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Return to Debian.

Personal tools

Debian is a universal operating system used on many other embedded devices, and also on home computers. Using Debian on the FreeRunner gives access to the Huge army of software packaged in the Debian repositories, already compiled for the Neo's arm(v4) processor. Moreover, one can build one's own source files for programs without having to learn the OpenEmbedded way. For example compiling natively is a snap with Debian, just apt-get gcc&libc-dev.

For an existing Debian/Ubuntu user, choosing Debian for Neo FreeRunner makes phone a very familiar, trustworthy and flexible place to hack in.

The bulk of information related to running Debian on FreeRunner is supposed to be at For all installation, support or bug reporting needs please see DebianOnFreeRunner in the Debian wiki.

The current method of installation,, is not fail-proof. Work is progressing on a real debian-installer support. Please be sure Bash is installed before trying The main reason why fails is because it installs debian unstable which is constantly in motion.

Installation Debian

The following steps are a quick installation guide with and installed SHR on your freerunner and Qi as bootloader already installed on your freerunner. For further information refer to the Debian on Freerunner Wiki.

NOTE: The installation script for Debian, used in the following manual, installs additional software packages in SHR to run a complete Debian installation process. So your SHR distribution should have some space left. Flash memory with a minimal SHR distribution or remove software packages with opkg.

Login to Freerunner with SHR

Login to your freerunner with:

ssh -X -l root

with an USB Networking connection and an IP-address of your freerunner. Change the IP-address if your network settings differ from this IP-address.

Debian Showcase: Desktop Environments And Applications

fbpanel + Matchbox

It is not really a Desktop environment, but using fbpanel with Matchbox you can have a fast, lightweight, gtk2 desktop panel.

Debian with fbpanel, matchbox-window-manager and Zhone running, default settings
Custom matchbox theme and fbpanel configuration.

Quick howto:

  1. Install fbpanel:
    sudo apt-get install fbpanel hicolor-icon-theme
  2. Customize the X startup process:
    zhone &
    xsetroot -solid black
    matchbox-keyboard-toggle &
    matchbox-window-manager -use_titlebar yes &
    # -use_titlebar yes to minimize & toggle between apps
    # fbpanel's taskbar does not work with matchbox-window-manager
    #~/bin/auxlaunch &
    while true;
    sleep 1;
  3. Read
    mkdir ~/.fbpanel
    cp /etc/fbpanel/default ~/.fbpanel/default
    nano ~/.fbpanel/default

    Remove section with 'taskbar' plugin - it's useless with matchbox-window-manager. You may add plugin 'cpu'

    Plugin {
    type = cpu

    Also, plugin 'genmon' is useful:

    Plugin {
    type = genmon
    config {
    Command = echo -e $(grep "MemFree" /proc/meminfo | \
     awk '{printf "%0.2f", $2 / 1024}') "|"\
    $(cat /proc/loadavg | awk '{print $3}') "|" \
     $(apm | awk '{print $5}')
    PollingTime = 60
    TextSize = small
    TextColor = darkblue
    Custom edje Zhone theme.
    After 'killall fbpanel' it will show: free mem in megabytes | loadavg | battery % left.
  4. Default theme is ugly. You can change it and / or make fonts bigger:
    sudo apt-cache search gtk2-engines
    sudo apt-get install gtk2-engines gtk-theme-switch
    DISPLAY=:0 gtk-theme-switch2
    Now choose your theme, font and save it. To see changes do 'killall fbpanel'. (killall requires psmisc package to be installed)


Debian with illume, and Zhone running
Debian with illume, and Zhone running, with the on-screen keyboard visible

Illume, the desktop environment used in recent openmoko distribution releases, is also available under Debian. It's part of the Enlightenment window manager version 17 (which is currently in the alpha stage of development), which the Debian FSO package maintainers have placed in their repository. If you have a Debian FSO system running, you can use the following commands to install illume.

apt-get install e17

Then use the following commands to ensure that it starts on boot.

apt-get remove zhone-session
apt-get install nodm

mv /root/.xsession /root/.xsession.backup 
cat << END > /root/.xsession
zhone &


I you want a really nice desktop enviroment but you think XFCE is too fat, you can try to install LXDE. It give to you the GTK comfort, but use only a fraction of the ram needed by XFCE.

Debian with lxde and Zhone running

To install it:

apt-get install lxde

to launch it create a /etc/init.d/lxde script in the same way descripted for xfce4, replacing startxfce4 occurrences with startlxde.

Debian running 3

Did we already mention you can install anything in Debian?


The debian installation script installs by default the matchbox window manager. It doesn't feature a desktop environment. xfce is a small and lightweight desktop environment and so is quite fast for the FreeRunner.

apt-get install xfce4

Edit your .xsession to launch xfce4 at X startup :


Edit section [Failsafe Session] of /etc/xdg/xfce4-session/xfce4-session.rc (or ~/.config/xfce4-session/xfce4-session.rc) to handle the auto-started apps. For example:

[Failsafe Session]

Start XFCE !

/etc/init.d/nodm restart

The desktop takes a while to start but once up was snappy as can be expected. I've not yet looked at the reason for the seemingly too slow start for the desktop.

zhone is available from the "Office" menu in xfce. The matchbox keyboard is available in "Accessories".

If you want to display the screen on the long side (ie rotated, 4:3 aspect), add the following to the /etc/X11/xorg.conf in both the Device and InputDevice sections :

Option          "Rotate"                "CCW"

and then (re)start xfce.

If you want to be able to shutdown/restart the device, add the following line to /etc/sudoers (don't forget to replace username with your actual username):

username localhost = NOPASSWD: /usr/sbin/xfsm-shutdown-helper

Using matchbox-window-manager with XFCE

XFCE's window manager is poorly configured for use with the FreeRunner. Fortunately, matchbox's window manager is compatible with xfce. To use the matchbox window manager, modify ~/.xsession as follows:

exec matchbox-window-manager -use_titlebar no -use_cursor no &

Derivative Distributions of Debian

Several distributions are sharing Debian's infrastructure - this is long known. For the Openmoko,