Thursday, April 22, 2010

Why I hope Intel breaks ARM in half

I've been a growing fan of the ARM platform for a while now but as time goes on my frustrations with the extremely drastic differences between ARM boards has begun to get under my skin. I've often thought to myself, "Why can't we just take an x86 machine and shrink its components to make an embedded system on a chip that walks, talks, and acts like the same old systems we're used to?"

In walks Intel to slaps me in the face with a big fat, "oh yeah ... we're totally doing that" and I love it. Its an amazing concept because I can take this SoC that will give me potentially days of battery life and run software that I've been running on my laptops, desktops, and netbooks since I've owned a computer. You know, software like the entire Fedora Distribution and all packages that might entail.

Intel recently demoed tablets and cellular telephones running on Moorestown CPUs that are claiming to be twice as fast as the current Pineview line of Atom processors as well as sporting a two to three times longer battery life. I'm a proud owner of an Asus EeePC 1001P and I'm getting about 8.5 hours of battery life on that thing with casual wifi browsing and a couple ssh sessions opened and this is all powered by an Intel Atom N450 which is a Pineview core running Fedora 13 Beta (full Gnome, etc. and it runs like a champ). With these claims of two to three times battery life, we really are approaching literally days of computing on a single charge from a processor that I can just fire up Fedora on. I like where this is going.

Lets go on a tangent for a moment, Apple has put a bid out to purchase ARM and I honestly hope they win it so they can absorb another platform just to kill it off. My hope is that Apple will win ARM, developers and distributors will not want to pay Apple/ARM prices or deal with their unreasonable developer agreements and will find comfort in Intel's Moorestown. Android and MeeGo are already supporting the Intel Moorestown line thanks to thier Linux roots and I like to think its just a matter of time before the mobile market abandons ARM all together. With the trend of tablet computers and smartbooks starting to gain some speed I think to myself, why divide ourselves as developers among multiple different ARM specs instead of having a standard target archticture that's been around for decades? But I digress.

Back on topic but keeping in mind the content of the tangent, lets think for a moment what this would mean for mobile platforms. Now, I want to start with the disclaimer that I love Free and Open Source Software but lets face it, half the internet runs on Adobe Flash. So while Adobe is beating its head against the wall trying to reinvent Flash for mobile platforms using several different abstraction models to keep the insanity of supporting all flavors of ARM from killing them entirely, Intel is quietly about to unleash the answer to their problem. To be honest, I don't care about Adobe in this respect (sorry Adobe, I just don't) but what I do care about are end users. If the end user can get a brand new Moorestown powered netbook with a day or two of battery life, double the performance of the current Intel Atom processors, and slap Fedora on there with out of the box support for everything they need as well as the option to add third party repositories for things such as Flash then I'm on board. Because in reality, the only reason x86 hasn't made it to cellular phones yet is because Intel hadn't found a way to pull off the battery life needed to do it. Now that they have, and I say we break an ARM or two.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Fedora 13 Beta - Asus EeePC 1001P

It's tax season again and I got money back, not a very large amount but enough to cover a new budget netbook. With the budget in mind and the goal of long battery life I did my research and it was clear that the Asus EeePC 1001P (160gb version) was going to be top notch for the price. This little netbook (that I'm making this blog post from) is powered by the latest Intel N450 Pineview processor which offers some attractive bits in terms of battery life and form factor since it allows for a 6 cell battery that is almost entirely flush with the body of the netbook. For under $300 (USD) it is advertised to get up to 11 hours of battery life and is showing between 8 and 9 hours of battery life in real world usage.

I ordered it off and it arrived via FedEx on my doorstep yesterday afternoon and as per the included documentation it needed to charge for 8 hours before its first use. While I don't entirely trust or believe the battery needs that much time sitting on a charger I decided to play it safe. Once that horrible waiting period was over I was finally able to get it powered up and get Fedora 13 Beta installed. I was lucky enough to guess the right BIOS key so that I could get this little guy to boot from the USB stick with Fedora 13 Beta on it before Windows 7 (that came pre-loaded on this) ever got the chance to infect my CPU and other components.

Fedora 13 Beta installation went fine, but upon reboot the wireless card was not detected at all which was discouraging as all I could find on the internet were sources of needing to use ndiswrapper to make it function. Now, Fedora being notorious for leading the way and keeping in mind that I'm running a development build I had the bright idea to plug it into an ethernet port in order to download updates that have been rolling out as the bug squashing ninjas (Read: Fedora Contributors) find and fix problems in preparation for stable release.

