Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
Cellphones Handhelds Linux

Why Open Source Phones Still Fail 322

adeelarshad82 writes "Truly open-development, open-source phones like the Nokia N900 will never hit the mainstream in the US because wireless carriers in the country hate the unexpected, writes PCMag's Sascha Segan. The open-source philosophy is all about unexpected, disruptive ideas bubbling upwards, and that drives network planners nuts. So, you get unsatisfactory hybrids like Google Android, which uses some open-source components but locks third-party developers into a crippled Java sandbox. The bottom line is that while Linux the OS, the kernel, and the memory manager are attractive to phone manufacturers, Linux the philosophy — and users banding together ad hoc to create new things — is anathema to wireless carriers."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Why Open Source Phones Still Fail

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 04, 2009 @08:21PM (#30331144)

    The N900 will never hit the mainstream in the US because the frequencies it uses for UTMS/HSDPA/etc are only supported by one major carrier in North America.

    I knew a lot of people who wanted to purchase a N900 some of which weren't 'geeks' but just people who really enjoyed the Nokia brand name, and who thought the N900 looked like a wonderful alternative to the BB/iPhone. However like myself, being limited to EDGE while mobile was a deal breaker.

  • Palm webOS (Score:5, Informative)

    by cheesybagel ( 670288 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @08:21PM (#30331148)
    Palm webOS is also Linux kernel based. That is the proprietary environment based on a Linux kernel, not Android. Android components by Google are distributed under the BSD license, that is the reason there is so much variation between vendors. That was the price to pay to get HTC and the other hardware vendors to jump in the Android bandwagon.
  • Not really (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 04, 2009 @08:22PM (#30331156)

    I don't agree with the sentiments of the article. It is true that carriers would like to limit what people can do with the phones but that cat has effectivly been out of the bag for quite a while now. Carriers are content with charging large monthly fees for data plans.

    Googles andriod uses java/sandboxing because it protects the phone from potentially "evil" applications.

    In terms of radio/carrier network access all phones still use RIL (Radio Interface Layer) to communicate with the business end of the device which is *not* linux or open source so there is little to fear in terms of carrier radio interop.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 04, 2009 @08:31PM (#30331236)

    The N900 is by no means limited to EDGE, it's got HSPA 10 Mbps down, 2 Mbps up.

  • by ScytheBlade1 ( 772156 ) <scytheblade1&averageurl,com> on Friday December 04, 2009 @08:36PM (#30331278) Homepage Journal
    Proper planning is easy. Hint: wireless bandwidth is currently outright exploding in usage.

    The problem is that doing it right is expensive.
  • by sznupi ( 719324 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @08:46PM (#30331364) Homepage

    The summary almost hints that there do exist popular phone platforms which, while not open source, certainly allowed for quite open development and modification by users for a long time. Many Nokia phones for example.

    But I've heard that US carriers didn't really want to offer them in unlocked state, and Nokia wouldn't castrate its products; so the carriers went with RAZR... (and look where Motorola is now)

    So this really seems like your local problem. Since Nokia almost completed open sourcing of Symbian and more than 50% of smartphones run that OS, I'd even say that the article is quite irrelevant on the larger scale.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @09:10PM (#30331552)

    Six lines of praise and not one single tangible reason someone should feel that they're holding a "computer milestone."

    Check his sig.

  • Re:Too costly (Score:2, Informative)

    by blackest_k ( 761565 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @09:22PM (#30331652) Homepage Journal

    maybe we just look at things with the wrong perspective.
    for example I have a netbook and a 3g dongle that costs 20 for 15gb of data. I have skype installed and if I want I could have skype out or a sip phone. I can make international calls with skype for a couple of cents a minute with skype-in you can call me from your cell phone or land line. with bluetooth you might not even see that i wasnt using a mobile phone.

    actually it would save me a lot of money each month if i was to do this.

    Just because I need to go via a gateway doesn't mean I can't largely have the same functionality as a mobile.

  • Re:Oh for.... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 04, 2009 @09:22PM (#30331660)

    You have to pay to receive calls. You have to pay to get the GPS/WiFi/Bluetooth on your phone unlocked. You can't buy a SIM without a phone, or a phone without a SIM. If you do somehow obtain an unlocked phone, it won't work unless it is one the operator sells anyway, since they whitelist by IMEI of approved models.

  • by sznupi ( 719324 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @09:31PM (#30331732) Homepage

    Heh, I don't think you realize what "two times lower population density" in Finland means in context of cellphone carrier.

    It means much higher costs per customer. A need for more infrastructure just to cover vast, almost empty areas.

    And they still have better service % lower prices. Heck, they even passed a law defining fast broadband access as a right... (and, no doubt, large part of it will be provided wirelessly

  • by sznupi ( 719324 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @09:47PM (#30331854) Homepage

    This is not my position, this is reality...

    Worse economic position (at least when they were starting to invest in their communication network), much more costly to build and operate...and they still beat you. By a long shot

    But hey, I see where you're coming from; "bad, commy" gov interventions, regulated market, etc. (why do people like you can't get over the idea that governments are simply a reflection of...society itself? If the latter seems to be functioning decently, so will the former)

  • by rdnetto ( 955205 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @10:02PM (#30331918)

    His email address is Ovi is the name of Nokia's internet services brand, so it looks like this is just astroturfing.
    (That said, I do agree that the N900 is phenomenal and plan on buying one soon)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 04, 2009 @10:04PM (#30331936)
    My brother pre-ordered one (from Amazon) over a month ago, and is not expecting it to show up for another few weeks. I don't know how many they are selling, but they are certainly having difficulty meeting demand.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 04, 2009 @10:22PM (#30332028)

    As a customer, why do you care that carriers don't like a certain phone model? Just buy the phone and buy a SIM card from your favorite carrier.

  • by sootman ( 158191 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @10:42PM (#30332120) Homepage Journal

    Or maybe he's talking about the theoretical privacy issues that MIGHT happen if AN APP YOU DOWNLOAD AND INSTALL decides not to be nice and IF Apple decides not to address this situation. [] Either way, it's a long way off, and I don't see how he got a +5 for that.

  • by B47h0ry'5 CuR53 ( 639887 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @11:03PM (#30332188)

    His email address is Ovi is the name of Nokia's internet services brand, so it looks like this is just astroturfing.

    Either that or he just happens to have signed up for a free email account [].

  • Re:Oh for.... (Score:3, Informative)

    by khellendros1984 ( 792761 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @11:14PM (#30332232) Journal
    Ummm....each and every point of that is demonstrably false. My phone does bluetooth file transfers and headset connections, and I didn't pay a dime. If you have an account with a carrier, I'm reasonably certain that you can get a spare SIM for that account. My phone is unlocked. It was provided by Cingular when they were around, and it works fine on the T-Mobile network. IMEI is unique to each phone, not to each model. I receive calls for free from anywhere within the country.
  • by jonwil ( 467024 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @11:51PM (#30332412)

    But it doesn't support the frequencies used by AT&T therefore you cant use the HSPA on the AT&T network.

  • by TooMuchToDo ( 882796 ) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @12:55AM (#30332724)
    If AT&Ts network can't handle the traffic from iPhones, why would I ever use an N900 on? Especially with T-Mobile rolling out HSPA in major markets?
  • by Microlith ( 54737 ) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @01:11AM (#30332802)

    there are a few devices that strive to be as open as a linux phone should be

    You rip into the N900 yet fail to take notice that Nokia has made a mainstream device far more open than any other to date, built almost entirely on open source technologies. You could say Android is as well, but it's all about being "open" for hardware developers but sandboxing the user. You're also restricted to Google's version of Java for any sort of user interaction (even if you do write a native app.)

    And OpenMoko? Between the hardware and the software, they couldn't keep in a straight enough line to get anything done.

    openmoko tried and indeed even though the calypso is undocumented they provided a implementation of how to interface it and thanks to it one can use all of its hardware without binary blobs - NOT POSSIBLE ON THE N900!!!

    OH NO!!! We should, of course, give up on encouraging and pushing Nokia's move towards a more open environment and settle for a device with severe flaws and ancient radio technology, and an OS that changes so much it's barely usable.

    is it only me or did the slashdot crowd forget what "truly open" means and is now all over a device that is open on the top but not if one wants to really start messing around with it?

    The Slashdot crowd isn't packed full of hardcore FSFites of the Stallman variety. Compared to every other viable option out there, the N900 is Truly Open. Making it Free is the next (and harder) step.

  • by Traa ( 158207 ) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @01:59AM (#30332996) Homepage Journal

    "locks third-party developers into a crippled Java sandbox"

    Hmm, no it doesn't. Android offers an NDK [] for native application development. Yes your application entry point is still Java, but using Java's Native Interface (JNI) the main part of the app can be native (C/C++) just fine. It already supports native OpenGL ES 1.1 which is great for 3D games development on G1 or Droid phones which have great 3D graphics hardware.

    note: I develop native apps for Android for a living.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 05, 2009 @03:02AM (#30333216)

    Ovi is a service for Nokia's _customers_. Employees have :p

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 05, 2009 @06:08AM (#30333782)
    According to google he makes centrifugal pumps [] []
  • by Weezul ( 52464 ) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @07:08AM (#30334038)

    Applications are rapidly becoming the determining factor for platforms success. A truly open phone was never viable before the Andoird and n900.

    iPhone : Apple attracts thousands of sleazy third party Mac developers. So almost all applications are commercial closed source, nobody will port them to other platforms, etc. Zero progress towards an open platform.

    Android : Android offers an application store competitive with Apple's but using Java means applications can easily be ported to other platforms. Also more open source applications are available since Apple has sucked up so many of the sleaze bags. Big win!

    n900 : No application store. Applications should be portable to other Qt based platforms. Well established distribution channel for open source applications. Major win!

    All the open phones you named failed because they didn't offer enough applications. A truly open phone could now be built around Maemo native APIs and Android Java APIs, thus allowing users to port all the applications.

    Or maybe people can even develop open version for critical closed packaged used by Nokia.

    I'll be buying an n900 once they hit the second rev. of the OS, maybe even before.

  • Re:Too costly (Score:4, Informative)

    by Timmmm ( 636430 ) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @07:32AM (#30334100)

    "Sure, you can pay cash for a phone rather than purchasing a subsidized one, but you will still pay the same price for the service."

    Only in retarded America. In most of the world you can get SIM-only contracts which are much cheaper than the ones that come with phones. E.g:

    O2 SIM-only: £10/month for 150 mins (300 american mins), 300 texts.
    O2 18 month contract with SE C902: £20/month for 75 mins, 250 texts.

    The second one costs 18*5 = £90 more. The cost of an unlocked C902 is... £100 (from argos). Understand?

  • by MemoryDragon ( 544441 ) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @08:18AM (#30334258)

    Native programming is possible and has been for quite some time, you have to root your entry point over jni into C and then you can use the C apis natively.
    Google itself recommends following way, use java for the most part due to ease of development and then find the hotspots and code them with C if it is needed at all.
    The Dalvik vm while itself being very slow is relatively low on mem consumption and google tried to cover the speed deficiencies of the VM by routing everything under the earth from the core lib back into native APIs so that java in the end is mostly just a glue for C routines.
    The Dalvik VM has been criticized in the past, but have a look at the presentation of the guy who programmed it, he made very sound decisions, and in the end he also knows the weak spots and probably will resolve them over time (I assume Android 2.0 already has a JIT compiler integrated)

  • by cboslin ( 1532787 ) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @04:15AM (#30341846) Homepage

    Hey Hairyfeet like your posts, just disagree with a few here and there, however even when I disagree I can see the experience, the real life experience in your posts.

    Have to disagree with this statement:

    These companies are NOT gonna release their source code, at least not now in this hostile climate, but what they WILL do is put drivers on CDs, and penguins on the boxes if you'll let them, because nobody like cutting off potential customers.

    Specifically the if you'll let them part. No one is stopping them, besides perhaps Microsoft (and many would debate sad ) . When you have projects like the Linux Driver Project [], companies have no excuse not to make device drivers available to customers. No reasonable excuses that is.

    But expecting users in 2009 with a straight face to play paperweight roulette is just truly the height of arrogance and insanity.

    Perhaps suggesting PCs and hardwares might end up as paper weights was not the best choice for an analogy. As this is exactly another reason why I loath Microsoft today, thanks to Vista, though admittedly I had been burned by Microsoft multiple times before than. The BSOD, GPFs and now the blacK Screens Of Death (KSODs) that have occurred after one of Microsoft's recent auto updates.

    Microsoft was more than happy to play paperweight roulette as you call it with Vista and user PCs. Though I would suggest to you that with roulette you have a chance at winning, albeit a very small one. With Vista, there was absolutely no chance the old PCs running Vista. As they say hindsight is 20/20.

    Can you say Vista, I knew you could...

    The best solution for all PC users for hope of NOT being left with a paperweight is to purchase a PC, whose hardware will run Linux FIRST. If you want to run Vista or Windows 7, you can always run them, but if you are smart enough to purchase hardware that will run Linux first, that same hardware will run Linux in 10 years from now, when Microsoft will obviously no longer support either Vista or Windows 7.

    I would suggest buying all future PC hardware from a Linux vendor, who knows which proprietary hardware to stay away from. Two that I know of are ZaReason [] and System 76 []. Of course a forward thinking person like yourself might see this opportunity for what it is and start creating systems that will run Linux and Windows 7...just a thought!

    Perhaps Linux and open source should thank Microsoft, although I am not willing to do that for at least 7 years as I reset my 7 year clock (check my other posts for info about the 7 year clock), as System76’s 1Q 2009 revenue growth — 61 percent [] thanks to the Vista debacle and that is only one Linux vendor.

  • Re:Too costly (Score:3, Informative)

    by bluephone ( 200451 ) <> on Sunday December 13, 2009 @05:38PM (#30425320) Homepage Journal
    Yes, but in that case, just state that, rather than doubling numbers. I make far more calls than I receive, so your math fails with customers like me.

"I'm not afraid of dying, I just don't want to be there when it happens." -- Woody Allen