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Linux on the Acer Iconia Tab A500, 2020 edition

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Worldblender

Member
Feb 17, 2015
47
39
Moto G Power
I have become successful with getting postmarketOS to run on this tablet for the past 2 months, running mainline Linux (5.8.0 as of this writing). This allows us to use this tablet model for a little longer, without getting stuck on older Linux kernel versions.
postmarketOS is an experimental, touch-optimized and pre-configured Alpine Linux. It can be installed on smartphones and other devices.

About postmarketOS, from their homepage:
We are sick of not receiving updates shortly after buying new phones. Sick of the walled gardens deeply integrated into Android and iOS. That's why we are developing a sustainable, privacy and security focused free software mobile OS that is modeled after traditional Linux distributions. With privilege separation in mind. Let's keep our devices useful and safe until they physically break!

Wiki page for this tablet: https://wiki.postmarketos.org/wiki/Acer_Iconia_Tab_A500_(acer-picasso)
Most features should work, except for the camera and 3D acceleration. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth work only if the non-free firmware is chosen to be installed.

How to install:
Follow the installation guide at https://wiki.postmarketos.org/wiki/Installation_guide, where theses specifics have to be specified when requested (this device is now in upstream pmaports):
  • Vendor: acer
  • Device code-name: picasso
  • Install non-free Wi-Fi + Bluetooth firmware: y
Only the mainline kernel is available for installation now, as downstream kernels no longer successfully compile. The user interface may be freely selected, as long as it is not one that requires 3D acceleration. To use KDE Plasma 5, add these lines to /etc/security/pam_env.conf:
Code:
QT_IM_MODULE=qtvirtualkeyboard
QT_QUICK_BACKEND=software
LIBGL_ALWAYS_SOFTWARE=1

Next, run the following commands in succession, after each one finishes, assuming the working directory contains the pmbootstrap.py script:
Code:
> ./pmbootstrap.py build device-acer-picasso
> ./pmbootstrap.py build firmware-acer-picasso
> ./pmbootstrap.py build linux-postmarketos-grate

From here on out, the generated chroot can be either installed to the eMMC, or a microSD card that must be inserted at or before boot time (the latter method allows for dual-booting Android already installed to the eMMC, although it can be directly accessed from the Linux system). The boot partition always has to be flashed to the eMMC in fastboot mode, as it is not possible to boot directly off of a microSD card.
If installing to the eMMC, run
Code:
> ./pmbootstrap.py install
> ./pmbootstrap.py flasher flash_kernel --partition secboot
> ./pmbootstrap.py flasher flash_rootfs
(optional) > ./pmbootstrap.py flasher boot
If installing to a microSD card, run
Code:
> ./pmbootstrap.py install --sdcard [path to the device for installation]
> ./pmbootstrap.py flasher flash_kernel --partition secboot

Depending on what user interface was chosen earlier in the installation process, there may not be enough packages installed to get a fully-loaded GUI. Besides the built-in Wi-Fi, it is also possible to use a USB ethernet adapter, or connect to another computer with a micro-USB cable and get RNDIS access that enables using SSH to the tablet.
 
Last edited:

Worldblender

Member
Feb 17, 2015
47
39
Moto G Power
Using another distro in place of postmarketOS

Advanced: Using another distro in place of postmarketOS
It is possible, if using the microSD card method, to use a different distro instead of postmarketOS, for those who want more software OOTB. I use the Ubuntu MATE rootfs from https://ubuntu-mate.org/ports/raspberry-pi/ as my daily driver, but other distros may take more effort to get working. Glibc limitations no longer apply, as the kernel version is no longer stuck at 3.1.0 (unlike with my earlier attempts). Carefully follow the instructions listed below, or the resulting system will become unbootable:
  1. Use losetup or GNOME Disks (Utility) to mount the image in read-write mode.
  2. Run GParted with the loop image and the target microSD card as the arguments.
  3. Copy only the larger rootfs partition to the microSD card. Resize as necessary to get it to fit on the target microSD card.
  4. Make sure on the target microSD card the boot partition is named 'pmOS_boot' and the rootfs 'pmOS_root'. The initramfs is hard-coded to search for partitions with these names by default for microSD cards. The loop image is not needed after this point, and can be safely detached.
  5. On the copied rootfs, edit /etc/fstab to reflect the partition layout. To get access to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, copy the kernel modules and firmware from the pmOS rootfs on the host system to the microSD rootfs.
Let me know if something wasn't understood from my instructions, or more clarification is needed. The instructions here can be somewhat overwhelming for those who have less Linux experience, but at least we're not forced to stay on old distro versions anymore.
 

