My N900 experience compared to my FR experience (was: Re: [QtMoko] handset is (almost) unusable for voice calls with background noise)

arne anka openmoko at
Wed Jul 7 22:51:18 CEST 2010

> I'd like to hear how the N900 compares to the FR in hackability. Like
> replacing pieces of software, like keyboard, window manager, etc. I
> wasn't able to find much information about this. It seems there is
> only one distribution that fully works on the N900, which is quite
> worrying.

hackability is fair to middling.
there are open packages, there are closed packages and there are 3d party  
documentation of hardware is incomplete and not sufficient to make a full  
working dist5ribution w/o closed parts from nokia.

for reasons unbeknownst to man, nokia has chosen to use some kind of  
debian, but not debian. making small changes, the made maemo incompatible  
to debian, thus cutting maemo users off from the plethora of already  
existing and working packages for the hw platform, limiting the available  
software to the packages nokia offers and those volunteers port from  
since not even the package names follow the same rules and, what's more,  
apparently similar packages are, in fact, quite different since nokia  
patched the sources, it is a sysiphean task to port packages to maemo. and  
i am afraid things won't change for the ebtter with meego which uses some  
kind of redhat/fedora, but not redhat/fedora.

package creation and dependency resolution is done with an attitude  
bordering on incompetence. for example: one one hand every language  
supported is separated into a single *-l10n-* package and for all those  
*l10n-* package there's a meta package. but instead of using recoomends  
and provides, the "meta" package depends on _all_ *-l10n-* packages and  
the top most package (the dependency graph has exactly one top node!)
depends on those "meta" packages. separating packages is thus completely  
pointless. together with the weird layout of storage space (256mb "rootfs"  
which gets filled up pretty fast), this idea of dependency handling is  
plain stupid and you are stuck with a bunch of packages you don't need but  
can't uninstall (the normal way) or remove forcibly b/c it is not clear  
what will happen the next time you run an update ... the included "app  
manager" is a bad joke and you'r better off using xterm and apt-get.

despite the claim of delivering not only a smartphone but a pocket size  
computer, you are left with crappy and crippled busybox instead of a fully  
functional gnui environment.

error management is poor, usually you get useless messages of the kind  
"something went wrong" and are left to your imagination to figure out what  
you should do about that.

keyboard is h/w, layout is not the best in twon, which is confusing since  
nokia provided far more intelligenbt keyboard layouts with other phones.
on screen keyboard is not much better, imo it has become even worse with  
pr1.2. i don't see an easy way to change the layout of the vkb, which is  
perfectly in style with the very limited ways of customization available  
(you can't even change the font sizes!).

window manager is a matchbox derivate, customization is little (see above)  
and even minor requirements like battery charge level are not available  
except a very rough icon.

the sole and only distribution available (so far) is maemo.
considering the long history of maemo and the version number (5), it is  

nokia's communication about future plans and development are hardly worth  
mentioning. there's still no reliable information whether meego will be  
officially supported.

there are a few attempts to make debian working on it, either by using  
plain debian and reimplementing closed parts (dead, iirc) or by using  
plain debian and repacking maemo specific packages, not sure how that will  
work with closed source packages ...

if all you are looking for is the feeling of using a somewhat open linux  
phone with a nice and polished gui, the n900 with maemo is perfect for you.
in terms of finish and reliabilty it easily outclasses the fr.

in terms of freedom (not only philiosphically but plain practical freedom  
of choice of packages or wm), the fr is far far better, and judging from  
nokia's past attitude it's not very likely it will become much better. the  
best hope is for either a debian using nokia's closed source packages for  
crucial functioanlity or a port of eg fso-

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