Notes from LNLs Todd Weaver Interview

On Episode 57 (published Feb. 19th, 2019) of the Late Night Linux podcast Purism CEO Todd Weaver was interviewed by podcast host Joe Ressington. Below is a brief summary in bullet points:

  • Generally Purism is doing “extremely well”: Year over year triple digit growth rates, overall community support and achievements are great.
  • Laptops: Coreboot, neutered Management Engine, security story is great
    • Soon Pureboot (Coreboot + Heads + TPM + Librem Key) will be announced: Tamper evident systems.
  • Librem 5 hardware
    • “Shipping hardware is hard”
    • CPU issue ended up moving the Phone to Q2, mayor update soon
    • after development kit shipments interest went up, flood of orders
    • dev kit problems: Screen not working, neither does HDMI out
    • point of development kit: get developers work on hardware close to actual hardware, phosh speed, core applications need to be improved and will be, “one time programming” necessary to get screens to work, as SoC can’t send initialization code to the screen (NXP i.MX8M buffer to small, silicon bug?). Every developer kit screen will be enabled by software work with NXP or sending out One Time Programming kits.
    • “dev kit size enormous”: Dev Kit is a break out board for the SoM which has all the most complex parts of the system, SoM is small and right for phone size. Phone is going to be about 14mm thick (or so), similar to kind of iPhone 4 original thickness
    • Massive heat sink on dev kit, fan on postmarketOS photo, how will this be cooled in the phone? Errata against CPU; no power management early on; initial temperature 90°, now by software improvements down to 34°, more optimizations coming like idle state
    • iMX8 not designed to be in a phone. Snapdragon would be clearly designed to be in a phone. iMX8 has a pretty high power draw. is more for mains connected devices. True. But: There are no mobile chips that offer “complete freedoms”. i.MX6 and i.MX8M are helping with freedoms, i.MX8M will be dropping to 14nm in 2019, so power consumption will improve with a later hardware revision. Good roadmap. i.MX8M vs. i.MX8Mini: GPU differences, …
    • Target for idle battery life: One work day battery life. Confident it will be reachable for phone ship date.
    • When will the phone ship? Q2 or Q3 (1th of April to 30th of September), everything is marching forward, big problem was the silicon bug, created delay in fabrication, but software stack development progressed very nicely.
  • Librem 5 software
    • Software store: Going remarkably well. Easy way for people to recognize what applications are available and does it respect me as an individual.
    • How many apps are going to be phone optimized at launch? Campaign promised 5 apps for typical tasks: Phone call, Browser, e mail, messaging. But: Libhandy is in GTK proper, porting an application over just means changing a few classes. Music player, settings application, contacts incoming. Even some game developers started development. People want to be part of the ecosystem.
    • In house development of apps vs. community efforts: Focus on initial 5 internally (80 % Purism, 20 % community), Fractal (Matrix client) funded development, some applications are going to be entirely written by the community.
    • Community ports: Some working, …, as dev kits got shipped to early backers first and then to partnerships. Plasma Mobile is advancing, UBports will receive dev kits soon.
    • Android: No interest in Android backup plan, fine with people working on it. The mission for Purism is to solve the long term problem of having a phone that respects people.
  • Twitter questions:
    • App store: Elementary OS-style “pay what you want” thing? Yes, talked to them. Want to have a curated set of applications with options of donating to the developer, a pay the developer process, a subscription process or straight up gratis. Working on it, is going to be part of the Purism store.
    • Number of developers working on Pure OS mobile: Close to 20.
    • Will Signal be supported? Community folks are working on the APIs to have Signal work. Purism have connections with signal, of all the applications out there it is the most likely one to be included by default and meet the criteria Purism have.
    • Different Mobile hardware? It’s going to be i.MX8 going forward, next silicon version will lead to 2nd gen Librem 5. Qualcomm or Mediatek are not on the table for the near future.
    • Other devices: Lot’s of other things on the table. Services coming, version 5 of Laptops.
    • Ethical subscription services: Purism will be launching a bundle of services based on decentralized services under on simple account. Free and paid tier. VPN, E-mail, chat, video and voice calling, social media, all in one. Virtual phone numbers, cloud storage. Convenient, but also completely respecting user freedoms. Will launch before the phone, services have been used before internally, will be scaled up for external users. Cross plattform, Android, iOS, desktop platforms. Federated, so people can run their own.
    • MIPS or RISC-V? Testing RISC-V, following very closely. Within a couple of years Purism will have some kind of a RISC-V product, maybe a router, as the platform moves along.
    • Still working without VC money? Yes. Have completely avoided VCs and will continue to do so.

