Ubuntu Touch Q&A 102
Focal news, OTA 18 approaching, What is UT really for?


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News and Update

UBports Q&A 102 was streamed live on 19 June 2021. The hosts this time were Dalton and Alfred.
A reminder to everyone who has not yet watched the ‘Love letter from the community to the community’ which is posted on our YouTube channel to check it out.
Go to devices.ubuntu-touch.io for info about whether your device is supported.

Focal 20.04 development news

We are not quite there yet with test images built on Focal. You will have to be patient for a little while longer. Also, just to be clear, the early releases will not run well. You may get some apps running with them but certainly not most of them.

Network-indicator is now building. Rachanan has been experimenting with trying to run all UT apps on Wayland, rather than using mirclient. It will be nice if that is successful. Bear in mind that it would be amazing if we can get that to happen but for you as a user, you simply won’t be aware of any difference at all. The switch to 20.04 will be via Settings and if we have done or job right (and it is a lot of work!) you will not notice any change. Rather frustrating really.

MediaScanner 2.0 is now building on Focal. This is the element which provides content to Gallery etc. Ubuntu-app-launch is now in. It has Click support but not Libertine support. Rpowerd is also building.

Apart from all this we are still doing some updates to Xenial. You will see those in OTA-18, coming soon. There were a few regressions found in rc for OTA-17. Those included mediahub not looping its audio correctly when only one track was being played. Podbird lost its ability to resume playback from its most recent position after being closed. Both of those have been fixed. Audio switching from headphones to speaker became a problem on Android 9 and we have resolved that. Unfortunately doing so caused a regression with Android 7 devices.

A fix for Android 7 devices (including Xperia X) with an odd look to the installation animation – including a failure of random blinking – has been done. You won’t see that change when you run the OTA-18 install because it is in OTA-18 :)

Lomiri now takes up 25% less RAM and runs faster on every device, in every situation.

Libertine now has a new icon in system settings. It is now the same colour as all the others and has a higher definition. Thanks for that to Adam Schree, especially as it was his first contribution to UT and his first PR ever on Github!

Dalton as a mentor 

As Dalton mentioned last time, he has recently taken on a role as mentor. Capsia (who completely redesigned the Devices pages) is the mentee. The first mentored task was a redesign of the greeter view in UT. That is the place where you enter your password to gain access. The intention was to modernise and refresh that interface. Prior to that, he completed his work on the Documentation theme. The layout is easier to navigate, as it adopts some conventions which are well established elsewhere. It also now has a dark theme and in that theme Yumi goes to sleep, which is cute.  

Thank you Peter 

A shout out by the way to Peter who has been doing a great job on tidying the content of our documentation all this time.

Volume controls

It turns out that volume control in calls is entirely separate from volume control elsewhere, so the devices feature list has been updated to show two separate categories.

Template update for ported devices

Capsia has added merger request templates which will make it much easier for porters to update the details for the devices which they maintain. In addition, there is now an ability to mark a listed port as ‘unmaintained’ so that users are not left waiting around pointlessly.

X-forwarding on NVIDIA solution

The idea at the outset was to run Lomiri in a VM and use that as a test environment. After three hours it didn’t work and threw up an NVIDIA error. It turns out that X-forwarding is nearly impossible on an NVIDIA system unless host and guest are running the same NVIDIA system, so can share the same driver. That straight away rules out developing for Xenial on a 20.04 machine.

Jonny then came up with the idea that Clickable can bridge the gap, by creating a Clickable JSON that can then build Lomiri. No X-forwarding or setting up of containers is required! There is no lag caused by forwarding and it is very slick and switchable between different virtual users. This new environment is able to carry out tests to see if UI bug fixes have worked. There was a scrolling problem in the interface and while Dalton was buried in the documentation, Capsia came up with one line of code and fixed it :)

There were some bugs in the old greeter and those had to be fixed before a new design could be developed.

Reddit UBports section

The Reddit UBports section is suddenly alive again. A user who goes by the name of carbonatedbread is the owner of the new unofficial subReddit. Many thanks go out to them.

Aris's survey of porters

Dalton gave another plug to Ari’s survey of porters. The survey can be found by asking in @UBports_porting That is because none of you took any notice the last time :( Hey guys…

Thanks though to all those who tested out the accounts fixes for the PinePhone. They won’t be ready for OTA-18 but we will get them into OTA-19.

MMS news

We have made progress with MMS testing but there are bound to be some more bugs lurking, so please keep up that effort. It needs devel installed and then five commands in terminal to get the test build installed but making an advance on this is important, especially for the US market.

FAQ page update needed

The FAQ on our website was written in 2017 and is now very, very tired. It needs to go. Writers (especially with a technical understanding) are invited to look at the existing FAQ and submit substantial re-writes.


The News section of our Forum is the best place to post questions for the Q&A. YouTube live chat, Telegram and Matrix are other places to post a question.

If you didn't know, the Forum questions get priority.

