. Only downside is you'd be compiling for dozens of hours, if not days on those rigs. Of course, you could always cross-compile from a modern PC.

Re:This might be useful (2, Insightful)

causality (777677) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301788)

And if all else fails, you can always try here [] . Only problem you'll have then might be the drivers, although in that case there still may be help for you [] .

I have been using Gentoo (and love it) for several years now. I have not actually tried LFS although I am familiar with its basic concepts. Can you advise why you would prefer LFS over Gentoo? It seems you'd be giving up the ease of long-term administration that Portage offers, and so far as I know Gentoo does support the ARM platform.

Re:This might be useful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32302730)

I used LFS for about a year before switching to Gentoo, and I've been happily running Gentoo since (~6 years).

Running LFS gave me a better sense of how my system was operating, and allowed me even more control than Gentoo's USE flags; however, the expense of having to manage dependencies myself, track software updates, find appropriate patches, etc. ate up enough of my time that I had to switch to a system that was more manageable.

Re:This might be useful (4, Informative)

CAIMLAS (41445) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301064)

Maybe; maybe not.

Back in the day (ie, when the MobilePro 780 and similar "netbooks" were about and popular with Linux hackers - maybe 8-9 years ago), there were some non-trivial limitations to booting Linux or a BSD on the devices.

The problem was that there was no way to actually boot Linux natively without chainloading from within CE. Sure, the hardware worked, but the CE ROM address was hardcoded within the "BIOS", and there was no way to circumvent it.

As a result, booting was/is a 5-minute (manual) process due to CE's boot. It's highly cumbersome.

Additionally (and possibly somewhat related), I noticed that around 2004 or so, all of the "mobile computing" or "Borg-like computing" project pages, targeted products, and the like just sort of disappeared. Stuff like the "matchbox PC" from Stanford, twiddler keyboards (think that's what they called them), IR (etc.) keyboards for Palm, et al, and misc. other peripherals became difficult to find. No new products were coming to market in that segment.

Cool project pages where people had some interesting software work for mobile computing (including novel input/output devices) just kind of stopped being updated. Kernel porting and hardware support projects (eg. Linux on the MobilePro 780/880) were abandoned. I don't get it, but I'm going to have to guess that emergence of the first widely accessible smartphones distracted these adventurous types, or the hackable geek-preferred hardware simply dried up. It's really too bad. (Maybe the economy or impending adulthood had somethign to do with it, too?)

That said, I have good news and bad news: the good news is that it looks like the "embedded" computer with a keyboard is coming back (See: Viliv S7). Unfortunately, I also suspect that x86 Intel hardware will dominate the market instead of the "cooler" ARM hardware (OMG, Mooreland is impressive). We'll see how much that matters, but I hope "not very" - and we're able to have our cake and eat it too, despite (because of?) the Intel badging.

My hope (and guess) is that we'll have decently powerful MeeGo/Moblin/Maemo powered cell phones at a reasonable price within two years or so - whether that's what the vendor shipped on them or not.

Re:This might be useful (3, Interesting)

sortius_nod (1080919) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301246)

I have to agree. I've had experience installing Linux on ARM and other "exotic" systems, they all seem to be very picky about what systems will work and what won't. You will have to boot into CE just to get it to load, and it will run like a dog.

Drivers will be your biggest hurdle if you can actually get it to run, as between models they seem to change up hardware continually.

I'd pretty much drop the idea unless you want to build it from scratch or input man hours into helping a dying ARM Linux project.

Re:This might be useful (2, Informative)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301622)

Get a Z2. It will cost 50 bucks and give you a working laptop that fits in your hand.

Re:This might be useful (1)

Shikaku (1129753) | more than 4 years ago | (#32302146)

I'm having trouble finding it. Can someone link me please?

Re:This might be useful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32302172)

Zipit Z2 []

Re:This might be useful (1)

ClosedSource (238333) | more than 4 years ago | (#32302460)

Looking at the link, it appears that this is just a text message device. It doesn't even have a browser.

Re:This might be useful (2, Informative)

the_humeister (922869) | more than 4 years ago | (#32302634)

See the wikipage [] :

processor: xscale - 319 MHz
memory: 32 MB
Also has wifi.