Qi Hardware – a new approach to open design hardware

While Openmoko is still some kind of starving and one doesn´ t hear much about what they´ re doing – I guess they are just working on getting Project B – which is about to save the company – ready at minimal ressources – some layed off Openmoko employees started some new company which is about to offer copyleft hardware designed to run opensource software. This company is called Qi Hardware, is based in San Francisco, California, R&D takes or will take place in Taiwan, while manufacturing is done in China – and of course this company will try to offer their products worldwide.

The first device announced and soon to be delivered (this fall) will be called the Ben NanoNote™, and well, when I saw the specs I was more than dissapointed. A weirdo Ingenic XBurst (MIPS+ X ;) ) SoC (like in these cheapo EeePC knockoffs like the Letux 400, with as far as I know not that good Linux Support) and just 32MB of Ram, which isn´ t much these times, a 3” but only QVGA display, no WiFi, no GSM, not even Bluetooth – Ok, there are some ways to use such hardware, e.g. as an OpenSource Media player using software like Rockbox (which I liked a lot on my old EZX phones now sold or broken) or as an offline Wikipedia gadget – but besides this are all things I already have devices for, the plan of Qi Hardware is to supply these devices with a plain Linux kernel and nothing else, and to do a slow, but noticable development, listening to community wishes.
And as the hardware turns out rather weak right now, some even calling it “vintage hardware” while it is meant to be copyleft hardware, there are lots of wishes, and guess what people want that device to be: more powerful (with a newer Ingenic SoC (though some would rather prefer some fast ARM SoC (e.g. TI OMAP 3) and plenty of RAM), a higher resolution display, WiFi or even more connectivity options and of course, USB Host (I personally would add a touchscreen or at least some kind of touchpoint or touchpad to control a mouse). And yes, I believe that adding hardware in some way, or offering a modular approach to do so (I´d prefer a second SD slot (at best non-µSD), being SDIO compatible and USB Host mode for now) is something they have to offer as Open Design Hardware will make people ask for easy ways to add some stuff to the basic package they´ve purchased – and on the other hand in times where cloud computing is a big term in the industry and thus gets more and more into the head of the customers “no connectivity” is a “no go”.
But let me get back to what i see now, as I kind of like the hardware of the Ben NanoNote™, as it is a minimalistic approach and has a keyboard (as a writer addicted to gadgets I love small things with hardware keyboards, and concerning the Bens keyboard the only thing I worry about is the small space key). What I also like is the decision of Qi Hardware just to offer a kernel on the software side – if they manage to grow a community, devices might be shipped by resellers with some kind of distribution rather soon, ready for end users – but after all that bad experience with software development (== building a distribution) at Openmoko, this seems to be a wise decision.

What we will have to see is how Qi Hardware will be able to fullfill the hardware feature demands of the community – there are many people around that care more about hardware features than about openess, and hey, this being a world where selling more is certainly better, Qi Hardware should try to get the attention of some of these girls and guys, too, as money is needed to survive.
I certainly like the approach of Qi Hardware and wish them all the best and i am excited how things will go on…

Make sure to read the article on Qi Hardware as well..

First impressions of OpenMoko Neo FreeRunner

Recently I bought a defected FreeRunner from eBay, the articles description just said, that it had stopped starting up some days ago. I wouldn’t have bought it, if it wouldn’t have been quite cheap: I won the auction and had to pay ~53 euros including shipping – I had seen another defected FreeRunner with a similar defect pricing far higher in the end.

I was (of course) curious to get it. When it arrived one day after my G1, i had to take it out of its box immidiately. Well: Turned out that it really didn’t start. So I connected it to the wallcharger, in order to charge the battery. Didn’t start, still. Finally, I wired one of my Motorola batterys to it, and guess what: I got a weird looking image on the screen.

