News and Update
Alfred appeared on Linux Unplugged podcast
Alfred appeared on a recent Linux Unplugged podcast. It was all about UT and Halium. A positive comment from a Jupiter team member is that UT is the most usable GNU/Linux OS for mobile. There is a lot of interest in what we are doing now. You can tune in from linuxunplugged.com/360
Test app and testers needed
Jan spoke about testing, which has been a bit chaotic and random until now. It has relied on users stumbling across issues and reporting them. We needed to get much more structured in our approach and have made progress with that. We now have a beta version of a new Test app, so now we need testers for the Tester! Message Jan if you would like to participate. There is no requirement for any developer skills, you just need a UT device, so you can report back on how the software works. When you open the app, you will see a list of software elements that are ready for testing. With this new tool, we will be able to narrow down to a single type of device. We have a lot of combinations of variables now. Lots of different devices, several different builds etc. It has become very complicated.
Volla phone on UBports installer
Jan announced that the Volla phone is now supported by the UBports installer. The initial release of the phone can be got on Indiegogo but there are not many around at present. The fingerprint reader already works in UT.
OTA-13 progress has seen 34 issues go through QA. 30 PRs have been merged in the past two weeks. There is a Pulseaudio upgrade with more fixes for issues. Rachanan has been doing a lot of work on that. A libhybris upgrade will mean that ARM64 builds will no longer be limited only to Edge channel.
UI and background updates
Favourite contacts now appear in the Dialler app. The previous Settings layout has returned. Messaging and Address Book apps will both get upgrades. Many thanks to Lionel Duboeuf for his work on those. A birthdays field is going to be added, so you will be able to get reminders. In Contacts, quick scrolling by just typing a letter will be enabled. You will be able to initiate a call or delete a contact by a left or right swipe. Expect to see some of these new features in the next rc release, due next Wednesday,8 July. We are now back on track with releases.
Lots of things have been changed in the background, much of which is not visible to the user but will facilitate improvements which are visible. Many thanks to all of those who have been involved in making these changes. Apologies for the long delay on PRs, Some of them date back as far as January and February.
Pantalaimon as a Click in UT
Pantalaimon is a locally hosted service which adds a form of E2E encryption for Matrix and can be used by Fluffychat in UT. It is a bit fiddly to set up from scratch but work is going on to package this service as a Click so that it will run on the phone. If you want to know more about this, head to the forum and read the detail in the thread about it.
Pine64 devices got a Stable update on 4 July, remedying a WiFi failure problem. It uses a hack involving power management, which is not ideal as it cuts a couple of hours off battery life. It is worth it though, as prior to this, there was a wait of 10 to 20 seconds every time you wanted to use WiFi, which made the device almost unusable. Aeroplane mode has also been fixed, after a reboot.
The PineTab now has a system update process built in so you don’t have to use the installer every time.
Sponsors were thanked.
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.
Patreon is starting to charge sales tax on a substantial amount of the donations we receive. Add to that the fee which they take and the fees that the card processors take and the percentage of the total that we get has been going down quite a lot.
We value your Patreon donations of course but you may want to look at the other options available, to see if they would make your donations more effective by increasing the amount we ultimately receive.
A question was asked about Signal on UT. There is indeed a client but its name is Axolotl.
GSI and Images
Aurelio asked whether the new GSI is a change to the Halium side of the image or to the UT side of the image? The background is that the GSI under the old 7.1 version of Halium was specific to one device at a time. With Halium for Android 8 and 9, the aim was instead to have a generic GSI. Proprietary blobs used to be part of the system partition and we also needed specific integration with the proprietary drivers. Project Treble has made possible a single image which can adapt to multiple devices. The vendor partition is of course still separate and kernel patches are still device specific. Nevertheless, there are now many more common elements. Some parts of the GSI are in the Halium partition but others are in the UT rootfs. For example, the fingerprint reader has to be implemented on the rootfs side. The gstreamerdroid work has also had to be included in that way. The idea on the Halium side is to ship as many system libraries as possible, in order that every device is covered.Aurelio suggested that this will lead to faster porting of Treble compliant devices but asked whether it will lead to improvements in performance as well? Actually, we can now make use of HardwareComposer2 so the answer is yes, that can indeed mean a performance increase. A lot still depends on the quality of the implementation on the proprietary blob side of course. Alfred has compared the performance of the Xperia X and the Google Pixel 3a. He expected them to be about the same but he found that the Pixel is quite a lot smoother. It is certainly performs substantially better than any other device that runs UT, showing that we do indeed have something to gain from the newer Android components.
Lomiri for Vulkan
PoVoq asked whether anybody has tried Lomiri for Vulkan yet as there is a build for Raspberry Pi? There is a subset of Vulkan available out there. Well, Vulkan applications can be run under Mir and have been able to since at least late 2018. What is not clear is how much of Qt runs under Vulkan. There is work to make QtQuick OpenGL independent, to allow running on Metal – but also on DirectX12 and on Vulkan. They want that done by the Qt6 release. At the moment it is only in beta. So right now it doesn’t look like an option for us but it is something that could be there in the future.
