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Re: Debian running on handhelds (or for terminals)

On Mon, 26 Aug 2013 12:34:44 +0200
patrick295767 patrick295767 <patrick295767@gmail.com> wrote:

> Hello,
> I wonder what's Debian position in regards to installations on
> Handhelds.

Mostly already been handed over to Android on tablets, without so much
as a whimper. IMHO there's nowhere to go with mass market handhelds
which doesn't involve DRM, full screen video, & HDMI output. Much of
that could be supported but there is no work to get a usable UI on top
of it.

> Over the years, I have installed/contributed in installing Debian on
> various handheld machines, including for instance HP Jornadas (Sarge -
> archive), Psion Revo, Psion 5mx, ... armel, and finally the best of
> best the Pandora. (The default OS of the Pandora is Angstrom).

Any *current* hardware? i.e. still in mass production & available
through standard retail? Any hardware at all which sells at comparable
prices to a basic Android tablet?

The principle targets for Debian are mass market hardware, i386, amd64,
> As shown, Debian can be readily installed on various platforms /
> machines, even with a very limited hardware.

The problem is that other installations make more sense in terms of
usable software and user expectations.
> What I regret is that end users keep asking: "which light distro for
> my computer?" Even, if the machine is a bit older.

Fundamental misunderstanding. An older machine needs an OS which has
lower resource requirements. A light distro typically involves using
the same resources as a standard distro but takes up less space. To use
less resources, you need to change core parts of the OS, like glibc, or
drop large components like perl.

> OPIE / GPE (in particular GPE added to our repos) are also a point for
> having Debian for Handelds.

GPE is all but dead. I am currently vacillating over whether to remove
all of GPE from Debian before the Jessie release. Even if it survives
into Jessie, the chances of it surviving into Jessie+1 are negligible.
There has been no significant upstream work for a couple of years.

The "functionality" of GPE is laughable or depressing, depending on
your perspective. It started as just a toy, a curiosity but it never
managed to support anything approaching day-to-day usability.

Openmoko tried as well - again, not getting close to everyday
competency for more than a few hardened geeks.

Wookey wrote:
> We've had GPE in debian for may years, but not well-maintained. Taking
> care of that would be great if you are interested in it.

It is maintained in Debian but it is not actively developed and hasn't
grown into a fully specified UI. IMHO it would need the replacement of
large chunks to be worth working on. Most of the upstream code hasn't
been touched in years.

There might be some promise in wayland/Qt5 but GPE is stuck in the world
of GTK2 and has little prospect of stepping out of it's own comfort
zone / rut. That's why it's on my list of "endangered" package chains.
There's no point being sentimental about these things, it had a go, it
got as far as it got but I'm starting to think that it should be
pensioned off and left to bit rot in peace.

> I believed we might lack of publicity on own easily Debian is
> installable on handhelds.

No. We lack a purpose for having Debian on handhelds - current, mass
market, handhelds - because those devices need a completely different
UI which is not compatible with the desktop type environments
supportable in Debian. 

IMHO Debian currently lacks software which is suitable for handhelds.
There is no suitable UI, there are no apps, there is no DRM support
(rightly so but still, a significant hindrance to what has become the
de facto usage of mass market handhelds) and there appears to be little
appetite for change and almost no new code.

> Debian can be installed very light. I mostly compiled my own apps,
> based on C, and Debian runs with a limited hardware (cpu/ram...)

To make that work it has to be pushed to such a level that it isn't
Debian anymore, e.g. by switching from glibc and dropping perl.

> Maybe we have missed something or it is not a major concern today?

I don't believe it is a major concern anymore.
> I would say that Handhelds (and also older computers) are the future
> way to go for Debian. Debian is light and installable on various
> machines.

Unsupported handhelds and older computers of all types are a deadend
for Debian or any actively developed OS. Just like other abandoned
ports and legacy architectures.

The future of Debian is in providing relevant software for hardware
which is current, readily available and suitable for everyday use by
those who want to use Debian.

Let dead dogs rest in peace.


Neil Williams

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