Thursday, November 17, 2011

On discussing free software mobile phones

Since I think I just summarized a few thoughts of mine well at LWN, I'll copy-paste it here:
I can grumble about Android from time to time, but I do not say that it sucks. Extreme views are what are annoying. Android is what it is and it's great as it is, even though it could be different as well.

When it comes to discussing about free software and mobile phones, I'm especially annoyed by two types of comments:

1. People essentially saying that there is no value in an open project, ie. free software code dumps should be enough for everybody. I'm interested in the long term viability of free software projects, and it is hard to have successful projects without there being all sorts of factors that make up a good project - like transparency, inclusion, meritocracy. Even though the mobile projects have had little resources and a hard road, it's not useful to forget about these goal in the longer term. For example Debian, Mer, SHR, KDE Plasma Active have some of these in the mobile sector. I hope the best for them (and participate).

2. People complaining about something being not 100% free software, while not themselves actually even interested in it for other sake than complaining. When I've been talking about free software mobile phones, from time to time there is someone complaining about eg. not open GSM stack, wlan firmwares etc.. and to put it sharply probably writing the message from iPhone, while I'm reading it on Neo FreeRunner. If the complainer would be Harald Welte, I'd probably listen and agree with him.

 So there. For more civilized discussion.


Anonymous said...

Some guys at the c-base Berlin showed an Android with openwrt kernel, which have been running very well.

At the very same place, there has been demoed a L4 hypervisor running android and another Linux in parallel,

We should join and try to open as much as possible.

(wanted to identify with Google account, but got an memcache error)

TJ said...

Anonymous: Sounds interesting, it's good to hear more Android hacking news. Also the more it's ported and combined with various other kernels and userspace stacks, the less the Android Linux <-> GNU/Linux difference matters.

Also, is interesting.

Anonymous said...

In these discussions we must note the problems which inevitably arise when the software ecosystem is locked down and corporate instead of fully open and user-focused, such as this:

Carriers and phone manufacturers can't be trusted to always act in our best interests when there is so much money and power to be had locking people down, profiling them, and peddling advertising.

The arguments rms makes are correct. We must present them in a way which an average person can understand.

We need a mobile platform designed from the ground up to power and respect users, not bombard them with more advertising, which seems to be the mission of the carriers.

We need a mobile platform tied in with libre software, designed to empower people with free apps, not nickel and dime them in a walled garden of paid software.

We need mobile apps which can be trusted not to behave like traitorware, and not report back personal information without both the user's informed consent (not an opaque EULA) and without a clear, necessary purpose.

A totally free and open ecosystem is the only way of accomplishing these objectives. Mega-corporations like Apple and Verizon cannot be trusted not to sell users out to advertisers and lock them in.

David said...

Some time ago I looked at Neo Freerunner, but discarded it because it does not support 3G and I found it expensive. An HTC with Android (maybe with the Replicant version or the CyanogenMod) would have been my choice for the most free mobile phone, until I discovered this one: GeeksPhone Zero
But maybe I will keep my old but reliable Nokia 6021 at least one year more, a compact feature phone you can put in your jeans pocket easily, whithout camera, but with bluetooth, which is convenient for the car, and with support for some useful Java apps.

TJ said...

David: Indeed GTA02 is a hard sell for its totally old-fashioned GSM functionality. OTOH it could be upgraded into a GTA04, but then again if one's a new buyer one could get one of the few "GTA04 Complete" packages ( or maybe purchase an used/broken GTA02 and upgrade that one.

I have not much information on Geeksphone - but at least there doesn't seem to be much information on how it runs with mainline Linux kernel and therefore with various (something else than the shipping Android with probably proprietary bits) Linux distributions.

Nokia N9 is currently running alternative GNU/Linux already (Nemo Mobile built on top of Mer distribution). I'd recommend N9 to absolutely everyone just wanting to run mostly free software on their mobile phone without the limits of most Android based phones. But since there's no continuation for the N9, GTA04 is there for actually advancing the future of free software mobile phones and for exposing all parts of a free phone instead of just alternative main OS installations. So, for hardcore hackers there is GTA04, and for people wanting something "better" than a mostly-locked-into-Android-and-a-specific-kernel-version device there's N9.

(of course, I'm going to have both since I can't decide... my GTA04 order for upgrading my GTA02 is in and I've N9 as well)