Worldblender

Member
Feb 17, 2015
47
39
Moto G Power
Premade Linux images

I finally have managed to create a premade image to make the installation process easier for other people, especially for those who don't want to go through the hassle of compiling software. Every image I make can be found at https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1pMqaS5GaM6N9TAKlNGQZWCG8UTiRn4pK?usp=sharing.

For all images:
  • Kernel version: 5.14.0-rc1
  • Includes all compiled kernel modules from postmarketOS builds, plus nonfree firmware enabled.
  • The postmarketOS splash screen will appear, although the underlying OS differs based the image used.

Images available:
  • Ubuntu MATE 20.04.1 (ubuntu-mate-20.04.1-desktop-armhf+acer-picasso.img.xz) (size: 1.3 GiB):
    • Based on 'ubuntu-mate-20.04.1-desktop-armhf+raspi.img.xz', available from https://ubuntu-mate.org/ports/raspberry-pi/
    • Underlying OS is Ubuntu 20.04.1, which is supported for 5 years until April 2025. However, Ubuntu MATE officially has support only until April 2023.
    • Requires at least an 8 GB or greater size microSD card (the image is 5.6 GiB decompressed).
    • The setup screen will open upon the first successful boot, where a username and password have to be set.
    • Most extra packages for the Raspberry Pi family of computers have been removed, including the kernels.
    • The battery icon in MATE cannot be enabled graphically, as the preferences window has been patched to permanently hide such an option (as the Raspberry Pis lack native battery support); instead run the command
      Code:
      gsettings set org.mate.power-manager icon-policy 'always'
      to manually enable it.
    • The PPA at https://launchpad.net/~grate-driver/+archive/ubuntu/ppa is pre-configured to be accessed. Most packages from this repository, including the opentegra driver, come preinstalled. They currently are enough to get 2D acceleration working, but not for 3D acceleration.
    • Except for what has been mentioned above, any packages shipped may have to be updated once an internet connection is established.
  • Arch Linux ARM (ArchLinuxARM-armv7-latest+acer-picasso.img.xz) (size: 598.8 MiB):
    • Based on 'ArchLinuxARM-armv7-latest.tar.gz', available from https://archlinuxarm.org/about/downloads
    • Rolling release distro often with the latest versions of most packages. More recent software can be acquired at a small expense of instability.
    • Requires at least an 2 GB or greater size microSD card (the image is 1.9 GiB decompressed). Larger size is recommended for installing more packages.
    • To login into system:
      • Login as the default user alarm with the password alarm.
      • The default root password is root.
    • Initially command-line only; contains no desktop environment installed.
Use any image writing program with these images. If such a program does not support XZ compression, the image needs to be extracted instead, and that has to be used.
I hope the images will proves useful to some people. Let me know if any issue pops up during usage of this image!
 
Last edited:

tehno

Member
Jan 25, 2012
18
1
hey Worldblender,

I have flashed the premade file you shared to an sdcard but I'm unsure as to how to boot into it?
 

Worldblender

Member
Feb 17, 2015
47
39
Moto G Power
hey Worldblender,

I have flashed the premade file you shared to an sdcard but I'm unsure as to how to boot into it?

