- A new Open Source OS for E-Readers

Meet fread, an in-development open-source operating system for e-readers

Hello everybody, after months of inactivity I managed to catch a breather and have time to write something on this blog!

Towards the end of last July, "The Circle of Hope" (Hope = Hackers On Planet Earth) took place, and in this event Marc Juul talked about E-Readers.

Someone surely remembers, back in 2009, the scandal where Amazon remotely erased (in a very rough way) some works from George Orwell from some people's Kindles, leading to a court case. Said case was closed with a promise from the US Corporation to "limit" the remote deletion of contents.

As you can imagine, hackers don't like that corporations watch over hacker's business, even less if that turns to be a full control over the device that was legitimately purchased (think about a "distopian future" where electronic newspapers get remotely manipulated to show, or hide, certain news).

Enter, a project under very active development that has the objective of porting a fully FOSS (Free Open Source Software) operating system on Kindle 4 and its successors.

Many producers already use custom Linux distros and they made the kind (and legally forced) gesture of releasing said distributions source under the GPL license. Add that to the fact that the majority of E-Readers are based on really similar hardware, which makes the development of a "general" system which runs on all the major readers that much easier.

The current status is good, but not usable: 5th generation Kindle Readers already work for the most part:

  • Hardware Buttons Work
  • USB Networking Works
  • WiFi needs some work
  • Graphics Work

Also a porting of KOreader is in the works, which would add some really interesting features to our reading experience, such as:

  • PDF Reflow via k2pdfopt: allowing to zoom into characters with less issues given by the full-page PDF zooming
  • Support for Djvu, EPub, txt, zip, chm, doc... files
  • Support for additional sources like GoodReads, Wikipedia and more dictionaries
  • Export your notes on evernote
  • Calibre Wireless connection support

In my humble opinion this project is really interesting, mostly for the possibility of refurbishing old hardware (I'm the proud owner of a Kindle 4 Non-Touch Device) and add some interesting functionality. Some others will find interesting to have a chance to "detach" from Mother Amazon and have a completaly customizable E-Reader, some others will find it interesting only for the "curiosity factor", that means only seeing what you can do with Kindle/Kobo/Nook/[Insert EReader here] hardware.

Fread developers hope to publish version 1.0 in Q3 of 2018 with base support for 5th generation Non-Touch kindle, after that it's foreseen to extend support to 4th generation Kindles and then all the other devices (Paperwhite, Kobo, Nook, etc...)

If you want to take a look at the source code, click here to see fread's repository.

Sadly I've already seen plenty of "hate comments" towards this kind of project, including accusation of wanting to save money on hardware (calling the supporters of this project "cheap") or seeing the "Amazon divorce" as a gesture without any semblance of sense, since Amazon (and other marketplaces) wouldn't be able to make use of our reading habits.

Honestly I don't see a problem about refurbishing old hardware which works perfectly: you avoid recycling and disposal costs of a perfectly working product, as well as possible environment damage given by certain people who earn on electronics disposal but then abandon the waste in "illegal landfills".

About the information extracted from our reading habits, I feel I have to to remind you about Cambridge Analytica, where seemingly innocent personal information (which animal would you be in your next life?) have been used to profile people and manipulate (sometimes with success, sometimes not) elections in some states in the world. On a more down-to-earth plane: do you really want a corporation to profile you so well that it manages to makes you spend your hard-earned money on products that said corporation wants you to purchase?

As you shouldn't let certain people have this "power to influence" you, so should happen to certain companies; or we will get (or we already are) to a point where we won't have any more desires to satisfy, because we will be too busy to satisfy desires that someone else "injected" into our minds, making us believe they're actually our desires.

Have a nice day and see you next time.