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Tuesday·20·January·2009

First experiences with Debian on the OpenMoko FreeRunner //at 00:40 //by abe

from the DIY dept.

I ogled with an OpenMoko FreeRunner since Harald König (of X.org fame)’s OpenMoko talk at LinuxDay.at last year. I knew that a team around Luca Capello and Joachim Breitner managed to get Debian running on it.

So when Venty told me that harzi wants to sell his nearly unused FreeRunner, I couldn’t resist and bought it just a few days later.

I played around a little bit with the two distributions which were already installed, AFAIK the original 2007.2 and a version of Qtopia. Called Venty with the Qtopia to prove him that you indeed can make phone calls with this phone, but he wasn’t pleased by the echo he heard of his own voice.

Since the included 512 MB microSD card surely is too small for a large Debian installation, I bought an additional 8 GB microSDHC card at digitec and then installed Debian on it.

The installation mostly went smooth: Partitioning threw a timeout error which didn’t cause any further harm than aborting once. A bigger problem was that the hint that you need to update the U-Boot bootloader itself and not only its configuration (called environement) to get it booting from ext2 partitions. lindi (Timo Lindfors) on #openmoko-debian (on Freenode) was of great help spotting the small details hidden in continuous text.

After having Debian booting I installed all software I wanted to play around on a mobile phone including a bunch of web browsers. But since I ran into a bug which occurs after a non-deterministic amount of data is written to a big microSD card, I quickly got annoyed by the fact that I had to wait for the 8 GB fsck each time this bug was triggered.

So I converted the root file system to ext3 by adding a journal. But whatever I did (reinstalling U-Boot, the U-Boot environement, regenerating the U-Boot environement from scratch, trying to load it as ext2 again, etc.) I didn’t get it to work anymore.

On #openmoko on Freenode, PaulFertser was trying to convince me that Qi is the better choice of a bootloader. Although its description didn’t appeal to me at all, I understand that U-Boot seems a maintainability hell and that a more simplicistic approach can have its advantages. But there was feature listed on the Qi wiki page which made me try it: explicit ext3 support.

After creating the appropriate configuration files and symbolic links in /boot/boot and flashing Qi over the U-Boot in the NAND flash, Debian booted again without problems and with a journaling file system. :-)

In the meantime I found a setup which suites my tastes:

  • Matchbox stays my window manager, but I enabled the cursor which is very useful if you want to remote control you OpenMoko with synergy. I installed unclutter to automatically hide the cursor after a few seconds, so I see it when it moves, but it goes out of the way when not needed.
  • Like on my EeePC, I replaced trayer with lxpanel, because it also provides access to the Debian menu system.
  • The best compromise in rendering quality and resource usage is still NetSurf. So that’s my browser on the OpenMoko.

Next step will be to move daily usage from root to an unprivileged user.

As soon as that’s done, I’ll try to get Tablet Amora aka Tamora working on the OpenMoko, too. Currently it only runs on Nokia’s Linux based internet tablets (N800, N810, etc.).

Update, 17:54

To answer Joachim’s question in the comment: I don’t plan to use it as daily phone, but it may replace my old Nokia 6310i where currently my German mobile phone SIM card resides in. Use it mainly to have a cheap way to make phone calls inside Germany.

Comments

Re: First experiences with Debian on the OpenMoko FreeRunner

Posted by: Joachim Breitner
Website: mailto:mail@joachim-breitner.de
Time: Mon, 19 Jan 2009 17:37

Great to see another Debian user.

If you want to closer follow what the pkg-fso team is up to, join http://lists.alioth.debian.org/mailman/listinfo/pkg-fso-maint, and more discussion is on http://lists.linuxtogo.org/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/smartphones-userland (OpenMoko world is a mailing list hell...).

Do you actaully plan to use it as your daily phone?

Reply

Re: First experiences with Debian on the OpenMoko FreeRunner

Posted by: Marcus Bauer
Website: http://www.tangogps.org/
Time: Mon, 19 Jan 2009 22:27

You can quite quickly kill your uSD card with ext3. AFAIK there is no hardware wear leveling for the flash slot and 100.000 journal writes can happen in a matter of days...

Btw, you may have a look into hackable1.org - it is a full Debian build environment already installed and comes with the GTK applications (dunno what your personal prefs are).

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This is the blog or weblog of Axel Stefan Beckert (aka abe or XTaran) who thought, he would never start blogging... (He also once thought, that there is no reason to switch to this new ugly Netscape thing because Mosaïc works fine. That was about 1996.) Well, times change...

He was born 1975 at Villingen-Schwenningen, made his Abitur at Schwäbisch Hall, studied Computer Science with minor Biology at University of Saarland at Saarbrücken (Germany) and now lives in Zürich (Switzerland), working at the IT Support Group (ISG) of the Departement of Physics at ETH Zurich.

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