So I thought: Maybe something happened while flashing the device and flashing failed. I asked for help at #openmoko on freenode, and i was told to try to enter the NOR bootloader. So I pressed and held the AUX button before the Powerbutton, but: From that what I saw on the screen, i had to consider, that even the NOR flash bootloader was broken: A debug board needed.

The next morning i decided to open the upper part of the FreeRunner, just to have a look at the JTAG connector. And what did I see? The AUX button was broken. Well, actually it still is, as I don’t have a soldering iron – but i will have one pretty soon.

Last night I’ve then been playing with my FreeRunner, had a look at an older version of QTopia/QT Extended (which was actually installed on flash), played with SHR unstable, FSO stable and Android (one build from panicking, and now the koolu beta3).

I will write more about my experiences with these distributions soon – currently I don’t have the time to do so.

(The real reason for this post is to show my happiness that I was able to find the (and maybe solve) problem.)

ANDROID, igeekmod R2 status and new plans

This blog was really quiet lately, i have to apologize for that. I am still not at home (and without unlimited broadband internet access, which is the reason why I am writing this unsing my HTC Universal (WinMob6.1, Opera 9.5 Beta)).

Android is getting ready and the first Android device, the T-Nobile G1 (aka HTC Dream) will be on sale in the US on tuesday (if I am wrong, sorry, I can’ t do extensive (and expensive) MultiTabbing on this device) for 199$ and a two year contract. unforunately it will take some time until the device will appear on the european markets: They say it is due to translation is needed, but the fact that T-Mobile is exclusively selling the iPhone (3G) here in Germany, they don’ t have this huge need for an internet device.. ;)
Today the Open Handset Alliance released the ANDROID 1.0 SDK (unfortunately i won’t be able to test it right now and they say that ANDROID will be opensourced later this year.„

Considering the T-Mobile G1, I have to say that I am not too impressed – HTC has better hardware in its product portfolio (e.g. the Touch Pro). The G1 is marketed (and it’s no problem to discover that) an iPhone concurrent – it has similar specs; but a keyboard (I love Qwertz/qwerty keyboards on small devices) and no 3,5mm headphone jack – which is not too bad – but it is always nicer to have one, exspecially if your phone has a music store on it .

These are my first thoughts regarding the G1, if you wnat to know more about ANDROID, get yourself the SDK and read some reviews – I am pretty sure that there will be tons of reviews soon. And if you’ve got a Motorola EZX cellphone or an other phone on which you can try out ANDROID (I am pretty sure that there some people working on inofficial ANDROID builds for several phones right know).

EZX is the keyword to start talking about A910 igeekmod R2 status: No news at all. I didn’t find the time to work on it yet – and it is not too probable, that i’ll find much time to do so, soon.
But I promise to create one more release, with igeekmod R1’s speed (the unbranded R58 is dead slow), easy to set up VoIP (might be an ugly hack) and newer SHOWQ binarys – I can’t promise more, as every additional feature will take nore and more time.

As I won’t have that much time the next time, I won’t blog that much – and I’ll need a good PIM solution – that just works. I don’t like Windows Mobile – but seems to be a stable and easy to use platform (though it’s interface contains huge usability flaws and is inconsistant). But as the Universal has a good size for couchpotato surfing, but not to carry it in trousers pockets, I might need a new piece of hardware – I had a look at QWERTY-Smartphones and PocketPCs, and the one I actually liked best (beside HTCs Touch Pro, which is way to expensive for me) is the Sansung SGH-i780, which isn’t too small but pretty thin and features good performance and battery life. Some of you may say: uarghs, Windows Mobile (and I can understand that), but I don’t like Symbian, Palm OS/Garnet is nice but somewhat outdated, Openmoko/QTopia aren’t ready (and Neo Freerunner has no hardware keyboard) yet (and aren’t that extensible Windows Mobile is. Maybe there will be a Linux for this Samsung one day, e.g. ANDROID.

That’s it for now …

All this little stuff – a very personal roundup

Though there is more “little stuff” available in this world, I just want to talk about the different kinds of mobile devices – PDA(-Phone)s, MIDs, UMPCs, Netbooks – to name them (you may think I forgot about smartphones, but the internet experience on non-touchscreen devices is (or at least should be) much different from the others).

