Debian 9 and PowerPC

As you probably know, the PowerPC Notebook team had already selected Debian 9 (Stretch) OS, as it seemed to offer a lot of advantages (DFSG, Altivec, compatibility etc…). Because of this, the Debian team has recently decided to remove powerpc (Big Endian) from its release architectures for the upcoming Debian 9 (Stretch) and Debian testing (Stretch) powerpc repositories have been removed. Besides that, they will keep ppc64el (Little Endian) as a release architecture (For those of you who don’t know the difference between powerpc, ppc64el (and ppc64) – check the short summary on the end of this message).

Debian

Debian 9 is coming

One of the reasons of this decision was an apparent lack of porters/maintainers/testers – Although the powerpc Debian team includes some very competent, motivated and reactive people.

Some of us are willing to take the Debian powerpc road,  but we need volunteers, people willing to give some of their time to the Debian powerpc community, to learn, test, fix bugs etc…

This does not suggest we don’t keep a “plan B” – by testing another distribution. It is just that Debian powerpc works well on current 32 bits and 64 bits machines, and we can try to keep this situation.

If you have a 32 or 64 bits PowerPC machine, and want to join us in keeping Debian powerpc alive, contact us on team@powerprogress.org.

Short summary about powerpc / ppc64 / ppc64el :

  • powerpc is the historical Debian PowerPC port (1997).   It works on 32 and 64 bits Big Endian PowerPC (G3/G4/G5 and newer freescale/NXP chips).  That’s what you would use on your PowerMac/PowerBook/Genesi/Amiga machines. Note that is supports Altivec, which accelerates greatly some applications (video, graphics, image processing).
  • ppc64 (Big Endian) was supposed to be used on 64 bits Big Endian PowerPC only (G5 and newer freescale/NXP chips). It has some advantages over the first but currently is not so well supported as powerpc.
  • ppc64el (Little Endian) started with Debian 8 Jessie. It works on newer Power chips from IBM (for servers). Despite some newer freescale/NXP chips can also be used in Little Endian mode  (but without Altivec) they can not be used with ppc64el as this version is compiled with VSX  (Vector Scalar eXtension) enabled.

 

About Open Source Hardware

At the end of this past year we started to consider the possibility of making our motherboard Open Source Hardware (OSH). After discussing the idea with the hardware producer, both sides agreed that this was a good idea. We announced this new challenge at the beginning of the year and now we think is the perfect time to clarify the implications of making the motherboard Open Source Hardware. To explain it better, we are going to formulate and respond to a couple of questions.

What is open source hardware?

It seems difficult to explain what is OSH. A complete and detailed explanation can be found on the OSHWA definition page, but simplifying it even further, we can say that OSH is hardware made in such a way that its design is publicly available. Not only that, the documentation provided to understand and reproduce the device should be friendly, in terms of allowing its edition and improvements. So a PDF file containing the schematics is not enough to describe a hardware device as open source hardware. To open source a hardware project, the complete set of CAD and description files should be provided, enabling for instance the edition of the circuits. Of course if any firmware is used to make the hardware work it should be also available as open source code.

The problem for a project like ours is attempting to reach a complete degree of openness. A notebook uses many components which are created by third party companies and, as can be imagined, nearly all of them are under proprietary licenses. In many cases, if you want to use them you have to sign an NDA agreement with their maker (for instance, NXP for a PPC processor). Furthermore, the signature of an NDA means that you can not reveal particular pieces of information in relation to that item.

The OSHWA also refers to this particular problem when explaining the process of awarding a certificate to hardware for achieving the satus of being Open Source Hardware:

“However, that does not necessarily mean that the entire project must or will be open source. If the creators used third party closed components outside of their control, they are unable – and are therefore not required – to open source those components. While it is strongly prefered to use open components when possible, OSHWA recognizes the reality that this is not always possible”

So, what’s our plan?

We want to be as open as possible. We will publish all the CAD files, specifications and any other documentation in a way that could be usable. Of course we will share our source code too (firmware and drivers). On the other hand, we will not be able to make public any third party resources covered by an NDA.

One more thing we will do is give preference to any component that could be considered open source if it accomplishes what we need. However, we need to be practical too, so the selection could be a different component if the open source hardware component lacks desired features.

Finally, where are we in in this process?

As we announced a couple of weeks ago, we have constituted the Power Progress Community association this past summer and the members of the project are currently in the process of joining the assocation by completing our membership application and paying the yearly membership fee (30 Euro). WIth that, Roberto is currently presiding over the association and soon we will have the first NDA agreements signed.

