FatdogArm Alpha3 Release Notes

FatdogArm Alpha3 was released on 1 October 2013.

FatdogArm is a port of Fatdog64 to the ARM platform (the original porting process is documented here), targeted for desktop-style operation.

This is the third public release of FatdogArm, and it supersedes and obsoletes previous alpha releases (alpha and alpha2). It brings the following updates, bugfixes, and enhancements over Alpha2 release, in no particular order:

A lot of the stuff happening in between alpha2 and alpha3 aren't visible, they are infrastructure works that makes it easier to build FatdogArm for other platforms. See distribution, below.

Note: This is an alpha-quality software release, so it is not meant for general end-user consumptions. Instead it is released "as is" for testers and tinkerers who may find the software useful, or for porting to another devices.


FatdogArm features

Target system

FatdogArm was originally built and tested on Mele A1000 device. The only important consequence of this are:

As long as these conditions are met, you can adopt FatdogArm to run on your favorite device. In fact, after since the initial alpha release, FatdogArm has been adapted to run on:


FatdogArm Distribution

Earlier releases of FatdogArm were done as images (specifically, images for Mele A1000). But, recognising the diversity of ARM platforms, and reflecting on the collaboration between myself and mavrothal on adopting FatdogArm for OLPC XO-4 laptop, FatdogArm is now released as a "meta-distribution".

The "meta-distribution" provides templates and build scripts, which will pull packages from FatdogArm repository, and build a new basesfs (fd-arm.sfs) from scratch. The "meta-distribution" is a fossil repository located here.

Currently the build script will only make a new basesfs. It will not create a custom initrd or build a custom kernel or prepare a bootloader for you - the steps that you will still need to do to make FatdogArm run on another ARM platform.

(As a comparison, Puppy Linux also has a "meta-distribution", it is called Woof and is capable of building Puppy Linux images from many different upstream distributions - e.g. Ubuntu, Slackware, or its own PET packages.)

But for those that don't want or can't build a FatdogArm yourself, that's okay too. Images will still be provided at every release, either here or by FatdogArm adopters. For this release, two images are provided:

Future releases may provide images for more platforms. Please read-on for platform specific notes.


Mele / A10-specific notes

Unlike many other distributions out there, which provide compressed disk images which needs to be expanded and then written to a specific-sized SD Card, FatdogArm image is provided as uncompressed disk image which you can write (using dd) to your SD Card (fits any size) immediately - no decompression needed.

Once transferred to the SD Card (dd if=fatdog-arm-alpha.img of=/dev/your-SD-Card bs=4M), the SD Card is bootable immediately, booting directly to graphical desktop in about 15-30 seconds (depending on the speed of your SD card).

Before you do so, however, I recommend that you create a second partition on the SD Card (of any filesystem - but ext4 is preferred). Having the second partition enables you to save any changes you do when running FatdogArm. Without this second partition, all your work will vanish as soon as you shutdown the system.

When you shutdown for the first time, you will be asked on "where" to keep your changes. Choose the "mmcblk0p2" - your second SD Card partition - as the location to save to. If you created ext2/3/4 partition, you can use "save directory" feature; otherwise you have to use the "savefile" feature (slower).

WARNING: Don't use any of the "NAND" devices unless you know exactly what you're doing - these are the internal storage of your Mele and it contains Android OS and Data. Writing to them may make the Android unbootable, requiring Android re-flashing (your FatdogArm however will continue to work).

If you choose not to save, your changes in that session is discarded.

Known quirks and problems

  1. The system is configured to display on HDMI by default. If you use another output, you will need an updated "script.bin" (a file that controls hardware configuration for Allwinner SoC devices). This "script.bin" is created from a text file called the FEX file, using a tool called fex compiler (fexc). One such tool is available here - this tool should work on any 32-bit/64-bit x86 Linux. You may want to check if there are pre-made fex file for your device here, if not, in addition to the Fex file guide above, you may want to read this for configuring your output.

  2. The SD Card (mmc) drive icons sometimes don't show up on the desktop. This happens when the SD Card is slow. To show it, right-click on any of the drive icons and choose "Redraw icons".

  3. Encrypted savefile is not supported yet, so do not attempt to enable encrypted savefile in the session shutdown dialog.

  4. Xine sometimes crash if you choose the wrong video driver. If you want to start Xine without playing anyfile, you need to use the SDL driver (start it from terminal like this: xine -V sdl). On the other hand, the SDL driver isn't so good when you want to play full screen (it will crash), so you will need to use "xv" or "xshm" driver to do that (set this from inside Xine's preference dialog). Yeah, annoying, I know.