The instructions were written assuming that the user has already flashed the custom bootloader as described here: https://forum.xda-developers.com/iconia-a500/a500-2019-2020-t4039271. Sorry for not making this clear anywhere, but that custom bootloader, along with flashing the boot image found in the first partition named "pmOS_boot" to either boot or secboot using fastboot, should get you set up to boot the SD card image.
 

chrisdroid33

Member
Oct 31, 2012
39
1
Hi Worldblender,
Nice to see you work on this legacy device.
I definitely don't want to use android or can use it anymore on this tablet.
Nice to see some linux flavor being ported to it.
I had a look a the dedicated page on postmarketos.
Can you confirm the only GUI availbale as for now is the one called "Weston" ?
Or is MATE also working (from the screenshot) ?
Weston seem very basic, MATE more friendly.
How about performance ?
I'm considering reusing it to display a grafana dashboard in firefox for instance, maybe more if performance isn't too bad.
 

coluwyvurne

Member
Jan 21, 2009
6
0
The instructions were written assuming that the user has already flashed the custom bootloader as described here: https://forum.xda-developers.com/iconia-a500/a500-2019-2020-t4039271. Sorry for not making this clear anywhere, but that custom bootloader, along with flashing the boot image found in the first partition named "pmOS_boot" to either boot or secboot using fastboot, should get you set up to boot the SD card image.

Thank you Worldblender for your work in writing up instructions and compiling the image too.
However, I'm still a bit lost as to what to do with your Ubuntu Mate image.

I've gotten the TWRP bootloader installed onto my Acer A500 tablet, but whether I use Rufus to expand your image onto an SD card, or just copy the compressed image onto the SD card, the [ Install ] does not see any images inside of the drive. Am I supposed to decompress your image in Windows and use the 0.img and 1.img in place of the nvflash's boot.img and recovery.img?

While I can see the two partitions in Ubuntu, I'm equally lost as to what to do with them, and how to get it onto the tablet.
 
Last edited:

Worldblender

Member
Feb 17, 2015
47
39
Moto G Power
Thank you Worldblender for your work in writing up instructions and compiling the image too.
However, I'm still a bit lost as to what to do with your Ubuntu Mate image.

I've gotten the TWRP bootloader installed onto my Acer A500 tablet, but whether I use Rufus to expand your image onto an SD card, or just copy the compressed image onto the SD card, the [ Install ] does not see any images inside of the drive. Am I supposed to decompress your image in Windows and use the 0.img and 1.img in place of the nvflash's boot.img and recovery.img?

While I can see the two partitions in Ubuntu, I'm equally lost as to what to do with them, and how to get it onto the tablet.

Wait for me to give out an update to the image, as there likely has been a new kernel version released that I would like to have updated first.
TWRP will not be used at all for this installation process, as the image is too big to flash with fastboot. Just flash the image to a microSD card, as the boot image that will be flashed will automatically pick it up shortly after booting. The only thing that does have to be flashed is the boot.img, which can be found in the first partition, and you will be only using fastboot for this process, not anything else.
 
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Worldblender

Member
Feb 17, 2015
47
39
Moto G Power
I released a new version of the premade Ubuntu MATE image just now, named 'ubuntu-mate-20.04.1-desktop-armhf+acer-picasso.img.xz'. The following changes have been made since the last image:
  • Kernel version upgraded to 5.10.1-rc1
  • Based on Ubuntu MATE 20.04.1
  • Everything that changed since the beta1 image
Other than these changes, there are no other differences that can be noticed right away.
Direct link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1mr-7e29KJYeagJju0Yo1qUpT2YRb61AR/view?usp=sharing
 

whylly

Member
Nov 27, 2011
22
2
OnePlus 6
Many thanks for your work. I've entered today this forum just curious about something new and found this!
Second life for this old machine!

For those with problems installing, I've flashed precompiled image using balenaEtcher into the sdcard.
Then, extracted .xz image, extracted .img, then extracted 0.img and copied boot file from there. After that, renamed the file to boot.img and flashed it with fastboot.
As I've the old modified skrillex bootloader, the command is fastboot flash secboot boot.img.

It boots and works well for now!
 

