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Open Source Linux

OpenMoko: Ten Years After ( 48

Michael Lauer, member of the core team at OpenMoko, a project that sought to create a family of open source mobile phones -- which included the hardware specs and the Linux-based OS -- has shared the inside story of what the project wanted to do and why it failed. From his blog post: For the 10th anniversary since the legendary OpenMoko announcement at the "Open Source in Mobile" (7th of November 2006 in Amsterdam), I've been meaning to write an anthology or -- as Paul Fertser suggested on #openmoko-cdevel -- an obituary. I've been thinking about objectively describing the motivation, the momentum, how it all began and -- sadly -- ended. I did even plan to include interviews with Sean, Harald, Werner, and some of the other veterans. But as with oh so many projects of (too) wide scope this would probably never be completed. As November 2016 passed without any progress, I decided to do something different instead. Something way more limited in scope, but something I can actually finish. My subjective view of the project, my participation, and what I think is left behind: My story, as OpenMoko employee #2. On top of that you will see a bunch of previously unreleased photos (bear with me, I'm not a good photographer and the camera sucked as well). [....] Right now my main occupation is writing software for Apple's platforms -- and while it's nice to work on apps using a massive set of luxury frameworks and APIs, you're locked and sandboxed within the software layers Apple allows you. I'd love to be able to work on an open source Linux-based middleware again. However, the sad truth is that it looks like there is no business case anymore for a truly open platform based on custom-designed hardware, since people refuse to spend extra money for tweakability, freedom, and security. Despite us living in times where privacy is massively endangered.
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OpenMoko: Ten Years After

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  • Never even heard of it.
    Not getting the name out to everyone could be at least part of the reason for the failure.

  • Cost is a killer (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DuckDodgers ( 541817 ) <> on Saturday July 29, 2017 @08:17AM (#54903499)
    However, the sad truth is that it looks like there is no business case anymore for a truly open platform based on custom-designed hardware, since people refuse to spend extra money for tweakability, freedom, and security. Despite us living in times where privacy is massively endangered.

    The problem is that people with money to burn are less likely to focus on tweakability and freedom. At 15, 20, or 25 you have time but not money. At 30, 35, 40 if you're lucky you are likely to have money but not time. I know a number of guys that were Linux and free software supporters in school, but once they reached 80k or better income they just switched to buying the hottest proprietary option and went on about their day - typically a Macbook Pro and an iPhone, or Samsung Galaxy something, or Google Nexus or Pixel device.

    I cared about OpenMoko in 2006, but I didn't have the money. Today I'm contemplating purchases of more devices with the Free Software Foundation "Respects Your Freedom" certification. But it's tough to get excited about spending more money for much slower hardware. And the completely free Android version? I love what they're trying to do, but because of the (*$&%()*%&$ proprietary firmware all the devices need it renders the devices they support all but useless.
    • >> $80K...iPhone...were Linux and free software supporters in school

      Guess that makes me cheap - I didn't cross the $100 barrier on new phones until I was making more than twice that. And I still spend most of my time in Linux or Linux-ish environments.
      • I spend most of my time on Linux too, and I do care about free software and freedom. But for example I have a friend that used to run the Linux User Group in a small size city in his late 20s. Now he's in his 40s, and he no longer visits - let alone organizes - any LUGs and he has a Macbook Pro and a Google Nexus 6P phone. He's the picture perfect example of this trend, and he's not the only friend I have that made a similar transition as he got older.

        We seem to be the exception - and the situation is
    • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

      This is true, I recently had to get a new android phone and it annoyed me just setting it up, I don't want to poke and tweak my phone all day, I got a lot of other stuff that needs to be done and I just don't care about that type of stuff anymore

    • I was lucky to get hooked, then. Started using Linux in 1999, tried out various *BSDs and a bunch of Linux distros. Have been tweaking my setup ever since. And I'm extremely happy with it ( The problem I'm running into is that my setup is reaching perfection - and that makes me sad, precisely because I so love the tweaking. I'm constantly searching for new stuff to tinker with or improve. I'm 50 now and way above that 80k threshold you mention. But as I said,
      • You and I and some others decided free software still matters even after we could afford the proprietary options. That's fantastic. Unfortunately there aren't enough of us.

        I got started with Linux in the late 1990s and would set up dual boot environments but spend most of my time in Windows. I didn't switch to spending more time in Linux until about ten years ago. I'm forty, and also fortunate enough to make more than 80k.
    • There are a lot of different variables at work.

