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Ubuntu ported to a PDA

May 7, 2008 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 25 views

Ubuntu Linux 7.04 is now available for Sharp's Zaurus PDAs. The 0.1 release comes with a minimalist filesystem that can be launched in an emulator, enhanced with software from the vast Ubuntu archives, and then flashed onto a real Zaurus.

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The Zaurus Ubuntu project was created by “Omegamoon,” a hacker who has previously worked on ports of Fedora Linux and Google's Android phone stack to the Sharp Zaurus. He suggests first trying the distro out in the free QEMU emulator, where configuration and tweaking is easier than on real hardware. Once customizations have been completed, it can be installed on Zaurus PDAs such as the SL-C3100, he says.

The project was inspired by Nokia's Handheld Mojo project, which is porting Ubuntu to the ARM architecture. In a presentation delivered at CELF's recent Embedded Linux Conference, Mojo project leader Andrew Christian noted that while Nokia's Maemo project has packaged 500-600 Linux binaries, Ubuntu packages upwards of 12,000. Therefore, porting Ubuntu to ARM and thence to the Zaurus should make for greater software versatility.

In creating his root filesystem for the Sharp Zaurus, Omegamoon drew pre-built binaries from the ARMv5EL (ARM9) branch of Mojo Project's Frisky Firedrake tree. Built by natively compiling source packages from Ubuntu's Feisty Fawn (7.04) distribution, Mojo's Frisky tree also offers an ARMv6EL-VFP or ARM11 branch. Additionally, Mojo has produced a “Grumpy Griffin” build based on Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon (7.10), with a Hasty Hippogriff build derived from Hardy Heron planned but not yet underway. More about Nokia's Mojo project can be found in our previous coverage, here.

For the kernel, Omegamoon appears to have tapped Debian for a pre-built “versatile” ARM kernel image based on 2.6.24. For a bootloader, he cleverly re-purposed installation files and procedures originally devised for running Google's Linux- and Java-based Android phone stack on the Zaurus.

The initial 0.1 Ubuntu Zaurus distribution aims to be fairly minimalist, letting the user choose what software to install. Weighing it about 80MB (compressed), the root filesystem download comes with the X Window System, but lets the user choose which window manager to install (IceWM or Enlightenment E17 are recommended). Omegamoon suggests running the distro under QEMU initially, using a bootp server to set up networking, rather than configuring a network bridge device. Then, the user can use apt-get install foo to fold in their window manager of choice, and additional software from the vast Handhelds Mojo pool. The modified filesystem can then be packaged up for use on actual Zaurus hardware, using instructions provided.

Omegamoon emphasizes the early 0.1 nature of the distribution. Early users should expect to encounter interesting puzzles and challenges. He comments, “There's a lot left to tweak of course, but a full-blown Ubuntu is on it's way.”

He adds, “This is really cool, having the same OS running on my desktop and on the much smaller Zaurus. This proves that the Zaurus is the ultimate mini-laptop.”

In an earlier project, Omegamoon created a “werewolf” Zaurus root filesystem image, also using a Debian “versatile” kernel. Directions for installing Ubuntu, Fedora, or Android on the Zaurus can be found on his blog, here. The initial 0.1 downloads are generously hosted by the UK-based project.

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