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New Linux Distribution, Linpus, Goes Global

Linpus Technologies is bringing this distribution, specifically designed for Asia, to the global stage with a more simplified user interface.

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It should be no surprise, then, that there is a distribution specifically targeting the Asian market. Considering how quickly that segment of the market is growing, the high level of interest in running applications on small handheld devices and price considerations, a Linux distribution that met those needs was inevitable. Enter Linpus Linux, a Fedora-based distribution developed by Taiwan-based Linpus Technologies Inc. Linpus Linux comes with full Unicode support for Chinese and Japanese.

Linpus Technologies is bringing this distribution, specifically designed for Asia, to the global stage with a more simplified user interface. Named Linpus Lite, it is designed to run on minimal hardware. The distribution runs on PCs with as little as 366MHz processors, 128 MB of memory and 512 MB of disk space. Despite the low amount of memory and disk space, Linpus Lite can run commonly used applications, such as OpenOffice.org and Mozilla Firefox (both known for their high memory requirements).

There is also a multimedia version, Linpus Media Center, which comes with DVD, MP3, WMV and other non-free codecs.

Acer Inc., Taipei, Taiwan, and San Jose, Calif., started shipping the Aspire One this summer and chose Linpus Lite to power the Linux version of its new UMPC. Because Linpus Lite targets screens as small as 4 inches x 7 inches and resolutions as low as 640 x 480 VGA, it works well on the Aspire One's limited hardware. The Acer UMPC comes with a 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor and 512 MB of memory.

Linpus Lite looks very different from other distributions. It features two modes, one for experienced Linux users and one for users new to Linux or to computers.

The default mode is the Simple mode, which is icon- and tab-based. All the applications are available as icons and grouped in tabs for Connect,Work, Fun and Files. It fits the look and feel for a UMPC and is very friendly to new users. While the Simple mode is visually different from the KDE or Gnome desktop Linux users have come to expect from their distribution of choice, the PC mode, which runs the Xfce desktop, is a bit more familiar. The switch is via the Switch Desktop icon in Simple mode. Users installing Linpus Lite on their own PCs and not using the Acer-customized version will see the KDE desktop.

Linpus Lite uses a combination of tools from Gnome and Xfce for the screen saver, window manager and desktop components. It also supports a host of communications technologies, including Wi-Fi, WiMax, Ethernet and Universal Plug and Play (UPnP).

Linpus includes support and plug-ins for Flash, MP3 and WMV by default. This was a smart move, especially for a distribution that will be installed on netbooks and aimed at novice users who may have difficulty doing it themselves. Playing AVI and MPEG-4 files requires codecs not currently built in.

Linux is known for bundling a slew of desktop applications, and while Linpus and Linpus Lite are no exception, the selection is slightly uneven. The Linpus Lite customized by Acer includes Firefox 2, an instant messaging client, an e-mail client, an RSS reader and links to Wikipedia, Google Maps and Hotmail. OpenOffice.org 2.3, a contacts and calendar application, Media Master multimedia player, Photo Master picture manager, KolourPaint paint program and a slew of casual games (Tetris, anyone?) round out the list. A search box at the top of the screen in Simple mode doubles as both desktop (for local files) and Internet search.

Installing applications is a bit tricky under Linpus Lite, but for the new user, the installed selection should be more than enough. For the experienced user, Linpus Lite uses Synaptic package manager, also found in the more mainstream Ubuntu, sponsored by Canonical Ltd., London.

For system integrators interested in delivering inexpensive small laptops to the U.S. market, Linpus Lite is a good step forward. The company is aggressively targeting system integrators who need a user-friendly Linux ready for the mass market to install on UMPCs, handheld devices and other small computers. System integrators can work with Linpus and Taiwanese PC vendors (like Quanta) to deliver these notebooks. For example, Thailand-based NorhTec Corp. Ltd. recently selected Linpus Lite to power its Gecko laptop, a mini-notebook based on a Quanta design targeting the developing country market. Linpus Technologies provides hardware support, such as ensuring sleep and suspend modes (often tricky under Linux) work on Linpus Lite PCs.

Asus offers Xandros on its Eee PC, although it can easily be replaced with Ubuntu. With Linpus Lite, Acer and other vendors now have an alternative in the distribution to pre-install on the UMPC.

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