Thursday, January 11, 2007

Maemo has a competitor in openness - OpenMoko

Great news for all the people who want their mobile devices to have some of that trustworthiness than their desktops. Two new, largely open Linux mobile devices are now or soon to be available: Nokia N800 (using maemo platform) and FIC Neo1973 (using OpenMoko platform). The former is a WLAN Internet Tablet, while the latter is a GSM/GPRS phone - but both share quite a lot in terms of RAM available (128MB), storage (eg. MicroSD), screen (ca. VGA touchscreen) etc.

Everyone knows already about maemo - Nokia's entry to open-source world. It's also clear that they have only began the path, and there are obvious compromises to the "openness" which is so widely touted about maemo - browsing is done with a closed-source browser, and with regards to media playing no open audio or video format is supported while many proprietary formats are. Being "open" is not just "you can install open source applications", it's also standing behind the open movement that is providing much of your device's functionality, and Nokia is not (at least yet) doing that, most probably partly because they are a big company.

OpenMoko, however, seems like a much more fresher start with regards to openness - with maemo the number of closed parts is too high to measure, but with OpenMoko it's clear that the process has been started from "all open" point of view. "Open, But No As Usual"-presentation illustrates this quite nicely.

At this point, it's of course clear that Nokia has already had a product out for over a year, and a new product is now selling. It may very well be that the largest mobile company in the world will dominate the device sales by other means - marketing, hardware quality, whatever. But still, it's clear that OpenMoko-based devices are superior in openness, so if they can match Nokia with product quality otherwise, and come up with new devices (eg. a WLAN-device), they might be in for some nice market share. It's all uncertain at this point, but highly interesting.

It's also interesting to see if this is where Nokia is stopping with its progress towards libre/open world (not just software), ie. "semi-open and relatively safe", or is it seeing that making even non-obvious (from marketing point of view) moves towards supporting eg. open media standards is worthwhile in the long run. I don't see any big improvements on this front if comparing Nokia 770 and N800, even though the development environment has again improved.