Sunday, October 25, 2009

My Zipit Z2 + IRC on the Zipit

My wife and I bought a Zipit Z2 for my daughter for Christmas. I was tasked with making sure that the device works since we bought it off of eBay. It works! The problem is that in testing it, I attached my profile to the device and activated the free year of text messaging. Woops! I guess it's mine now. Oh well. They are only $50 which is a pretty good deal for how sweet this thing is. So I bought another one. I will leave that new on in the package.

Anyway - I was impressed with the software that comes on the Z2. It's more or less for messaging your friends, and maybe listening to some music. Or - both. The screen is exceptionally nice (which is weird because it was built for texting). The built in speaker isn't bad either considering what a tiny little device this thing is. I went onto the Zipit Wireless web site and proceeded to theme my device. It seems backwards. But the idea is that you sit down to a PC with Internet access and log into your account. Then from there, you pick your wallpaper and your favorite streaming radio stations (the list is pretty long, but some of the stations are broken). You can also pick an overall "theme" which consists of different colored borders and transparent backgrounds for your pop-up windows. Niiiiiiice. After picking your theme and such, your device is sent the "go get it" message and downloads and installs everything. Easy! And pretty damned cool.

I loved the installed software so much, I really don't want to change it. At least not yet. While I could put the OpenEmbedded OS on it, I would rather keep the stuff that the engineers intended for it to run. At the same time I would like to add the one thing that the Z2 is missing - an IRC client!

The problem with the native OS that comes on the device is that the source code for it is not available (and probably never will be). The Zipit Wireless folks are fine with you hacking their device, and they even seem to give you some guidance on how to do it - but their OS is off limits. Most likely because it was developed contractually. So I would like to add some functionality, but not scrap the fun little OS. And it can be done! The Zipit folks have given you the ability to boot directly from the SD card slot on the front of the device. And they have created a few downloadable chunks of executable code to try it out.

By using scratchbox from the development VirtualBox that I made I was able to compile the ncurses library, and ircii for the Zipit's ARM processor. When I built them, I added the --prefix=/home/zipitdev/opt to the end of ./configure. That way when it was all done I could merge the built stuff with the Zipit Shell image which is freely available. In the end, I merged my stuff with the bootable image stuff. And now all I need to do is to copy it onto a Mini SD card and fire it up.

Here's the problem. I have a 2GB Mini SD card, but the SD adapter that it fits into was broken up by the intern at work. No problem, I thought. I will just buy another Mini SD card or a new adapter. But people are running out of stock on these cards and not ordering more. The price has gone up on them. What should be old and obsolete is "rare" and "valued". Geesh. Maybe I will venture out today and see if I can find a card, or a USB adapter from one of the dime stores up the street.

In the mean time, if anyone wants to try out my "Z2 shell with links and irc" image you can download it here. Until I say otherwise, this is untested. So don't be mad at me if it doesn't work.

Also ... late into the night I started reading old IRC logs for the #zipit channel on freenode and I could see that there is all ready an ircii client compiled for the Z2 under the Debian image (also widely available). Ooops. :-)

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