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Old 7th Feb 2011, 20:38   #1
gnutonian
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Installing another OS on an Android tablet?

I picked up a Chinese-imported tablet (MultiPix Surfpad/SurfOne 7" - often mislabeled MultiPlix - link here) quite cheaply in a sale on a French e-commerce website.
I figured I could, like on a normal laptop or desktop PC, boot it from USB (or whatever device) and install Debian GNU/Linux.
But... I can't. It's really annoying. I'm pretty sure I've managed to root it, but that isn't helping. (I can't even figure out how to type in the terminal - I still have to try with a USB keyboard but the point is still the same.)

The importer told me that there is simply no option to boot from anything other than ROM.

Does anyone here have any suggestions on how to install a different OS on a tablet PC? It doesn't have to be GNU/Linux - hell, I'll settle for MS Windows, as at least I sort of know how it works.

As far as I'm concerned, this experience has completely proven to me that the "open source" Android is worthless - I'd always believed it to be inferior to Free Software, but this has just... kicked me in the face yelling "I, Android, suck massive testicles!".

Any advice will be greatly appreciated. Any advice is better than me wedging a screwdriver inbetween the casing and the screen; and trying to use part of this stupid tablet as a touchscreen control panel connected to VGA/HDMI/whatever.

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Old 7th Feb 2011, 22:36   #2
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i guess the big question is if it really boots from a soldered on flash chip or if they just stuck in some cf card or something. if the latter is the case, just take it out and mount it, dd a cf image of whatever linux distro to it, see how much of the hardware works and go from there. if its soldered on... well. i guess you could try some sort of funky pxe type installation method. i don't have any experience with the device so i am not sure how feasible either of those options are. it has the same type of issues coming from working with embeded junk though.
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Old 8th Feb 2011, 04:37   #3
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i guess the big question is if it really boots from a soldered on flash chip or if they just stuck in some cf card or something. if the latter is the case, just take it out and mount it, dd a cf image of whatever linux distro to it, see how much of the hardware works and go from there. if its soldered on... well. i guess you could try some sort of funky pxe type installation method. i don't have any experience with the device so i am not sure how feasible either of those options are. it has the same type of issues coming from working with embeded junk though.
Ah, the screwdriver option it is then. I have to work the next two days so we'll see in a few days.
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Old 8th Feb 2011, 07:10   #4
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The tablets are usually ARM driven, as Android isn't yet available from source on x86, so no Windows anyway.

I'm sure you could WRITE a bootloader that'd do it if you're technically minded enough! I personally wouldn't have a clue where to start on that one...
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Old 8th Feb 2011, 17:13   #5
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I'm sure you could WRITE a bootloader that'd do it if you're technically minded enough! I personally wouldn't have a clue where to start on that one...
Neither do I

The (main) problem is that the internal disk it's booting from is inaccessible from the outside. I'm sure it'll be tightly attached to the inside as well, but we'll see. If I can get it out maybe I can get it out, maybe I can somehow connect it to a different PC and install the OS on there. But that's hopeful speculation.

The only way to get it to even close to booting something else now seems violence. That's going to be one ugly tablet once I start trying to pry it open. I'm not sure if it'll be worth it.
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Old 8th Feb 2011, 19:07   #6
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There are quite a few ways of re-flashing the rom on android phones, so i assume it's the same procedure with tablets.

Having said that, a tablet is completely different architecturally than a PC. As Zoon said, it has an ARM cpu - an ARM11, 750Mhz CPU, to be more precise, but it gives no further details. All desktop operating systems are designed to run on intels x86 and/or amds x64 architecture, and are completely incompatible with ARM architecture.

There is a version of Ubuntu that has been ported to ARM, but its not complete, and only runs on very specific hardware - You have about as much chance of getting this to work on your tablet as windows 7. The CPU isn't your only problem, as the operating system has to have the drivers to all the obscure bits of hardware in the tablet.
To put this in perspective, experienced devs are having trouble porting android 2.3 to phones that run 2.2 perfectly - it takes them ages to get all the inputs/outputs/sensors working properly with the o/s, and this is with working versions of 2.2, which is very similar to 2.3, to work from.

