Very bad experience with Linux on VIA APC Rock

We were searching for Raspberry Pi alternatives. The Cortex A9 seems to be a good choice. Besides more speed it is able to run stock Debian Wheezy. (Raspberry Pi needs ARM6 binaries, so you need to run Raspbian). We did find the APC Rock board and were quite happy with the board layout (all connectors on one side, mini-itx form factor) and specifications. We bought a unit for testing and were quite happy with the hardware. Unfortunately it does not look as good on the software side. Numerous posts in the APC forum tell stories from users being disappointed by the default android load. VIA does not support any other operating systems. The user “RoyalPanda” did port Raspbian to the old APC 8750 board. I did create a Debian Wheezy image for the new APC Rock boards (8950). During our attempts, we did not receive any support from VIA. Even worse, the provided kernel for the 8950 does not even compile out of the box. It only compiles after disabling the frame buffer. VIA did not resolve this, and requests to Wondermedia Technologies (a subsidiary of VIA which does the legwork for APC) did yield two very interesting emails:

Hi Tony Prisk,

I m a Sr. engineer of Wondermedia company, any technical question you can ask me. About Linux kernel Source of Android 4.0, We don’t release the linux kernel source code, for the most of customer cant develop the program by themself, if we open the source code, they also cant make development on our platform. They will ask many and many question.So we only release linux kernel source code to big company, such as pansonic, sony &...
If you also need linux kernel source code, you should Sign NDA with our company and depend on the quantity of tablet you buy. If you have any question, you can ask me.

BR

刘小志 Mason liu
CS-AP R&D-Hardware Dept.
Sr.HW

And even better:

Reply #2
Hi Tony,

I don’t know how to use when you get the linux kernel source, so I cant give you the source code. If you want buy our tablet you can contact our customer factory, they will provide good services for you. For our firmware, it also upgrade. If you find some problem, you can tell me. I will repair it,then the next firmware we will upgrade it.
So I don’t think that you need the linux source code.if you had any question, you can ask me.

BR

刘小志 Mason liu
CS-AP R&D-Hardware Dept.
Sr.HW

So regarding WMT, we “end users” don’t need the source as we can’t do any development work anyway? We’d only ask many questions? What an interesting attitude in the open source and free software ecosystem. “RoyalPanda” and I did express our disappointment in a forum post on the APC forum. Instead of addressing our pain points, VIA decided to just delete our post. Here is a screenshot for reference:

Screen Shot 2013-05-22 at 5.44.48 PM

So if you want to run ago control on a fast ARM based board, better get it from e.g. wandboard.org

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  1. [...] For a long time the APC Rock 8950 was a huge disappointment due to no available Linux image for it. That’s over now – thanks to the nice forum member Hari, who provided a backup of his image and much help in getting it working for me, I’m able to share the image here. Check out his blog post, too! [...]