Power Progress Community logo

Power Progress Community logo

Another important point to quickly cover is the list of hardware components for the PPC notebook. The selection of these components is not quite completed yet, but we now feel this aspect of the project is most important so it is currently our main focus. Once the list of hardware components is finalized we will release this information in another project update. Look for that in the very near future.

The Power Progress Community is here

We are proud to announce that our association has been constituted. As you might know, it is an Italian organization so the original statutes are written in Italian and we are working to have an English translation. The contents of that document were discussed at the beginning of July, the conversations were very productive and after some modifications we had the statutes ready for the creation of the association. Moreover,  in that meeting we approved its name and now we are setting up a new Internet domain according to that. After agreeing all this, the association was finally registered at the end of July.

Power Progress Community

Power Progress Community

This fact is very important for us because it allows us to contact other organizations and companies as a real entity and gives us the possibility of signing agreements of any type. Even more, the association is the legal figure we need to start the funding campaign.

And now… we need a logo

We are organizing a contest during August to select the Power Progress Community logo. Everybody is invited to send us an image but we are deciding how to receive them and the voting application to use. Stay tuned to this website if you are interested on participating.

More activities of interest

Continuing with this update, we were doing a survey to check how the community wants to support the project. Over 150 people filled our survey and most of them show interest in funding the project somehow. In addition, there is a group of people which will contribute only if the final specs of the notebook match their expectations. Lastly, a very small group showed only curiosity with no intention of collaborating with money.

Some weeks ago we wrote a post explaining our first Hardware Group meeting. The good news here is that this group is being very active these days and we arranged a new meeting last week focusing on what components could be more open and accomplish our requirements. In relation to this, we are maintaining conversations with two companies that could provide us the enclosures. This is a key point because determines how the motherboard is designed.

That’s almost all, we are moving forward and the crowdfunding campaign is near.

Hardware meeting report

On June 13th, we had our first hardware meeting about the components selection with the hardware producer. There are still a lot of pending points but the discussion was quite positive as a first approach.

Our team during the hardware meeting

Our team during the hardware meeting :)

 

There were some agreements in terms of what technologies to use, to discard or even the ones that needed to be followed and investigated further.

We were discussing about the use of a southbrige chip, like the AMD one or some other different chips to manage USB3, USB2, SATA2/3, or even U.2

To make it clear, we are are trying to select chips that permit us to design an Open Hardware motherboard (chips having an NDA that limit less this idea). Moreover, we want components that are well supported by GNU/Linux and other OSs.

After the conversation, we agreed the next tasks to achieve which are the following:

  • Review Power TDP for parts
  • Review cost for parts
  • Select additional parts
  • Check southbridge technologies and select one from the two proposed
  • Check sata3 chips
  • Obtain a complete list of components

 

Which software do you want for the GNU/Linux PowerPC Notebook?

Following our will of transparency reporting our activities, we do a fast review of the last month and what is coming next.

The first thing we want to say is  that we recently requested your help through the forum to choose the core set of applications available on our Linux distribution. We proposed an initial list grouped by the type of application and now we have some new suggestions that we are considering. As you can imagine, in our listing appeared well known software like LibreOffice, Iceweasel (Firefox), Gimp, Transmission, Calibre … We invite you to visit the forum and give your suggestion in the dedicated thread.

Iceweasel is in our software list

Iceweasel browser

Regarding the initial funding, we recalculated the amount to raise, placing it at 55000 €. The increase is due to the expenses that we expect to certify the product. The objective is still to collect this sum before September 2016. So the crowdfunding will cover the design( that we will publish with an Open Hardware license ), the production of five prototypes and the certification process.

As we said some time ago, to get the crowdfunding phase launched we need to establish ourselves as an organization. The chosen form is a non-profit organization created in Italy. We are currently in the process of establishing the organization and we hope to close this issue later this month. Once established, we will notify and invite anyone who wishes to become a member. This will also help the project as it will provide funds for small expenses like hosting our website, presentation materials such as flyers, etc. More details will follow soon.

Alongside this month we will continue with the discussion on the hardware components to use. We have a list of possible components but we need to pick the right one in each case. Moreover, this kind of decisions depend on the format of the chassis. It is quite possible that this last requirement will be clarified very soon but we cannot guarantee anything yet. Once again we invite you to participate in the hardware forum to give us your opinion.

Finally, as someone asked in our forum, we want to inform you about our presence in social networks. You can find us on the following sites:

And that’s all for now. Remember that any opinion or idea from you will help our community. Subscribe to our newsletter, if you have not already done so, and visit our forum.

http://forum.powerpc-notebook.org/

The power of a team: the PowerPC team

GNU/Linux PowerPC notebook team

The power of the GNU/Linux PowerPC notebook team

It’s been over a month since our previous post so it’s time to report about our activities. Basically,  we are working on the same issues we discussed in the previous news. Anyway, in this PowerPC Notebook project update, we will try to go over all the areas that we are working on, just because our idea is to be as transparent as possible.

