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 linuxdevices.com, 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 LinuxDevices.com. 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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