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Linux-powered Nokia 770 handheld applications

By Rob Reilly on May 10, 2006 (8:00:00 AM)

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Most organizations aren't ready to migrate to a wireless, network-centric, thin hardware, server/client model, which makes the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet a bit ahead of its time. This handheld device has a basic browser, email client, and multimedia player, but the real beauty of this Linux-based system is its ability to expand its functionality by installing a limited but growing list of applications.

Nokia has financed a platform known as Maemo that users can modify and configure easily to suit their needs. With the 770 hardware and the Maemo development environment, we have a promising setup that fits right in with the open source way of life.

Several categories of programs run on the 770. Already loaded on the device at the factory are a slim version of the popular Opera Web browser, an audio player, a video player, a news reader, an email client, and various assorted desktop support tools are all part of the default offering.

A second category includes mature programs that have been ported over from other platforms, but which are not included in the default production build. These include a VNC viewer/server, an FTP client, an X terminal server, an IRC client, numerous games, and a large collection of system-related tools. Some of these programs have pseudo-familiar GUIs, while others run from the command line. Note that the default production build hides much of the system-level operation of the device and keeps the user in the desktop GUI model.

A third category includes programs that are in active development, but may not be quite ready for prime time. They include Asterisk, rdesktop, kismet, J-Pilot, and Tcl/Tk. There are also several "planned" and "wishlist" applications, but they are vaporware at this point. As of this writing, there were 103 programs listed in the mature software category, and 73 in the active development category.

Download, install, and enjoy

You can start the factory installed applications by clicking on icons on the little Nokia desktop. Opening the Web browser is an excellent way to begin the quick process of loading additional applications. Once the browser starts, select one of the category links (as outlined above) to see a list of available programs. Find a program you'd like to install, then click on its link to start the download process. Nokia uses the Debian packaging system for software installation to minimize dependency difficulties.

The .deb file name will be displayed in the file download window. Click the Open button to complete the download process and start the installer. Click the OK button in the install package window to finish the installation process.

Trying out the new application is a snap, too. Newly installed programs are found under the main application menu icon (looks like two sheets of paper close together) and the extras tab. The application menu icon is analogous to the big "K" button found on the KDE desktop. Click the appropriate menu item to run the program.

If you are interested in command-line programs, you should download xterm first, install your chosen program, then run the application from the command prompt.

How do they work?

I tried out a few of the traditional tools that a Linux user might be interested in.

xterm: The xterm window popped up on the screen, just as on my trusty AMD/SUSE-powered laptop. ls gave a listing of the files in the current directory, while df gave a listing of the mounted file systems. Want to view a text file? cat was right there. I could cd up and down the directory tree.

du ran great too, except that I couldn't exit out of the endless listing. Since I had no Ctrl-C, the resultant listing continued on for several minutes. Using the -h option spit out the directory usage in megabytes. Typing du -help gave the familiar terse command usage.

vncviewer: After starting the desktop sharing on my AMD Athlon 64 laptop running SUSE 10.0 and KDE, I ran the vncviewer program under the Extras tab. Almost immediately, I could see my laptop display by entering my VNC password in the little pop-up window.

There was a noticeable time lag while the screen repainted after each laptop mouse move. The 770 has a 200MHz ARM processor, so it is a little under-powered for this type of work. I also had to do a lot of scrolling around to see everything, because the 770 has an 800x480 screen and my laptop's is 1280x800.

Ogg Vorbis Player: The 770 comes with an MP3 player, but nothing for Ogg files. The Ogg Vorbis player allows you to play these files once they have been downloaded to the 770. I downloaded several from my Web server and put them in the audio folder. Sound quality was fine on the built-in speaker, although a little low on volume. Listening with earbuds worked very well.

I was a little disappointed that I couldn't play a file from a Samba or network shared drive, but the 770 porting effort is pretty young. Perhaps that feature will show up in later versions.

What's next?

Judging from the number of current extra packages available, it looks like there's a fair amount of developer interest in the 770 platform. Downloading the binaries is easy and painless.

Past attempts to market Linux-based handheld computers have not been very successful, a prime example being the Sharp Zaurus. The 770 may do better, because Nokia has funded the tool-up for the hardware and set up a development environment that encourages experimentation and customization. Companies and vendors that want to leverage handheld, wirelessly-networked, server/client technology should definitely be interested in the 770.

Rob Reilly is a consultant, trend spotter, and writer. He specializes in Linux and open source portable computing and presentation technology integration.

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on Linux-powered Nokia 770 handheld applications

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ctrl-c is there.

Posted by: rattis on May 11, 2006 02:56 AM
The 770 is nifty. I've had mine for just over a month now and it's a lot of fun.

As for the escape from du, CTRL-C is there, just tricky to get to. First you have to hit the escape key (the twisted arrow button) then zoom out, which sends the ctrl-c.


Re:ctrl-c is there.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 11, 2006 07:37 PM
You could also open the x-term menu and select "send ctrl-char" (or something like that)...


Re:ctrl-c is there.

Posted by: rattis on May 12, 2006 01:13 AM
xterm menu, term submenu, but pushing buttons is so much more fun.


Re:ctrl-c is there.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 11, 2006 08:50 PM
Can't reproduce that here - not in xterm at least...


Re:ctrl-c is there.

Posted by: rattis on May 12, 2006 01:08 AM

The other way to try it is click the down arrow at the top of the window, the one next to the words X Terminal, that will bring up the menu, select Terminal > Send ctrl-.

In the main menu for xterm, there is a selection called Command mode help, it tells how to enter command mode, and what the buttons do in that mode.


Re:ctrl-c is there.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 12, 2006 11:32 PM
rattis is using a patched X Terminal which adds meta-keys to the escape key.

There's an alternative version with selectable fonts.


Re:ctrl-c is there.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 13, 2006 01:24 AM
I'm curious where I got it from now. I thought I was running the stock xterm program.


damn you nokia!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 11, 2006 06:11 AM
why can't i buy a n770 here in portugal nokia? damn you!


Re:damn you nokia!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 11, 2006 04:21 PM
I think you can bye it using the internet.


Re:damn you nokia!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 11, 2006 05:57 PM
Internet? I think I've heard about that before...


LinuxTag 2006

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 12, 2006 11:17 PM
I have seen the device on linuxtag 2006 when one of the developers had a presentation.
not mentioned in the article is that the thing has a jazelle copro that speeds up (embedded)JAVA. The device has alot of potential not only as a phone (VOIP)but also for other application since it has
access to the large pool of linux software (means native support for debian packages) If they can spread the device it will be fun hacking (noted the wlan ?)

personly i am missing more ports to the out-side word that would allow conneting more gadget. (pcmcia/serial/paralell i thing it has USB). the documentation/sources are hosted here:
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