The only operating system that you might have the slightest chance with is MeeGo. I haven't been following this, and again, although its designed to run on ARM phones, theres no chance it will work unless someone has coded drivers for your specific device, which is very unlikley.

Also, would another operating system really be better than android? It is rather simplistic, but it does do a good job of providing a quick, touch friendly UI, and there are apps available to do most things you ,might want to use it for. I suspect it also has much better battery management than full blown desktop operating systems. What are you hoping to gain from another os?

[fanboy kicking in]
Taking this to mean "I, Android, suck massive testicles!" is a bit unfair - it's the device that's limiting you, and you'd have the same problem with any other android phone or tablet. PCs are versatile because there is a lot of standardisation, and they are not designed to run a specific operating system. Tablets on the other hand are very specific and designed from ground up with a specific OS in mind, and i dare say a lot of work goes into making that OS work with the hardware. Android is open source, but theres no reason for the additions from the manufacturers to be open (and they generally aren't). There is no benefit to the manufacturer to make their tablet run with other operating systems, so they don't.
If your gripe is with the operation as well, remember that the tablet is running android 2.1, which was designed entirely for phones, not the bigger form factor of tablets. It also requires more than the meager 256Mb or ram on that tablet to run nicely. Combine that with a resistive touchscreen (ugh), and I wouldn't be surprised if your unimpressed. No offence, but it's a cheap gadget from china, and you get what you pay for.
The open source licence allows lots of opportunities for devs to make customised versions for different phones... heard of cyanogenmod? That's one of thousands of examples.

[/fanboy]

Personally i wouldn't brick it trying to load a different o/s, but stick with android and wait for honeycomb in the hope of either an update, or a port, most likely from XDA, this is pretty unlikely. To be honest though I imagine this tablet will be too low spec even for honeycomb, and no matter how smooth the UI is, it won't be a nice experience with a resistive touchscreen.

If your determined to keep trying, i'd start a thread on XDA before taking the screwdriver to it - they'll know more about this stuff than most people on bit-tech

(Sorry if you already knew most of that, from your previous posts i got the impression you didn't)
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Old 8th Feb 2011, 21:35   #7
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What I meant by "I, Android, suck" was "I, the version/distro of Android on this specific tablet, suck!". The one application that crashes the most is the godddamn Android App Market!

My cat made my main PC's Debian system crash once (the only time it ever did): he walked around and sat on the keyboard, sending so many commands at one time (that PC works almost exclusively on keyboard shortcuts) the system said "pprrrt" and shot itself in the face.
The "pen" made this tablet crash almost every time I've used it. I'm sure it's the specific version (if this happened to most people, Android wouldn't be so popular). I was just pissed off.

I'm extra sad now that it seems like the only use for this tablet, except for its current form, will be to try and use it as a touchscreen connected to another PC. I'm not putting up with a non-free, non-changeable operating system.

I'm still extremely confused that a lot of people seem to put up with this crap. Or accept it, or even like it. You can't change anything!
(Yes, I should have thought about all of this before buying it. Thank God for sales!)

I got this tablet because it was cheap and I (stupidly) viewed it as other PCs: it may take some researching but you always get some other OS on there. Unfortunately, I didn't bother to learn about tablets; and I just figured it would run Debian or another flavour of GNU/Linux. After all, most GNU/Linux distros run on just about anything else!

I'm starting to think I should carefully try and open it (the last few weeks I've been thinking about a touchscreen control panel, which would be easy with a touchscreen + GNU + Open/Fluxbox = Star Trek control panel!); maybe I can at least use the screen. If not, I can try and fix the damage done whilst opening it and use it as is, I suppose. But even the wireless connection is kind of crap.