And it can run Debian!

trolls (2, Insightful)

reiisi (1211052) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301490)

semi-intelleigent sounding stuff that presumes INTEL has already won.

Shoot. Why not just give in to the BORG entirely?

Re:trolls (5, Insightful)

CAIMLAS (41445) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301586)

"Intel has already won"?

Let's see: you can currently buy a capable Atom based mini-ITX board with a dual core processor for under $70 - sufficient system for a small office network server, workstation, and pretty much any common task. It's got lower power use than the competitors in the same price range as well as more performance. (In fact, the Atom boards are a bit cheaper than the cheapest Via and AMD board/CPU combos - and mostly fanless.)

Now consider that the latest Atom has a TDP of 2 watts, and in-use power utilization about average for existing smartphone platforms. It might not immediately/seamlessly boot Windows 7, but I'd wager a bet that someone will figure out how to get it to work on account of it being an x86 chip. And a common Linux distro might very well be able to install without too much kludgery, too.

This is something that just a couple years ago (when Atom first came out, there about) everyone said was impossible: Intel would never have anything that would compete with ARM processors on power utilization and performance. Yet these Mooreland CPUs appear to have just as much (if not more) performance than the latest, greatest Snapdragon and the iPad's SoC. Also consider how incredibly fast Intel came to market with this CPU (vs. the much more linear progression we've seen in the ARM platforms over the past decade).

Re:trolls (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32302078)

Yeah, the Atoms are pretty amazing. We're using what is essentially an Atom-based thin client with a bit more hard drive than usual at work to run SQL Server Express and a bunch of custom code (ours and a vendor's) to do all our credit card processing in each store.

I'm not telling you who I work for, but it's a major company with around 14,000 US locations and 35,000 world-wide.

Re:trolls (2, Insightful)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32302382)

You're grealty underestimating Atom power usage and overestimating ARM one; they are typically at least an order of magnitude apart, quite often two.

Now consider that in my damn Wintel PC ( those Atom ones you mention) there is most likely more ARM cores than x86 ones; to say nothing of all the devices around me.
Heck, virtually all mobile phones are built around ARM. Even that is, at worst, around the number of all PCs in existence...but annually.

Re:Re:trolls (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32302736)

A common Linux distro DOES install, and fairly nicely, in fact. I'm typing this on an AspireOne netbook which uses an Atom CPU, and am currently running the Ubuntu Karmic netbook remix (with upgrades). What tweaking I had to do, was mainly for getting a handful of peripherals working in the way I wanted them to, but I could just as easily have managed without them altogether. Only gripe I had was that the installer had to be configured on a system running XP in order to get it bootable off of a USB thumb drive at the time. OpenSuse DID have a means of accomplishing something similar that did NOT need to set it up on a Windows box, but the process was considerably more of a hassle than my patience level could tolerate, and my prior experiences with OpenSuse, while overall rewarding, did include some real frustration regarding sound drivers during the install procedure on my desktop. I was NOT eager to endure THAT again.

Re:This might be useful (2, Informative)

imp (7585) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301934)

Back in the day, the reason that the MobilePro 780 (and friends) had severe limitations running Linux/BSD was due to the design of the hardware. WinCE was installed into mask programmable ROMs. This meant that it was impossible to replace the code at the locations the processors vectored to when doing a reset. This meant that deep sleep was impossible.

These days, the OS is held in flash memory, and can be replaced more easily. Most of the systems I've played with it has been possible to replace things. One big issue, however, is that the WinCE boot loader has a different interface to the kernel hand-off than uboot or redboot. This can be replaced, but can be harder because of protected boot blocks.... I've not reflashed the latest

Re:This might be useful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32301258)

And depending on your tastes, try here as well . Plenty of us have done gentoo installs on ARM/MIPS devices, and even if you go with debian you could still ask for some help here.

Only posted AC because the login page won't work from my desk at work here :/

Or.... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32300882)

Angstrom Linux []

Re:Or.... (1)

EkriirkE (1075937) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301200)

I second this. I'm running it on my

Re:Or.... (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301620)

Plus MeeGo is supposed to be meant for devices like these...eventually.