How to backup apps data
Florian answered a question from xet7 in the live chat. The show software now allows for questions to be staged, so this was the first ever! The question was about backing up of apps and data in UT. It was followed by a question about using fingerprint reader to access any app. Unfortunately we still don’t have a comprehensive backup option. It is of course something we want to enable in the UI.
Phone and app settings are held inside two different folders in Home, so with an ADB command you can copy them to your computer. There is a forum thread which goes into the detail of how to do this. The transfer can be done by secure copy too, although that is a very slow option. This workflow can be used to transfer data to a new device but it requires some detailed touches.Some data specific to the originator device has to be deleted because it will not be right for the new device. Also if the same login appears on two devices, that can lead to online services being blocked.
Fingerprint sign in to apps?
In Android, there are ways to sign in to apps with your fingerprint. We have screen unlock by fingerprint but we don’t have that. It involves storing the encryption keys or storing the login, which we don’t do at the moment. Similarly, don’t expect payment apps to appear on UT phones as a whole new layer of security arrangements would need to be implemented in order to achieve that.
Emergency contacts on lock screen?
BigB asked what we think about having emergency contacts and medical information (diabetes etc) available on the lock screen? There has been a forum discussion just this week on this topic. We don’t have such a facility at present but there is an easy workaround, which is to add a wallpaper with that information to the lock screen. There is also an app called CircleMessage which might be able to deliver the same thing – but that option might not be persistent. For now, stick with the first option. But for the future, yes it would be nice to do that more elegantly if we can find a secure way to implement it.
Qt and Qtwebengine update
Farkasdvd said that Qt guarantees binary compatibility via D-pointer, hence replacing old Qt libraries with new ones in theory should not break anything. Is there any reason why a higher version of Qtwebengine is not planned for OTA-13? He would like to see 5.15 and the markdown support available from GUI , already in 5.14. We do need to upgrade Qt, that is clear. What isn’t clear at this point is whether we should go for 5.15 or just to 5.12. Qtwebengine 5.14 is in fact planned for OTA-13 but specifically because it is able to be installed alongside Qt version 5.9 without conflicts and dependencies. That means it can be done as a standalone upgrade and we don’t need to upgrade the whole stack in order to do it.
It isn’t in reality a simple matter to update the overall version because some of our apps use private headers which are not guaranteed to be stable with D-pointer links. The reality of software is that it just isn’t as easy at it looks on paper.
He also asked whether there are any plans to bring Flutter support to UT? Fluffychat has new features in the Flutter version that are not currently available in the QML [UT] version. Flutter uses a thing called an embedder. There is an experimental one for GTK which according to them is not yet ready for production use. There is a Flutter embedder for Wayland though, which might work. We have not moved over fully to Wayland as yet, so again something we may come to in the future. Of course the Wayland implementation is more advanced in the builds for PinePhone, PineTab and Raspberry Pi, so that could open up an avenue for experimentation. Yet another possibility is a web target option, which ought to work inside a webapp. So any HTML5 app, in principle.
It was asked whether we have issues tracking workflow? This question relates back to the issue tracker for the PinePhone on Gitlab. Entering tracking numbers from there into the UBports tracker on Github didn’t generate any sensible information. There is indeed a documented issue with workflow. The PinePhone tracker was set up in a modest way when only a few people had development models they were working on and it sufficed for that. Obviously the scale of use has grown enormously and what we managed with then has become really quite inadequate now. Dalton undertook to spend a few hours this week knocking it more into shape.
Bear in mind though that we are planning major changes to issue tracking and the way we involve users. We are heavily dependent on manual triage at the moment. Help and suggestions on how to build a more responsive and smoother system would be very welcome. We are behind on tagging too. If we caught up, things would run more smoothly. In Github you can get information about what is planned for each update. That only applies to builds on Android phones though. It is entirely different matter for PinePhone for which the same sort of information is not available. It uses Wayland rather than mirclient for apps and there are other differences too.
On the suggestion of a voting system [bounties anyone?] that leads back to the old question of what work actually gets done and the difficulty of marshalling small scale software development in any disciplined way.
Criticisms were taken on board and noted.
Porting using GSI
Fuseteam asked in live chat whether it is possible to port a device to Halium 9 using the GSI? Alfred explained that it depends on the device. If it has a Treble compatible vendor partition, then the answer is yes. With legacy devices, hardware abstraction may not work well or at all. There have been reports however of the OnePlus3 being used with the GSI and if that is the case, maybe there are possibilities?
Command line apps installation
Xet7 asked if it is possible to install something from the command line to chroot or lxc or other? That is the function of Libertine. It allows the creation of containers, also for legacy apps. You can run packages inside these, without messing with the UT base.
See you next time :-)