Hmn At least my first taste of "consumer products" has been a disappointing one; at least I won't be tempted again.
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Old 8th Feb 2011, 21:42   #8
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For hardware you dislike, there's always Ebay.
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Old 8th Feb 2011, 21:55   #9
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Even if it was possible, I can't think of any operating systems that will run feasably well on these setup, with only 400mhz, 256mb ram, you're out of options I'm afraid.
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Old 8th Feb 2011, 22:04   #10
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There are few levels of misunderstanding on your side :
1) it is not Android prohibiting you to install anything else, it is the manufacturer. Why do you think rooting and things around it on Nexus One and Nexus S are equal to one command provided to you by Google itself, while at other devices it usually means using exploits ?
2) let imagine that you was able to flash your own stuff. Then your next problem are device drivers. Why should the device manufacturer bother writing drivers for example for Ubuntu, if their drivers work nicely with Android, the only supported configuration by them.
3) you bought something without researching it before and now you complain that it doesn't do what you expected ? Bad luck, but it is your fault, not the fault device. You don't buy a car to iron your clothing, or a freezer to wash it. You don't buy a Android tablet if you want a PC.
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Old 8th Feb 2011, 22:50   #11
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What I meant by...
big snip
To be honest most reports of the cheap chinese android tablets tell similar stories. They're underpowered, cheaply built and run bodged versions of android. To be able to use the app market devices need to be approved by google, and afaik none of the chinese tablets are - the market is another unofficial bodge job, so tends to be buggy.

If you buy a proper android device, you wouldn't be disappointed - they tend to run pretty well, and have a huge scope for messing around


As far as not being able to change anything... what do you want to change - android is the most customisable phone OS around, and most things area changeable - you just need to know how, and some of it takes quite a bit of learning. At the easy end of the scale, change from the default launcher for either a lighter launcher (zeam), more customisable launcher (adw), or just something completely different (sweeter home + others i've forgotten the names of) makes a nice change.

If the market isnt working, google for .APK files - these are android install files, and you can find them for most apps.

A good first upgrade would be the android 2.3 keyboard, which is available as a .APK, and is a vast improvement over the old keyboard.

It is possible that there is some dev support for the tablet, in which case there will be some much more useable, less buggy roms out there. it might take quite a bit of googling though.
There would probably also be themes and more tweaks...

Dont judge android from this - its actually really good
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Old 9th Feb 2011, 09:48   #12
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@JoeK: I've run GNU/Linux on crappier hardware than this. Which partly explains my not thinking (OK, arrogance") in getting the tablet thinking I could get it to run on this, too. What I didn't think about was that a manufacturer would, on a hardware level, not build in functionality to boot from any other device. After purchase, it's my toy, damnit! Revolution, first against wall, etc

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Dont judge android from this - its actually really good
I kind of thought last night I should try and customize the OS (i.e. change as much as possible) before breaking it open. If I can get it to run better, that would make a (small) change.

Also my girlfriend has vetoed me breaking it open So I'll have to wait for a day where she's gone for a while and I've got the flat to myself. And come up with an excuse which will not result in beatings.

Quote:
you bought something without researching it before and now you complain that it doesn't do what you expected ?
Now that I'm the owner of a device the "average Joe" customer seems to like, I'm merely acting like an average customer: kicking off and whining to tech support.
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Old 9th Feb 2011, 12:48   #13
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There are quite a few ways of re-flashing the rom on android phones, so i assume it's the same procedure with tablets.

Having said that, a tablet is completely different architecturally than a PC. As Zoon said, it has an ARM cpu - an ARM11, 750Mhz CPU, to be more precise, but it gives no further details. All desktop operating systems are designed to run on intels x86 and/or amds x64 architecture, and are completely incompatible with ARM architecture.

You have about as much chance of getting this to work on your tablet as windows 7. The CPU isn't your only problem, as the operating system has to have the drivers to all the obscure bits of hardware in the tablet.

The only operating system that you might have the slightest chance with is MeeGo. I haven't been following this, and again, although its designed to run on ARM phones, theres no chance it will work unless someone has coded drivers for your specific device, which is very unlikley.
I agree, but not MeeGo, there's no real community behind it as yet.

You could try Maemo. I have it on my Nokia n900 (ARM cpu). There are a few flashers available to flash Maemo onto devices. From there, you can run Dabian almost like a virtualisation. Also it is possible to overclock some ARM cpu's (eg, my n900 is at 900mhz from stock of 750.).

I think even after that though, drivers are going to present an issue.

If you are really that frustrated by it, selling it would be the best route.
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Old 9th Feb 2011, 18:33   #14
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Now that I'm the owner of a device the "average Joe" customer seems to like, I'm merely acting like an average customer: kicking off and whining to tech support.
I don't think the average Joe does like them - you'll be hard pressed to find a good word about a tablet with a resistive touchscreen, let alone an underpowered one.