Android (1)

lethalp1mpslapper (238264) | more than 4 years ago | (#32300912)

Sounds like they are good candidates for Android IMHO.

Re:Android (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301438)

All things considered, those are mostly normal laptops. Android is nowhere near optimised for that usage scanario.

Re:Android (1)

lethalp1mpslapper (238264) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301848)

O RLY? [] Not to mention a few other arm based netbooks with android found via a quick google search.

Re:Android (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301924)

And those show exactly that Android is hardly optimised for them. Read their reviews.

debian (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 4 years ago | (#32300932)

I use debian on my arm raid box. Not a netbook, but similar specs (except for the keyboard and video, of course).

Why? (4, Interesting)

Bert64 (520050) | more than 4 years ago | (#32300940)

I don't even get why these arm based machines come with windows ce, that's just setting the user up for disappointment... Sure it looks like windows, but won't run any of the apps people would expect to run on it....
Linux at least doesn't create such a false impression, and has a much wider array of applications readily available for it.

Re:Why? (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301024)

I don't know why linux hasn't supplanted CE in this area; but I think that a lot of it has to do with the fact that most of the low-end ARM-based "netbooks" are pretty much the direct architectural descendants of the pocketPCs of old, just in a different case/form factor.

Re:Why? (1)

Mojo66 (1131579) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301118)

I don't know why linux hasn't supplanted CE in this area

My guess is that most manufacturers have volume deals with Microsoft that explicitly forbid them to install anything else than Windows on their hardware. In exchange they get large rebates.

Re:Why? (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301310)

The SmartQ devices tripple boot Android, Ubuntu, and Wince, so it's not that difficult to produce something cheaply that comes with different OS options... I'm quite tempted by their V5 as a replacement for my ageing Nokia 770.

Re:Why? (1)

reiisi (1211052) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301406)

I don't get why there are people here who still don't get this.

Re:Why? (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301502)

Haven't you answered yourself right there?


Why Linux? Why not NetBSD? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32300944)

NetBSD runs on my toothbrush. I'm sure it'll run on your thingamabobber.

Re:Why Linux? Why not NetBSD? (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32301190)

Contrary to what NetBSD advocates like to think, Linux actually runs on a wider variety of hardware than NetBSD does.

In the real world where things that matter happen, there's only one BSD derivative that can claim to be anything near as successful as Linux is -- and that (officially) only runs on hardware from one single manufacturer.

The trouble... (5, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#32300956)

With Linux on ARM is that ARM devices are substantially less standardized that x86s are when it comes to such niceties as the preboot/early stage of boot process.

Because of the decades-long Wintel monopoly, pretty much any x86 board(with the exception of a few oddball embedded things and OLPCs), boots in almost the same way. Worst case, the ACPI implementation is so shot that you have to boot with -noacpi in order to get the kernel up and running.

ARM devices, though, have had considerable freedom to do their own thing, so long as the vendor provided a BSP that papered over the weirdness enough to run the OS of the customer's choice(historically WinCe/VXworks, more recently this has included Linux). On the plus side, this has meant some fairly interesting capabilities in some of the bootloaders. On the minus side, this has meant a multitude of bootloaders(a few OSS, redboot, u-boot), some fairly common, and some horrid oddball crap that even Google has only heard mentioned a few times.

If you can get the kernel booted, userland is not such a big deal. Debian has had a pretty decent one for a while, and the Ubuntu guys have recently been doing some "suitable for low-rez screens" type polishing. The issue will be figuring out the bootloader. And, of course, there is absolutely no assurance that the drivers for whatever oddball devices are crammed into the cheapo SoiCs in these things exist, or work properly.

If you get to the stage of "what distro do I want", you are ahead of the game.

Re:The trouble... (3, Funny)

spazdor (902907) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301070)

Has anyone written a post-boot kernel loader for Windows CE along the lines of LOADLIN.EXE? That would save a lot of people a lot of agony.

Sure it's a kludge. Not the kludge we need, but the kludge we deserve.

Re:The trouble... (3, Informative)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301326)

Yup, that's how you ran other operating systems on a number of PDA-type devices. Unfortunately, for the same reasons outlined by the grandparent, it needs modification for each target machine and it also requires you to be able to install stuff in Wince that runs in privileged mode.

