Nokia N900 - with Maemo

Oliver Brown
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Despite becoming the sole owners of Symbian, Nokia have gone ahead and announced the N900. The N900 is the next in the 770/N800/N810 line of devices based on the Debian-derived Maemo platform. Unlike it’s predecessors however, the N900 is in fact a phone.

One of the best things about the previous Maemo devices is the lack of restrictions on what you could do. Enabling root access to the underlying Linux system was possible (and easy) allowing a lot of access. Even updating it with unsigned firmware images was allowed. In theory this will all be possible with the N900, but in practice, things might not be so open. I remember a quote from someone at Nokia some time ago along the lines of “As soon as you put a sim in it, the operators want a piece of it”. Although you can get a sim-free unlocked N900 (the UK price is advertised as £499.99) I’d guess any operator subsidised N900 will have restrictions.

Back to vanilla MythTV - Part 2: Fiddling

Oliver Brown
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After installing MythDora, there were a few extra things I had to do that took a while to figure out.

Upgrade to mythtv-trunk from ATrpms

I figured I just enable the “bleeding” repository and then do yum install mythtv. This worked fine. But nothing was different. It seems that “mythtv” is a meta package that just says you have Myth installed without actually containing anything. So then I tried yum install mythtv-frontend mythtv-backend mythtv-setup mythweb mythplugins. This worked up until a point but then failed a transaction test. The actual failure was a mismatch between themes that different parts provided. I decided this was unimportant but couldn’t force yum to install. So I installed apt (yum install apt) and used that (apt-get install mythtv-frontend mythtv-backend mythtv-setup mythweb mythplugins and it all went fine.

Import old recordings

This was easier than I expected. Simply replace the database with your old one (make sure you stop mythbackend before you do). I had previously copied all my old recordings to my FreeNAS box and dumped the database (mysqldump -u _username_ -p mythconverg > mythconverg.sql). So I deleted the mythconverg database and imported the SQL file (mysql -u _username_ -p < mythconverg.sql. You could also just copy the mythconverg directory in the MySQL data directory directly. The next time you start mythbackend it will update the database schema (if necessary) and everything will work. Apparently if you had slave backends on your old system you might have problems but I didn’t so I’m not entirely sure what they are…

Automatically mount a remote file system

To get MythTV to save on my FreeNAS server I obviously needed to mount it at start up. This was simpler than I expected (although I did it using a terminal). Open the file /etc/fstab and add the line: _server_:_/share_ _mount_point_ cifs defaults 0 0. server is the IP address of the FreeNAS server, /share is the folder on the server mount_point is the name you want to access it with locally (this directory should already exist - you normally make a sub directory of /mnt. After adding this run the command mount -a to force the system to mount all the file systems (it does this automatically at start up). Then run MythTV Setup, select storage groups and add the mount point you chose as a directory.

Back to vanilla MythTV - Part 1: MythDora Rocks

Oliver Brown
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Well I tried LinuxMCE but didn’t really get very far.

After deciding everything was too much of a hassle, I downloaded MythDora 4.0 and installed it. I have to say that unless you have a specific reason otherwise, MythDora is definitely the way to go for a MythTV installation. It was really easy and actually worked (something that seems not to have happened a lot when I’ve tried Linux). One of the big advantages of using MythDora is since it’s Fedora based you can update (usually) painlessly from ATrpms. It has MythTV packages based on regular SVN checkouts. Importantly for me it also has packages from from mythtv-trunk (the latest version). Although they’re marked as “bleeding” they are usually stable.

The reason I needed the latest version is for storage group support. Without storage groups MythTV is limited to storing recordings in a single directory, storage groups allows you to specify multiple storage groups, each containing several directories. MythTV then use some clever load balancing to spread things out across available drives. This is important for me since I was planning on keeping most of my recordings on my new FreeNAS server, at least in the long term. The recordings aren’t tied to a specific storage group by the way - you can move them around freely (so I record to the local hard drive and then move them to the FreeNAS server later).

Once it was installed I did have to do a bit of fiddling, and it’s the sort of fiddling other people may have to do, so I’ll explain in part 2.

LinuxMCE 0704

Oliver Brown
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A new version of LinuxMCE is out. And from what I’ve read (I haven’t installed it yet) it looks like a big improvement.

The biggest factor is improved MythTV support (which to be honest I feel is the most important part of it). They also claim the DVD quick install only requires three keypresses (but that’s only for the install, no setup). There is thankfully a new video as well that is considerably less annoying than the previous one - complete with disclaimers about things that may only work on specific hardware.

