Fedora Mini: A New Netbook Competitor?

Christopher Tozzi, Contributing Editor

September 22, 2009

2 Min Read
Fedora Mini: A New Netbook Competitor?

For a long time, Ubuntu was the only big-name Linux distribution with a specially tailored netbook version.  That changed recently with the announcement of Fedora Mini, which stands poised to compete with Ubuntu Netbook Remix on Linux-based netbooks and similar devices.  Here are some thoughts on what this development means for Ubuntu and Canonical’s netbook strategy, and Linux netbooks in general.

Ubuntu Netbook Remix, which officially debuted last April but has been available since mid-2008, represents an important component of Canonical’s strategy to bring Ubuntu to mainstream computer users by encouraging OEMs to adopt it on their hardware.  It’s already offered as a pre-installed option by several hardware vendors, including Dell and Toshiba, and can run on most other Atom-based netbooks.

Fedora has yet to announce any deals with OEMs, which is not surprising, since the Fedora Mini project remains nascent.  But there’s every reason to believe it could become a serious competitor with UNR when it matures.

What’s different

Beyond the obvious fact that UNR and Fedora Mini derive from fundamentally different branches of the Linux family tree–which shouldn’t matter too much to netbook users who are not geeks and don’t know or care about the difference between .deb and .rpm packages, etc.–there are other important differences between them that could affect their respective positions among OEMs and end users:

  • Fedora Mini, which supports Intel Celeron M, Via C7-M, and AMD Geode LX processors in addition to the Atom, is targeted at a broader hardware profile than UNR, which is optimized only for Atom chips.  This makes Fedora a more attractive candidate on the growing number of netbooks and other devices using alternative  low-power processors.

  • On the other hand, Fedora Mini lacks support for the Intel GMA 500 graphics chipset, used by Dell in some of its netbooks and supported by Ubuntu with proprietary drivers.  This effectively rules out Fedora as an option on some netbooks, at least for now.

  • Finally, while Fedora and Fedora Mini are tied closely to Red Hat, they remain community-based projects with no direct commercial backing or support, unlike Ubuntu, which is supported by Canonical and for which technical support can be purchased.  Fedora’s community-based status will, I think, make it a less attractive option to OEMs looking for a Linux distribution offering the reassurances of official corporate backing.

Given the differences between them, Fedora Mini and UNR may not end up competing with one another directly in any significant way–only time will tell.  Nonetheless, regardless of how this development plays out, greater attention by Linux distributions to the netbook market is a good thing that should lead to faster innovation and better interface design for all parties involved.

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About the Author(s)

Christopher Tozzi

Contributing Editor

Christopher Tozzi started covering the channel for The VAR Guy on a freelance basis in 2008, with an emphasis on open source, Linux, virtualization, SDN, containers, data storage and related topics. He also teaches history at a major university in Washington, D.C. He occasionally combines these interests by writing about the history of software. His book on this topic, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” is forthcoming with MIT Press.

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