Worldblender

Member
Feb 17, 2015
47
39
Moto G Power
@Worldblender
Hi, i apt updated after adding grate-driver ppa, it seems it broken xorg because X don't start anymore
Can you detail how to proceed ?
Can you still switch to a virtual terminal with Ctrl-Alt-[F1-F7]? You will need a USB keyboard to do this. Then try, after logging in with your username and password:
Code:
systemctl stop lightdm
startx

If startx does not bring something up, could you try running journalctl, and show me any log entries relating to lightdm?
If that still fails, you can try (if ppa-purge is not installed, install that first)
Code:
ppa-purge ppa:grate-driver/ppa
 

pheex79

Member
Oct 11, 2019
10
0
@Worldblender

one binary missing but i think this error is present before adding ppa
"/sbin/prime-switch: 22: /usr/bin/gpu-manager: not found"

Xorg log:
Require OpenGL version 2.1 or later
modeset(0): Failed to initialize glamor at ScreenInit() time
 

Worldblender

Member
Feb 17, 2015
47
39
Moto G Power
@Worldblender

one binary missing but i think this error is present before adding ppa
"/sbin/prime-switch: 22: /usr/bin/gpu-manager: not found"

Xorg log:
Require OpenGL version 2.1 or later
modeset(0): Failed to initialize glamor at ScreenInit() time

I never received such an error, but the specific package you must install is xserver-xorg-video-opentegra. No other Nvidia driver is going to work.
 
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pheex79

Member
Oct 11, 2019
10
0
I never received such an error, but the specific package you must install is xserver-xorg-video-opentegra. No other Nvidia driver is going to work.

It works ! Thank you
xserver-xorg-video-opentegra was not installed

when adding ppa grate i only did an "apt upgrade" cmd i thought all grate items were installed (a few are installed when upgrading apt)
 

jamjon

Member
Jun 6, 2013
13
1
Nice work thank you so much.

Is there any chance for Manjaro arm? Or is it limited to debian based distros?
 

jkallay

New member
Jan 3, 2021
1
0
Note that after following the instructions for installing the Ubuntu MATE image from @Worldblender from a starting point of just the stock image, I have Ubuntu MATE installed on the external SD card and no OS installed on the eMMC because it was wiped during the bootloader replacement. Reading back through the posts suggests this is by design.
 

Bazil03

New member
Feb 1, 2021
1
0
@Worldblender, so I'm very new at rooting devices, and have a little experience with Ubuntu but feel pretty lost. Any chance you could hook me up with a step by step install of the Nov2 image (unless you've put together another new version) from a stock(not rooted or anything) A500? I apologize if I overlooked something.

Edit: I got it working after doing this thing called reading, I definitely overlooked some things after reading closer. For someone else that might find themselves in my shoes here's what I did.

I followed this link: https://forum.xda-developers.com/iconia-a500/a500-2019-2020-t4039271 to get the bootloader installed

and then followed @whylly 's instructions:
For those with problems installing, I've flashed precompiled image using balenaEtcher into the sdcard.
Then, extracted .xz image, extracted .img, then extracted 0.img and copied boot file from there. After that, renamed the file to boot.img and flashed it with fastboot.
As I've the old modified skrillex bootloader, the command is fastboot flash secboot boot.img.
 
Last edited:

uPr0ph3tu

New member
Jan 30, 2021
2
1
Hi there ! I have an iconia a500, rooted with lightspeed 4.8. Can I install this and then make it switch to Khali linux ? My ultimate objective is to get Khali on this tablet. I've worked my way down from ver 2.5x linuxdeploy all the way down to 2.0 lol So I'm thinking maybe if I apply your OS it will update the Kernal from 4.0.3 to 5 yes ? (That's a big jump for linuxdeploy) then I can apt-get khalifull ? Am I off base would this work ? Unless you have an image already of course in which case pleaaaaaaaaaaaaaase I'll pay for the bloody thing if I have to I've been pulling my hair out for days. Tried frikkin everything.

Unless anybody has a better method of course in which case feel free to suggest. If I have to make the image from scratch so be it


EDIT: UGhhhhhh after days of troubleshooting, I got to linuxdeploy2.0-1.16 installed kali (the native one on the app not from the repository as that gives kernel too old once you get the install working). Managed to term in and tried to start lxde, failed because lxde doesn't exist (sigh) tried to apt-get... kernel too old. game over sigh :(

Unless someone has a workaround I don't think it's possible to get Khali on a500.
 
