A few months ago I wrote a post detailing how to dual boot Android 2.3 and Ubuntu 11.04on the Asus Transformer TF101 tablet. This has become by far the most popular content on this blog. However, development has moved on and the process is now much, much easier than previously.
I am not going to go through all the steps required again, which may make this a short update. Basically, go to the Wiki page and follow the very good instructions there.
I did not care very much about the data already on my Android tablet, so I ignored the Backup sections, skipping straight down to “Installing Ubuntu.” Well, I did take the time to read the earlier sections very carefully, and one thing to note is that the described method is designed to be completed from a computer running Linux. Apparently it is possible with Windows too, the Wiki has a very short section on this, but if you want to run Linux on the Transformer, it is assumed you already have a machine with this operating system available. If you don’t, it may be best to create a bootable USB stick with Linux on it.
The new version of this process is as simple as downloading one 850MB file, extracting it, connecting your Transformer, running a script from the command line and following the presented instructions. The total time taken to have a dual bootable device ready for use depends on your available bandwidth for the download, but I was finished within an hour late one evening.
Despite what the Wiki intimates, I didn’t bother with building a custom kernel to activate the mousepad, this all seemed to work correctly using the OLiFE Prime download.
In terms of performance, I found Ubuntu 11.10, with the new Unity interface to be a bit slow and unresponsive at times. Instead, I installed the Lightweight Desktop Environment (LXDE). After making a few changes to the default apperances and theme, I now have a very nice looking Linux installation which performs admirable when compared with my three year old Asus eeePC netbook.
All default installed Ubuntu applications are available from the menu, and I am writing this within Firefox running in Linux on the Transformer. I have not yet tried all functions – webcam, mini-HDMI port, keyboard shortcuts etc – but I am assuming some will work, some won’t. The key thing to remember is that the Asus Transformer has an ARM processor and Linux development for this is still in its infancy.
Overall, this new process is a tremendous improvement over the old method. Steve Barker and associated developers have done a great job in making this whole thing much more accessible. And development hasn’t stopped yet! I wonder what the new Asus Transformer Prime, recently announced, will bring to the table.
I have had my Asus Transformer TF101 Android tablet, with dockable keyboard for a few months now and this article is primarily my findings with regards to trying to using it as my day to day computing device. I specifically bought this machine to try and replace a much larger 17-inch laptop and an older Asus eeePC netbook.
From day one, it was pretty clear that my dream of using just this device was unlikely to happen. There are some things that Android does not do well. I have rooted the device and installed Prime 2.1.1 , an Android 2.3 Gingerbread based ROM, which has resulted in a number of performance gains. However, my crucial reason for doing this was so that I could install the 3GToggler application, which would allow me to access a Huawei 3G Internet dongle.
Android Gingerbread doesn’t do office productivity. Editing word processor documents or spreadsheets is laborious and time consuming with the supplied Polaris Office. It’s just really clunky. Don’t even think about trying to create a presentation. I then also tried the Google Documents App from the Android Market, which is so clearly focused at mobile phone devices, again the user experience was terrible on a tablet. Lastly, I attempted to use Google Docs online to edit documents. Sadly this was also less than a compelling experience, but I believe this was down to the web browser itself, which neatly brings me to my next point.
Many of the Android Market applications are targeted squarely at the mobile phone user. That is usually someone with limited screen real estate, using their device in portrait mode. Trying to use these application on a docked tablet is a lesson in disappointment. Hootesuite for example, lacks the consolidated view across messages and requires many taps to navigate around. Other applications lack the key functionality that is usually available via the normal website. For example, if using the Google+ application, I found it impossible to access a Company Page I had created. This is simple enough from a drop down box on the Google+ website when viewed through a browser.
Just so this piece is not all doom and gloom, it is certainly worth mentioning what an Android tablet does well. Email for a start. The Gmail application is a joy, and I find it much more user friendly than the recently redesigned Gmail website. The other default mail client also does a great job of unifying a number of other accounts I have, including an Outlook Exchange Inbox. This is a much better experience than trying to use Thunderbird for this. There are also a few other email clients in the Android Market that are worth looking at, such as the Open Source K-9.
I’m sure Android tablets would be great for consuming media, if I did much of that. The only thing I have really tried is to watch a film through the LoveFilm website, but this was done via Flash in a web browser so was acceptable without being wonderful. The UK’s Sky Broadcasting has a catch-up TV player, which requires Silverlight, so again not happening on an Android tablet.
I love the battery life! A battery in the keyboard dock and one in the tablet itself provides for around 15-16 hours of cable free use. This is brilliant.
I have also quite successfully used the tablet to present PDF documents in one-on-one meetings. It’s quite a bit better than remembering to print out reams of paper. If I connected the device to a larger screen using the mini-HDMI connector, I’m sure this same process would work for larger group presentations.
Overall, without the docked keyboard of the Asus Transformer TF101, I would find the device practically useless. My main use of the tablet is to write emails, fortunately this is something Android does very well, and the keyboard enhances that experience. I would probably be much more productive with the Transformer if I didn’t want to stick needles in my eyes every time I tried to edit a spreadsheet or create a new document.