Re:The trouble... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32301404)

Re:The trouble... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32301488)

Yes, HaRET can generally boot kernels from WinCE.

Re:The trouble... (1)

imp (7585) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301962)

WinCE based boot loaders have existed for the past 10-12 years. But there's a problem with them. You can't replace the code at the reset vectors which is necessary to get the deep sleep modes working properly. You can run Linux or BSD on the box, but you'll not be able to suspend the laptop, nor will you be able to easily script the booting. If you are relying on WinCE to do the booting, you're also not able to reclaim that space in the Flash memory either.

Installing is the trick (4, Insightful)

crow (16139) | more than 4 years ago | (#32300988)

Sure, Linux runs on lots of CPUs, and would have no problem on ARM, and probably even supports all the devices on the systems in question. The trick is finding a way to install it, and that's where the hacking comes in. How does the system boot? Can you modify the boot image to install Linux? Does the BIOS (or whatever equivalent) insist on only booting digitally-signed boot images like video game consoles do? Those questions may have different answers for each device.

In most cases, I would think it shouldn't be too hard, as they aren't likely to bother with digital signatures, and they probably have some mechanism for installing an upgraded or patched operating system (for bug fixes, if nothing else). Someone has to buy one and figure out how to do it.

Maemo (3, Informative)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 4 years ago | (#32300998)

Is more a tablet or a cellphone than a netbook, but the N900 runs it, and is ARM based. And probably will be a Meego version for it too soon. Anyway, the N900 have twice that RAM, completes to 1gb counting the swap, and several times that flash on storage, you could feel a bit stretched with it.

There are also several mini linux distributions specially targetted to low ram/hardware (i.e. damn small linux), but not sure if there are ARM ports of them.

Nice hardware..... (1)

xianthax (963773) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301000)

I wouldn't bother with ubuntu on that thing, my cell phone has better hardware specs, in every category.

Re:Nice hardware..... (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301570)

It has more usable screen and keyboard?

ARMeD Slack (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32301026)

Check out Slackware on ARM

This is is a port of 12.2 packages (slackware is almost complete with 13 rc1).

Lets be honest... (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32301086)

Who honestly cares if they run Linux/Windows/Andriod/ any OS on these or not... these devices have about as much use as a 486 these days! They have f all power, the screens are crap and are basically useless...

Re:Lets be honest... (2, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301662)

You're on the wrong site. Go back to digg or where ever you should be.

Re:Lets be honest... (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301772)

While(unless your time is worth about $.30 an hour) these make lousy primary machines(and, unfortunately, due to the fact that many of them are cheap junk, they don't have compensating advantages like 15 hour battery lives, or ultralight weight), that doesn't mean they are without use.

~$80-$100 for a complete embedded system, with LCD and inputs, and a reasonable set of peripherals opens up all sorts of interesting projects, if you can get your OS of choice on there.

Re:Lets be honest... (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32302330)

And all those 486s controlling Shuttles or...Airbuses should just dissapear!

Google is part of your problem (5, Interesting)

CAIMLAS (41445) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301148)

I've already posted in this thread elsewhere, but I just thought I might add: Google is likely part of your problem (inability to find anything useful).

I've noticed lately that Google has become much less of a useful resource when looking up technical information. You're more likely to find a useful link with "stupid" queries, but any level of complexity results in two out of three being only-sorta related. It's a mess, and historically useful search formatting (quoting, -, +, etc.) no longer really help.

I really hope a better alternative comes along soon (or google releases "" or some such thing - with the old indexing). The lack of good search results (nay, worse results) has really made my life more difficult.

Re:Google is part of your problem (4, Informative)

i.r.id10t (595143) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301746)

Do you ever use or ?

Re:Google is part of your problem (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32302266)

Adding to what i.r.id10t said - how often did you use search annotations and moving results up/down when that was available? Plus in new search sidebar there's "fewer shopping sites"; that and strong position of sites which are good starting hubs of information is probably most Google can do; at least untill they have strong AI.

And, somehow, not everybody has such problems when making searches...