Last edited:

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  • 3
    I have become successful with getting postmarketOS to run on this tablet for the past 2 months, running mainline Linux (5.8.0 as of this writing). This allows us to use this tablet model for a little longer, without getting stuck on older Linux kernel versions.
    postmarketOS is an experimental, touch-optimized and pre-configured Alpine Linux. It can be installed on smartphones and other devices.

    About postmarketOS, from their homepage:
    We are sick of not receiving updates shortly after buying new phones. Sick of the walled gardens deeply integrated into Android and iOS. That's why we are developing a sustainable, privacy and security focused free software mobile OS that is modeled after traditional Linux distributions. With privilege separation in mind. Let's keep our devices useful and safe until they physically break!

    Wiki page for this tablet: https://wiki.postmarketos.org/wiki/Acer_Iconia_Tab_A500_(acer-picasso)
    Most features should work, except for the camera and 3D acceleration. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth work only if the non-free firmware is chosen to be installed.

    How to install:
    Follow the installation guide at https://wiki.postmarketos.org/wiki/Installation_guide, where theses specifics have to be specified when requested (this device is now in upstream pmaports):
    • Vendor: acer
    • Device code-name: picasso
    • Install non-free Wi-Fi + Bluetooth firmware: y
    Only the mainline kernel is available for installation now, as downstream kernels no longer successfully compile. The user interface may be freely selected, as long as it is not one that requires 3D acceleration. To use KDE Plasma 5, add these lines to /etc/security/pam_env.conf:
    Code:
    QT_IM_MODULE=qtvirtualkeyboard
    QT_QUICK_BACKEND=software
    LIBGL_ALWAYS_SOFTWARE=1

    Next, run the following commands in succession, after each one finishes, assuming the working directory contains the pmbootstrap.py script:
    Code:
    > ./pmbootstrap.py build device-acer-picasso
    > ./pmbootstrap.py build firmware-acer-picasso
    > ./pmbootstrap.py build linux-postmarketos-grate

    From here on out, the generated chroot can be either installed to the eMMC, or a microSD card that must be inserted at or before boot time (the latter method allows for dual-booting Android already installed to the eMMC, although it can be directly accessed from the Linux system). The boot partition always has to be flashed to the eMMC in fastboot mode, as it is not possible to boot directly off of a microSD card.
    If installing to the eMMC, run
    Code:
    > ./pmbootstrap.py install
    > ./pmbootstrap.py flasher flash_kernel --partition secboot
    > ./pmbootstrap.py flasher flash_rootfs
    (optional) > ./pmbootstrap.py flasher boot
    If installing to a microSD card, run
    Code:
    > ./pmbootstrap.py install --sdcard [path to the device for installation]
    > ./pmbootstrap.py flasher flash_kernel --partition secboot

    Depending on what user interface was chosen earlier in the installation process, there may not be enough packages installed to get a fully-loaded GUI. Besides the built-in Wi-Fi, it is also possible to use a USB ethernet adapter, or connect to another computer with a micro-USB cable and get RNDIS access that enables using SSH to the tablet.
    3
    Using another distro in place of postmarketOS

    Advanced: Using another distro in place of postmarketOS
    It is possible, if using the microSD card method, to use a different distro instead of postmarketOS, for those who want more software OOTB. I use the Ubuntu MATE rootfs from https://ubuntu-mate.org/ports/raspberry-pi/ as my daily driver, but other distros may take more effort to get working. Glibc limitations no longer apply, as the kernel version is no longer stuck at 3.1.0 (unlike with my earlier attempts). Carefully follow the instructions listed below, or the resulting system will become unbootable:
    1. Use losetup or GNOME Disks (Utility) to mount the image in read-write mode.
    2. Run GParted with the loop image and the target microSD card as the arguments.
    3. Copy only the larger rootfs partition to the microSD card. Resize as necessary to get it to fit on the target microSD card.
    4. Make sure on the target microSD card the boot partition is named 'pmOS_boot' and the rootfs 'pmOS_root'. The initramfs is hard-coded to search for partitions with these names by default for microSD cards. The loop image is not needed after this point, and can be safely detached.
    5. On the copied rootfs, edit /etc/fstab to reflect the partition layout. To get access to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, copy the kernel modules and firmware from the pmOS rootfs on the host system to the microSD rootfs.
    Let me know if something wasn't understood from my instructions, or more clarification is needed. The instructions here can be somewhat overwhelming for those who have less Linux experience, but at least we're not forced to stay on old distro versions anymore.
    3
    Premade Linux images

