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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."
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Why Open Source Phones Still Fail

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  • by alain94040 ( 785132 ) * on Friday December 04, 2009 @08:13PM (#30331094) Homepage

    No carrier wants geeks. Geeks use up a lot of network resources, try to find ways around rules, and create problems for tech support.

    Yes. But geeks also build new cool applications never before thought possible, that become next year's must-haves.

    In a sense, the iPhone app ecosystem is proof to that, despite its less-than-open review process. Palm and the PC as well, if you want to go back in history.

    How hard can it be for the base-station to monitor bandwidth and avoid taking the whole network down?

    Meet co-founders [fairsoftware.net] for your startup

    • by sexconker ( 1179573 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @08:29PM (#30331228)

      There are many reasons to lock shit down.

      Fear of teh hax0rs taking down a tower.

      Fear of pirates sucking up your bandwidth, and getting all your apps for free.

      Fear of zealots circumventing traditional pay schemes by getting voice, data, and other services off network (and thus free).

      Fear of the russian mob using the phone hardware to spy on or disrupt other people's communications.

      Fear of lawsuits when it gets out that you illegally used copyrighted shit when making the phone's os image.

      Fear of people finding out that you rig the fucking battery display to show higher than it is, or that you rig the reception indicator to show full bars when it shouldn't...until you make a call.

      Fear of Bob deciding to take his shiny new toy to another network.

      While virtually ALL of the reasons center around the company being afraid of people exploiting the company's stupidity, they are still valid concerns - the companies are stupid.

      However, TFA is completely incorrect. Companies don't fear the unknown - they know EXACTLY what we'd do with open phones.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by ShieldW0lf ( 601553 )
        Open source phones will take off. They will take off when someone delivers a model that uses a mesh network to render the existing carriers obsolete, at which point most of the existing carriers will go out of business. Pretty obvious if you think about it.
        • by sexconker ( 1179573 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @08:58PM (#30331476)

          Then do it.

          Get the FCC approve your devices for use.

          Get any sort of decent battery life out of a mesh network with no towers while still maintaining access to the PSTN and emergency services.

          Sell the device at a profit.

          It's so easy why didn't I think of it?

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by ShieldW0lf ( 601553 )
            I was thinking something more along the lines of give the devices away for free and to hell with the FCC and the profit too...
            • Well as long as you're giving them away for free I'l ltake one.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Arancaytar ( 966377 )


              Manufacturing electronic devices costs it.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              That's not going to work terribly well when the FCC sends certain other government employees after you and those who operate these unlicensed devices. Unless, of course, you find the prospect of "two hots, a cot, and fending off dudes in the shower" appealing.
              • by PReDiToR ( 687141 ) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @02:03AM (#30333024) Homepage Journal
                In the UK we were using CB radios illegally for years.

                The government set rules that laid out the only legal channels (40 of them) and no shop was allowed to sell rigs that could receive/transmit on other channels.
                These 40 shitty channels were chosen to not fit with CBs sold anywhere else in the world.

                My first CB (20 years ago?) had 200 channels. Only 40 of them were legal, 40 more of them are now legal (the mid-band 40 that other countries use was added to the legal 40 giving 80 legal channels).

                So many people in my City alone had illegal rigs that the law was never enforced. I knew (and know) of nobody who was ever prosecuted for not having the £££ Ham Radio licence that permitted broadcast on those frequencies.

                I still have about 5 highly illegal rigs although I haven't used a CB in many years.

                If someone were to start the fire and Skype/FreeGSM/Mesh internet handsets were to be available to you and me, then someone somewhere (China? Russia?) would see it as profitable to make them available for £50. People I know are buying '3' handsets because the data plan is compatible with an always on Skype connection. £70 and they get a shit phone but free Skype. It doesn't take a huge leap of imagination to see that people would pay for something even if it wasn't legal and then to see that there would be so many people at it that the government would have to make it legal or hire more police.
                • Thanks a lot. (Score:5, Insightful)

                  by dtmos ( 447842 ) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @08:28AM (#30334288)

                  ... so you're one of the guys screwing up communications on the amateur bands, just for your fun. Thanks. Thanks a lot. And thanks for caring about someone other than yourself. Would you corrupt others' Internet communications as readily?

