Meeting OpenMoko running on the Neo1973

It’s not every day you get to see a disruptive new technology that’s going to change the world.

The Neo1973 running OpenMoko Last week I was lucky enough to be in town when my good friends at the Bangalore Linux User’s Group (many of whom are the organizers of the great foss.in Free Software, Open Source & Linux conference) were holding a special meeting to host Sean Moss-Pultz and Harald Welte demonstrating the OpenMoko project running on the forthcoming Neo1973.

Sean has an amazing vision, and it is all the more impressive that he has marshaled the resources of a major company to support him in his effort to create a completely open source mobile telephony platform.

Yes, there have been Linux phones before, but this one is doing it right:

  • tracking mainline kernel;
  • no binary drivers allowed, period; which implies
  • complete and deliberate standards adherence (USB spec, interfaces to all components, etc); which means
  • using existing kernel drivers wherever possible, and when new code has to be written, doing so in a way that is most likely to be accepted by the kernel as a whole

Other awesomeness:

  • the debug board they came up with is a full JTAG adaptor that’s so with-it that people have started using it to debug other devices;
  • a build service whereby you can submit code and they will build you an image you can test immediately — no need (at first, anyway) to go through the immense pain that usually goes along with setting up a build & cross compile environment;
  • a hardware emulator that runs in QEMU, so you can even get on with testing code without having to wait for a build

And, of course, near and dear to my heart:

  • runs the GNOME stack: that’s GTK running up in that picture there!, and
  • there are GObject APIs to talk to the device libraries, GLib main loop integration, all the goodies.

Hooray!

The device itself is really awesome. It has an amazingly high resolution screen, and it just feels nice in the hand.

Having worked in the mobile industry, I can attest to the fact that this is going to be revolutionary. A phone that you can upgrade and not have to throw away? A phone that you can create applications that you want to run and have them run on it? Most of all, this is a device that will open open new markets by the simple fact that people will be able to conceive of their own uses for it.

The fact that there are no binary drivers and that all the specs are open is amazing; even the audio codec is downstream of the radio and under Linux’s control — I know of no other device that if you wanted to prove that the microphone is off and not under third party control, you can. And as a personal note, I especially respect the fact that the device does not have a camera in it. After all, any self respecting photographer already has a real camera, why waste space and power in my phone for it?

It’s an awesome open source play. The interest of the company manufacturing the phones, FIC, is clear: what do they care what’s running on it? They just want to sell more phones, and sell ‘em they will. And yet with the momentum of the distro running on the device behind them, they will be hard to beat.

FIC is doing a production run of phones expressly for developers now; mass market release should be September sometime. Meanwhile, if you’re interested, check out openmoko.org, mailing lists, bugzilla, planet, etc. Among other gems on their wiki: a step by step guide of how to disassemble the device. Wow. Show me a conventional phone manufacturer encouraging you to do that.

AfC