On the subject of specific hardware, there is a company called Fiire offering some pretty affordable computers with LinuxMCE already installed. Personally I’d build the core myself but maybe buy their thin clients.. They also a do a cool remote with built in gyro (like a remote/gyro-mouse combo) but it’s a $150…

LinuxMCE 1.1

Oliver Brown
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Last month a new version, of LinuxMCE was released bringing with it some much needed improvements. The most noticeable is a switch from Ubuntu to Kubuntu (and an upgrade to Feisty) which apparently the KDE people are so happy about they want to bundle LinuxMCE with KDE 4. The most important in my opinion however is better integration with MythTV. From what I’ve been reading on their forums it’s not mature enough for general users (even less so than MythTV on its own) but it definitely has potential and if you’re comfortable with Linux and have a spare machine, you should go try it.

A plethora of Myth distributions

Oliver Brown
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Like Linux in general, there are few MythTV distributions you can get. Unlike Linux in general, most of them have specific purposes they work best for. The three popular ones I know of are:

MythDora is just Fedora with MythTV (and its dependencies). This is intended to leave you with a completely usable Linux installation that includes MythTV. It comes on DVD and is certainly the largest of the three.

KnoppMyth is either based on Knoppix or Debian (or really both) depending on how you look at it. Knoppix is a slimline distribution based on Debian and KnoppMyth was originally based on Knoppix. But I’m sure I read somewhere that the latest is version is just based on Debian but in the same way Knoppix is. Whatever the situation is, all you really need to know is that it is a minimal installation that leaves you with a fully functional MythTV installation but relatively little else.

MiniMyth is the smallest of the three and the most specialised. It only runs the frontend software and only the EPIA mini-ITX motherboards. Furthermore it is designed to run disklessly booting over a network - mainly as a silent set top box in your living room.

The only one I’ve actually tried is KnoppMyth which was easy enough to install. From what I’ve been reading they all seem easier than installing MythTV into an existing installation.

Cross platform games on the PS3 and the Xbox 360

Oliver Brown
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In case you didn’t know, the PS3 can run Linux. Not only that but it’s officially supported by Sony. You can download (for free) a utility to put a boot loader on to some media (most likely a hard-drive but memory cards, memory sticks and anything else the PS3 can read (and can hold 10Mb) are supported) and set it to boot “Other OS” (that’s what the menu says).

There are already videos on the Internet of it running Fedora. Zac Bowling already has one running Mono, a task simplified by the fact that the cell processor appears as a PPC. So where does the Xbox 360 come into this? Well Microsoft are releasing something called XNA, a modified/extended version of the the .NET 2.0 run-time with emphasis on Managed DirectX that is available for Windows and the Xbox 360. A version of XNA called Mono.Xna that is built on top of the Tao framework is in development. The end result is that in theory, games developed using XNA will run on Windows, Linux, Macs, PS3’s and Xbox 360’s. A few problems still exist. The processor that the PS3 uses is rather strictly an in-order processor so most stuff that isn’t written specifically for that will run slowly (although video playback will be pretty zippy) and so far there is no hardware 3D support for an “Other OS” so XNA (if it were available now) would run slowly.

Nokia 770

Oliver Brown
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My recently ordered Nokia 770 has arrived :o)

For those that don’t know, it isn’t a phone - Nokia market it as an “Internet Tablet”. Basically it’s a PDA running Linux with WLAN, Bluetooth and an 800x480 touchscreen display.

There’s too much about it that’s cool for me to go into right now, so I’ll leave you with the picture :)

Apparently the term “UMPC” is being used by a few people to describe the 770 (and similar devices) - “Ultra Mobile PC”.

Microsoft playing nice?

Oliver Brown
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Well it seems despite the massive market share (approaching monopoly status in certain markets), Microsoft are realising that working with other companies can actually be a good thing. Windows Live Messenger’s interoperability with Yahoo! Messenger is a small step, their latest announcement is much bigger.

Ron Hovsepian and Steve Ballmer take the stage together to announce a new collaborative relationship between Novell and Microsoft.

Apparently the deal involves some patent sharing, setting up a research team to work on improved virtualization and Microsoft indirectly selling Novell support to it’s customers who also have Linux servers. Read about the whole deal on Novell’s website.

Wine Is Not an Emulator

Oliver Brown
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After my post about ReactOS I felt I should mention Wine.

Wine has similar goals to ReactOS, namely to give users the ability to run Windows applications without buying Windows, but goes about it in a different way. Wine is an implementation of the Windows API designed to run in Linux.

This seems like a better approach since a lot of the features of an operating system which have to be implemented by ReactOS already exist in Linux. And of course it can run native Linux apps too. Since it isn’t an emulator, applications theoretically run at the same speed, but the fact that all the library code has been written from scratch this is rarely the case.

Contrary to popular belief regarding Microsoft’s ability to write “good code”, much of the stuff underlying Windows is quite well optimised and being so new, some of the stuff in Wine isn’t. Although in a random twist you can apparently get certain random apps to run faster because the Wine team happen to have written that bit of code better. Even so, it’s still a viable alternative in some situations.

PS. One of the stranger ideas the have is running Wine under Cygwin (a compact implementation of many Linux APIs) on Windows.