Category Archives: maemo

The webserver on a ‘phone

Yesterday I successfully built Apache APR and HTTPD (the webserver) on my pocket-‘puter, a Nokia N900, also known as a smartphone.

The prerequisite to that was to install a development environment.  I wanted something native running on maemo, and while the tools don’t run entirely smoothly (apt-get fails to find many of the packages), a bit of googling found me ossguy’s page leading to the necessary packages and repositories to set up a working GNU toolchain.

Having installed gcc and a couple of other packages from the repos, building APR, APR-util and HTTPD went mostly smoothly.  For the record (and I may update this post when I’ve figured out more about it):

  1. Configure’s detection of grep and egrep fails, despite both utilities being available in standard places and working fine.  This may be an artifact of the GNU-toolchain-derived configure script’s syntax failing with the “ash” shell.  As a workaround I removed the broken detection and replaced in each configure script with
  2. There were a number of assembler warnings.  To be investigated.
  3. APR-UTIL failed the xlate test.  This may mean that iconv is not available but APR_HAVE_ICONV is incorrectly detected/set.  I recollect a similar issue with OpenSolaris, and I suspect a bug in the configure/build scripts.
  4. A few extra prerequisites were required, like zlib-dev for mod_deflate.

All in all, remarkably straightforward, and I was much surprised to see only the one failure from the test suite.  The webserver is up and running, and in future I expect to treat it the same as any other dev-platform server.

Furthermore, if it’s that easy on Maemo, I’d expect it to be similarly straightforward on other ARM/Linux platforms such as Android.

Living with Maemo

OK, I’ve had the new pocket-puter a couple of weeks now, and apart from that keyboard I like it.  As predicted, I’ve come to terms with the touchscreen and find it easy to use (except for some web controls which can be hard to pick up: e.g. the volume control on the BBC iplayer).

Overall, I prefer the hardware on the old E71, with the obvious exceptions of the screen and camera where the N900 excels.  But the Maemo software is incomparably better.  Just to take one example, I want to connect to the ‘net using a wifi network where available but otherwise defaulting to the telephone network.  While Symbian requires a deal of faffing to do that, Maemo “just works”.

When I was contemplating the purchase, I asked on this blog what Maemo really is, and was assured that it’s a real Linux.  I can confirm that it is indeed that, and that I can install Linux packages through the Debian tools (apt-get et al).  I have yet to install gcc and a developer environment, but I don’t anticipate any difficulty with it.

Maemo is not stripped down to a toy: rather it takes a Debian base, and adds an alternative GUI, which is optimised for the small screen.  It’s intuitive and easy to use, and makes brilliant use of available screen space and the touchscreen.  Interactive applications toggle easily between fullscreen, fullscreen-with-toolbar, and thumbnail (minimised) with a consistent look-and-feel.  The web browser is a small-screen skin on gecko (firefox), and is not bad.  The mailer is positively nice, or will be when I figure out how to fix composition to get rid of pseudo-HTML: much better than some mainstream mailers I use, including thunderbird and to a lesser extent Mac mail.

One thing has me baffled: how do I bootstrap a password either for root or sudo?  After googling for a solution, I worked around it by installing a rootshell which gets me passwordless root powers (!), but that’s not the kind of hack to which I expect to have to resort.  /me shudders.

I’ve looked at Nokia’s OVI store, but I don’t see so much point to most of it when I have the whole repertoire of *X apps at my fingertips.  OK, having said that, I’m sure I’ll install some things: the radio player, for instance.  I installed a weather widget, but I don’t even recollect if that was from OVI or pre-loaded, and it’s only really a toy.  The only serious app I installed was the root shell, which seems to be a prerequisite for using apt!

One more slight niggle: on the E71, Nokia’s maps are nice, but Google’s are nicer.  On the N900 there’s no google maps: I can get them on the ‘net, but that loses the GPS functionality.  So it’s Nokia or nothing with the GPS.

But in a sense, all this is mere detail.  What I now have is connectivity from anywhere I can get the ‘phone network.  So I needn’t lose email, ssh, etc (and be fretting to get home) when I spend a day or two somewhere with no wifi available, whether it be in a technophobe house or up on the moors.  Yay!


This is a first post from the Nokia N900, using not my own wifi but O2’s mobile 3G (or whatever it’s called these days) network.

I have to say, I’m a bit disappointed.  I’m sure I’ll get used to the touchscreen, but altogether less inspired by this keyboard.  Having lived a year with the beautifully-engineered E71 and the world’s smallest (but nevertheless easy and pleasurable to use) QWERTY keyboard, I had some faith in Nokia’s designers.  It was evidently misplaced: this keyboard is poorly-designed and will always be a pain to use. Next up: try it with a full-size USB or bluetooth keyboard, but that doesn’t help when out in the hills, or on the bus.

I still expect to find uses for it.  It’s already better for Web than the E71 (bigger screen), and being Linux means I can presumably install things like decent mail and IRC apps.

[update] fix the typos that were inevitable on the N900 (but which magically don’t happen on the E71).


Convergence between the ‘puter and the mobile ‘phone is coming.  My existing phone (E71) is a step along the way, and arguably skype on the laptop is approaching from the other direction.

Now Nokia have released the N900, and I’m thinking this looks interesting.  Have they bridged the gap to the point of being worth buying as a converged device, or is this still no more than an interesting device that nearly makes it?

On the plus side, it’s a Linux box, with builtin display but also the capability of plugging in to a monitor, keyboard and mouse when at a desk, all in a unit that’ll fit in a pocket, and can be used in a smaller space than a conventional laptop/netbook.  And with a SIM card it offers builtin connectivity.

As against that, it’s on the bulky side for a mobile ‘phone, and lacks the battery life of the E71 or a simpler device.  One wouldn’t want it to replace the phone.

And the crux of the matter: is Maemo really Linux as we know it, or am I going to find it a waste of time to attach that keyboard and monitor and try to use it as a porta-‘puter?

I guess a good proxy for that question is, does it run X11 natively / without fuss?  If it does, I think enough follows from that to make it a real ‘puter.  If not, what I want may still be vaporware.

Anyone using the device as I envisage?  Or tried but found it problematic?