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iRex Moving Forward With Community Project

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You may have seen a post on the iRex forums about community development.

Basically, iRex is trying to open up the iLiad as a development platform simlar to that of the Nokia Tablets. Nokia’s internet tablet platform is very popular because of the great documentation Nokia provides, the openness of the platform itself, and the ease that users can download and install new programs on their tablets. I’d like to see the same thing happen to the iLiad.

In the most recent post by Karel, he’s asking for those willing to take a more active role in the proposed community to email him. I have done so, and plan to help bring this community to life. Right now, iLiad development is unorganized, and difficult for a new user to get into. Hopefully, with iRex’s help, we can overcome that.

I’m going to lay out a few things that I think the iLiad and community need.

  • Installation
    • Right now, it’s very difficult for a user to install a 3rd party application. They have to request shell access, find the program they want to install. Download and unzip it, then run it on the iLiad. This can be confusing, and can cause many problems along the way.
    • There could be a few ways to solve this. The new community can have a page with tested and working applications. The user can sign into that page with their myIrex username/password, select the application and have it downloaded via the IDS.
    • Or, there can be a program like that on the iPhone, where the application connects to a list of feeds and displays a list of available apps to the user with a one-click installation method.
    • Lastly, there’s the more crude, but effective method of supporting ipkg through the contentlister. The user downloads the ipk from a website, copies it to the iLiad, and it installs with a single click.
      • All of the above methods would require some intervention from iRex, either with the website, or changes to the internal software.
  • Adding new viewers
    • There needs to be a better way to add and remove new viewers and supported formats to the contentlister. Right now, one needs to use a sed script to modify the registry. This can be prone to errors and removing afterward is very difficult.

      • I thing that new directory for “Plugins” should be added.
      • The package installer can copy an xml (or any other file) into that directory with the extension supported being the file name.
      • Inside the XML file, the program that is used to read the file will be listed, along with the icon to be used.
        • For epub for example.
        • \mnt\setttings\registry\plugins\epub.xml epub.xml:
          /usr/local/bin/FBREADER /usr/local/share/icons/epub.png

        • It could be as simple as that. This way, if you have two different programs that support epub, you can overwrite the existing configuration with that of the new program. This wouldn’t change the registry in any way, and if an error occured, the contentlister could ignore the plugins directory the next time it launched.

  • Screen Refreshes!
    • Right now, the biggest problem with porting any application is getting the screen refreshes. If this could somehow be made easier for developers, I think that the iLiad would have an influx of new applications available for it. Could this be added to GTK within the iLiad? This way the application would work as normal, and GTK would refresh when everything was done being painted.
      For the end user:
  • Documentation, Code, Website enhancements
    • This new site is going to need to be well organized and provide lots of information. I can think of a few things it’ll need.
      • A way to track ongoing ports and their status
      • A bounty system for users to request new applications
      • Documentation on internal iLiad functions
      • Open source the UI compontents, ContentLister, note application, browser app, etc This is just a small list. I think that there’s a lot of potential for the iLiad that’s not being realized. I hope this new initiative can solve that.

FBReader Port Coming Along Nicely

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My port of FBReader 0.8.10 is coming along very nicely. I’ve decided to go ahead with the limited functionality idea in order to speed up porting, and make it act more like a native iLiad application.

You can see what’s happening in the screenshot below:

FBReader is shown reading and epub book downloaded from

As you can see, it have FBReader start in full screen mode. This hides the unnecessary toolbars.
It gives you a status indicator, page count, and clock that will updates as you turn the page. Right now, it takes about 2.5 seconds to refresh. This is a little better than the older version. I’m hoping to increase the speed even further.

There are a few functions that can be used with key shortcuts:

  • Upper Left Button: Closes FBReader
  • Page Forward/Backword
  • Up & Down arrows short: Increase and Decrease Font
  • Dot Button: Go to the beginning of the document
  • Up & Down arrows Long Press: Next and Previous Table of Content Section
  • Dot Button Long Press: Open Table of Contents There are a few things left to do before I can publish the port. I’d like to save the configuration to /mnt/settings so that it won’t be lost when you perform an OS upgrade. Also, I need to create and test the installation package. I’ve reduced the file size enough so that it can easily reside on the internal memory (I think the package takes up about 2.5MB, I may be able to shrink it further).

I’m thinking about preparing a short video demonstrating FBReader and the iNewsStand application. These two programs really show off the iLiad’s potential and flexibility.

Idea: FBReader - Limited iLiad Edition

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I’m getting ready to start my port of FBReader 0.8.10 with epub support. I can easilly get this working on the iLiad, however I want to speed up the screen refreshes by using only native refresh calls. The problem is that in order to get these refreshes to work in the options dialog and FBReader library, a lot of time consuming manual test & check work is required.

I had a thought about limiting the features of FBReader and making it look and act more like a native iLiad viewer. I think that if I completely disabled the top navigation bar, set the appropriate key bindings, and forced the user to launch all books directly from the contentlister, it would actually significantly decrease the amount of time it would take to release the port.