                  (n.b.: This type of illegal CB operation is especially bad because the illegal "channels" used are in the portion of the amateur 10m band used for international narrowband, weak-signal work -- usually in Morse code, and often at the threshold of audibility in a 250 Hz bandwidth. Since the transmission modes were different, the illegal operators often can not hear the communications they are disrupting; further, since the "freebanders" use wider, single sideband transmissions, a single illegal transmission can interfere with dozens of narrowband signals at once. Since this band is capable of worldwide communication at certain points in the sunspot cycle, the interference can quite literally be global in nature.)

                  By the way, the world has changed. In the UK, an amateur radio licence is now free, valid for the lifetime of the user, and available online [ofcom.org.uk]. If you're worried about the licence examination (but you're a geek, so technical matters are no problem for you -- right?) there are clubs that will hire the room, give you the study book, and teach you the exam material, all for £45 [g0mwt.org.uk]. So if you want to talk to the world, why not just follow existing international standards and agreements, and get an amateur radio license?

                  • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                    by ichigo 2.0 ( 900288 )
                    While your post contained interesting information, it wasn't really relevant to the grandparent (try reading more than the first line, i.e. the part where he mentions that he does not use CB anymore). I also find it amusing that you immediately categorized him as "one of the guys screwing up communications on the amateur bands". You also forgot to end your post with "get off my lawn".

                    Thank you.
          • by bertoelcon ( 1557907 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @09:40PM (#30331798)


            Get any sort of decent battery life out of a mesh network with no towers while still maintaining access to the PSTN and emergency services.

            If it isn't a "public" phone system but was more like a large voip network they might be able to find loopholes.

          • by KibibyteBrain ( 1455987 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @11:12PM (#30332220)
            Very insightful operation. A mesh network for cellular communications is impractical, we just do not have enough bandwidth to make it work and it would be impossible to regulate. And regulation of the spectrum is not a bunch of BS like other regulation, its a hard, physics rooted, necessity.
            Also, its not as simple as it sounds. It takes a team of engineers to monitor and place towers is a geographic region for a carrier. Adding one can actually make reception WORSE in some areas if you don't know what you are doing. So again, if we have crappy cell networks using engineered structured networks that cost billions of dollars to run just imagine what you'd get out of a peer to peer long range communications scheme.(hint, crap)
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by rolfwind ( 528248 )

          Open source phones will take off. They will take off when someone delivers a model that uses a mesh network to render the existing carriers obsolete, at which point most of the existing carriers will go out of business. Pretty obvious if you think about it.

          We don't even have mesh internet yet.... and that would be infinitely easier - you could have driving cars with their antennas act at mesh points... (Please don't bring up OLPC.)

          The problem with any mesh network is to get decent latency, there eventually

      • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

        Hey mods: the parent comment is only at +3 as of this writing. It really ought to be at +5.

        This is one of the most honest and informative posts I've seen on Slashdot in a very long time. I use Linux day in and out for both work and personal hobbies, but there are many valid reasons why companies won't completely open every platform on Earth. This will apply as long as resource scarcity is in forth; the good news is you can have all the completely open, mesh-networked, unencumbered communications you want
    • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @08:33PM (#30331254)

      But geeks also build new cool applications never before thought possible, that become next year's must-haves.... Palm and the PC as well, if you want to go back in history.

      But look at the Palm, which is dying. Look at the PC, where Linux adoption to the desktop hovers for a decade at a few percent. There is no control-freak network provider to blame there. Why doesn't open source take over then?

      • by CannonballHead ( 842625 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @08:41PM (#30331322)

        There is no control-freak network provider to blame there. Why doesn't open source take over then?