First of all, there are huge differences concerning size and display size; while PDA-Phones like the ones HTC manufactures have touchscreens from 2,8”-3,5” (usually), UMPCs (UMPCs are “Microsoft-defined”) are bigger, feature x86 hardware and 5-7” touchscreens, MIDs (Intel) are much like that, but built for a good internet experience and Intel wants them to run Linux (besides these Intel(and other x86)-based devices I would add devices like Nokia N8x0 series, which are ARM-based, but do pretty much the same), Netbooks (Intel, again) which are small and cheap laptop like devices (the most popular one ATM is the Asus eeePC) with screens from 7”-10”. I would like to add non-intel x86 devices (mostly VIA) and other, not yet available devices which are based on other (e.g. MIPS64) architectures.

As you can see, these devices are different, but there are huge similaritys and as time goes on, things might become even closer, as Intel announced to bring x86 to smartphones, while ARM/nVIDIA powered devices are about to enter the MID-market (it´s sad that nVIDIA seems to prefer Windows Mobile as OS, and besides that nVIDIA has plans to build devices in cooperation with VIAs Nano CPU to defeat Atom). And we shouldn´t believe that AMD is dead yet..

Now how to devide this devices? As a business student I would first say price, and somehow this isn´t the worst idea. There are rather expensive devices like UMPCs, MIDs and some PDAPhones and cheaper devices like old and low-end PDAs and Netbooks.

These devices are all mobile devices, and this means you can devide them again by weight and the time they stay usable without forcing the use to recharge their batterys – in general we can say that real (especially ARM-based) MIDs and PDA-Phones last much longer than Netbooks and UMPCs (especially than those running Vista ;) ). I think dividing these into devices that feature GSM/3G is unnecessary, as you can add this to the most devices out there via USB, though I think that the devices that have this feature and maybe even the feature to use them as “some kind of mobile phones” are much more attractive as you won´t find an open Wireless LAN everywhere.

Up to now I am stunned to say, this wasn´t as subjective and egocentric as I promised, so I have to do a turnaround somehow. The devices I have had my hands on are the Asus EEEPC 701, Nokia N800 and -of course- the HTC Universal, which is pretty old (but there is no real replacement yet, maybe HTC Raphael or Sony-Erricsons XPERIA X1 will be suitable) but in my eyes still great as it features a long, long standby time using an extended battery and a great keyboard (I am able to use it in a 4-6 finger-writing mode and my hands aren´t that small).
As I used this device for a relatively long time now I have to say, that even running a rather unoptimised linux on it (Debian armel seems to be instuction-set agnostic in opposite to OE-based distributions) abiword and (I tried an older, precompiled version) midori (a webkit based webbrowser) are running fast enough to be usable, making this device a small text and web-machine. Nevertheless I have to say, that the Universal is too slow with Debian sometimes,
if you update the distribution for instance, it takes ages. And there is another fact that I don´t like: It doesn´t feature GPS, so you can´t use that nice stuff like diversity which is being developed for the new OpenMoko platform (BTW: I saw a video of the April Software Update (and had a look at this mockup) running on Neo FreeRunner (which is a beauty compared to Neo1973) and I have to say that I like their (toolkit-agnostic) approach, I am thinking of getting such a device again, because I believe there will be “the most” linux software available for it in a precompiled, easy to try state (though I would prefer a device featuring a hardware keyboard (Bluetooth keyboards are ok, but they mean one more battery to charge and one more thing to carry), a slightly bigger >3” screen, 3G, even faster CPU and more Ram ;), maybe GTA04.. ).

So what would be nice to have? Well, the device of my dreams should perform way better than the Universal (TI OMAP 3 or Samsung 64xx), maybe feature some GBs of inbuild “Rom” and enough (128-512MB) ram, last for ages with a small battery, have a big >3” screen (800×480 would be nice), a keyboard like the Universals one, a well supported Wifi-chip, 3G, GPS, motion sensors, USB2.0-host, ethernet and VGA/DVI (via a docking station).
And I can tell you that I´d spend much money for that, really (much money for a student like me means ~400-800 Euro)!