Nokia’s Booklet 3G hates Linux.

There will be no more testing of Linux distributions on Nokia’s new netbook. There’s no point, really, as the Booklet 3G has a fatal flaw that prevents it from running the best desktop and netbook operating systems out there.

That flaw is the Intel GMA 500 graphics chip.

How the Linux community feels about the GMA 500 can be summed up in these two posts:

And perhaps the biggest condemnation of the GMA 500 comes from its very maker; Intel’s own Moblin project doesn’t support it.

Having the GMA 500 onboard the Nokia Booklet means that it cannot run most Linux distributions in its native screen resolution of 1280×720. This includes all but one of the distros that have driven the netbook revolution to date:

And many more…

That Jolicloud works with the GMA 500 is no small feat; as I wrote yesterday it required an almost Herculean effort to make that happen. If you can get a 3G data connection with your SIM card (I couldn’t), then Jolicloud is definitely your best bet for the Booklet.

To be fair, I highly doubt that Nokia specifically sought out the awful GMA 500 for their netbook. This is but one of many cautionary tales on the dangers of outsourcing components. Company outsources chips to save money, supplier provides chips but not source code for drivers, Linux community suffers. Lather, rinse and repeat.

It’s a shame, really, because the Booklet is otherwise a great little machine. The chiclet keyboard is quite comfortable to type on, the broadband modem & HDMI port are nice extras and the mostly-aluminum body plus the glossy lid make the Booklet worthy of the same Eseries moniker reserved for Nokia’s best-built handsets. You could even make the case that the Booklet is the netbook that Apple never built.

But the inescapable truth is that the GMA 500 will forever keep this Nokia from the pantheon of revolutionary netbooks. If you’re looking for a netbook that loves Linux, the Booklet ain’t it.

7 comments:

  1. Thanks for linking to my post. It would be good, though, to also link to my many later posts about implementing support for the GMA 500. I maintain support for Fedora 11 via RPM Fusion – see my main post on this. Support is also included in Mandriva Linux 2010 (out of the box with the Powerpack or One editions, with the Free edition you have to enable the non-free repository and re-configure the video card). There are forum threads for Ubuntu, like this one. I believe support is also available in Gentoo via ebuilds. I’m not sure about other distros.

    It’s not terribly hard to implement support for any distro based on X.org server 1.6 or earlier, following the model provided by my packages or the Mandriva ones. Jolicloud’s self-congratulation about implementing support really over-egged the pudding; they did it rather later than Ubuntu’s forum crowd did for non-UNR Ubuntu, than I did for Fedora, and than Olivier Blin did for Mandriva. Contrary to the tone of their post, their implementation isn’t any better than mine or Olivier’s, we also handle the libdrm issue. So please take the Jolicloud post with something of a grain of salt. 🙂

    To my knowledge, no-one has yet successfully got the psb driver working with X.org server 1.7 or later, which is the next big hurdle. That stops it working with any Fedora version 12 or later, any Ubuntu 10.04 or later, any Mandriva 2010.1 or later – the current Fedora release, and the next releases of all other distros, pretty much.

  2. It was actually Adam McDaniel of Jolicloud who passed on the link to your post. Seems to me that he’s a fan of yours.

    My praise for Jolicloud in this case comes largely from the fact that I was able to install it on Nokia’s netbook via Wubi — I’ve been unable to boot into Linux any other way on this particular machine.

  3. sure, jolicloud’s a nice effort. It just felt a bit off for them to boast loudly about their gma500 support without acknowledging any of the work done by the ubuntu forum crowd, or olivier, or me – even after we commented on the blog post.

    I haven’t seen a 3G. doesn,t boot via USB? if not, yeah, some kind of bootloader writer is the obvious approach. You can do that with most distros, though – does it only work with jc on the 3G?

  4. The only way I can get any kind of Linux on it is via Wubi. Is there something similarly painless for a Fedora or Mandriva install via Windows?

    I should also point out that this is a loaner from Nokia, and not my own machine. I’m pretty much done with it at this point.

  5. As far as I know the only Intel chipset supporting hardware accelerated video decoding in Linux is GMA500. Given its low energy footprint and good performance, it is natural for Nokia to choose Poulsbo.

    Unfortunately there are too little results from Intel initiative as of today: http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=news_item&px=NzY2Mg

    Proper communication between GMA500 Linux contributors (like Adam), Xorg folks and maintainers of mainstream Linux distributions should help GMA500 support to land in repositories. It would be great if Nokia step in and lead the unification initiative. It is sad they hadn’t done that before. There are chances that Nokia has legal bounds by Microsoft. Hope that is not the case.

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