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A Free Software System

A Free Software System

As you might expect from a system designed for homebrew gaming developers, Pandora runs a Free Software software stack, with Linux as the kernel. Craig discussed the reasons for choosing Linux:

Linux these days has good brand recognition (Ubuntu, etc.) and the GP2X already used it, so we had access to not only a huge amount of software but also a huge amount of already-converted-to-Linux handheld users.

We also had to consider all the work required in software for the hardware, and these days Linux drivers tend to be available.

Brand recognition is one area where Linux does very well at the moment. It may be more difficult to port software between Linux architectures than it is with a system that does better hardware abstraction, but more people are willing to do it.

It's a shame to see any decision made for marketing—rather than technical—reasons, but the open nature of the Pandora console means that it's likely to see other operating systems ported before much longer. Similarity to the Beagle Board (a small, single-board OMAP3530 system) means that a lot of people can work on Pandora-compatible software without owning the device itself.

There is one unfortunate shadow in the stack. The OMAP3530 GPU is licensed from PowerVR, a division of Imagination Technologies, a company that has a fairly hostile (or, at least, uncomprehending) attitude to Free Software. A binary-only driver is available, but the specifications are not. Graig doesn't regard this as a problem, however:

The blob just has to be compiled for whatever operating system you want to use; we have it working in multiple setups. I'm quite sure open drivers will be made, too.

Reverse-engineering the PowerVR chip is likely to be a big task, although a number of patents on the rendering architecture provide some clues as to how it works, and can help when writing drivers. The same core has been licensed by Intel for some of the newer Atom chipsets, and therefore is likely to see quite a lot of exposure. Hopefully, Free Software drivers will appear soon.

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