        There is a scapegoat for every problem. Microsoft, vendor lock-ins, corporations, bad managers, bad employees, government, society, temporary insanity, depression, depression medication, education, teachers, family, finances...

        Not to say we can't perhaps put our finger on real problems that prevent open source from "taking over," but just saying that one can reason and argue for a whole lot of perceived problems that may not actually be the reason.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by timeOday ( 582209 )
          I ranted on comp.os.linux.advocacy about all that for years, but but now I have realized that most people simply prefer the elegance and predictability of a walled garden to chaotic freedom. This explains everything from why mp3 players never became a mainstream phenomenon until the iPod came along, to why there are no direct democracies. Life is too short for individuals to make decisions on every little thing so they need integrated "solutions" that offer some level of control.
        • /puts of flame proof long johns/ You want to know why Linux hasn't had a snowball's chance in hell at retail? It is actually quite simple: You can't shop for Linux devices at Walmart without playing the paperweight roulette, which scares the living hell out of consumers!

          If you really want Linux to have that critical breakout, then get the heads of all the major distros together, have them shake the living hell out of Linus and the other kernel devs, and nobody is allowed to leave the building until an agreed upon standard is written and approved to where you can just put a "Linux 32/64" folder on the driver CD and be done with it!

          There are PLENTY of shops like mine who would LOVE to sell Linux machines, there are plenty of mainstream customers that could use Linux security, but I can't sell it and they won't buy it. Why? Because you can't answer these questions-which wireless USB cards on sale at Best Buy work in distro foo? Printer? Sound cards? Can you give me a 100% guarantee that my customers can shop at Walmart/Best Buy/Staples and have ZERO chance of getting a paperweight? You can't, because Linux and the driver situation is all fucked up. The kernel developers should be worried about the kernel and NOT maintaining fricking printer drivers!

          With Windows I can say "see this pretty little flag on the box? See how it says "certified for Windows 7"? Yeah, that's you. Just look for that and you are good". It takes a customer all of 5 seconds to look at the box and shop with confidence. same thing with OSX, just look for the little Apple and the "10.whatever" and if it lines up with what you got? Hooray, you're all set to go. With Linux you get the "fun" of trawling forums before you can even buy a damned thing (which if you believe mainstream customers are gonna research before purchase I got some swampland in AR to sell you) and Deity help you if the "driver" which usually needs some serious fricking tweaking and CLI foo to get going was written for firmware A and you got firmware F, because guess what? Enjoy your paperweight!

          Just make it simple guys. Remember KISS? Make it so hardware manufacturers can put Linux drivers on the CD and a penguin on the box without having to keep an assload of driver developers on hand just to try to keep up with the shifting sand that is Linux right now. Make it so ANY customer WITHOUT needing to do research or put in a metric crapload of CLI commands can simply walk into Best Buy and put a device in their cart and know 100% that it will work on Linux. If the "inferior" Windows and OSx can do that, then surely you guys can too...right?

          • Several issues to think about:

            It would be enough and everyone would be happy about it if only one distribution would focus on this market. "Certified for Retailinux", is enough.

            Bad 3rd party hardware drivers are the cause of 99% of Windows Bluescreens.

            As a company, getting your driver into Linux should be pretty simple. It is a better distribution method.
            For printers:
            In gnome, the install driver for Printers is easily found. A series of screenshots, and the necessary ppd file can be on a CD, no one is stopp

            • Bad 3rd party hardware drivers are the cause of 99% of Windows Bluescreens.


              I don't understand your statement that the kernel should not contain drivers.

              How do you consolidate these two thoughts in your brain?

              The grandparent is right: Linux needs a standard and solid driver interface. Not only do hardware makers have to jump the hurdle of "Linux has very few users", the kernel developers have decided to throw in a whole mess of new hurdles which make Linux driver development *harder* than for commercia

            • What I meant by the kernel was the kernel should have the basic I/O-file systems, networking, etc and that the drivers for device foo belong in the ABI. And as for "windows drivers causing BSODs"? Yeah, that was true in 1998, but working PC repair I have had to deal with some seriously shitty hardware and since XP came out finding a BSOD due to 3rd party drivers is EXTREMELY rare. 99 times out of 100 the device simply doesn't work. And in 99 out of 100 of those cases a simple uninstall/reinstall fixes it right up.

