[Wikireader] Any news on Wikireader ?

Doug Jones dj6mf at frombob.to
Thu Oct 22 20:14:25 CEST 2009

-= Apertum =- wrote:
> Hello,
> The (very interesting, IMHO) Wikireader product has been launched about
> 2 weeks ago, but still i don't see any information about hardware and
> software (IE we don't know if there is a Linux kernel in it, or not),
> and/or how it will be hackable by the community.
> It's there any news somewhere on the net, or when you at OpenMoko plan
> to discover these (important) informations?
> Thank you so much for your attention :-)

Look for the thread labeled [reader] on this list

I have one, and have been spending some time looking at the code and 
available docs.

It does not use a Linux kernel.  It is an embedded device containing 
only minimal amounts of software, just enough to be a WikiReader.  The 
WikiReader program itself is the kernel.

AFAICT the code on the device is entirely written in C and Forth, and is 
100% Free Software.  Unlike the Freerunner and every other cellphone on 
this planet, it does not contain any chunks of proprietary code (it 
doesn't need to worry about what the cell providers or the FCC thinks). 
  I don't think RMS would have any complaints about carrying one of 
these around.

This device is perfect for Free Software purists and for people who, for 
whatever reason, don't carry Internet access in their pockets.  (As the 
global collapse deepens, I expect more and more people will be unable to 
justify the monthly cost of carrying around Internet access.)

The wiki is small now but gradually growing:


Much of the documentation is stashed away in the source tree:


The device fits in my shirt pocket (barely) and has a daylight-readable 
monochrome LCD display with no backlight.  It's a touchscreen;  you 
scroll it up and down with a gesture, and follow links with a tap.

The on/off button is on the top edge.  It uses two AAA batteries, which 
should last a very long time as the device is extremely miserly.  You 
can use rechargeable (1.2 V) batteries if you like.

Under the display are three buttons:  Search, History, and Random.

The History button displays a list of the most recently displayed pages. 
  The other buttons are self-explanatory.

The database contains a text-only snapshot of the entire 
English-language Wikipedia, over three million articles.  You can search 
on any word in the text.  The touchscreen keyboard is a bit small for my 
fat fingers, but I can manage (it's capacitive, and won't work with a 

It has no connectivity, other than a serial port I haven't tried yet, 
and SneakerNet (you take out the micro SD card and walk over to another 
computer to update its contents).  This lack of connectivity keeps the 
internals simple and the cost down.  The card and the serial port are in 
the battery compartment.

If you hold the first button down while you turn the device on, it 
displays a list of Forth programs you can run.  Just tap on the name.  A 
lot of these are diagnostics, but there is also a simple calculator and 
a drawing program.  If you know Forth, you can probably write your own 
program and put it on the card, I imagine.

If you hold the second button down while turning on, it runs the calculator.

If you hold the third button down while turning on, it starts up the 
serial console (19200 8N1).

The drawing program shows that the device could be used for pictures, 
but don't expect any Wikipedia image content  --  there isn't room on 
the card.  However, it might be practical to put in a lot of the 
diagrams that can be compactly stored as SVG files.  Hopefully somebody 
will add that functionality in, as well as equation support.

The microSD card that comes with it is an 8GB model.  I don't know if 
larger ones will work.  I hope so.

The card has 3.8GB of free space on it, so there is plenty of room for 
more content.  I have been looking into the possibility of adding custom 
content (the multi-wiki concept).

As I see it, there are two paths for code development:  New code to run 
on the device, and user-friendly cross-platform code to run on the 
user's desktop machine or laptop and which is used to simplify and 
manage the task of updating the contents of the SD card.

New code to run on the device would come from Forth programmers who can 
write new Forth apps, and embedded developers who can write C code for 
tiny machines that don't have operating systems.

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