I know that some users do like the Library function of FBReader, but for those who don’t know or need it, this would be an ideal solution. I may also be able to decrease the size of the binary and libraries, to allow it to be installed on the internal memory of the iLiad.

I need to get Shell access back, and do some testing. But unless I hear too many complains, I’m going to go forward with this (at least until I can devote more time to a full port).

New Years Status Update

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I haven’t been active very much on my blog or the forums recently, but I’m still around.

It’s been crazy at work and home the last few weeks. I haven’t had a spare minute to do any porting in a while. Rest assured, I still plan to release a new port of FBReader with epub support. However, getting time to do it has been pretty difficult. All should calm down by next week, so hopefully I can put in some real effort in then. I might try to time it with the 2.12 software release. ;)

How to Un-Brick Your iLiad

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So you’ve gotten brave with programming on your iLiad. You like to dig into the internals and write some scripts. Maybe for automatically downloading comics or an MP3 Player from the contentlister. But something went wrong, and now your iLiad won’t boot. Don’t worry, it happens. I’ve had to reflash a few times myself. As long as you have firmware 2.11 and the developer package from iRex, you should be able to recover from most problems.

I should note that I said should. There are some things you can do to your iLiad that could cause problems that the reflash option won’t fix. The most important, is working with the embedded flash. This includes the boot loader and the waveform. Flashing these (you must use a special command), could cause your iLiad to be unusable. But other than that, you should be fine to replace the Kernel, Initrd, and the root filesystem.

So lets get started. Here’s what you need to perform a reflash:

  • A Compact Flash (CF) card. Other types of cards simply will not work. They’re cheap, and easily obtainable. Go out and buy one.
  • You will need to have firmware 2.11 with the Developer Package requested from iRex’s site (See this post for details).
  • The file from the attachments link on your MyiRex account page. Alright, so you’ve followed the instructions on getting the developer package, and you want to be sure that you are able to reflash before you break anything. Here’s what you need to do.

  • Make sure your iLiad is powered off, with nothing on the screen.

  • Hold the connect button in the upper right hand corner of your iLiad.
  • While holding the button, press the power switch on the bottom.
  • Count to Five while continuing to hold the button.
  • Release the connect button. You should see the boot image appear. After a second or two, the whole screen will flash white, and it will start to boot normally. Congratulations! Your iLiad is able to be reflashed. You should have no fear for working in the root filesystem.

Now, lets go through the steps you’ll need to actually perform the reflash.

  1. Unzip the
  2. You should see a folder called “images” and a file called “config.txt”
  3. Copy these to the root of your memory card. (Not inside any other folders)
  4. For example. If on your windows computer, your memory card is drive “E:”, you should have E:\images and E:\config.txt
  5. Unmount your memory card and insert it into your iLiad.
  6. Make sure your iLiad is powered off, with nothing on the screen.
  7. Hold the connect button in the upper right hand corner of your iLiad.
  8. While holding the button, press the power switch on the bottom.
  9. Count to Five while continuing to hold the button.
  10. Release the connect button. You will see it going through steps that are very similar to updating the firmware on your device. It will reboot at the end and bring you back to the main screen. Performing this method, you shouldn’t loose any of the files on your internal memory. But it’s always good to make a backup just in case.

You can find more detailed information in this pdf. But the above guide should help most users who need to unbrick their iLiad.

So You Want to Try Your First 3rd Party Program?

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So you just got your brand new iLiad, or maybe you’ve had it for a while but have grown comfortable enough that you’d like to install one of the community applications. Below, I’ll detail a step by step guide on how to setup your iLiad to install a new application to it.

First, a few notes: You’ve paid a lot for your iLiad and you don’t want to break it. This fact alone prevents a lot of people from trying out new programs. There is good news though. If something should happen while installing or running an application. You should be able to restore your iLiad. You will need a compact flash (CF) card. I recommend anyone who’s planning to install community applications to buy a CF card. You can pick up a 1 Gigabyte card at any electronics store for under $30 US. You should place all of your applications, along with the files needed to do a reflash should anything go wrong.

This guide is extremely detailed. It’s actually a lot easier than it looks.

With that out of the way, lets get started:

  1. The first thing you will need to do is connect to IDS. To do this, you will need either a wired, or wireless network connection.
    1. Create an IDS profile here:
    2. Fill in your e-mail address in the field and click on ‘Send’.
    3. You will receive an automatic e-mail with a password in your e-mail inbox.
    4. Take your iLiad and enter your e-mail address and the password you received into the ‘iLiad Settings’.
    5. Create a (wired or wireless) network profile on your iLiad using the Wizard.
    6. You can now connect to the iDS by pressing the connect key on your iLiad for 2 seconds.
  2. Once you see your iLiad connect, it should tell you that there’s either nothing to download, or it will install any updates it finds.
  3. Now you will need to sign up for the developer package. This will give you the ability to run programs, and will also program your iLiad with what you need to reflash it from a CF card in case something goes wrong.
    1. To sign up for the developer package visit this page:
  4. If you’ve successfully connected to IDS in the past, your MAC address should appear in the “Select MAC Address” drop down box.
  5. If it does not appear, verify your email address and password in the settings screen on your iLiad, and connect to the IDS again.
  6. After you have selected your MAC address, click “Send Developer Package”.
  7. Now, connect to the IDS on your iLiad. You should see a message saying “Downloading Developer Package”.
  8. After it installs, your iLiad should automatically reboot.
  9. Now that your iLiad has rebooted, it should start up like normal, but you won’t see anything different. You’ll need to try to install an application to make sure it worked.