Re:Google is part of your problem (1)

nadaou (535365) | more than 4 years ago | (#32302640)

hear hear

Why bother? (3, Insightful)

kitserve (1607129) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301294)

Looking at the specs given by the OP, I am wondering why you would go to the trouble of installing Linux on one of these machines (other than geek cred) when you could just get a MIPS based netbook with similar specs that comes with Linux, e.g. the CnMbook. I got one for £90 last year, it's slow as hell but does the job for basic web access etc when I don't want to carry around a full sized laptop.

I might add that putting a full-featured Linux distro (e.g. replacing the basic Linux install it ships with with Debian or the like) on the CnMbook doesn't seem too plausible at the moment, there's just too much tweaking necessary, and this is a machine that ships with a Linux variant installed. Trying to put Linux on one of the ARM machines mentioned by the OP when it isn't even supported by the manufacturer seems like more pain than it's worth to me...

Use the OESF distro for the Simpad as a base (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32301446)

The Simpad is an ARM-based tablet computer made by Siemens some years back. It came with WIN CE but people have created a Linux distro called OESF that runs on it and it will run many Sharp Zaurus applications unmodified even though it has a much larger screen than a PDA.

I would expect that people would have to do some boot loader hacking similar to what was done with Simpad, but if you could get that Simpad distro booted on one of these netbooks then you will be past the biggest hurdle in making Ubuntu Netbook remix run on them.

DSL? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32301564)

No not Digital Subscriber Line! Damn Small Linux here -

(plus one informative) (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32301592)

_Is perhaps sure that 3y the

This is a generic model (1)

dermoth666 (1019892) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301602)

This is a very generic model; do you have any idea who manufactured the board inside? It appears most other WinCE laptops out here are based on that exact same board - the shell/color differs but the ports are placed exactly at the same place!

If one of them runs Linux that would likely be a good starting point, then you need to figure out a way to write the flash memory.

frist pMsot (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32301640)

This is consistent The resignati0n o0r chances

Linux on iPAQ (4, Informative)

lostdistance (1560065) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301770)

I have installed Linux on an HP iPAQ hx4700 PDA (624MHz XScale PXA270, 64Mb RAM, 128Mb flash, 480x640 screen). As others have pointed out the main problems are finding (1) a boot loader and (2) drivers for your device. In the case of the hx4700 these problems were already solved for Familiar Linux (; SDG Systems produced a boot loader and others produced the kernel patches and drivers. A more generic boot loader is HaRET (Handheld Reverse Engineering Tool), a Linux bootloader which works from the Windows CE environment. I haven't used it myself because I wiped WinCE off my iPAQ years ago. Drivers and platforms for ARM devices are being developed for the Linux kernel all the time; check out the source code under ./arch/arm. But you may not find exactly the right combination for your device. Being a kernel hacker helps! As for a Linux distro, I first used Familiar Linux. But that is no longer actively developed. So I switched to Angstrom Linux ( But that doesn't offer the latest version of the Mozilla Fennec browser. And in both cases I found the desktop environment (e.g. GPE) to be too resource hungry. So I have now rolled my own distro from the latest software sources. In particular I am using a window manager called PAWM (Puto Amo Window Manager), which is small and perfect for a device without a keyboard, and fennec-2.0a1pre built from bleeding edge sources. Yes, they do actually work in 64Mb of RAM! It does take some effort to port, configure, debug and fix the software, but it's fun to do.

MeeGo (1)

vkv.raju (1285590) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301832)

You can wait for MeeGo (Nokia's Maemo + Intel's Moblin) which is expected to get released (for the end user) in the coming quarter. It will run on both ARM and PC.

Linux on a PocketPC (1)

dido (9125) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301882)

How different then, would doing this kind of thing be from installing Linux on a PocketPC/Windows CE device such as an iPaq? Yes, that is possible [] , but it is far from straightforward. I imagine the device is significantly different from a standard PC and more like a PocketPC-based ARM handheld or smartphone, and one ought to be considering it as such. I assume that such a device will not have some Palladium [] -like trusted computing system similar to what one sees in some gaming consoles which prevents one from easily changing the OS arbitrarily, but even so, getting everything to work is likely to be a major chore.