      I don't have the kind of free time I used to, but fortunately Linux doesn't take nearly as much of my free time to run as it used to. I worked with Slackware and Gentoo when I was younger; now I run OpenSUSE Leap and GalliumOS (an Xubuntu derivative).

      And sometimes, the major software vendors just force your hand (subject to what your tolerance for their behavior is, mind). Some years back, I built an HTPC; I started it out as a Hackintosh, but it was too much

      • I run Ubuntu Mate, Xubuntu, and Elementary OS (an Ubuntu derivative with its own desktop environment) these days. I had made the switch to Linux several times in the past and then switched back to Windows due to games. When I hit my mid 30s I switched to Linux and I haven't looked back. To be fair, it's much easier for a novice to successfully install and configure Linux in the past decade than it was in, say, 2000.

        I think Canonical's mobile operating system attempts were poorly planned. It's easy f
  • Fairphone (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cerberusss ( 660701 ) on Saturday July 29, 2017 @08:27AM (#54903531) Homepage Journal

    However, the sad truth is that it looks like there is no business case anymore

    I'm not so sure. Yesterday, a female coworker showed me her Fairphone, then proceeded to completely disassemble it, right in front of my eyes. I couldn't contain my enthousiasm, but it was very remarkable. She told me she bought the phone then a couple of months in, dropped it and broke the screen. She ordered a new screen and replaced it herself.

    The Fairphone [] is an Android phone which you can disassemble with your fingernails and a small Phillips. So maybe it's not strictly and completely open source, but it's incredibly easy to repair and replace parts of it. The components are free of rare earth metals that were dug out by horrible exploitive companies. The only exploitation here is done on your data, by Google.

    • by tomxor ( 2379126 )
      Fairphone is great for repairability, but repairable does not necessarily mean open, whereas open tends to imply repairable.
    • Re:Fairphone (Score:5, Informative)

      by lkcl ( 517947 ) <> on Saturday July 29, 2017 @11:41AM (#54904319) Homepage

      However, the sad truth is that it looks like there is no business case anymore

      I'm not so sure. Yesterday, a female coworker showed me her Fairphone, then proceeded to completely disassemble it, right in front of my eyes. I couldn't contain my enthousiasm, but it was very remarkable. She told me she bought the phone then a couple of months in, dropped it and broke the screen. She ordered a new screen and replaced it herself.

      take a deep breath... (and people with moderator rights: leave that "troll/flamebait -1" button alone please)... the problem with the fairphone has been that they've been massively ignorant of the consequences of software lock-in. yes, sure, great: they tackled the (hard) problem of "fair wages", and conflict minerals: these are things that any coop worth the "Fair Trade" salt would do, and it's good to see that they did it. ... BUT....

      for the first fairphone they did only that: tackle the "Fair Trade" concepts. people loved it. including various extremely prominent software libre developers and advocates. at first. we then warned them, "hang on a minute, you're going for 'Fair' but you've completely ignored the "UnFair-ness" of the proprietary operating system that you've bought - lock stock and binary-only GPL-violating criminally-infringing barrel from frickin MEDIATEK of all frickin people, and are about to get yourself into a shit-load of trouble when it comes to people wanting to upgrade. or fix security flaws".

      response: absolutely f***-all from the Fairtrade team. so we stopped bothering to communicate with them, knowing that they (and their customers) would just have to experience the train-wreck for themselves. ...and what happens? *EXACTLY* as they were warned, customers 18 months down the line who were delighted to have bought the Fairphone 1 were getting REALLY PISSED OFF, feeling that they'd been totally deceived, when their requests for firmware upgrades to fix MAJOR known security vulnerabilities went completely unanswered.

      why did those requests go unanswered? well... because AS THEY HAD BEEN WARNED, the chinese factory was under NDA with Mediatek (in direct violation of the GPL) and had *only* been given an illegal copyright-violating *BINARY ONLY* version of android (containing linux kernel source code and so also a second GPL violation). there *was* no source code, and there certainly weren't going to be any updates, at any time.

