Exploring Software: Baytrail Revisited or ‘Older Becomes Better’
The author, who loves to explore software of different kinds and their application on hardware devices, is also fond of sharing his open source philosophy!
Iwrote about my experience with the iBall Compbook in October 2016. This was an inexpensive netbook, barely 1kg in weight. However, I had been surprised to find that running Linux on it was not easy. I was surprised because the same Baytrail Intel Atom CPUs and chipsets are used for Chromebooks, which are based on Linux.
The first issue with the Compbook is that it is a 64bit CPU but with a 32-bit EFI BIOS. The previous article discussed the complexity of installing Linux on such a system and getting it to work.
However, even after successful installation, the system was unstable. The Wi-Fi did not work and neither did the sound. I continued to use Windows 10 on the system but kept updating the system regularly. The system then became more stable and the Wi-Fi started to work well, though the sound continued to be an issue.
Then, after the update to Linux Kernel 4.14, the sound also began to work, and finally, the default boot option for the iBall Compbook became Linux (Fedora 27, to be precise).
Currently, Bluetooth still does not work, but I do not need it for normal usage; and I have a USB Bluetooth dongle which works fine with the Compbook.
Republic Day hopes
As the switch to Linux on the netbook happened around Republic Day, I could not help but reflect on the advantages of open source, especially in a culture that measures success based on consumption and wants each one to consume more.
There is no incentive for open source to slow down systems secretly. Even if well intentioned, the secrecy nudges people to buy replacements and landfills keep getting higher.
There is nothing that stops a group of people from improving the usage of Linux on old hardware. I am writing this on an HP laptop that is 10 years old and far too heavy to be called a laptop, but it works better than ever on Linux!
By contrast, there is very little you can do with an older cell phone, even if you have managed not to break the screen!
Mobile phones that do not have to be junked
The first smartphone I decided to use had the Firefox OS. It was under-powered, under-configured and never got enough people to use it, and hence did not survive.
There is still hope for a truly free operating environment for cell phones, even though there is nothing visible on the horizon. My experience with Compbook also shows that if hardware drivers remain proprietary and closed, free software remains severely hampered. If the sources of drivers for various phones had been available, I am sure Firefox OS would have been flourishing today.
The winner should not take it all
A very important difference in the philosophy of free and open source is that it is not a ‘winner takes it all’ model. Even in the case of Linux, there may be numerous distributions; yet, they cooperate and everyone benefits. There is a very large overlap and commonality between different distributions. Even the differences are not fragmented.
A classic example is Pulseaudio becoming a part of all distributions! Many may still hate it because of the problems they faced in the beginning. The audio problems I faced with Compbook had nothing to do with Pulseaudio, but more to do with the lack of working drivers.
You may search for issues related to adopting systemd to get an idea of how open and public the discussions can be regarding the choices a distribution makes!
Package management has not converged to a single system. APT and RPM may dominate, but Arch Linux and Gentoo, for example, continue to differ.
Ubuntu tried the Unity interface but decided to give up on it, most likely because many of its ideas may have influenced GNOME 3, and meaningless differentiation (loved by marketing folks) is not needed in the open source space.
The digital world
So many of the digital tools emerging now cry out for cooperative models, as exemplified by the free and open source software for search, social networking, news and information. Are these services destined to be closed, proprietary and oligarchical? Should we have to trust the vendor of an auto-driven car when its software concerns us all? I hope not.
My hope is that, like in the case of free and open source software, in the future, our lives will get enriched, even if our wallets remain slim!