Ubuntu Touch Q&A 73
Pinephone with UT and Volla Android 9 compatibility
13 April 2020
News and Update
The PinePhone ‘UBports Community Edition’ pre-order offer is open now and will ship with Ubuntu Touch pre-installed. It has the Yumi logo on the back, a new motherboard revision to fix issues in 'Braveheart,' and most importantly, a fancy box! It will be available while supplies last. It is scheduled to ship at the end of May. You can install a different compatible OS if you wish, just by using an SD card.
UBports had a meeting with Volla during the first week in April and there was a discussion around Android 9 compatability, Anbox integration etc. Nikita is working on Halium 9, which will be used by the Volla phone. See more about it at volla.online
Alfred spoke about the current status of Halium 9, which is a project to enable Ubuntu Touch and other operating systems to run on Android phones based on versions 9. Pretty much all of the base system is running now, including sensors using sensorfw. Bluebinder is installed so Bluetooth works. Calls connect but there is no audio with them yet. Google Pixel 3a is a port which Alfred is working on. Erfan has released a new GSI [generic system image] with roofts and packaged Halium. The compatibility intended by Project Treble does actually seem to be having some valuable consequences. Those who are porting devices using this new version of Halium will only need to supply kernel modifications, so the process should become much simpler and many more devices should come on stream.
A big thank you to all who have been donating via SEPA and Paypal into our new Foundation bank account.
New ported devices page
Jan has been busy building a more comprehensive devices page. There is so much progress that some new devices are still not listed. It tells you which can use the installer currently (although the new installer will give an advice prompt for phones which it knows about but cannot install directly). The device information is rendered from Markdown in the devices.ubuntu-touch.io repository on GitLab.
Florian spoke about the problem of having to update the kernel on many devices, after trying out Anbox. This was overcome for Nexus 5 previously and Florian has removed that downside for OPO. Useful for users of Anbox. Anyone porting other devices should aim to add patches relevant to their own device.
Localization of core apps
There have been localization issues for a long time, affecting core apps and things like indicators. Adria asked Florian if he would push for more help with this. We need more volunteers, especially if they have specialized knowledge about keyboards, text completion etc. Approach Florian and others if you want to participate. The best email contact is email@example.com
OTA-12 stable is getting very close now. External display support is fixed. Libertine keyboard and the strange pink colouration bug are fixed. File Manager app now asks for login. Some testing still needs to be done but we are close.
Sponsors were thanked.
The News section of our Forum is the best place to pose questions for the Q&A. YouTube live chat, Telegram and Matrix are other places to post a question.
Uninstalling core apps
Cela would like to be able to uninstall some core apps which he doesn’t use.
Some can be removed from view but the space they take up is not freed. They remain in the image. The external drives app should really be part of Settings, not free standing at all. We should get around to doing that sometime. Media Player and Browser are present as deb packages. Removing the icons from the UI might be possible but would we make it possible to reinstate them?
Danqo6 asked about the Covid-19 situation and what impacts it is having on UBports.
Dalton replied that much of the practical stuff continues as before, not least because many key individuals work from home under normal circumstances anyway. What is of course true is that many individuals in our community are feeling very stressed out at the moment. Marius has a role in the health sector so that is occupying a lot of his time at the moment. For everyone in our community, looking after their own welfare and that of their family must always come first. They should not allow our project to get in the way of that. We will be here to welcome them when they return. To all of you – take care and keep safe.
Import duty on PinePhone is up to local jurisdictions.
PinePhone import duty in the UK should be around £25, we think. Better to double-check before ordering if you're concerned.
Stanwood wanted to know what improvements will come with OTA-12 and where everyone can follow that.
You can check the OTA12 project board in GitHub but it only shows the major things. App improvements are sometimes dependent on changes made by an OTA but mostly they evolve separately and you can see that in the OpenStore listings.
poVoq asked about qtwebengine holding back e.g. video-chat implementation and what prospects for an upgrade.
Chris has updated our qtwebengine to version 5.14, which is a huge improvement but we don’t want to risk breaking OTA12 before release by including that now. Hopefully it will be in OTA-13. Alfred cautioned though that video chat is not resolved by the improvements in qtwebengine, which doesn’t include the necessary protocols by default. It would still be a separate project and a substantial one.
How many units of the PinePhone ‘Community Edition’ will be produced
No figure has been given. Get one before they are gone! :)
Ubuntu Touch system security
kalle.kruse asked about the threat of potential Trojans, viruses, and other security threats as Ubuntu Touch becomes more known.
We have to be honest and say that there are some issues. Older devices depend on kernel versions 3.4 or 3.10 which is now quite ancient. They have radio firmware which has not been fully patched against Blueborn and similar susceptibilities. PinePhone however uses mainline kernel and its radio is essentially an isolated black box without privileges. That device could open up the possibility of significant hardening measures. In terms of our OS in general, our builds have key fingerprints and we operate sensible measures on our servers. Of course more could be done, including by locking our bootloaders. Security is a minefield though. We would love to have access to expert resources, as it is a very specialised area. Security audits would be great but we don’t have the necessary capabilities internally.
Ma asks whether installation on Volla phone will be easier because it was not originally produced as an Android phone? Some phones install easily, others are a challenge for a variety of reasons. PinePhone is very easy via SD but Volla still makes use of an Android base and therefore uses Android Halium 9. They differ from most companies with Android hardware though in wanting to be more transparent about device trees etc.
Will the Volla install be a modified UT or the original? See Q&A 63 for a full discussion of the Volla phone. More information on integration will emerge as we progress.
Aury88 said the Astro Slide project looks interesting - are you in contact with them?
It is indeed an Interesting device, with a slide out keyboard. There has been no official contact with them but if we could work towards running UT on their device, that would be fantastic.
How-to get involved in Lomiri development
Alan Griffiths asked about a demonstration that Marius did, using Lomiri in a virtual machine. How can people get involved in the project to develop Lomiri
Dalton explained that it runs in QEMU with no problems. With limitations, it is possible to use it on a laptop. It is far from being suitable for daily use but you can certainly play with it and developers who would like to take it forward would be warmly welcomed.
System/homed feature on UT
Aurze asked about the possibility of systemd-homed in future.
It would increase security significantly by allowing for encryption of the Home folder. It is an exciting project which separates private data off into a portable layer, independent of the system. Again, it would be very interesting to see what we could do with it – though it would also be very challenging. Other approaches, based instead on file based encryption could provide different solutions. Compatibility would be a major issue. We would probably need a different variant for each supported device. Again, anyone with experience of file based encryption is welcome to assist us.
New Android devices support
Will Android devices still be supported in future or are we moving to just PinePhone and Volla?
We will maintain a varied set of ways to use UT. Sometimes an Android phone is a more affordable option or it is ‘free’ because an individual already has one sat in a drawer waiting to be used.
Alfred is at @fredldotme on Twitter, for those who want to read more about Halium 9 (and his Pixel 3a).
Florian hoped to spend a bit more time working on his Nexus 6P. There are no calls or camera but everything else is okay.
See you next time :-)