UPDATE: This post is now out of date. The process has been enhanced and made much, much easier. See new blog post here.
Since purchasing my Asus Transformer tablet, now complete with docking station, I’ve had a hankering to install Linux as a dual boot operating system. This was unlikely to be an easy task, as there weren’t really any builds for Nvidia’s arm based Tegra2 CPU. However, Nvidia has released nvflash and a base kernel build for Linux, so it was just a matter of time until someone worked out how to dual boot this with Android. It has been the people on the XDA Developers website that have really taken up the challenge on this.
I am currently writing this post on my Transformer while booted into Ubuntu 11.04. It does work, although there are a few things not yet entirely up and running.
Before going any further, I need to point out that the steps I will outline below will destroy EVERYTHING currently on your Transformer. It will reformat and repartition your storage. You will have all current data wiped, so back everything up. I should also point out that there is some risk of bricking your lovely, shiny tablet.
At the end of all these steps you will hopefully have a dual boot machine with Ubuntu 11.04, a rooted Android Honeycomb 3.2 running the Prime 1.7 ROM and Clockworkmod (CWM) Recovery installed.
Equipment you will need:
- Another computer running Linux
- An SDCard for external/removable storage in the Transformer
- The Transformer USB charging cable.
The XD Developers forum thread dealing with this topic is already over 21 pages long. I did not follow the instructions exactly as they are printed in the first post, so I will be deep linking directly to various posts in an effort to make things clearer.
1. On your Linux machine, download and extract the 900MB+ ubuntu.img rootfs file found towards the bottom of this post.
2. On your Linux machine, download and extract the zip file from this post, containing a flash kit and installation script.
3. From the flash kit just downloaded, you will find a directory called “Bootloaders.” In here are two files – Android.zip and Ubuntu.zip. These two files need to be moved (but not extracted) to the top level directory of the external SDCard you will be putting in your Transformer. If you don’t have a card reader on your Linux machine, it may be easier to download this file a second time on your Transformer and move the files across to the “Removable” SDCard.
4. Copy or move the ubuntu.img from Step 1. into the same directory as the extracted flash kit files from Step 2.
5. Turn off your transformer. Connect the power cable. Connect the USB end of the power cable to your Linux machine.
6. Enter APX mode. To do this, hold down the Volume UP button and the Power button together, for around 10 seconds. The screen will remain black. It will appear that nothing has happened, but don’t worry this is as expected. If something does appear on the screen, you’re doing it wrong.
7. Open a terminal window on your Linux machine and navigate to the folder where the downloaded and extracted nvflash package (from Step 2.) is located. Run the download-ubuntu.sh script. You may need superuser permissions to do this. At this point, there should be lots of stuff happening in your terminal window – partitions being created, .img files being copied across. If you look at the screen of your Transformer, there should be some small white text in the top left corner about being in nvflash mode.
Hopefully everything will copy across correctly, and ostensibly Ubuntu is now installed. If you now power off your Transformer, unplug the USB power cable and power back on, it should boot into Ubuntu. However, there are a few more steps worth doing.
8. Power your tablet off again. Now, hold the Volume down button and the power button at the same time. The machine will start to boot, but there will be some small white text in the upper left corner of the screen. When this appears, let go of the two buttons and press the Volume up button. This will now take you into the CWM recovery mode.
9. Navigate through the menus here to install a zip from SDCard. Choose the Android.Zip file and install. Then reboot the Transformer. You will boot into Android.
This is how you dual boot at the moment. Every time you wish to switch operating systems, you will need to go into CWM recovery, and install the alternate zip file. Slightly painful, but the good news is that all data and settings are saved in the actual operating system. All you are really doing each time is installing a new boot sequence.
There are still a few other things worth doing. One of these is installing some additional firmware so that WiFi actually works in Ubuntu. To do this you will need to enter ADB mode.
10. Follow the tutorial on this page, including downloading the Android SDK, and additional Platform Tools file (read the documentation included in the SDK download).
11. Download and extract the flash kit found in this post.
12. Connect your Transformer to your Linux computer again using the USB power cable. Turn the transformer on, allowing it to boot into Ubuntu. Wait at the login prompt.
13. On your Linux computer, you should be in ADB mode. From the regular command prompt run the firmware injector script from the downloaded flash kit in Step 11. If all goes well, and your are successfully in ADB mode, there should be no errors reported by the script while copying the files across.
14. After now booting into Ubuntu and setting up the general parameters, WiFi will need to be configured using WPA Supplicant. Currently Network Manager doesn’t seem to work, so this is the only known way. Follow the instructions here with regards to how to do this. You may need to change eth0 references to wlan0. You could also try the guide here, but there are lot of places online to find WPA Supplicant help.
With luck and a following wind, everything should be working correctly. The experience is a little slow, as hardware acceleration is not yet working. I am thinking of trying Openbox as an alternative window manager to see if that improves things any. Also worth noting is that the docking station trackpad does not work, nor does sound, Bluetooth or HDMI out. The touchscreen works for mouse clicks and scrolling is achieved by moving the application scroll bars (not from anywhere on the screen, like in Android). I am sure these things will be rectified or improved in the coming months, just keep an eye on the XDA Developers thread about this for up to date details.