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Re: Debian on Nokia N900?

On Oct 28, 2011, at 10:00, Victor Nitu wrote:

> Hi there,
> Nokia released some time ago some smartphones using a Debian-based OS, which they called Maemo.

Apologies for being pedantic, but Maemo is really a "tablet" operating system, not a "smartphone" OS. The early versions (N770, N850, N800) didn't have cellular modem but did have things like WiMax.

> I was wondering if anybody on this list had any previous experience with the N900, trying to setup a 
> vanilla Debian system.

Maemo is a Debian Derivative, so you can do lots of Debianesque things already.

> The arch used would be armel, and I guess the original phone software (well, 
> the important pieces) can still be installed via apt-pinning from the Maemo repositories.

Some of the software can be pulled from Maemo, but some of it is still closed unfortunately. There is more here: http://wiki.maemo.org/Documentation/Maemo_5_Developer_Guide/Architecture/Top_Level_Architecture
> The only variant I have found searching the web was a chroot-ed install which I am sure is killing the battery 
> pretty fast, since it produces a reasonable amount of system load. And, of course, I want it to run smoothly :)

I assume you're referring to "easy Debian." That is actually a pretty useful little package. I doubt it is causing as much battery drain as you imagine although surely some. The big battery hogs are things like wifi and GPS. If you have those on all the time your battery is pretty much only a few hours. At least that is the case with my battery.

> I have tried the direct change in /etc/apt/sources.list, pointing to stable, then oldstable, but the result 
> was a major failure both times, each try ending with downgrading udev and some other major implications.

This won't work sadly because there was no attempt on the part of Nokia to have a proper mapping between their releases "Fremantle", "Harmattan", etc and the Debian releases.

> I guess a direct Debian install would a nice choice, and then installing the Nokia's apps and tools directly 
> from the Maemo repository, but with the main package source set to some official Debian mirror.

This will likely be harder than you imagine unfortunately. Nokia has changed a good deal of the low-level packages. I'd like to organize porting work to identify exactly what has changed and to port back patches but I have yet to find time. Your contribution towards this effort is of course very welcome. :-)
> What I am not sure about:
> - a safe and easy to restore backup method via USB data connection / USB networking

If you can use dd then you should be able to do backups. Look at info on the Maemo.org site regarding backups and flashing.

> - installation method

There are flashing tools for a variety of OSes which allow you to install or re-install an entire image.

> - whether is recommended or not to use Embedded Debian, although the amount of storage space is more than 
> generous on N900 (~32GB for root / internal memory, and I also have a 16GB MicroSD card)

Some people complain that it takes a long time to read the Packages file when there are updates. Yes, udebs might help here, but if you want access to tens of thousands of software packages, you're going to have to be a bit patient as they come over the wire.
> I guess anybody with a minimum of experience in embedded devices can help me with this one. I never attempted 
> this kind of operation before.

Then you're in for a lot of fun and frustration. :-)  The N900 is a fabulous device to do embedded Linux development on since the CPU is well supported by Linaro and Debian and there are lots of tools and really smart folks on this dev list. You may end up bricking your N900 from time to time so I don't recommend using it as your primary telephone, though I know a lot of people that do. 

Look a little closer at the maemo.org wiki and I think you'll find some useful information there too, specifically info about the maemo userland and flashing the device.

More (much more) information is available here: http://lists.debian.org/debian-devel/2011/09/msg00126.html


> TIA,
> Victor
> P.S.: This is a forward from my original message on debian-user list. I took the liberty of sending exactly the same 
> message, although some of you may be members of debian-user too. Sorry if it got twice in front of you.

FYI some people see cross-posting as a symptom of the moral decay that is gnawing at the heart of our society. Me, I say "meh."



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