Status of the GNU/Linux PowerPC notebook project

Firstly, regarding the creation of an organization, we have evaluated to establish a foundation but the cost is too expensive for us. We have also tried to get the protection of an existing organization but, sadly, we have not been answered. Finally the most suitable and fast solution for us is to register a non-profit association in Italy. This association will promote the funding campaign for the motherboard design and prototypes.

On the hardware side, we have a first list of components to be used in the notebook. We are evaluating their suitability to our needs and also choosing them according to how much open they are. We still have to keep working on this, discarding some elements and adding new ones. We are doing this in collaboration with the designer of the motherboard.

Our software team remains in contact with the Debian community but again we move slowly and we need more feedback to be able to focus our efforts. The software team is thinking about an alternative approach to streamline this task.

Finally, we have to talk about obtaining a chassis for our laptop. In this case we can say that we are contacting several companies that supply barebone notebooks and some other laptop producers. Here again we must say that we are waiting for responses. Our preferred option would be to obtain the help of Iameco. We love its chassis and case concept for ethical reasons. The Iameco laptop is produced  using recyclable materials and producing a minimal carbon footprint. We would love to design our motherboard to fit one of its chassis.

Our spirit

In short, all the community  groups  are working hard and some progress has been achieved by all of them. In addition, our community continues to grow daily. We have new volunteers for translation, dissemination of our messages and for the computer software. Some of our new members apologize in advance for not having much time, we answer always saying that we are volunteers, we are moved by our principles and we try to  reach our objectives enjoying the project with passion and enthusiasm. If you miss the days when computers had more personality, join us and help us recover the spirit of the pioneers of computing.

Selecting components for the GNU/Linux PowerPC Notebook

Selecting the components

As we said in the previous article we are working on the creation of the crowdfunding campaign. Things are not so easy because we have to organize ourselves and this action requires to set many things but, we are on it and we feel that it could be started soon. To better understand everything, the crowdfunding campaign will provide the required resources to design the motherboard and to produce five prototypes that will be tested and used by our developers to write drivers and adapt the OS.

selecting components for the GNU/Linux PowerPC Notebook

 

In the meantime we have continued the conversations with the hardware producer and we are in the process of selecting the components to be used in the motherboard. After that, this company is going to start with the motherboard design. This means that we have created a work-group that includes our hardware specialists and our partner company.

We expect to have more detailed news in a few weeks.

We need you!

We are looking for people to participate mainly but not only in these areas:

  • Crowd-funding: someone with experience on this kind of campaigns.
  • Open hardware: a person to provide knowledge in this kind of projects.
  • Notebook case and chassis: we need to contact a notebook case supplier.
  • Spread the idea: we want to have more collaborators and news letter subscribers.
  • Software work-group: PowerPC GNU/Linux applications optimization (test GNU/Linux application packages, give feedback or fix the errors), distro porting (U-boot, etc), push sources to mainstream branches and package maintenance.

We define ourselves as a Solidarity/Ethical/Passion driven community. We promote a Positive and Humane relationship between collaborators, and advocate giving people a choice to run GNU/Linux on different hardware platforms.

Join us and strengthen the PowerPC Notebook Team. Subscribe to the newsletter.

Towards a crowdfunding campaign

The GNU/Linux PowerPC notebook community will launch a crowdfunding campaign soon. After some unsuccessful contacts between the notebook manufacturer and a potential financing partner, it seems that the best option to fund the project is to start a crowdfunding campaign. The community is about to decide which is the best option to achieve this and identifying the members to lead this action. In addition, the manufacturer will send all the suitable information required to describe the final product. This means that the estimated date to produce the notebook will be the end of 2016. Before that, at least 5 prototypes will be delivered to the community for software adaptation and beta testing.

We are working on the software

Regarding the software, there is an agreement to use Debian GNU/Linux as a primary distribution. This does not exclude other possibilities, as an example Fedora community is open to help to port their Linux flavor also.

Our developers are analyzing which are the main software challenges to be solved. Some of them are:

  • To provide a proper 3d acceleration. Radeon cards support seems to be the best alternative.
  • To improve some functionalities such as web videos, Java plugins and specific software that is reported to work but is not usable at all.

Moreover, this group is working on a Debian64 image installer using grub2 and booting the 64bit kernel, we have 10 people about to start on packages set up and two more developers scheduled to start the gfx driver development at January 2016.

