Almost x86-free home

It actually was not planned but I have accomplished something that I has been planning for years. My home setup it almost x86-free.

As most of readers probably know, my main desktop computer since 2005 has been the SGI O2 workstation (it has a MIPS CPU). During the time there arose a need to supplement it by a more modern computer for some tasks (WWW browsing of “modern” and “secure” sites, and for use of USB devices). As my Lenovo X61s refuses to work, I replaced it by first available computer here which was the ODROID XU-4 in the fancy Mini Indigo case. It’s an ARM-based computer. As an off-line WWW and e-book reader (via Plucker/CSpotRun) I use the Palm IIIx (a Motorola m68k-based device). I assume that my Amazon Kindle is also ARM-based and the phone (BQ Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition) is surely, too.

Well, there is still one black sheep: my portable computer is the GPD Pocket (it has an Intel Atom CPU and thus it is x86-compatible). Actually, But a portable computer isn’t a part of “home setup”, is it?

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Almost x86-free home

1600SW, adapter and ODROID

Thanks to care of one good person I now have a working SGI Multilink adapter for my SGI 1600SW displays. It is very useful thing as the 1600SW has a non-standard digital input (it is quite old and when it was designed then there was no DVI at all) so by default it can be only connected to a few SGI workstations (and even these might require a special add-on card).

The 1600SW is relatively nice even today (17.4″ screen with 1600×1024 resolution). It’s colour space is somewhat limited (by today standards) but this is OK for me. I am not a fan of high-resolution displays (at work I have a 12.4″ screen with 1920×1080 resolution and even with a contemporary OS the whole thing is too painful) so I with to use my old LCD screens as long as possible.

Near original SGI Setup ;-).

I still have one non-resolved issue in my home computing: my secondary desktop (that web-browsing one) was the Intel Compute Stick (Ubuntu version) and it died last year. I have replaced it by the Lenovo X61s laptop but I still don’t thing that it is an optimal use of a ultra-portable PC (and it’s even a PC).
Last year I have got a 3D-printed miniature of the Silicon Graphics IRIS Indigo computer from Dodoid. I had no particular use for it, I just wanted to have that toy.

But the device is designed to fit the ODROID-XU4. So I have obtained a second-hand one in order to try to replace the X61s. At least is’s not PC-based.

The first attempt to used it failed as I haven’t been able to make it work with my ViewSonic VP171 LCD or any other LCD with 1280×1024 resolution. It seems to me that there is no easy way to make the Xorg (or the hardware itself) to send a proper signal – the image was something like 1116×1024 instead.

So I decided to try the wide-screen 1600SW with the ODROID. So I prepared the testing setup (pictured above) in a separate room, connected everything together and it simply worked! So now I should re-arrange my working desk to put the new stuff on in (hopefully it will not need further year…).

The pre-installed OS on the ODROID is the Ubuntu 16.04 (MATE Edition) which is actually not too bad. The MATE seems to be quite fast (and it is basically an updated GNOME 2.0 which is probably the last usable desktop environment for the Linux – it’s uncomplicated and configurable enough). So I will probably continue to use it.

1600SW, adapter and ODROID

Ubuntu Touch after it’s end

As you may know, the Canonical (the company which develops Ubuntu) halted all development of the Ubuntu Touch earlier this year. That is, no new devices (phones, tablets) for the Ubuntu Touch systems, no system updates, no new applications. Some users already reinstalled their devices with the Android. And Canonical also halted development of the Mir display server and their complete Unity desktop (all these things were the base of phone GUI system for the Ubuntu Touch).

But there is a great effort of UbPorts folks – it was initially a group interested in porting of the Ubuntu Touch to other devices.
They not only released updated system images for most of previously supported devices but they also working on further development of the system and it’s applications.

Ubuntu Touch on a big screen

There is also a new App Store – the OpenStore was initially meant for applications that cannot obey security rules defined by Canonical (for example apps that need direct access to some hardware) but now it’s a home for all Ubuntu Touch applications. And there is a good flow of new applications: not only most of the interesting applications from old official App Store has been migrated here but also new ones have been appearing.

Of course, there are no new devices but the old can be still used.