      (btw note that because it has not obtained - and cannot obtain - the source code for the Fairphone 1, Fairphone is still in criminal infringement of Copyright law and has lost its rights to sell any products that use the linux kernel....)

      now let's fast-forward to the Fairphone 2, which is now sold on the basis of its modularity. it's fantastic that it can be repaired, just as you say, cerberusss, but can the *OPERATING SYSTEM* be quotes repaired quotes?

      if there's a massive security flaw like the one that left 900 hundred MILLION qualcomm--based devices completely vulnerable last year happens again, can the people who paid well north of $EUR 500 get it fixed immediately, rather than be at the mercy and whim of a company that ITSELF has *ABSOLUTELY NO CONTROL* over the software it's providing with the device that it's selling?

      of course they cannot.

      this is what michael is trying to get across to people. *it doesn't matter* even if you bought a "Fair" phone, with "Fair" hardware, and "Fair" wages, and "Fair terms for the workers" or anything else that's "Fair" if, just like *any other* device which is *not* under the "Fairtrade" brand you *still* have to chuck the whole fricking device into landfill because it became totally useless, virus-ridden and was instrumental in emptying your bank account, is it? that's not exactly "Fair", is it, ehn? :)

  • With that name, they alienated the entire Spanish-speaking population of the planet - among them, admitting to having a device with OpenMoko would be a constant source of embarrassment and hilarity.
  • Back then internet connectivity was extremely spotty and expensive so you had to have some local processing.

    Today you could simply build a mobile terminal, running something light mosh. Since LTE routers are available now you wouldn't even need to have an LTE baseband inside.

  • Considering how much investment and interest the wireless industry as a whole (handset manufacturers, wireless connectivity providers, etc) has in the game, I wouldn't at all be surprised if there was behind-the-scenes action to kill a project like this, and any others like it that might come along.
    • I doubt it, producing a cellphone regardless of whether you use an open source or proprietary model still requires conforming to patent encumbered standards, so they'd get their slice of the pie regardless.

      There are many projects that fail because they can't get momentum, and this was one of them.

  • "However, the sad truth is that it looks like there is no business case anymore for a truly open platform based on custom-designed hardware" Many companies, including ours, are deploying Linux and Android to an s-ton of embedded and custom tablet like devices. I see Linux being adopted more and more in many forms in the B2B market. Product development for consumers is a tough cookie but when you design/develop turn key solutions and services for other businesses the truth is the business customer doesn't r
  • Openmoko dropped the ball in a big pile of manure, and then asked the community to lick it off.

    A quick outline of the process - from someone who has been active in openmoko on IRC forever, and bought the early version when I really could not afford it.

    Openmoko is a perfect example of how not to do an 'open source - community involved project'.

    Firstly, in march 2007 or so, we had a working phone with hardware available, with somewhat clunky but more-or-less usable basic phone and SMS. Battery life was not gr
    • OpenMoko's designers also made a shortsighted, fatal mistake by omitting support for EDGE, which eliminated the US & Canada as a viable market.

      The sad thing is, at the time, most baseband processor chips even came in two pin-compatible variants... one that was GPRS-only, and one that could do EDGE and only cost about $10/chip more. Lack of 3G was a drawback, but lack of EDGE was a deal-breaking fatal flaw.

      Back in 2007, the US was a small, backwards market for GSM phones in terms of devices sold per year

    • This. A thousand times this. I was there.

      I was really enthusiastic about an open phone, to the point that I organised a group buy for people in my area (we bulk-purchased a bunch of devices and paid for them before launch to bring down shipping costs and so that we'd be among the first to have the devices). I contributed, I was very active in the community and wrote a couple of useful tools for the device. I tried to use my freerunner as a phone for the best part of 2 years. In the end I gave up and reverte

  • I was so excited about openmoko when I first heard about it. I followed it right up until the day they revealed what it'd look like: a fucking stretched-out hockey puck.

    I don't care how good your hardware is. I don't care how pure your business ethics or design philosophy is. If you make a device that looks idiotic, it will fail.

    • I was pretty excited, too. I always wondered what happened to this project.

    • I kept on following it after that. I fully expected the first model to be ugly and terrible, but I'd hoped that they would stay afloat and release something usable. I started to pay them less attention once Nokia announced the N900, which I purchased and loved. It wasn't quite as lofty as OpenMoko; like it kept most of the good/interesting libraries closed, particularly everything related to telephony and radio communication. After losing the N900 in a house-fire, I upgraded to the N9, which was sleeker, bu
  • Being a bit of a greybeard, I do remember the Openmoko project and blogged about it [] earlier this month. Launched at roughly the same time the iPhone first came to market, Openmoko took an utterly different approach. Today we might look at the Neo1973 and subsequent devices as being failed smartphone projects, but when looking back I realised that they were really fully-featured hackable computers. So, perhaps the Openmoko project in part foreshadowed devices such as the Raspberry Pi (launched 5 years later)

The goal of Computer Science is to build something that will last at least until we've finished building it.