              While I think your idea of a "retailLinux" is intriguing, and if I didn't suck ass at website design I have some ideas that could mitigate it somewhat, I think ultimately in the end Linux is doomed to stay just where it is at, and it is NOT because of some conspiracy. sadly, it all comes down to politics and the "SCoN!" (Source Code or Nothing!) brigade. They will NEVER allow a stable ABI, or an easy way to just slap drivers on a CD and ship it, because "Gasp!" you might actually get a few vendors that don't release their source code for RMS to rummage through.

              To see how militant the SCoN! brigade is, just look at the Anti-TiVo clause in GPL V3. Here you have the defacto leader of the GNU movement rewriting sections to specifically target a SINGLE company he doesn't like, and lets be honest here, okay? If the TiVo was easily "hacked" to run unsigned source code, how long do you think it would be before the net was flooded with "Free TiVo!" code and/or easy to use ways to copy any and all content off of said TiVo? I would say about a week, and TiVo would go bye bye, but RMS don't care about TiVo or any other busines for that matter.

              And THAT is why ultimately Linux is doomed to a niche at retail. It will cost serious money for advertising, fixing the problems I outlined in my previous post, making inroads with retail stores like Walmart, all that takes money. I'm sure there are plenty of companies that would be happy to meet with RMS and try to come to some sort of compromise, but to the SCoN! there is NO compromise, ever. To them GNU is NOT an OS, but a religion, a way of life if you will. They do NOT care if it ever becomes more than a niche, as long as their beliefs are upheld.

              And to ultimately make serious inroads on the desktop you will HAVE TO make shopping for Linux as easy as shopping for Win7 and OSX, which means you HAVE TO be able to put drivers on CDs and penguins on the box. But because the SCoN! has so much power within Linux that will simply never happen, because then companies might be able to release binary drivers like nVidia does, but without having to blow serious mountains of cash like nVidia does on driver development. The SCoN! would rather things be hard and Linux be a niche than to compromise, now or ever. That is the problem with zealotry, it always gets more extreme, never less.

              And I apologize for the length of this rant, but I have been hoping and trying different distros and waiting for Linux to finally get to where I can sell it without going bankrupt since WinME came out and stank up the joint (remember ME? Shudder) but every time the after sale support ends up costing me MORE than a Windows license, and in the end it is all because of paperweight roulette.

              What Linux needs is guys like me, the mom & pop shops, to sell your OS and make getting support for it as easy as dropping a windows box off at Worst Buy. And we LIKE your OS, as none of us enjoy cleaning porn bugs off an infected Windows box. But until I can sell a Linux PC without having my gut tied in knots waiting on the customer to get pissed at me because they lost playing paperweight roulette it just ain't worth the pain. Sorry, no sale.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                I use macs and unless it's stuff that works with Linux (or, the one exception, the lexmark drivers, which are beyond horrible), you don't do much shopping for osx either.

    • We already have a handful of platforms that have the ability to make apps in a free or near free environment with no review process... By your model the blinders should have already been off and iPhone's model should have failed.
    • by Zerth ( 26112 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @08:41PM (#30331324)

      The Iphone ecosystem is a good example. An example of a phone where I'll have to install anti-virus for my relatives and make sure they are up to date on patches, otherwise their phone will get owned and I'll have to waste a weekend fixing it.

      Let's not go there.

  • Oh for.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @08:18PM (#30331128)

    "The open-source philosophy is all about unexpected, disruptive ideas bubbling upwards, and that drives network planners nuts."

    Open source phones are about being user configurable, extendable and customizable. Wireless carriers like to charge for features, by the feature, and they don't like forking over what you've already paid for. That's pretty hard to do when you don't control one end of the transaction, as others have found out.

    No buzzwords or BS about "disruptive ideas bubbling upwards" required.

    • Re:Oh for.... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Areyoukiddingme ( 1289470 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @08:42PM (#30331330)

      As always, follow the money.

      However, there's more to it than that. You should have said American wireless carriers. European wireless carriers don't get to play that game, nor do South American carriers, nor Asian carriers. So really the PCMag columnist is pretty myopic. The utterly bizarre wireless market that exists in the United States is nearly unique in the world, and the majority of the world's population lives somewhere else. Open source phones will do just fine because there are great big markets for them on every continent except North America. And since it's not like the Nokia N900 or any of its components are manufactured in the United States, the greedy graspy control freak US carriers can't affect it in the slightest.

      • "Open source phones will do just fine because there are great big markets for them on every continent except North America."

        Do you think so? Well, I won't tell otherwise then, except that you don't know the European market (at least the European market which is the one I know): implementation details are, of course, different, but European carriers are as much freak controls and as much in control as their USA counterparts.

        They control the media and they control the way to access it with ease. I for one a

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Open source phones will do just fine because there are great big markets

        1% of the most profitable users > 30% of razor thin profit margin users. That is why the iphone is a success, it has nothing to do with userbase. It's all a function of effort to profit. Most users aren't that profitable. Fat middle aged housewives using a $1500 iphone to occasionally call starbucks to see if they left their purse there where the $$ is at.

        • Fat middle aged housewives using a $1500 iphone to occasionally call starbucks to see if they left their purse there where the $$ is at.

          Wow... Just... wow!

      • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

        They don't get to play that game.

        No, I said what I meant. Make no mistake - if government regulation, public opinion or actual competition weren't stopping them, Asian and European carriers would LOVE to play the game that Canadian and American (not sure about Mexico) wireless carriers play.

  • 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.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      I agree with this Anonymous Coward that the radio controls for the actual communications are firewalled from any app writter. What I don't understand is why someone has not come out with a sidekick to the cellphone that runs on a compact linux box. I mean there are linux servers that are no bigger then an ac outlet, why not continue the idea and create apps on this sidekick that only use the bandwidth of the cellphone through a USB or bluetooth connection. I could see many different apps running on this si
  • by grasshoppa ( 657393 ) <skennedy@tpno-co.oLISPrg minus language> on Friday December 04, 2009 @08:24PM (#30331176) Homepage

    because wireless carriers in the country hate the unexpected

    So does any network admin worth his salt. This isn't a failing of wireless carriers, it's not even a negative. I want them to be like this, this attitude makes me a happy customer. Think about the alternatives; a completely open platform which would allow a wireless consumer to do ANYTHING on the network, possibly disrupting other customers. Namely, disrupting ME.

    So no. Allow them to be cautious with their network, as long as they continue to provide decent service ( verizon, excellent network where I am ). I could stand lower costs, but that's not what this article is about.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Proper planning is easy. Hint: wireless bandwidth is currently outright exploding in usage.

      The problem is that doing it right is expensive.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        There's already a working example of this the model is quite profitable...

        It's called the internet. A bunch of service providers give out *relatively* unregulated bandwidth in limited amounts such that ppl CAN do whatever they want without killing the infrastructure. Complete, total, and unfounded bullshit to believe they can't just calculate: user.bandwidth = tower.bandwidth / average_users_per_tower

        Their business model, just like every other is an evolution of what they're familiar with: regulate every

        • by Bluesman ( 104513 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @09:34PM (#30331748) Homepage

          Wireless bandwidth is extremely limited compared to a wired infrastructure.

          Not just a little bit, but many orders of magnitude more limited.

          Companies know exactly how much bandwidth will serve all of their users. If you'd like to read about the math behind it, it's here. [wikipedia.org] The problem is that at peak times, network usage nears 100%, by design. The companies would be losing money if this weren't true.

    • How can they do "anything"? the phones have to follow standard protocols to talk to the towers. Without the towers, the cell phone is worthless..

      Kinda like you have to follow TCP/IP to use the internet. You might do different things with it, but to communicate with others, you have to follow the spec. All the phone companies have to do is publish the specs and protocols and standards that they will enforce.

  • by kurt555gs ( 309278 ) <kurt555gs AT ovi DOT com> on Friday December 04, 2009 @08:25PM (#30331198) Homepage

    Whether or not the N900 reaches iPhone numbers is irrelevant to the fact that it will stand in computer history along with the Kaypro II, PDP-11, SORD IS-11, Altair 8080;

    I don't care if AT&T likes it or not.

    If you actually get your hands on one, you will understand that it feels good to actually own something, and not pay to carry the wireless equivalent of a cable box.

    If people in America were "customers" and actually were allowed to decided what they wanted, and not "consumers" to be culled by the wireless carriers, then the N900 would on it's merits be the best selling mobile computer of all times.

    Does anyone really like the fact that all you can get from the big wireless carriers is what they want you to have, and not what you want?

    Those that go out and buy an N900 will understand.

  • by iamacat ( 583406 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @08:34PM (#30331260)

    If they had their way, we would be paying them large amounts of money for nothing whatsoever. It's up to us to show dissatisfaction by either political action demanding open access or refusing to buy smartphones until a completely open one comes to market.

  • Too costly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Medgur ( 172679 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @08:39PM (#30331294) Homepage

    It's because they cost hundreds of dollars.

    I want an open source phone, I really do, but I can't justify spending 500 on little more than a PDA + phone. I already had a PDA once, hardly used it, and phones that just work as phones are less than a hundred these days. Make an open source phone that's a reasonable price and I'll buy it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by blackest_k ( 761565 )

      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

    • Re:Too costly (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Yrrebnarg ( 629526 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @09:30PM (#30331726)

      Here you go. A port-o-rotary [sparkfun.com] for $200. They provide full source and schematics. You can even buy a 6000mAh battery to run the thing for weeks and you don't have to deal with any PDA functionality. Any more complaints?

      Radios are expensive. The only reason phones are cheap is because they're heavily subsidized or because they're a simple little phone produced a million at a time from a small handful of highly-integrated mixed analog/digital ASICs. "Open-source" devices are small-run devices with hopelessly obsolete radio hardware because it's all they can get documentation for and manufacturers aren't looking to release their secret sauce to just anybody.

      And on top of all of this, most of the open-source types are desktop or server programmers. On the desktop, you don't have to think about low-power code. Everything changes when you're running off a battery. There just isn't the expertise there (yet). Having said all this, I love my rooted T-mobile G1. I built a scratchbox environment for it and ported a few important CLI tools and it's now perfectly capable of being all the pocket Linux machine I need and it's not very difficult getting Debian running on top of the Android environment.

      • by digsbo ( 1292334 )

        Right on. The amortization of development costs is overlooked when people forget about the integration and test work that needs to be done. FCC approval alone is well beyond the means of a typical OSS team.

    • Re:Too costly (Score:5, Insightful)

      by turbidostato ( 878842 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @09:30PM (#30331730)

        It's because they cost hundreds of dollars."

      You think you are arguing against the thread when you are instead conceding.

      "I want an open source phone, I really do, but I can't justify spending 500 on little more than a PDA + phone."

      You seem to forget that *all* PDA+phone-like devices cost 500+. If you get some WinMo or iPhone almost for peanuts is because they are heavily subsidized by the carriers (wich, of course, get their ROI and way more on the long run). And as long as you (consumers in general) concede to the carriers' game you will get whatever is in the best interest of the carriers, not yours. And as long as your (consumers in general) concede to the carriers' game, device makers will produce them to the carriers' expectations, not yours.

      Obvious, isn't it?

      • And as long as you (consumers in general) concede to the carriers' game you will get whatever is in the best interest of the carriers, not yours...

        How does a consumer not concede to the carrier's game? 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. The only difference is that you can take your ball and go home if you want. The next guy is going to charge the same price though. The only alternative is to not play their

        • 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?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by stephanruby ( 542433 )

      Fine. Don't pay $500 now. Pay thousands of dollars later in additional cell fees, and lock yourself into a two-year contract that's probably ill-suited for you and purposefully crippled by your provider in many hidden and unforeseen ways. Go ahead, I'm not stopping you. Go buy a brand-new car on credit while you're at it. Get a mortgage you can barely afford. Get all your furniture at Rent-to-Own. And buy all your computers, plasma TVs, and monster cables at Best Buy. No one is stopping you from screwing y

  • They don't fail (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lymond01 ( 314120 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @08:39PM (#30331304)

    They fail in the mainstream market because there's such a small market for them. The Nokia n900 is a geek's dream, but most people want a phone, not a handheld computer. Most as in 99.99% of the marketplace. And even fewer want a multi-hundred dollar handheld computer/phone. So I'm sure it sells well in the market it was designed for...that .001% of the population that wants a hackable, programmable micro computer that makes calls. So it succeeds where its market is. Saying it fails is like saying the Audi R8 supercar failed. Though, at least that made it into Iron Man.

    You could say the iPhone is a failure as well: it only has 1% of the cell phone market. But I think most of the U.S. will disagree with that statement.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Most people want a lot more than a phone, like an MP3 player, MP4 player, camera, video recording, MMS, email, social networking and many more things that haven't been thought of yet. You're massively underestimating the appeal of having one device that can do everything you want, especially to young and not so young wannabes.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by cpscotti ( 1032676 )
      Fun thing is: the personal computer could be described exactly in that way some twenty years ago.
      What we should expect is that every happy geek realizes their responsibility (woa) in making software/proving that the n900 platform is better than any other.
      The n900/Maemo is the chance cool people (e.g. geeks) have to prove their point with support from a major player in the cell phone market. In some way (since it is all this "open"/"free"), if the n900 fails, the open source community/cool people/geeks are
  • They'll get over it (eventually).

  • 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 Anonymous Coward

    I suspect open development phones will become more mainstream as the smartphone and the laptop merge. As phone hardware improves, it's not so hard to imagine a phone with, say, a DisplayPort mini connection (or perhaps a pico projector), USB support, and bluetooth support will displace laptops as the mobile computers of choice. Perhaps instead of buying a laptop you instead buy a widescreen monitor and USB keyboard and mouse and plug those into your phone. Perhaps you just plug your phone into your HDTV and

  • Right now most if not all major carriers offer some sort USB stick that connects to their networks, this opens up to Windows and (not sure of support) possibly Linux. This opens the door to the 'dreaded' bitTorrent protocol and of course malware and viruses running from laptops, netbooks, et al. So as form factors get smaller and smaller what is stopping me from making my own mobile device out of off the shelf components? VOIP and net access is really the fundamental building blocks for these devices and
  • The phone companies, as mentioned, don't want you to have freedom but also that most people don't actually want freedom either. They can't use computers well enough to handle it.
  • And yet... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    ...the same carriers will let you plug a mobile internet stick into your laptop and run anything you want over their 3G network. No sim locking... No "per message" charges. The stench of hypocrisy is hard to miss.

    The public message is that protectionist activities like SIM locking, sandboxing and removing features from phones is about "network security". The reality is that it is about MONEY. Carriers want a cut of everything you do on their network and this requires them to control the handset and the

  • N900 fail? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by svanheulen ( 901014 )
    Yeah, the N900 will never hit main stream. That's why they had to delay the release because Nokia was over whelmed by pre-orders, right? Because that's a clear sign no one is going to get it.
  • by JoSch1337 ( 1168265 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @09:28PM (#30331712)

    "Truly open-development, open-source phones like the Nokia N900..."

    are you kidding me???

