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.

Necunos NC_1 or a Lunchbox Smartphone?

While Purism has allegedly finally managed to ship out their developer kits, Necunos will provide you with a thingy they call a smartphone much faster.1

Necunos NC_1
The Necunos project may be scam. Be careful! Update 2/3/2019: After FOSDEM it seems a little more real. Necuno Solutions plan to ship the NC_1 in March. Let’s see.

Specifications:

  • SoC: NXP i.MX Quad, ARM Cortex A9 quadcore @ 1.2 GHz, Vivante GPU (Etnaviv driver, hardware acceleration)
  • 1 GB Ram (meh!)
  • 8 GB Storage
  • 3500 mAh Battery
  • 5,0″ display (no resolution given)
  • Aluminum body
  • 5 MP Camera
  • Audio: 3.5mm audio jack
  • Charging: Micro-USB, Data transfer disabled
  • Microphone: Built-in microphone
  • Speakers: 2 Built-in speaker
  • WLAN: WiFi (via SDIO) WL1801 (2.4 GHz)
  • Ethernet: High speed 100Mb/s
  • Serial: Internal
  • Closed source firmware with memory access: NO
  • Binary blobs: NO
  • Locked bootloader: NO
  • Operating Systems: Multiple community driven operating systems to choose from.

Price: 1199 EUR
Continue reading “Necunos NC_1 or a Lunchbox Smartphone?”

  1. To me, this – while it is an admirable effort – is not a smartphone, but rather a modern Linux PDA since it has no modem to connect to cell services. I’ll keep sticking to this 22 year old definition, where a smartphone has to be an actual phone. []

More GNU/Linux on Smartphones: 1. postmarketOS

While the Crowdfunder for the Librem 5 successfully finished, I want to shed some light on possible alternatives to it for people that want to run GNU/Linux on Smartphone hardware. First up: postmarketOS

postmarketOS (short pmOS) is a relatively new project. A little more than two months ago the projects founder ollieparanoid published a blog post titled: 100 days of postmarketOS, listing pretty amazing accomplishments in these first 100 days.

Target devices:
Instead of other attemps at getting GNU/Linux onto smartphones, pmOS aims to target multiple devices with small device specific parts and a set of software that then is interchangeable between multiple devices. It is based on Alpine Linux, a distrOnly recentlyibution designed for “power users who appreciate security, simplicity and resource efficiency”. Currently, 17 devices are supported (not counting QEMU targets) and in various states of support. The best supported devices currently is the good old Nokia N900, as it pmOS can stand on the shoulders of giants here with regard to mainline Linux support.

Approach:
There is not one interface, due to a modular approach of pmOS and in order to support devices that are less capable. Currently, supported interfaces (more a “will be” than an “are” statement as far as I good gather) include good old Hildon (known from Maemo) and Plasma Mobile.
So, to boil it down: Device agnostic, UI agnostic, open and friendly.

Still using my Chromebook

While I am quite bored with most new tech announcements (especially smartphones), I realize that I still care most about small affordable laptops or convertibles. Tablets are great, I enjoy Apples iPad Air, but it has its limits, and so do Android tablets – limits in productivity. Of course it is entirely possible to do blogging or almost every other task that doesn’t require special business software on a tablet – but it just isn’t a great experience. Well, most likely it is just unwillingness to adjust – when you can choose between using an application that you know since almost forever, or a new app, that maybe is – at least for the advanced stuff – a little complicated and does not grow on you within minutes, then you might find yourself wanting the experience that you are used to. At least that’s the case with me.

As the headline says I am still using my Samsung ARM Chromebook with 3G. It is my main laptop now, which seems strange, given the fact that an iPad Air or the LG G2 most likely deliver better (benchmark) performance than this laptop. And then there is this OS – Chrome OS. Well, nah – I mostly boot into Arch Linux ARM running from a 32 GB SDHC card. I made it so that it is almost just as user friendly1 and has a broad set of applications I am used to2. While it is definitely not the fastest computer under the sun, it performs decent enough – the keyboard, the touchpad, the screen, the overall performance – nothing is really top notch, but it is more than good enough for me. BTW: The killer feature is, still, the following: No fan = no (constant) noise.

While it is great to be able to take the SDHC card out of the Chromebook, boot it into Chrome OS, launch guest mode and hand it over to a random person in order to provide that person with a way to access the internet, it feels decidedly hacky. And I like to have the robustness of Chrome OS at hand, which BTW evolved notably since mid 2013. But then the real question is: Would I purchase another (next gen) ARM Chromebook, like one of the announced and soon shipping “SAMSUNG Chromebook 2” with 8-core Exynos?