Zaurus (1)

i621148 (728860) | more than 4 years ago | (#32301940)

I have a Sharp Zaurus and it is ARM. I think there is an open source version of it also:

Re:Zaurus (1)

ld a,b (1207022) | more than 4 years ago | (#32302116)

Better yet, just buy a Sharp Netwalker, now also in tablet form, and get Linux on ARM with better specs.
You can then spend your time trying to run Debian or a recent Ubuntu version from the SD card.

Why not? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32302326)

Why not?
I've Gentoo installed on 2G USB drive, working on any x86 system I tried to boot up. Switching to ARM should not be a problem.
The 128Mb limit should mean poor performances, depending on your way to use the computer.

Geek users can do a lot, with Linux.
Linux can be installed on very poor systems, even more strange than Augen E-Go. Have you tried to install Linux in a home router?

So, you can install Linux on such a computer and it should not be so hard.
I'm pretty sure about, considering that I didn't try... :)


Unappealing market segment for manufacturers (4, Insightful)

Angst Badger (8636) | more than 4 years ago | (#32302344)

The problem with portable computing devices -- at least the ones that aren't tied to an expensive cell plan -- is that they are such narrow margin markets that few manufacturers are interested in them. Let's say that you want a lightweight, long battery life, portable computer with a full-sized keyboard to do actual work on: word processor, spreadsheet, or for the more technically inclined, a text editor and a copy of gcc, and you don't give a shit about watching video or browsing Flash-heavy sites.

Good luck with that.

It's not that there's any technical barrier involved here. You could do all of that just fine on a 90MHz Pentium fifteen years ago, or even a 50MHz 80486 twenty years ago. Odds are that the processor and memory in a third-rate cell phone could blow those specs away. Add a real screen and a keyboard, and you've got a device that could retail under $100. Of course, that means that it would probably wholesale for around $40, and the manufacturer's profit would likely be a couple of bucks, but only for the month or two it would take every factory in Taiwan to rush out clones. And that's provided it wasn't stillborn because every clueless tech "journalist" started bitching about how you couldn't watch video or play the latest games on it. Frankly, you can't really blame the manufacturers for not wanting to jump on that wagon.

So instead, we get the overpriced toys of the netbook world which, while capable computing platforms in the abstract, are so crippled by their toy keyboards that they're basically DVD viewers with built-in web browsers. It's like the final, terrifying revenge of WebTV.

I suspect that if you want something else, you're going to have to find an otherwise suitable netbook and substantially modify the hardware yourself. Personally, I've been giving serious thought to stuffing the guts of a netbook inside of a vintage IBM Model M keyboard and building a custom cover for it.

arm ubuntu using efl (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32302650)

The reason it's hard... (4, Insightful)

tlhIngan (30335) | more than 4 years ago | (#32302754)

is because ARM systems so far are embedded systems.

PCs are easy because their behavior is very simple and effectively, hasn't changed much since the beginning. But ARMs are a dime a dozen and used in various things from lightweight controllers to cellphones. Your PC might very well have several ARM processors inside it.

As a result, every ARM system is different - the memory map is different, the interrupt controller is different between SoC vendors, peripherals are located at different spots, etc. The only real constant is that ARMs boot at 0x0, but many SoCs have boot ROMs that are mapped at that area, which load a bootloader off storage at some arbitrary memory location and jumps there. End result, on ARM, you need to build a kernel/bootloader that's specific to your hardware.

On a PC, it's pretty much a monoculture and you know where things are in physical memory space. Things are located at well known addresses. On a PC, then, it's effectively the same architecture. That's why there's so many OSes available because the basic kernel needs are all the same across every PC, ranging from low power embedded systems to super 128-core behemoths - you know where RAM starts, how the BIOS will load you and where, how the interrupt controller, timer hardware, etc., work, and how to talk to more advanced peripherals via interfaces like ACPI. Hell, about the biggest change in PCs is the slow move to EFI based firmware, but they implement a BIOS compatibility module for backwards compatibility.

Try writing a program where you don't know where you're going to be located in memory, hardware you don't know where it might be located, interrupt controllers that can change wildly, etc without requiring reconfiguration and recompilation, and it's impossible. That's the current state of ARM systems...

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