I attended an Intel developer marketing event last thursday promoting MeeGo and their AppUp program, where everyone received an ExoPC tablet. Officially these are not gifts, but rather a three year loan “for engineering purposes only”: after three years we are supposed to destroy them or return them to Intel. (They said it is up to us which of those options to choose.)
I hope MeeGo is a success, and I hope to make some apps for it (although, as I am not at all interested in the AppUp DRM regime, I was glad to hear that they will allow apps to be listed in their catalog without using the AppUp apis), but first I wanted to see how a modern version of Ubuntu fares on this keyboardless tablet. The short version of this post is: it works quite well!
I was pleased to find that ubuntu-11.04-desktop-amd64.iso (copied to a USB stick with usb-creator-gtk) supports the ExoPC’s touchscreen, audio, video and wifi without any hassle. Unfortunately gparted (and thus the Ubuntu installer) does not yet support resizing btrfs, which is what MeeGo uses as its root filesystem. Luckily it wasn’t too difficult to do this manually.
I shrunk the btrfs partition down to 10GB using these commands in a root shell in the Ubuntu live environment:
mkdir /meego mount /dev/sda2 /meego btrfs resize 10G /meego umount /meego
Then, using fdisk I then deleted (“d”) sda2 and recreated it (“n”) with a size of 10G, and created a new (“n”) partition sda4 in the new free space. I wrote the changes to disk (“w”), quit fdisk (“q”), and ran partprobe. Then, I ran the ubuntu installer and told it to format sda4 and use it as / and to use meego’s swap partition (sda3) for swap and to use the meego /boot (sda1) as its /boot but not to format it. Somewhat to my surprise, this all worked out fine, and I am now dual-booting MeeGo and Ubuntu from the Ubuntu grub2 menu!
I was going to create an LVM-on-LUKS crypto layer under the Ubuntu filesystem (I recently retaught myself how to do that manually from the desktop installer CD – something else I should write up a blog post about) but then realized that would mean I’d need a hardware keyboard to boot up since the passphrase is needed long before X starts. So, I held my nose and went with the “encrypt home directory” (ecryptfs) option instead.
Three caveats about dual-booting: First, interacting with grub obviously requires a usb keyboard. Second, MeeGo (aka “Unknown linux distro on sda2″) is listed twice, first with the MeeGo kernel and then with Ubuntu’s. Finally, to actually boot MeeGo it is necessary to edit the boot options to add “insmod btrfs”. I could put that line in grub.cfg so I wouldn’t need to do that every time, but it will just get overwritten on the next kernel upgrade… I haven’t yet figured out the correct way to make this type of setting stick with Ubuntu’s grub2.
I think my next step with MeeGo might be to try to boot its partition in VirtualBox using raw disk mode; if that works then I could do development on the device in Ubuntu and test on the same MeeGo system which I can also boot natively. But for now, I’m more interested in using Ubuntu. :)
I played with the new Unity desktop shell for a while, but soon switched to “Ubuntu classic” (the familiar GNOME desktop).
I installed the “Grab and Drag” firefox extension, which is nice once you get used to its physics. It should have more positions on the various sliders in its settings.
I was very pleased to discover that, when properly configured, the “onboard” software keyboard makes Ubuntu quite usable without a hardware keyboard! Unfortunately, unless I’m missing something, adding a launcher for it ironically requires another keyboard to type its name – it comes preinstalled, but is not listed in the menus or UI anywhere except on the login screen. I was especially pleased to discover the “show onboard when unlocking the screen” checkbox in its settings! Onboard also provides right-click and middle-click functionality which works in many but not all contexts.
I also installed the florence onscreen keyboard, which is nicer looking than onboard but much less usable. For instance, the firefox awesome bar steals every other keypress from florence while with onboard it works fine.
In the Appearance settings, under Fonts, I changed the dpi from the default of 96 to 135 (which is what wikipedia says the ExoPC’s screen is). This made lots of text larger, and generally made the whole UI more finger-friendly.
The ExoPC has a single button sensor at the top left of the screen. By default in Ubuntu it launches the audio player. I remapped it to the “Hide all windows and show the desktop” toggle in Keyboard Shortcuts.
I haven’t yet figured out how to get the brightness to stop changing when it is on battery power, and sometimes when I plug it back in the brightness does not return until I go to power management and use the slider. This is irritating.
I haven’t installed the broadcom CrystalHD driver yet, but I understand that doing so will improve flash video performance which is presently not great.
If you’re running Ubuntu on an ExoPC, here are some other resources with useful info: