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Debian Cellphones Communications

Debian On the Openmoko Neo FreeRunner Phone 167

Posted by Soulskill
from the now-with-extra-open dept.
BrianWCarver writes "It was inevitable. One can now run the entire Debian distribution (ARM port) on the Openmoko Neo Freerunner. We previously discussed the July 4th launch of this GNU/Linux-based smartphone, which is open down to its core, with the company providing CAD files and schematics for the phone. Openmoko released an update to their software stack earlier this month, called Om2008.8, which is still a work in progress. But now one can use these instructions on the Debian wiki to open up the possibility of using apt-get to access Debian's more than 20,000 applications on your phone, which, due to integration with freesmartphone.org efforts, can also actually be used as a phone. There were previous efforts to run Debian on the predecessor product to the Neo FreeRunner, the Neo 1973, but with the wider adoption of the Neo FreeRunner and the hard work of many Debian developers at the ongoing DebConf 8, carrying Debian in your pocket has just gotten a lot easier."
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Debian On the Openmoko Neo FreeRunner Phone

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  • Great (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheModelEskimo (968202) on Saturday August 16, 2008 @12:24AM (#24624185)
    Now you too can have a phone with the most hilarious startup sequence ever:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6c0eVdj4E7w [youtube.com]

    ...and run Debian on it too! "Hold on honey, just one more minute...or so...and we'll be running XTerm. It'll be cool!"

    On a more serious note, I do happen to love this. You can't expect a geek to know how to do a debian install *and* grasp things like interface design or usability, but nothing's stopping somebody with the skills from building on that foundation.
  • by schnell (163007) <me&schnell,net> on Saturday August 16, 2008 @12:27AM (#24624197) Homepage

    Somebody help me out here. I get that the OpenMoko has great potential as a learning tool - that's unquestionable, and I applaud their efforts. But I'm really struggling to understand whether there is any use for this outside of the learning context.

    In terms of platform, Symbian is on its way to being open-sourced, and Android is supposed to be F/OSS as well. I don't think LiMo is going anywhere, but it has the same virtues of openness. And if you care more about open development environments than license types, Windows Mobile already has a huge and growing smartphone applications ecosystem. On top of that, there are also easy ways into developing for the RIM, Palm and iPhone platforms.

    In terms of hardware, this device seems to be lacking even a workable data connection - GPRS is tunneled packet data over channelized voice so you're looking at best case speeds of a 1994 modem (9.6 kbps or so). So broadband apps are out, as is useful e-mail/calendar syncing - at least over the GSM networks. It's also more expensive than the carrier-subsidized devices that everyone likes to complain about how overpriced they are with subsidies ...

    So this isn't a rhetorical question, it's a serious one. Other than for folks who just want to learn about the guts of GSM and mobile devices, who would get a practical benefit from buying this phone vs. a Nokia/Symbian, HTC/Android or any other devices from the WinMo, Palm or iPhone families?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 16, 2008 @12:30AM (#24624213)

    open up the possibility of using apt-get to access Debian's more than 20,000 applications on your phone, which, due to tiny size of the screen or the complete lack of a keyboard make them completely unusable on a phone

    There fixed that for you....

  • OpenMoko vs. Android (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 16, 2008 @12:37AM (#24624251)
    What's the difference?
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday August 16, 2008 @01:09AM (#24624365) Journal
    Pretty simple: The Openmoko is the closest thing to a "PC" of the phone world that you can get. Nothing else is as open as it is. Symbian isn't OSS yet, and there is no assurance the most of the handsets running it will ever be freed of carrier or manufacturer lockdown. Android doesn't yet exist in the wild, and carries the same risk. LiMo may be open as a stack(save for the DRM bits and bobs); but LiMo handsets in the wild are the usual lockdown stuff. The iPhone is markedly more competent than usual; but nothing happens on that platform without Steve's approval. WinCE might actually be the best of the heap. Closed base; but fairly encouraging for 3rd party work on top of that. Only the OpenMoko is a free implementation of a free stack.

    If that doesn't matter to you, it probably isn't the phone for you. Others are more mature, and offer greater economies of scale. If you do want Freedom on the handset, the OpenMoko is it.
  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Saturday August 16, 2008 @01:51AM (#24624515) Homepage Journal
    My laptop is a pretty poor stereo system but that is one of the things I use it for. Yes, the moko is not a great phone if all you want is a phone (I have a motorola C139). But as a multipurpose computing device it may turn out to be quite good.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 16, 2008 @02:10AM (#24624563)

    Everything starts this way.

    > Symbian is on its way to being open-sourced

    So is Java. Has been for ten years now. Wake me when it happens.
    (To be fair, Java *has* made real progress in this area, but it was not as smooth or fast as anyone thought it would be - to the point that it got to the very brink or obsolescence a couple of times)

    > Android is supposed to be F/OSS as well

    Except, compiled against non-standard libraries. Which, in practice, is the only thing that stops it being used, as a software platform, by the OpenMoko itself, right now (and in principal, even this could be overcome, depending on exactly what form the Android codebase ultimately takes)

    > Windows Mobile already has a huge and growing smartphone applications ecosystem. On top of that, there are also easy ways into developing for the RIM, Palm and iPhone platforms.

    Yeah, if you want apps specifically for a phone. If you want to compile a current desktop application and use it on your phone, or even the other way around (maybe you really like your calendar/contacts application), well, none of those platforms really allow for that. It's not an Achillie's Heel (yet), but it is a weakness (from the point of view of a developer, mostly, but still).

    > In terms of hardware, this device seems to be lacking even a workable data connection - GPRS is tunneled packet data over channelized voice so you're looking at best case speeds of a 1994 modem (9.6 kbps or so). So broadband apps are out, as is useful e-mail/calendar syncing - at least over the GSM networks.

    You have WiFi and Bluetooth if you can use it, GPRS as an emergency fallback. It's a phone, not a mobile contact manager. The distinction has been blurred, but primarily, it's a mini computer that can also make phone calls. It also has USB, so there's the possibility of a HSDPA adapter working if you want. If you *must have* built-in world-wide location-independent high-bandwidth wireless data communication... then yeah, this might not be for you. The next revision might be, but this is version 1.0. Don't you know what they say about 1.0 software? It's never as good, in quality terms, as the idea behind it. But it will be, if it makes it to a few versions beyond that.

    > It's also more expensive than the carrier-subsidized devices that everyone likes to complain about how overpriced they are with subsidies ...

    Carriers will never subsidize a truly open phone. They lose the ability to lock the phone to their network, to extract premiums from DRM'd software/music sales, etc. Any truly open phone will have to succeed on its own merits, because people will have to want to buy the phone at whatever price. One great way to do that is make it do non-phone things as well, so the phone portion of your purchase price is smaller (except, this only works if you *want* the non-phone portion of the phone - think cameras or mp3 players). Think of it more as a micro-form-factor sub-notebook, with a GSM module, making it a practical phone. Common folks don't want their phone to be a computer (heck, they often explicitly refuse to accept it), but that's okay - it's not for them. If, and only if, it is successful enough, then either economies of scale will bring it to the masses at a price they will accept, or clones/imitators will persuade them to embrace this kind of phone.

    > So this isn't a rhetorical question, it's a serious one. Other than for folks who just want to learn about the guts of GSM and mobile devices, who would get a practical benefit from buying this phone vs. a Nokia/Symbian, HTC/Android or any other devices from the WinMo, Palm or iPhone families?

    I want Open, no matter the cost. I want to be able to open it, dismantle it, reconfigure it, alter it, change it (not necessarily *do* and of those things; just be able to). That's why I got one.

    What other phone do you know of where you can buy a debug board for it from the same store that sells the phone - the same board that the phones' engineers used to develop it?

  • by jmcnaught (915264) on Saturday August 16, 2008 @02:11AM (#24624573) Homepage

    I have a Freerunner with the hope that I'll be able to use it as a learning device. Right now I've got the Om2008.8 installed and it's barely usable.

    I'm hoping Openmoko will be able to keep up a quick development pace. Since switching away from GTK and moving to Qtopia over X11 and Englightenment they've really come a long way. I have doubts that the Openmoko software will be stable and reliable any time soon, but hopefully a developer community will grow out of all the new Freerunner customers.

    Another poster mentioned above that this phone is the closest you can get to a PC in a cell phone. Everybody's heard all the freedom related reasons behind Openmoko, but a big part of it for me is fun nerd stuff. There's actually a handful of Linux distributions [openmoko.org] that run on it, and I'm sure there's more to come. I really like how they're calling them distros and not firmwares. You can dual boot, or boot from the microSD card. The official 2008.8 distro is standard Linux+X11. You can install Debian into a chroot environment and then run any of your Debian apps right along side your Openmoko apps. My phone has Python on it, how cool is that?

    It's these things that set Openmoko apart from other Linux mobile initiatives. Openmoko selling Linux computers with integrated cell phones. From what I understand about Android and LiMo the Linux kernel is used but the rest of the stack is nothing like a familiar Linux system.

  • Re:Right, but...? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Saturday August 16, 2008 @04:36AM (#24624935) Homepage Journal

    ``However... what is it really good for? A phone? Because it really looks like the typical "you can run Linux on it" thingie: you spend 95% of your time tinkering with it and the remaining 5% using it... if you're lucky.''

    Not the way I see it. To be completely honest, that used to be the way I used Linux on my PC. Perhaps it used to be the way anyone used Linux on their PC. But it's not like that anymore. Nowadays, I use Debian, because:

    1. It costs me less time in maintenance than any other operating system I have experienced.

    2. If something doesn't work the way I want it to, or some functionality I want isn't there, I can change that.

    3. I spend less time waiting for my system to complete a task then on certain other systems.

    All of these improve my user experience and productivity compared to various alternatives. All this has been accomplished thanks to years of hard work by numerous people, who were allowed to perform that work, thanks to Debian being open source.

    When a device runs open source software, that is a great plus to me.

  • by toxygen01 (901511) on Saturday August 16, 2008 @05:57AM (#24625157) Journal
    I can't agree. I would like to have absolute control over what my mobile phone is doing. E.g. whether it is connecting to any bluetooth device or not. I would love to be able to log in to it over ssh to send sms to my friends. I would love to run nginx on it to be able to share my data with my friends over webdav even if there is no internet available. And many more things. For me, I'ts good thing. Btw.: have you ever seen an PC with ARM processor in it?
  • Re:My rant (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Saturday August 16, 2008 @07:50AM (#24625451) Journal

    PS: Please don't respond with one liners and/or comments about how "free" this phone is, you're missing the point. It's a phone.

    Actually, I think you are missing the point. I don't see the Freerunner as a product, I see it as a proof-of-concept. The best outcome for the OpenMoko project is similar to that for OLPC - have other manufacturers take their designs and build improved versions. Right now, Apple, Nokia, and all of their competitors spend a lot of money developing their hardware and software. This is exactly the situation that the personal computer market was in in the early '80s. Then systems like CP/M and DOS started to commoditise the market by allowing you to run your software on any PC that ran this OS. Suddenly, a hardware company could spring up, build a cheap 8088 or 8086 machine, license the operating system cheaply and undercut companies doing everything in-house.

    My hope is that OpenMoko (and maybe the new, open source, Symbian releases) will start to do this for mobile phones. Manufacturers will start to appear who build nice hardware and just grab the OpenMoko (or Symbian, or Android) stack and pop it on top.

    Open hardware isn't really important at this stage. Anyone can run a compiler, but it takes a lot more investment to create the components required for a phone. As home fabrication becomes cheaper and more capable, this will change, but for now it is more important to have open interface to hardware than open hardware, and this is something OpenMoko and related projects stand a good chance of achieving.

  • by knewter (62953) <josh@rubyist.gmail@com> on Saturday August 16, 2008 @11:37AM (#24626619) Homepage

    I currently run Debian on my Openmoko Neo1973. The summary implies that it doesn't work, but it absolutely does. I run xfce, with compositing turned on, and it works fine. The pkg-fso is the bit that gets the whole freesmartphone.org stack integrated with debian, so you can use it as a phone.

    FSO is the stack that I ran on my phone pre-debian, and it was plenty stable as a phone. The only issues the phone /really/ has are that the other party gets echo sometimes, and yeah GPRS is less great than 3G/EDGE.

    But I'll take a phone that's open source any day. Seriously, this is the wearable computer I've always wanted. Couple it with a bluetooth keyboard and just get happy already. I've run at least four different distributions on the phone so far, and it just feels like computers used to.

    -Josh

  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Saturday August 16, 2008 @02:11PM (#24627691) Homepage Journal

    How do I get an account with a mobile carrier in the US, so this device can actually connect to a wireless phone network and actually make calls?

    Is every carrier going to charge me some ripoff fee for an account because I didn't buy my phone from them? Or maybe this unlocked phone will finally let me buy an account with multiple carriers, so I don't get ripped off when "roaming" that does the exact same thing.

    When will the US let me choose my mobile phone carrier the way I choose my PC's ISP?

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