Piel Frama Case + Jorno keyboard

I personally have wo Ubuntu devices: the phone (the bq Aquaris E4.5 – the low-end one) and the tablet (the bq M10HD – the best one available) and both are still useful. The E4.5 is my sole mobile phone and serves me very well. Actually, I haven’t noticed any stability nor other problems in last 12 months. There are some issues with Bluetooth input devices (the GUI may restart after the device is connected) but I haven’t used the keyboard with the phone for a long time (I even lost the keyboard and didn’t noticed that…). The Bluetooth speakers seems to work without such problem. To be honest, I finally have managed to remove all unnecessary stuff from the phone (to save space – it has only 8 GB of storage for everything * including the OS) and not there are only applications that I really use on the phone.

The tablet is an another story – the last update of the Ubuntu (in January 2017, I think) broke the external screen support. So now the X11-based applications work well on an external screen but the native (mostly) fail. So one can use the device in the desktop mode only if the internal (10″) screen is enough for his/her needs. There is also still the issue related to virtual keyboard for X11 applications – only specially prepared ones can use in. So the Firefox and the OpenOffice are OK but applications which are installed by the user can only work with an external hardware keyboard. And it limit’s the device usefulness on the move. This is not ideal, but for light work it may be OK.

So I actually use both devices: the phone on a daily basis and the M10 tablet mainly for testing of new applications and for lighter tasks (for example, it’s still better for WWW browsing than any of my computers except the Lenovo X61). During holidays I even used it as a desktop (on a stand with a keyboard, a mouse attached and speakers attached) without issues. It can use also the USB keyboard and mouse the GUI works without restart if no Bluetooth is involved…) but then it cannot be charged at the same time.

I’m still not brave enough to reflash my M10 tablet with the new system image from UbPort…

So things are not that bad as they may look.

Ubuntu Touch after it’s end

IRIS Indigo(s)

In recent months I have got two SGI IRIS Indigo machines: an older one with the 32bit MIPS R3000 CPU and a newer one a much more powerful MIPS R4000 processor (the firs 64bit CPU which was available for the SGI computers).

The boxes are both pretty snappy. Of course, when it comes to raw CPU power, they may be a bit slow. But for most normal applications they are more than OK (I have the IRIX 5.x on both). But even the R3000 one is not slow (it has a 33 MHz CPU). For example, I spent last night in debugging of my program for the GNU Octave and it wasn’t slow. There is a problem with 3D stuff – my machine has no Z-buffer card so many IrisGL and OpenGL programs or refuse to start at all (the FSN, for example) or they have some problems (the Andy Johnson’s Battalion). But a lot of things works well. Actually, I haven’t have too much time to play with it 3D graphics here. I will do it in a future, I hope.
I also did installed the MeshTV visualization software but at the moment I have no software which is able to output it’s SILO data format.

It is quite hard to use such machine for WWW browsing (the Gopher is OK, though). Available programs even cannot connect to most sites (the HTTPS support is too much outdated here). Fortunately, there still are some sites which are optimised for older browsers. So I installed the Netscape 3.0.1 for IRIX and started to use it.

The interesting thing is that the box is very quiet. It’s two SCSI drives are noisy at all which is quite unusual. It’s much quieter than my main workstation (the SGI O2).

The Indigo with the R4000 CPU arrived last week and only today I have managed to set it up. There are some damages from shipping (they broke the frontal doors) but it works. It is interesting that the CPU is a PC model (no secondary cache) which is known to be too slow in modern systems (the Indy and the Indigo2). But this system is fast (at least it feels fast). This machine came with the “Entry” graphics which is really basic: no (Iris|Open)GL hardware, just 8bit colors with dithering and only the 1024×768 resolution (and nothing better or worse). But it has a normal VGA connector which is nice (the 13W3 connector is here, too). So it’s more a general-purpose workstation for 2D tasks than a workstation for 3D modelling.

Actually, I’m thinking about making it my main machine for non-internet and non-3D tasks as it is possible to run here the most of things that I need (the LaTeX, the XFig, teh GNU Octave, Gnuplot and most of my own program codes). But I will see…

IRIS Indigo(s)

Remembering Palm Foleo

You might remember that around 2007 there was announcet an interesting palm product – a Foleo mobile companion. Essentially a subnotebook with Linux which has designed as an add-n to the Palm Treo smartphones. The Foleo had a comfortable keyboard, a large screen (at least compared to the Treo’s screen) and worked as an extension of the phone. It has it’s own WWW browser (which most probably wasn’t dependent on the phone) and used e-email, calendar and office applications shared with the phone.

