[Gta04-owner] How to bring forward the community?

Neil Jerram neil at ossau.homelinux.net
Wed Feb 29 23:38:23 CET 2012


"Dr. H. Nikolaus Schaller" <hns at goldelico.com> writes:

> Hi all,
> while I am still fiddling with GTA04 production yield issues, I think it is
> important to reason about the big view.
>
> So I would like to encourage to share what you are working on
> (kernel? driver? user space?) and what you think would bring forward
> the Openmoko community a small or big step.. Any idea is welcome
> (even if you think we already know about it).

I've been meaning to write an email like this, so thanks Nikolaus for
the prompt.

I'd like to say upfront that, to me, the GTA04 feels like a much more
stable and promising platform for experimentation than GTA02.  I think
there are several factors contributing to that.

- For me personally, the GTA02 hardware was glitchy.  It was often the
  case that, just as I was getting going with something, the screen
  would freeze, and there'd be no remedy except pulling out the
  battery... which would then maybe lead to some FS corruption.  So then
  maybe a reinstall is needed, and I might have lost some of my latest
  work...

  I'm aware I might just have had bad luck here with my components -
  because when I reported this, it didn't seem that lots of other people
  had similar problems.  But for me this happened frequently enough to be
  gently but consistently demoralising, and to impede overall progress.

  With the GTA04, this isn't a problem at all.  The GTA04 behaves like a
  reliable little computer in a phone case; I've never had a frozen
  screen.  I did see one strange problem [1], but I suspect the SD card
  for that, and in any case I was able to resolve it without any
  apparent data loss.

  [1] http://lists.goldelico.com/pipermail/gta04-owner/2012-February/001520.html

- The world has moved on, and the mobile software starting point now is
  better than it was when the GTA02 was released.  Most obviously, in
  QtMoko and SHR we already have two nearly working, free software and
  community driven phone stacks.  But there are more other options too:
  oFono for the modem handling, KDE Plasma Active as a possible GUI,
  Replicant, Mer.  There's more mobile-adapted and nearly-adapted free
  software around because we've now had a few years of playing with
  mobile devices.

- The GTA04 is high enough spec to have at least a few good years of
  life in it, whereas the GTA02 was behind the curve almost immediately
  because of not having a 3G modem.

For me, the fun is in trying to put bits of software together to make a
useful and interesting phone/gadget, and in understanding (up to a
point) how it all works.

For the phone middleware I'm working with oFono.  I like oFono because
it's just concerned with the modem.  It focusses on doing that well, has
a decent D-Bus API, and the developers are active and accessible.

I've written a phone UI, picture attached.  I really enjoyed hacking
this together: it's written in Guile (which I've worked on a lot over
the years) and uses Guile's FFI (foreign function interface) to pull in
and make use of various C libraries: Glib and GDBus for the D-Bus
interface to oFono, and Edje and other E17 libraries for the UI.  It
also uses Radek's gsm-voice-routing program for the voice routing.

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For SMS I don't have anything yet, but I'd like a conversational
interface a bit like Gwibber (and also a bit like on a Blackberry).
I'm hoping to be able to steal the UI from somewhere and just plug SMS
I/O into that as a backend protocol (using oFono's D-Bus API).

For Contacts and Sync I imagine using EDS (Evolution Data Server) in
some way.  There are already front ends like the Opened Hand "Contacts",
which may just work.

I was struggling a bit with web browsing, until yesterday, because it
appeared that although there are lots of possible browsers in Debian,
none of them could actually render any pages nicely.  But then I
remembered from GTA02 discussions that this is all just because of DPI.
Now I'm starting X with "-dpi 120" (instead of the default 285), and
browsers like "surf" render just fine.  I've attached a screenshot of
the BBC mobile site.

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For an onscreen keyboard I'm using a modified version of literki, which
you can see in this screenshot here:

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The original literki didn't have borders around the letters, but that
made it look (IMO) rather jagged, because it wasn't possible to draw
shades of colour at the edges of the letters.  I think with borders
looks much nicer, but it also makes it less transparent, and sometimes I
find that it's awkward to be typing into an area underneath the
keyboard.  So that story isn't finished yet.

For data handling, juggling USB, Wifi and 3G connectivity, I'm planning
to use connman.  On the GTA02, although programs like iliwi and wicd
could solve some of that problem, they often seemed to leave details
wrong, like the default route or DNS server details being wrong or
missing.  Connman seems to have the sophistication to handle those
details correctly.

Oh, and games.  I'm a fan of sgt-puzzles, especially with some "stylus
based" usage tweaks that a GTA02 user (Frode Austvik) contributed
upstream a while back.  I'm currently working on a patch to make those
tweaks runtime-selectable, rather than compile-time, so that they'll
eventually be available "out of the box" from the Debian sgt-puzzles
package.

Well, there's lots more to cover: GPS, Bluetooth, how the overall UI
works, and so on; but I think that's enough for this email.  I hope this
approach will chime with someone; for others it may sound like a strange
form of hell, compared with using a ready-made distribution like SHR or
QtMoko.  But for me that's the point of the GTA04, that we can do all
these different things.  And finally, to revisit the point that I
started with, I feel that the stability of GTA04 as a platform is
allowing me to make faster progress with this set up than I ever could
with GTA02.

All comments welcome!

Regards,
     Neil


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