Downloads done, presto rebuilds done, package installs done, reboot, wifi!!!

So here I am on my brand new netbook running Fedora 13 Beta + updates with *everything* fully functional and I couldn't be happier. One last piece is to find out why gnome-shell won't run but from what I understand its a graphics card specific bit because there are lots of reports of people having it up and running on other systems which is only a minor set back as gnome-shell is only a tech preview and is under heavy development itself. All in all, I'm extremely satisfied with Fedora 13 Beta + updates as well as with my Asus EeePC 1001P. Only recommendation I'd have to anyone in the market for one of these EeePC 1001P netbooks is to test out the keyboard, its just a preference thing. I like the keyboard on this quite a bit but I know of some who aren't fans so be sure to give it a test run before sinking the cash in.

Final words: Fedora continues to kick hind parts and take names, everything on this brand new netbook is working wonderfully and I couldn't be happier. Many thanks to all those involved in making my computing experience this amazing!


Monday, April 12, 2010

Texas Linux Fest 2010

This past Saturday was the Texas Linux Fest 2010 and Fedora's very own Max Spevack was a featured presenter. The Fedora crew (Max Spevack, David Duncan, Scott Collier, Julio Villareal, and me) arrived at 8am to setup and we transformed a simple and somewhat boring table with a plain white table cloth into an interactive environment for Fedora and the community at large via an impressive event box. The event box contained all the tools needed to make our booth top notch and in my opinion a contender for "best in show."

I would also like to note that there was a Red Hat booth right next to us where Thomas Cameron and a fellow 'Hatter' named Shawn(sp?) (I never caught her last name) were stationed. I want to mention how powerful of a statement I personally felt came as the result of Red Hat and Fedora having separate booths right next to one another at an event like the TXLF because while there is a closely knit relationship between Fedora and Red Hat, the two as entities are separate. While these two are separate they are not necessarily disjoint and I think it is a powerful move to make that distinction to the Linux community who is not aware of that fact and still have the uninformed misconception of Fedora being Red Hat's development playground. I consider it important to show up standing shoulder to shoulder to represent our specific areas to the Linux community.

With that said, on to the starting line! At 9am the doors flew open at the Texas Linux Fest and the line from the registration counter was out to the parking lot. We had prime real estate and as the participants were funnelled through the entrace and were brought in through a walkway that ran right by the Fedora booth. The booth got immediate attention and the day was off with a bang, people everywhere, we were running through media quickly, the tattoos were a great success, ink pens being taken, and all the usual reactions I would expect conference goers to have to swag. The main piece of the "swag grab" that I enjoyed was that the people who would come up to the booth didn't just grab and go, they would walk up, we as Fedora Ambassadors would engage them in conversation and a few minutes would pass (or hours in a couple instances) and they would pick up a couple items from the table and continue on their way.

We had one gentleman who was having issues with his Broadcom wireless card (surprise, surprise), he was a relatively new user and I was happy to help him. We scrambled around for almost an hour trying to find a free network drop to plug his laptop into an ethernet cable to install the appropriate kernel modules from rpmfusion. Once wifi was setup and successful, the gentleman who I had been helping quickly ran to the tables of other distributions who apparently hadn't had as good of luck as I had in getting his wireless to function and said, "The Fedora guy made it work." I'd call it a victory :)

As the day went on, conversations of everything from wacom tablets to ARM Architecture strategy was discussed between Fedora Ambassadors and those in attendance of the Texas Linux Fest. We at the Fedora booth used a convertible tablet laptop that I had from work to have a hand written "running list" of topics to take away from the event as a somewhat informal way of gathering information based on what the community is interested in, what they would like to see from the Fedora Project in the future, and what they love about Fedora now. We had quite a bit of positive feedback and a few requests for the future of Fedora, I'd call this a win as well.

All in all it was a spectacular event and I look forward to next year's TXLF!

I unfortunately lack a high quality camera, but David Duncan is not bound by this limitation and has some amazing photos here.

I went ahead and exported the output of the Xournal document from the tablet writings to a pdf and it can be viewed here.

UPDATE: I got word from Thomas Cameron that Shawn's last name is Briscoe. So thank you to Shawn Briscoe for coming out and kicking hind parts along with Thomas Cameron at the Red Hat booth! (I know this is a Fedora Ambassador's report but if you're this far in my blog post then you know my opinion on the co-existence of the two groups).