    what is "Truly open-development, open-source" about a platform that has

    * proprietary power management (bme)
    * no docs for the gsm modem interface (and no source code for the apps using it)
    * proprietary powervr graphics drivers
    * proprietary osso-dsp-modules

    read also:
    https://bugs.maemo.org/show_bug.cgi?id=1584 [maemo.org]
    http://wiki.maemo.org/Why_the_closed_packages [maemo.org]

    i'm not so much pissed by proprietary applications as i can replace the rootfs by a free and open source one what pisses me off is the undocumented hardware used and lacking communication with upstream kernel development.
    dont call this device "truly open"-blah... it is definitely NOT.

    there are a few devices that strive to be as open as a linux phone should be:
    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!!!
    then there is the FLOW by gizmoforyou which uses a gumstix overo as the base and added a telit modem for which you can download the FULL DOCS from their website - hey guys at nokia, this is the kind of modem you should have picked if you wanted your device to be called "truly open"!
    the modem used in the n900 uses ISI for which no reference interpretation in oss exists.

    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?

    • 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 lordcorusa ( 591938 ) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @04:10AM (#30333438)

      Take it from someone who owned one: the OpenMoko was a terrible phone and a terrible handheld computer. It was nearly useless when not hooked up to a computer via SSH over USB. OpenMoko earned an A for vision in getting a fully open and documented hardware interface, although the results were dubious (crappy GPRS GSM modem in an era when 3G was just becoming popular, crappy non-accelerated drivers for the video chipset). However, OpenMoko's worst failing was the total inability of the company to push a singular stable and complete platform for development; there were about 20 different incompatible distributions in various states of disarray, and you cannot have a platform for end-user app development in that sort of environment. (Imagine how unsuccessful Apple's app store or Android's marketplace would be if developers and users had to choose between 20 different incompatible distributions, all in permanent alpha status...) I think I can live with a few proprietary blobs if it means having a useful device. All of the open technology in the world means nothing if the platform dies on the vine before ever taking off. OpenMoko's ideal of a fully open phone platform proved unsustainable, as the company canceled their "next-gen" (translation: 2.5G in an era of 3G) phone and switched to producing a ridiculous "WikiReader" device which contains no pesky radio or accelerated video modules.

      After more than a year of trying to use it, I finally was overjoyed to get rid of my crappy Freerunner. On the other hand, even though my N800 does not have a cell radio, I still like to use it, and am strongly considering buying an N900. I think the OpenMoko was for people who love putting together distributions and blogging about how much freer their device is compared to everyone elses'. A platform like the N800/900 is for people who like programming mobile computers to accomplish useful tasks and then distributing those programs to non-programmers.

    • by Weezul ( 52464 )

      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. Als

  • by WiseWeasel ( 92224 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @09:55PM (#30331894)

    One of the stipulations that Google managed to have placed in the FCC license for commercial 4G LTE spectrum is open device access, which is absent in current wireless spectrum licenses. They did this by getting approval for a clause that if a certain minimum bid for the spectrum was met, that that open device access rule would go into effect, then they bid that amount, and then proceeded to let Verizon outbid them, ensuring that clause would go into effect. Carriers may have been able to get away with this type of draconian control over their networks in the past, but it seems that's coming to an end with the shift to 4G LTE already underway. With this open device access regulation, actual user-accessible open source handsets may finally be able to see widespread use.

  • "The bottom line is that while Linux the OS, the kernel, and the memory manager are attractive to users, Linux the philosophy -- and users banding together ad hoc to create new things -- is anathema to potential users."

  • But what exactly is stopping you from just buying whatever phone you want and chucking your simcard into it?

    Its what we do in Australia... every phone in the past 10 years i've bought off of ebay.

  • Will make a huge amount of money for the very fact that it is a disruptive technology. Just like the iphone.
  • 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 [android.com] 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.

Real Programmers don't write in PL/I. PL/I is for programmers who can't decide whether to write in COBOL or FORTRAN.