The answer is: It is unlikely. While – as mentioned above – most things work, getting an ARM-powered laptop set up to work a 100% fine with GNU/Linux seems almost impossible today. Rather essential stuff like standby is hit and miss, from time to time my Chromebook doesn’t wake up properly. Accelerated graphics (I am not talking about gaming, but much rather of video playback) or using a newer kernel: Painful to impossible. And as fanless Bay Trail netbooks/subnotebooks become available out there, that – depending how well the UEFI plays with Linux – are supposedly almost painless in that regard I would rather go for one of these if I had to upgrade.

But fortunately I don’t have to. And so I am sticking to my XE303C12H01DE.

(More on laptops soon.)

  1. thanks to using XFCE with NetworkManager and Modem Manager []
  2. Starting from Firefox, including LibreOffice, Gimp, Inkscape and even great stuff like LyX for LaTeX. []

Chromebook, Crouton (Ubuntu) and printing with the EPSON WF-3540

I like my Chromebook, but if I feel like doing something that feels a little like actual work, I prefer to have a flavour of GNU/Linux. Therefore I installed a local chroot using Crouton – which brings me into a world of LXDE, Libreoffice and Firefox.

All of this works pretty well, but sometimes I feel like printing a document in order to do actual proof reading1. This always worked as I have a modern Epson AiO solution that is supported by Google Cloud Print, but I had to change back and forth: Make a pdf, go to Chrome OS, open the PDF, print it. That is not too bad, but it isn’t to convenient. So I tried to install the printer on Linux.
Continue reading “Chromebook, Crouton (Ubuntu) and printing with the EPSON WF-3540”

  1. Call me old-fashioned, but I am better at that on paper than on the screen. []

Ubuntu – soon on your mobile phone

Ubuntu – soon on your mobile phone

Google and their hardware for this christmas season

A few years ago there was no such thing as hardware that was co-branded by Google – as Google was just a service provider in the internet, this made sense. It all started with Android and the so called Google Experience Devices. Then, in early 2010, Google launched the Nexus One, an HTC made smartphone.

As of now, Google has 5 main devices out there, 3 for Android, two Chromebooks: The LG made Nexus 4 smartphone (which replaces the Samsung made Galaxy Nexus), the ASUS made Nexus 7, the Samsung made Nexus 10 (which not only features Samsungs latest SoC, the Exynos 5250 but also a 300PPI screen), the Series 3 Chromebook, running the same ARM chip as the Nexus 10 and the Chromebook 550, running a dual core Celeron chip.

To me, two of these devices are particulary interesting: The very popular $ 199/ € 199 Nexus 7 and the ARM powered Chromebook.

This should not imply that I am not interested into the Nexus 4, which has been critized for being to little of an improvement about its Samsung made predecessor, as it lacks LTE. For me, living in Germany, where LTE is just starting and thus not really affordable and where there are quite acceptable 3,5G HSPA networks available, the lack of LTE is not a killer. It’s just that I really got used to having a dual SIM phone (the Jiayu G2, which I still like a lot, even though the glass unfortunately broke), and don’t want to switch back, as it would cost me extra money for about 10 months – my next smartphone will be based around the Mediatek MT6589 SoC, a quadcore ARM Cortex A7 / Power VR SGX 544 chip – the great thing about these chinese phones is not only their relatively low price, but also the not too customized, mostly pure Android these devices run.

(If you want to buy a good dual SIM phone without importing it, the Alcatel OT 997 Ultra seems to be a good choice, btw).

Same goes for the Nexus 10, which seems to be a great device, too – only Android still lacks in real great tablet apps (compared to the Apple iPad), and 10,1“ 16:10 is just to large for me.

The Nexus 7, now available in an 3G flavour, too, is a compelling device, likely the best choice in 7“ tablets out there – talking of the OOTB experience. It lacks a video out and extendable storage – but hey, does this really matter that much? While I am a huge fan of microSD storage and HDMI out I must admit that I almost never use these – I don’t even have an miniHDMI cable, and the microSD in my phone is almost empty because I was to lazy to fill it up with my music. Now why a 7 inch tablet? Well, size does matter, my Nook Simple Touch tought me that, as size was the main factor making it almost abandon my iPad for some time.

Then the Chromebook. Why the hell would anyone want such a thing as this chromebook you may ask. Well, typing on smartphones, tablets and netbooks sucks, and I don’t want to bring my Notebook with me all the time, as it is still my “digital hub” and thus far to valuable to be accidentely dropped in the subway. And there is another thing with this thing: It has no fan, no harddrive – and an OS which is foolproof. Plus, hackers are already working on porting classic GNU/Linux distributions on this thing, making it basically a full ARM-powered computer, that has a great keyboard and is still light, portable and cheap. And I am sure that someone will port over Android, too. Sure: If this had a touchscreen, it would be even greater, for sure – but at USD 249 (and hopefully EUR 249) you can’t expect too much, right? Exspecially if you really feel the need for a device to hammer in texts on the go…

So these are the Google devices that are on my “wish list”. What do you think?