My post yesterday about the Mandriva Mini distribution for Intel Atom-powered machines prompted a response from Adam Williamson, Community Manager for Mandriva. There, we talked more about what makes Mini a special case -- so much so that simply offering it for universal download isn't (in their eyes) a wise plan.
My big beef was that it felt like the tinkerers -- some of the best people to have on your side when releasing any piece of software tied to a given hardware profile -- were being shut out. When I noted that keeping Mini an OEM-only project for now was probably due to the hardware not being broadly available, Adam put it this way:
"It's not that the hardware isn't available yet. It's just that we can't really build Mandriva-Mini-for-everything. We have to build, say, Mandriva-Mini-for-the-Eee-904. And then that wouldn't boot on an Eee 901, probably. Let alone a Wind. Or an Aspire. Or one of those Dell things. Each of those would require its own, separate build. Just the way it works at present."
On the subject of source code: "The initialization system we're using is finit, which you can find at http://helllabs.org/finit/ (that's the personal site of Claudio Matsuoka, one of our developers). It has code. I don't know if we have the code for the other bits of Mini (like the custom launcher) up publicly anywhere yet, but they will be made available, I'm pretty sure."
Another thing I mentioned, which tinkerers would almost certainly try to do, is run Mini via hardware emulation. Adam put it this way: "We could probably build a Mandriva-Mini-for-VMware image quite easily, that would give a decent account of what Mini behaves like. This has been discussed, and it might be the way we eventually make a tester version of Mini publicly available."
Agreed. The more ways it becomes possible for people to tinker with Mini, the more traction it'll have with the folks who might end up being some of your most evangelical developers outside of the OEM circle. That's my take, anyway. It goes double for anything with Linux or open source origins, for exactly the same reasons.
So what's the option right now for people who want to run Mandriva on a netbook? Adam's answer: use the standard Mandriva version. "It's probably better to view Mini as a Mandriva customization program for OEMs," Adam said. "Mini is not in fact our main strategy for individual end users who want to run Mandriva on their already-purchased netbook. We work quite hard on the main line distribution to make it friendly to netbooks. Mandriva Linux 2008 Spring was the first mainstream netbook-friendly distribution: it was designed to support the Eee (the 701, the only model available at the time) right out of the box, with full support for all its hardware, and the Mandriva configuration tools tweaked to fit correctly into its small screen. All the other distributions are playing catch-up with us in this regard.
"We're very happy with the stock distro's netbook compatibility. The only caveat is that for more recent models - anything newer than the Eee 701 / 900 - it's best to go with a 2009 pre-release, or wait for the final release of 2009 next month, as we haven't backported all the drivers for the newer bits of hardware these use to 2008 Spring yet, so it doesn't work that well on recent Eee models, or newer netbooks from other manufacturers. So for newer machines, go with 2009."
(You can get the Spring 2009 release at http://www.mandriva.com/en/download.)