ALP ctd.

I’m spending this week at GUADEC 07 in Birmingham, UK and it’s great fun so far. The theme seems to be in a big part about two things (not counting GNOME, Linux, etc.): desktop web integration and mobile Linux. One of the presentation explained that with a slide that said “Go where the money is: 1. Web, 2. Mobile”. Unfortunately a lot of the talks, especially the keynotes, talk about money-oriented development being the best thing, complying with the needs of corporate users, competing with ms-windows, and even saying deadlines help you make better code (that maybe actually true but it’s so pragmatic and put in my face). Oh well, probably that’s normal in the desktop development world, which I’m not so much into. Everything’s pragmatic here.

In the same spirit was a talk about Hiker & ALP that the ACCESS Systems people had yesterday. The presentation gave some new insight into the whole ALP thing, but not a terrible lot of it. The Hiker guys had working demos of ALP simulator (basically Xephyr) on their laptops and the presentation had a couple of screenshots.

  • The look: ALP looks pretty much like PalmOS with a new, blue theme (default; there’s also a theme called Pony). The UI ideas are also taken from PalmOS but that’s probably an advantage for ALP, because that’s what PalmOS did right. The UI integrates nicely with GTK, has keypad navigation across all widgets that are on screen, and is closed-source.
  • The openness: as could be expected, ALP is horribly littered with proprietary software, in fact you could say it’s a whole new proprietary OS with the Linux kernel and some free projects unnaturally fitted into it, and the Hiker part open-sourced in order to keep appearance.
  • Hiker is not necessarily evil but imho it’s also not a piece of software that solves any current or serious problems of mobile computing, it’s just an alternative to a couple of other opensource frameworks for mobile apps (fortunately the Hiker authors made impression of being aware of that).
  • How does it compare to them? It probably stresses security more than the other projects and has this part covered more extensively (at least the presentation had). The approach to security is definitely original but it’s hard for me to tell if it’s totally correct. The idea is that the system assumes there’s only a single user (which is not a terribly bad assumption and the existing competing mobile distros also have this assumption in a lot of places), and since then the UNIX user and group IDs would be practically unused, they are instead used for process control, i.e. different programs run with different UIDs/GIDs and that allows for easy access control like allowing different apps to use different sets of resources (like /dev nodes, iptables) and preventing e.g. malware from spreading this way. It’s cool that they thought about malware but is this approach ok? UID stands for user id after all. They mentioned a kernel patch they had sent to mainline, related to this approach, which wasn’t accepted, so maybe that’s why. One thing that’s surely positive for Hiker is the clearly defined (ripped off PalmOS) applications behaviour policy (e.g. ensuring only a single instance of most normal apps at a time, etc.), this is where OpenMoko is probably lacking.
  • How does the rest of ALP compare? ALP looks much like a rewrite of PalmOS but this time based on a Linux kernel and other pieces of modern software. Unfortunately ALP is currently not yet even at the point where PalmOS left off, the implementation is just slowly caching up. It’s not any more open than PalmOS was and ACCESS is willing to go for all kind of compromises with hardware vendors and implement all those lock-ins whose avoiding is one of the objectives of a Free Phone (OpenMoko). They will also do a lot to promote their stuff, as is shown by the leaflets they handed out at their stands, full of typical marketting babble except in some places being completely untrue, rather than unclear.

There was some talk about allowing only certified apps to be used on ALP phones, depending on what the particular phone vendor decides.

The .prc loader depends on something called GarnetVM which is completely proprietary and which also in a way depends on Hiker, so probably quite useless for reusing on other devices. I was told it does load native ARM .prc’s as well as the m68k ones, although the Hiker people were not satisfied by the current compatibility level. They said it probably should run “properly written” PalmOS apps without modification, so this can mean many things. There is no connection that they know of, between their .prc loader and Palm Foleo .prc loader and compatibility layer, or any other parts of the Palm Foleo software.

ALP has the arguable advantage that it’s written with ease of making 3rd party apps in mind. There’s a set of Eclipse + CDT templates for ALP apps for everyone’s use (though they are making it sound like a whole new development environment based on opensource solutions, whenever they can) and the simulator thing (Xephyr). There’s obviously no hardware level emulation because they are not a hardware company and they don’t know what hardware ACCESS Linux will first be shipped with yet. They are looking for proposals. I saw one development phone that they use, it was a PXA running at about 300 MHz, CF and miniSD slots, 64 MB of RAM and 64 MB of Flash, a nice white case. If I guessed correctly, it had two cameras, one facing the user and one on the other side. The camera is supported under ALP. It had no touchscreen.

A Maemo person asked if they have had problems with startup times on ALP because that’s one of the things Maemo earlier struggled with and they confirmed they did and still do have problems.

It was said that they talked to Mickeyl about using Hiker in OpenMoko and Mickey liked the idea. I’m pretty sure that won’t happen before the Neo1973 release because Hiker seems to be currently even less complete than OpenMoko, also I can’t see any problem that switching to Hiker might possibly solve. Note, however, that the 0.9.1 tarball I downloaded from their site before GUADEC, was mostly a 2006 code and there must have been some progress since then. (This also shows that it’s not a normal open project because the development was going on in some internal repositories except the two released tarballs. The whole developer network (ADN) for which you have to register, also hints on palmsource.com, msdn and the likes).

Since yesterday Hiker is double-licensed under MPL and LGPL, fact that was announced during the talk.

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One Response to “ALP ctd.”

  1. Mickey Says:

    Minor clarification: I think there’s quite a number of components in Hiker that every mobile phone platform eventually will have a use for. I’ll surely have an eye on Hiker and evaluate it the same as I’m still doing with hildon. There is no notion of “switching” though, it’s more about “grabbing” and integrating some pieces if they are good :D

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