  5. The sunxifb driver supports G2D acceleration (2D acceleration) but that's all about it. There is no 3D acceleration (Mali GPU) or video acceleration (Cedar VPU) so the most you can play is SD video upscaled to 720p; anything else will stutter.

  6. By default none of the memory is reserved for Mali an VPU so don't try to enable them (loading the module); this is done to maximise the available memory for applications. If you want to try them, make sure you edit uEnv.txt on the first FAT partition and modify the "extras" line to tell the kernel to do memory reservation.


OLPC XO-4 specific notes

This is the first release of FatDog-ARM Linux for the OLPC XO-4 laptop, based on FatdogArm alpha3 release with additional modification to manage XO-4 specific hardware.

All functions of the laptop are supported including touch, screen rotation, gamekeys, video camera and power management.

At 300MB this build is a full development environment to build any applications that are not in the FatdogArm package repository yet.

To run fd-arm_XO-4 download the fd-arm_xo4_1.0.tar.gz file from ibiblio or one if its (faster) mirrors, then extract the tarball at the root of any USB (thumb) drive or SDcard, then connect/insert it to your XO-4 and power up.

Known issues

Please notice that this build will not boot on XO-1.75 laptop because XO-1.75 CPU does not support VFPv3-d32 which is needed by FatdogArm (XO-1.75 CPU supports only VFPv3-d16) - see here for details.

Links: Forum announcement (for support, questions, etc) and XO-4 buildscripts.

Q & A

Q: Where is the documentation for FatdogArm?
A: None exist yet, but you can use this as a reference. Most of it are applicable (major exceptions: FatdogArm doesn't use humongous initrd, FatdogArm uses Slackware's pkgtool TBZ format instead of PET packages, installation procedures, etc).

Q: There are so many references to Fatdog64 both in window titles, messages, etc.
A: Yes, that's because FatdogArm is a port of Fatdog64 and uses many Fatdog64 tools. This will change overtime but don't expect it to happen soon.

Q: Is FatdogArm for 64-bit ARM archictecture (ARMv8) then?
A: No. It is currently built for 32-bit ARMv7 architecture.

Q: Is it softfloat or hardfloat?
A: Hardfloat, with VFPv3-d32 FPU, Neon and Cortex-A8 optimisations.

Q: Will FatdogArm work on my tablets, settop boxes, devboards, etc?
A: While I have managed to get FatdogArm to run a particular tablet, do not expect this to be the norm. The reason is simple: every ARM device is different. But you may want to adopt FatdogArm to run on your favorite device :)

Q: Where is the devx.sfs?
A: There is no devx. The image contains gcc compiler (C and C++), binutils, make, and all the library headers - thus you can compile applications straight away. The static libraries have been removed to reduce the size, though. If you want them you need to re-install the packages from the repository. Also, if you need autoconf, automake, m4, cmake, flex and bison, they are available on the repository. Git, svn and fossil are also available in the repository.

Q: Is there any hardware acceleration (3D, VPU, etc) ?
A: Planned to, but not yet. Acceleration is very device specific, but FatdogArm is meant to be general; so any device-specific hardware acceleration will only be made available through repository and/or platform-specific images.

Q: I don't want to boot to graphical desktop, I want to boot to console only.
A: Open uEnv.txt on the first FAT partition of your SD Card, then add "pfix=nox" to the end of the line that starts with "extras". For XO-4 image, open boot/olpc.fth and append "pfix=nox" to the line commented with "set kernel command line".

Q: I have a savefile but temporarily don't want to use it
A: Open uEnv.txt on the first FAT partition of your SD Card, then add the a new line that says savefile=savefile=none. For XO-4 image, do the same to boot/olpc.fth.

Q: I want to save my session but I don't want to create a second partition, because some stupid operating system doesn't recognise SD Cards with more than one partition.
A: Sure, you can save your session on the first FAT partition too. But make sure you enlarge it first with your favorite partition tool - as shipped, there is only 2.8MB left on that partition.

Q: This uEnv.txt editing business is so unlike editing syslinux.cfg or grub.lst. Can't you use syslinux or Grub or Grub2 instead?
A: Unfortunately, no. Those bootloaders are for x86 (and x86_64) only. In the ARM world the common bootloader is das U-boot, which is a versatile bootloader which matches or exceeds syslinux and Grub in terms of capability; however unless you have serial terminal connected to the platform, you have very little chance to interact with it.

To that point, I have created a simple boot manager called "BootMenu", which reads a syslinux-like configuration file and provides a user-friendly menu interface for selecting different boot configurations. A sample bootmenu.cfg is provided on the image; documentation here.

Q: I have a question not listed here.
A: Drop me a message on my blog or on the Puppy Linux Forum. FatdogArm threads are usually located in "Puppy Projects" section.

Previous release notes: alpha2 alpha