Monday, January 15, 2007

Open, Linux-based Phones

I want a cell phone that runs Linux. I've been wanting one for a long time. Why should I care what OS it runs? Well, I have two main reasons: 1) because I want to support commercial ventures related to free software, and 2) I want to write applications for it, and I don't want to be beholden to some vendor to sell me a development kit, and tell me what I can and cannot write. I want to apt-get install the developer kit, write some code, and upload it to the phone. Rock.

I've been paying only scant attention to the cell phone market since I got a Treo 600, which I like a lot. It is _not_ a Linux-based phone. It runs PalmOS, which is a pretty crufty OS, but I've been using it since 2001, so I have a lot of data in there. It should be pretty easy to get the data out, though, so I'm not worried. I really like the Treo's thumb-keyboard; It's qwerty, and I can type pretty fast on it. Numeric keypad based phones are lame. I hardly ever type in numbers anyway.

Apple recently announced the iPhone, which I shouldn't even mention because it doesn't allow 3rd party applications, doesn't run on a free operating system, and is probably very buggy since they've never done anything like that before. Enough about Apple.

As I poke around the intern-webs, I find that some stuff has been happening over the year when it comes to Linux-based phones, but I'm having a hard time figuring out exactly what is happening. It's surprising how little information is out there. Despite this great list of starting places from, the rabbit trail never leads to a "buy this phone" button.

Look! There's an open Linux-based phone platform called OpenMoko. At least, I think that's what I pieced together from the scant information available on their web site. Maybe OpenMoko is the phone and openembedded is the platform? I had a very nice conversation with some folks on freenode who explained a bit about this really cool project to me. It looks like they even have a phone that it sounds like is going to be released soon, and it's discussed on That phone looks pretty sweet. It has a GPS built in too. I like the touch-screen idea that I guess it has, based on the pictures, and it's not way too expensive. Maybe that's the phone I'll get.

All it's missing is a "buy it now" button. Oh, and "apt-cache search openmoko" doesn't turn up anything.
So on to the Green Phone by Trooktech. This looks pretty good, but not as a replacement for my Treo, since the primary interface is a numeric keypad instead of a qwerty keyboard.

It looks like you can actually buy a development version of the phone, but it's not overly free; you cannot develop commercial applications on it without paying them a licensing fee. Lamers. According to some folks on freenode, this phone is just a prototype for vendors like this one. (But do you see a "buy this phone" button on that page?)

There's a nice article that talks about several of these devices, including the Nokia N800, which is a Linux-based handheld computer / web appliance. I played with one the other day, and it's pretty sweet. Too bad it isn't a phone, or I'd buy one today.

So it looks like there's no open, Linux-based, qwerty phone out there yet. If you know otherwise, let me know. Perhaps one is coming out next month. I think I can wait that long.   

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