GPU acceleration

Povoq asked whether any progress has been made on enabling in-browser GPU acceleration for those devices that support it? Nikita is looking at this but the issue as always is where do we find the time to do it. Last time we tried it there were some bugs on some devices and we haven’t made any progress on limiting implementation to those devices where it does work. With the work to close OTA-18, don’t expect any movement on this for the next couple of weeks, although the necessary steps are pretty much known.

Qt 5.15

Povoq also asked whether back-porting to Qt 5.15 is a major project around the corner, once we reach 20.04? It is difficult to say. There is certainly zero spare capacity at the moment. Overall, it isn’t practical to see much beyond a horizon of six months because we rely so heavily on volunteers.

Morph and EFF's page testings

Ubuntoutou asked about the EFF’s page for browser testing. Unfortunately Morph browser does badly in their tests, doing little to block trackers. Our browser is based on chromium. It is a good, functional browser but quite bare-bones. If someone has time to test out some browsers that are similarly built on qtwebengine and finds that they have incorporated some good protections, we could in principle ‘borrow’ their solutions with minimal effort. A fix for now might be to look at how your uAdblock is configured. Resetting it may make a substantial difference.

Pixel 3a XL fingerprint sensor

Trwidick asked whether Alfred knew that the fingerprint sensor on the Pixel 3a XL sometimes scrolls on the web browser? It seems that the grab service is not always starting properly, so the logical approach would be to remove the scrolling option from the kernel, preventing the device from slipping into that mode. Oddly, Alfred has never had this issue himself, so it is a strange one. Of course if someone had the time to integrate the scrolling function into the shell and then harness it to do something fancy that would be great. Linking to the indicators would be especially cool.

New devices

Messayisto asked about a comment last time that there would be some newer devices which would naturally supplant some of the really old devices such as Nexus 5 and OnePlus 1. What devices do you suggest as replacements for those?

Pixel 3a has issues on US carriers so if you are there avoid that. There are likely to be some devices which will not get VoLTE support ever, which would make them useless after a few years, depending on your zone. Xperia X is still a good choice for those who don’t have a lot to spend. It is not perfect but for most people it makes a nice daily driver.

Ubuntu Touch, what is really for?

Matthias had another question, this time about what UT is really for? Is it about getting rid of my Android phone completely and using it as daily driver? When he talks to friends and family about Sailfish or UT the response is always about apps and in particular about Whatsapp, which is central to people’s lives :/ . So are you planning on deploying ‘standard’ apps?

Dalton professed himself to be a very practical person. If UT was not a practical solution, he would not be using it as a daily driver. Simple as that. Dalton still has a 2014 Motorola, manufactured in Texas when it was under Google ownership. Because of that link it got a flood of updates and it is still working today. From the outset it could detect the state of being in a car driving and would immediately respond by speaking notifications as they came in. It had voice control offline. In Android 5 they added the ability to change the wake word. Unfortunately that update also brought in a pretty big bug, known as the Mobile Data Active bug. That function prevented sleep and would suck up the battery big time. The workaround was to manually turn off mobile data in settings, at times when it was not going to be needed. Dalton’s device is locked to Verizon so there was no exit hack. The Nexus 5X was Dalton’s replacement for that. He ran Paranoid-Android for two years, first with and then without the Google apps. The battery life with the 5X though gradually tumbled. Most have now died.

Getting more interested in what the Google apps were doing, Dalton followed the instructions for viewing his activity since 2014 and found all the preserved recordings of his voice, back to that time. That was pretty creepy. Those recordings included some of what he was saying just before his ‘Hey Google’, which was doubly creepy. He had come across UT informally because it was around at the time and went down the Linux route. An aspect of it was not just the technical thing of an OS but the human thing of a community, which was important too.

If you just want to tinker with UT that is fine. There are plenty of devices out there which are within the financial reach of many people. You don’t have to use it as a daily driver if Snapchat is a central component of your life. If you don’t need those proprietary apps, UT will work fine for you as a daily driver. It is entirely a practical choice and one for you to make. Nobody is forcing anyone.

Some in the community are more actively idealist but the idealists and the practical minded get along very well and debate happily and productively.

Alfred counts himself in the idealist camp and compares the issue to food. He would rather cook a meal himself from the ingredients rather than relying on fast food. He has control over what goes in and over the process used. Isodrive and Ghostcloud are applications he made not out of high minded concern for others but because he needed those things to make UT work for him. Using UT as an alternative to a live USB is unique to UT. Android can’t do that. Taken overall, UT is completely open. A developer can do with it whatever they have the skills to do.

In iOS you can work on an application but if running it better needs something tweaked in the OS there is not a thing you can do about it. You have zero access. With UT, if you are able to you can alter the core of the system in a way that not only opens up possibilities for you but benefits all the other users too.

A reminder that Anbox is being developed actively now so we should reach a point where if you are ‘hooked’ on a particular app like Whatsapp you won’t have to have an Android phone or iPhone to access that. [With Anbox you should be able to use the Whatsapp voice chat function. With Whatsweb on UT you get only texting.]

We always look forward to hearing from people how UT fulfills their needs or doesn’t.

See you next time :-)

Interview with Rudi Timmermans