    1. The first program you should try to install is mrxvt.

    2. This is a terminal application. Simlar to a DOS prompt on a windows computer.

    3. I like to test with this program because it doesn’t require anything special other than the developer package to run.

  10. Download mrxvt in this thread on the MobileRead forums.
  11. You will need to unzip the download on your computer. Windows XP and up has zip functionality built in. If you need an unzipping program, I suggest 7zip.
  12. Once you have unzipped the program, you should see a folder called “mrxvt”.
  13. Simply copy this folder to the internal memory or CF card on your iLiad.
  14. Browse to the correct directory from your iLiad, and select the line that says “mrxvt: Command Shell”.
  15. If all went well, it should open up a terminal along with your keyboard. If you don’t know anything about linux, I suggest you click the “X” to close it, or type “exit” and hit enter.

So now you have shell access, and you’ve run your first application. Many apps use the unzip and run process of installing. However, others are more complicated and include an installer. This is the case with a popular 3rd party viewer I’ve ported called FBReader. I will walk you through the installation of this.

  1. Download FBReader from this thread on the MobileRead forums.
  2. Unzip it, and copy the folder called “fbreaderinst” to the Compact Flash (or other flash memory) card on your iLiad.
  3. For FBReader, and other installers, it’s important to use a CF card, USB key, or MMC card. If you install it to the main memory of the iLiad, you may run into problems with the screen refresh.
  4. On your iLiad, browse to where you have copied the installer. You should see an item called “Install FBReader”. Select it.
  5. It will take a little bit of time to install. At that time, you will see the green light flash, and the bars moving across the bottom. After it is installed it will tell you “FBReader has been installed”.
  6. You can safely delete the “fbreaderinst” folder on your iLiad.
  7. Now, to run FBReader, browse to the “Programs” directory that the installer created on your memory card. Inside there, you will see a launcher for FBReader. Simply select it, and it will start.
  8. Here, you can use the FBReader library to add books, or if your prefer, install the FBReader Registry Modifications to open books directly from the contentlister (aka the way you open PDF’s and Mobipocket books). Hopefully you now understand how to install 3rd party programs on your iLiad. In my next post, I will cover reflashing your iLiad in case something goes wrong and your iLiad won’t boot.

Feel free to comment, and let me know if there are any confusing areas or things that need to be improved upon.

Thanks for Visiting

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I just wanted to express my shock and amazement that I actually have people to regularly read this blog. According to Google and FeedBurner, I have about 40 visitors a day, and 65 people who subscribe to this via an RSS feed. They’re small, modest numbers I know. But surprising to me nonetheless.

So my question to you is: What would you like to see more posts about? General iLiad information? More technically informative posts? Status updates and future plans? I generally only post when I have something big, but if you want more updates, I can do that too.

Days Between Firmware Releases

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It’s been pretty quiet over at iRex lately, so I started to wonder. How long has it been since firmware 2.11 was released? It seems like forever. So I decided to make a spreadsheet that details the amount of time between all of the firmware releases. It’s definitely on an upward scale, but I think the releases have gotten better and better.

Palm Applications on the iLiad

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A post on Mobileread got me thinking, having the Access Palm platform on the iLiad would be probably the greatest killer app. Not only would you have full PIM support with sync capability, but you would immediately have access to the vast world of Palm applications.

It’s already been setup for the Nokia tablets. (

Since both products are Arm/GTK based, I don’t think it’d be too much of a stretch to port it to the iLiad. The problem is that I’ve been unable to find the source for the Garnet VM used on the Nokia’s.

I’ve also tried to compile the older PalmOS emulator used for developers. However, I’ve run into some issues as it uses the FLTK toolkit.

I may try to contact the Access company to see if they are willing to share their sources…

Minimo Installer

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I realize that I’ve neglected my blog for a while. I thought I would update it with some posts I’ve made. I get a bit of traffic from Google and places other than MobileRead, so it may help the people who stumble here.

If you want to surf the web on your iLiad, I think the best way to do it is with Minimo. It’s a Mozilla based web browser that uses a rendering engine similar to Firefox. It comes pre-installed on your iLiad, but is locked down in such a way that you can’t surf the web with it by default. I’ve made some changes to the chrome files (the user interface), added a launcher, a modified libX11 to perform screen refreshes, and some connection manager scripts. It works well enough so you can view full web pages on your iLiad. Javascript is a little slow, and you may sometimes run into a “script not responding” error. But if I tell it to continue, it’ll usually load just fine.

You can download the installation package and see some screenshots here: