Updating Nokia Phones With VirtualBox

4 Apr

I have a Nokia N81 phone for which I wanted to update the firmware. This is much more difficult than it needs to be, because Nokia’s firmware updater runs only under Windows, and I don’t like to have Windows on my computer.

So, here goes the story of my adventures in proprietary software.


  1. First, I installed VirtualBox. Version 2.0.6 or later is required due to some relevant fixes in USB support; I used version 2.1.0. We need the USB support which is not available in the Free Software (“open source”) edition, so the personal use license is needed.
  2. Then, I set up a new VM and installed Windows XP. Activating Windows is quite a pain—even though I have two legal Windows licenses because it’s impossible to buy a laptop without them, neither one worked. But solving this problem is not the subject of this article.
  3. Give the vboxusers group write-access to /proc/bus/usb:
       1  getent group vboxusers
       2  # note the number in the result - on my system, 118
       3  sudo mount -o remount,devgid=118,devmode=664 /proc/bus/usb

    Note that this change will not stick across reboots; if you want it to, edit /etc/fstab.

  4. Shut down the Windows VM. Then, in the VirtualBox control panel, go to the USB tab of the settings pane. Enable the USB controller. You can enable USB 2.0 if you wish, but I don’t think it’s important as my phone doesn’t seem to support USB 2.0. Then, create a new device filter with the following settings:
    VirtualBox USB Filter Details
    Note that we are filling in the Vendor ID (0421) but leaving the Product ID blank. This is important: during the software update process, the phone will magically disconnect and reconnect itself with different Product IDs. I originally had a Product ID and Product name specified, which prevented the update process from getting underway.
  5. Now, start the Windows VM, and install the Nokia PC Suite and Nokia Firmware Updater if you’ve not already done so.
  6. Connect the phone to the computer with a USB cable. You’ll get all kinds of weird messages from the new hardware detection wizard. Ah, Windows!
  7. Now, if you are lucky, you can use the PC Suite to back up your phone and the firmware updater to update it! In my case, the firmware upgrade doesn’t appear to have caused me to lose any data, so I never needed to restore from the backup. But of course, as they say, your mileage may vary.

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