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I agree, but not MeeGo, there's no real community behind it as yet.
MeeGo was the only one i could think of at the time, but your right maemo would be slightly more possible...
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Old 9th Feb 2011, 22:34   #15
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There is a Windows CE version running on these VIA chipsets. That's what they used to run, before Android showed up.

This French company has just ordered a tablet (designed in China) with a French label. Try to find what is the original name of your model. Than check ( e.g. http://www.slatedroid.com/index.php?action=forum) for another OS.
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Old 10th Feb 2011, 13:43   #16
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You could try Maemo. I have it on my Nokia n900 (ARM cpu). There are a few flashers available to flash Maemo onto devices. From there, you can run Dabian almost like a virtualisation. Also it is possible to overclock some ARM cpu's (eg, my n900 is at 900mhz from stock of 750.).

I think even after that though, drivers are going to present an issue.

If you are really that frustrated by it, selling it would be the best route.
I'm not that frustrated by it, I'm more pissed at my own lack of knowledge on anything related to this tablet (its hardware, Android, etc). A lot of what I've said in this topic should be taken as an attempt at being humerous.

I've read on an Android forum that you should flash a ROM with another, only if it's made for your device; or you risk bricking it? It sounds reasonable, but I doubt I'm going to find any for this no-brand thing. Then again, if I try a similar ROM... tablet touchscreen connection to PC-compatible connection can't be that hard, can it?

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This French company has just ordered a tablet (designed in China) with a French label. Try to find what is the original name of your model. Than check ( e.g. http://www.slatedroid.com/index.php?action=forum) for another OS.
Hm, I had never considered the possibility before. I thought they'd just imported it, and that its name was its original name. But seeing as I know (thank you, education system!) that them Chinese people don't use the same alphabet as us, it seems silly to sell a tablet called MultiPix in China. Also, the OS was in French.

I'll see what I can find out.
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Old 10th Feb 2011, 14:12   #17
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I'm not that frustrated by it, I'm more pissed at my own lack of knowledge on anything related to this tablet (its hardware, Android, etc). A lot of what I've said in this topic should be taken as an attempt at being humerous.
Oh, i see. Well if it helps, for the first few months i was really annoyed that i'd gone and gotten an N900 without any knowledge of ANY Linux based OS. All i could do was text and make calls, it was so much wasted potential. I hated the thing. But one rainy day i just made a real effort to research it; watched aload of youtube vids, searched various forums etc.

And suddenly i got it! It was like getting an entirely new phone; a shiny shiny phone at that. I'm chuffed to bits with it now.

Android has alot of fans, and they must be fans for a reason. Maybe you just need a rainy day too?
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Old 12th Feb 2011, 20:06   #18
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Originally Posted by Instagib View Post
Android has alot of fans, and they must be fans for a reason. Maybe you just need a rainy day too?
Yeah. At the moment my head's a bit all over the place with trying to decide how to continue. One option (probably the safest) is indeed to learn more and then make a lot of changes. Especially now that it seems like the tablet's been successfully rooted.

Choices...!
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Old 12th Feb 2011, 20:51   #19
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There seems to be an elephant in the room. I've spotted it but nobody is talking about it, so here goes.

1) You will never get a tablet compatible linux distro, windows or osx working on your tablet.

2) You're very unlikely to get another android distro working on your tablet

I'd say....

For 1) just give up - it's not going to happen.

For 2) Wait until an android expert works out how (if it's possible) or become one of the worlds best experts on android device drivers.

Sorry to be so blunt.
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Old 13th Feb 2011, 03:02   #20
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Sorry to be so blunt.
Don't worry, I've made my peace with it. I actually opened it up to look at the screen connectors but it seems like a waste of the other hardware; apart from the fact that it seems very improbably that I'll get the screen to work on something else.

Oh, and I think I found out how I could make it crash so easily. I've used GNU/Linux on hardware as low-specced as this one, but... yeah. This tablet's operating system isn't my nicely-put-together running-only-what-I-want OS. Of course it's going to crash if I expect to work it like a normal (even low-specced) PC with an OS customised for that PC.

Guess I'll be learning how to work a (rooted) Android operating system!
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And by the way, it's "GNU/Linux"!

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