The main idea was that user should be able to works with it’s data, e-mails and documents or on the phone or on a larger but still very portable device. Tehere is a lot of places where laptop-style device can be used: in trains, in airports, hotels and so.

Palm Foleo from Wikipedia/Wikimedia

Well, the things went wrong as in the same time the netbook hype was started (do you remember the Eee stuff from ASUS? – after all, some of their netbooks were very nice – we still have Eee 901 at home and it still has some use). The netbooks has similar size and battery life but they were much more universal than a very specialised and phone-bound Foleo. Thus the Palm decided to kill the product.

Anyway, some of the machines got to the wild. On can find photos at Flickr or even auctions with never used Foleo.

Well, the Foleo is dead (and the Palm itself is dead, too) and it is irreversible. But is there a modern device with similar idea. Well, two of them: these Chromebooks have somevhat similar idea – they are WWW browser-centered devices. They are less bound to a phone, though.
But there is a something called Superbook which is pretty close – it’s a notebook-style device which is actually an extension of an Androuid phone. I’m a bit curious how it will be succesfull.

Remembering Palm Foleo

KVM

There is little new here – except one thing: after many years I have finally managed to make full use of my KVM (keyboard-video-mouse) mechanical switch. It means that I have connected four keyboards and four mouses (I don’t use the video part at all as an acceptable picture is only guaranteed for resolution no higher than 1024×768 and my worst LCD is 1280×1024).

So what is connected:

  1. SGI O2
  2. SGI Indy
  3. Intel Compute Stick (my Linux PC)
  4. SGI IRIS Indigo

It’s an old mechanical PS/2 + VGA switch so it works in most cases (the Stick requires USB to PS/2 converter).

As you may expect, most time I use the !. and the 3. Other boxes are used sometimes (the Indy is much quieter than the O2 but also much slower and the Indigo I have just because I always wanted to have such thing).

KVM

Bluetooth Keyboard for Aquaris E4.5

As I wrote on Gopher, I have got a wireless keyboard (Bluetooth-compatible) – the Stowaway ThinkOutside Sierra. It’s externally almost identical to these ThingOutside keyboards which were designed to use with old good Palm handhelds (I personally have Palm III-compatible one but I’m not sure if there was version compatible with older Palm machines).

So it’s rather small and compact. The main difference is that there is no Palm-style connector. Instead there is a space for AAA battery and for Bluetooth electronics. The stand for the device is located at the bottom of the keyboard and it is used detached.

Stowaway ThinkOutside Sierra + bq Aquaris E4.5

As I have the keyboard for just a few days but it seems that it have eaten my alkaline battery in two weeks (I have no idea if the battery was OK initially so I will have to investigate this issue a bit more).

The biggest issue of the keyboard probably is its glossy metal enclosure (every tap of finger is visible here). It’s not a problem during use as these parts are on the bottom (they are visible only when the keyboard is folded).

The size was ideal when if was new: it is just about size of a Zaurus PDA and just lightly bigger than a Palm III. However, my current device (bq Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition) is much more slim and it is not so wide.

The typing on the keyboard is OK. It is foldable and it has 3 hinges and these hinges havesome influence on keyboard stiffness (my Palm-compatible one is stiffer and it less deformed in the center – I assume that is is related to what this particular piece of keyboard was shored and handled in the past).
The keys have normal size and distances. They have a short travel when pressed but it is comparable with normal notebook keyboard (yes, old ThinkPad keyboard is better but not much). There is even a numeric row. So typing (even in an arcane language like Czech) is easy and comfortable. The only important missing key is Esc (Fn+Tab here) and the right Shift and Enter are alightly smaller than
usual.

Of course, the non-standard Esc is a problem for us, active vi/vim users…

I typed this text on that keyboard which was connected to by E4.5 phone without issues (no missing/doubled letters and so). The only problem is too agressive energy-saving policy (the interval to disconnect the keyboard is too short) but
it should be an issue of the phone OS (the OTA-13 Ubuntu update didn’t changed this behaviour, by the way).

Bluetooth Keyboard for Aquaris E4.5