    I finally have managed to create a premade image to make the installation process easier for other people, especially for those who don't want to go through the hassle of compiling software. Every image I make can be found at https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1pMqaS5GaM6N9TAKlNGQZWCG8UTiRn4pK?usp=sharing.

    For all images:
    • Kernel version: 5.14.0-rc1
    • Includes all compiled kernel modules from postmarketOS builds, plus nonfree firmware enabled.
    • The postmarketOS splash screen will appear, although the underlying OS differs based the image used.

    Images available:
    • Ubuntu MATE 20.04.1 (ubuntu-mate-20.04.1-desktop-armhf+acer-picasso.img.xz) (size: 1.3 GiB):
      • Based on 'ubuntu-mate-20.04.1-desktop-armhf+raspi.img.xz', available from https://ubuntu-mate.org/ports/raspberry-pi/
      • Underlying OS is Ubuntu 20.04.1, which is supported for 5 years until April 2025. However, Ubuntu MATE officially has support only until April 2023.
      • Requires at least an 8 GB or greater size microSD card (the image is 5.6 GiB decompressed).
      • The setup screen will open upon the first successful boot, where a username and password have to be set.
      • Most extra packages for the Raspberry Pi family of computers have been removed, including the kernels.
      • The battery icon in MATE cannot be enabled graphically, as the preferences window has been patched to permanently hide such an option (as the Raspberry Pis lack native battery support); instead run the command
        Code:
        gsettings set org.mate.power-manager icon-policy 'always'
        to manually enable it.
      • The PPA at https://launchpad.net/~grate-driver/+archive/ubuntu/ppa is pre-configured to be accessed. Most packages from this repository, including the opentegra driver, come preinstalled. They currently are enough to get 2D acceleration working, but not for 3D acceleration.
      • Except for what has been mentioned above, any packages shipped may have to be updated once an internet connection is established.
    • Arch Linux ARM (ArchLinuxARM-armv7-latest+acer-picasso.img.xz) (size: 598.8 MiB):
      • Based on 'ArchLinuxARM-armv7-latest.tar.gz', available from https://archlinuxarm.org/about/downloads
      • Rolling release distro often with the latest versions of most packages. More recent software can be acquired at a small expense of instability.
      • Requires at least an 2 GB or greater size microSD card (the image is 1.9 GiB decompressed). Larger size is recommended for installing more packages.
      • To login into system:
        • Login as the default user alarm with the password alarm.
        • The default root password is root.
      • Initially command-line only; contains no desktop environment installed.
    Use any image writing program with these images. If such a program does not support XZ compression, the image needs to be extracted instead, and that has to be used.
    I hope the images will proves useful to some people. Let me know if any issue pops up during usage of this image!
    2
    I released a new version of the premade Ubuntu MATE image just now, named 'ubuntu-mate-20.04.1-desktop-armhf+acer-picasso.img.xz'. The following changes have been made since the last image:
    • Kernel version upgraded to 5.10.1-rc1
    • Based on Ubuntu MATE 20.04.1
    • Everything that changed since the beta1 image
    Other than these changes, there are no other differences that can be noticed right away.
    Direct link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1mr-7e29KJYeagJju0Yo1qUpT2YRb61AR/view?usp=sharing
    2
    Many thanks for your work. I've entered today this forum just curious about something new and found this!
    Second life for this old machine!

    For those with problems installing, I've flashed precompiled image using balenaEtcher into the sdcard.
    Then, extracted .xz image, extracted .img, then extracted 0.img and copied boot file from there. After that, renamed the file to boot.img and flashed it with fastboot.
    As I've the old modified skrillex bootloader, the command is fastboot flash secboot boot.img.

    It boots and works well for now!