If you want to contribute in this area the project needs people ready to start working as soon as possible, especially on ppc64 package maintenance and testing.

Hardware updates

As said on previous articles, the CPU will be based on the e6500 core that provides ALTIVEC technology and PowerIsa 2.07. The GPU will be most probably AMD/ATI based, making use of a mxm connector.

Currently some of our developers are working with a Freescale T2080RDB development board donated by Freescale. The board is very useful in order to test u-boot, PCIe video card output and try to boot Debian.

Freescale T2080RDB development board
Freescale T2080RDB development board

Join us

Currently, we are 50 collaborators participating in the project and trying to probe/reach universities, online communities and local groups. We define ourselves as a Solidarity/Ethical/Passion driven community. We promote a Positive and Humane relationship between collaborators, and advocate giving people a choice to run GNU/Linux on different hardware platforms.

By definition, our project is attracted by the Free and Open software and hardware movements. Our aim is to keep the price as low as possible to attract interested developers, while staying financially responsible.

We are looking for people to participate mainly but not only in this areas:

software work-group: PowerPC GNU/Linux applications optimization (test GNU/Linux application packages, give feedback or fix the errors), distro porting (U-boot, etc), push sources to mainstream branches and package maintenance.

crowd-funding: someone with experience on this kind of campaigns

spread idea: we want to have more collaborators and news letter subscribers

Join and strengthen the PowerPC Notebook Team. Subscribe to the newsletter.

 

Let’s Spread GNU/Linux PowerPC Notebook Project

Saturday 14th March I have presented to everybody our GNU/Linux PowerPC notebook project at “Fa’ la cosa giusta!” – The national fair of conscious consumption and sustainable lifestyles (Italy) 12th edition, Milan, 13-14-15 March 2015 – more info about “Fa’ la cosa giusta!”

Fa' La Cosa Giusta - GNU/Linux PowerPC Notebook presentation

“Fa’ La Cosa Giusta!” The national fair of conscious consumption – Stand “Informatica Solidale”

I was there trying to recruit volunteers for the PowerPC Notebook project; inform the wider Computer and FOSS community about the projects existence.

When I was arrived at our little stand there was people in the morning that already have searched me about our project ( I have informed some others “solidarity based purchasing group” about that and even thanks to my blog deliriotecnologico ). There was already one person that waiting me at the stand.

I have stopped many people walking around the fair of conscious consumption asking them: “Do you use free sotware?Do you Linux? Do you use Ubuntu?” if they answer me that that use or want to use it I have started talking about our project.

I have invited  people to subscribe to our newsletter and collaborate with us, I have found many interested people, and eleven of them have signed directly the subscription to our project.  Over that with the friends of “Joomla Lombardia” and “Informatica Solidale” association we are agreed to continue to collaborate together in relation to  spread our project. I’m very happy and grateful about the people feedback, interest and collaboration,  and I know if I had been more days at the fair definitely other people that just added to the project, so there are many more people interest than our possibility to arrive to them 😀

In the fair there was even a space of Green Makers with many fablabs and tech projects, I have talked with some makers to present our projects inside fablabs or other tech space, and with some of them we are agree to present soon our “GNU/Linux PowerPC Notebook project” and its technological solidarity based purchasing group.

I propose to organize everywhere initiatives to publicize the project that we are building a solidarity based purchasing group to pay an innovative manufacturer and designer (through some commission) to build a GNU/Linux PowerPC notebook, so let’s Spread GNU/Linux PowerPC Notebook Project. Continue reading

GNU/Linux PowerPC Notebook at “Fa’ la cosa giusta!” fair of conscious consumption

This saturday 14th March I will present to everybody our GNU/Linux PowerPC notebook project at “Fa’ la cosa giusta!” – The national fair of conscious consumption and sustainable lifestyles (Italy) 12th edition, Milan, 13-14-15 March 2015 – more info about “Fa’ la cosa giusta!”

Fa La Cosa Giusta - The national fair of conscious consumption and sustainable lifestyles

Fa La Cosa Giusta – The national fair of conscious consumption and sustainable lifestyles

I will be in the “padiglione 4” of Fieramilanocity, Peace and Partecipation, stand PP06 inside the stand of “computer solidarity” (Informatica Solidale) association.

I will be there trying to recruit volunteers for the PowerPC Notebook project; inform the wider Computer and FOSS community about the projects existence, I will provide updated information about how my endeavors go and I hope this time I will take more photos :D

We have opened a new board, Public physical Presentation , on the forum where everyone can share information about events where the GNU/Linux PowerPC Notebook project makes an appearance or is mentioned. Continue reading