Me and Bobby Powers have spent a few hours smoothing out the process of getting fully-featured Linux desktops to boot on the XO laptop. On the whole, OLPC developers have been pretty good at getting code upstream, so only a few fixups are needed to get things operational on the XO.
The only caveat is that you need a 4GB (or larger) SD card. The XO itself only has 1GB of storage, which is not big enough for the standard installs of the distributions that we’ve been playing with.
We’ve got Fedora 9 and Ubuntu Intrepid Alpha 3 working. Here is the process, using Fedora 9 as an example:
First, download the regular CD/DVD installation media for your distribution. For Fedora 9, you go to http://fedoraproject.org/en/get-fedora. Burn that to CD/DVD.
Next, find a regular PC that is capable of reading SD cards. We’re using a standard desktop plus a USB card reader. Boot that PC from the CD/DVD installation media that you burned earlier. Proceed through the installation as usual, but when asked where you would like to install the operating system, select the SD card.
Choose to setup the disk partitions manually. Do not do any fancy partitioning, just choose one partition that fills up the card. You don’t need to add any swap space.
Select the ext3 filesystem and choose to not install a bootloader.
Wait for installation to complete, and shut down the system.
Next, you need a PC running Linux. This can be the same PC as the one you used to install onto SD, assuming that one has Linux installed on it’s hard disk too. It doesn’t really matter which distribution, as long as you have git and regular development tools installed, and the SD card mounted at a known location.
On this PC, run the following:
# git clone git://dev.laptop.org/users/dsd/XO-alt-distro
Next, become root and run the script.
# sudo su -
# cd ~dsd/XO-alt-distro
# ./sd_fixup fedora-9 /media/disk
It will now download and compile the OLPC kernel, and perform a few other necessary tweaks to your SD card.
When the script has completed, unmount the SD card and plug it into an XO. Boot the XO, and say hello to your fully-functional Linux desktop.
In future, we plan to publish filesystem images of SD-installed distributions, so that you can avoid much of the above. To simplify further, we could also write a tool which runs on the XO which downloads said filesystem image and flashes onto SD.
Update 19/08/2008: Posted some additional notes