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.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Free software mobile phone galore

Almost forgot to post this. My mobile phones running free software in photos. From left to right:
  • Neo FreeRunner (GTA02a5) running QtMoko
  • Neo FreeRunner (GTA02a7) running Debian
  • Nokia N900 running MeeGo CE (now Nemo Mobile)
  • Nokia N950 running Meego CE (now Nemo Mobile)
  • Nokia N9 running Harmattan (stock software)

All of that software running on the devices is more or less free software, with Harmattan obviously being by far the least free, especially applications, but still better than any other on-the-shelf phone software *), and the others being 99% or "Ubuntu like" free ie. possibly with firmware and a few driver exceptions. N9 needs some bootloader work still before Nemo, Debian, Ubuntu etc. can be run there. I've collected a few things about N9 from this point of view at a wiki page.
*) Not sure about every Android phone, but Android is not openly developed anyway so it's hardly a similar free software project such as projects or Qt

I gave my N900 away now since obviously I cannot make full use of each one of these. I'm multi-SIMming my N9 and the GTA02a7 Neo FreeRunner for daily use, while the other FreeRunner and N950 are purely for tinkering related purposes. The development FreeRunner will get on upgrade to GTA04 once it's available, and then hopefully that can be made into a daily usable phone as well.

By the way, see you in FSCONS in Gothenburg next weekend. Even rms will be there, which is always interesting of course :)

Monday, October 03, 2011

From MeeGo to Tizen, Debian, ...?

The MeeGo community is frustrated with the news of the MeeGo brand being abandoned. Some are understandably angry or otherwise not happy about how Linux Foundation, Intel handled the Tizen announcement and community in general - or more like how they didn't handle it at all. Last week Openmind 2011 happened to be arranged in Tampere on the very same day as Tizen announcement came alive. It was good in the way that it lead to the fact that Nomovok's CEO Pasi Nieminen was able to initiate the "Reigniting MeeGo" session not just by talking vague things about future, but actually about the process which led to Tizen and the unfortunately brief initial PR about it. Pasi is intense on emphasizing the quality and role of Qt in Tizen as well, even though officially Tizen is all about HTML5 and apparently from Samsung's part at least EFL is provided as a native toolkit. However, the promise of Tizen compared to MeeGo is reportedly that the toolkit is not specified in compliancy documents, so HTML5 with WAC is the main/only "3rd party apps" layer whereas others can be offered case-by-case. This means that unlike before, the underlying system can be built on top of practically any distribution (theoretically) and using whatever toolkits and other techniques wanted. Obviously the "Nordic System Integrators" are probably all very keen of using Qt to produce more of Nokia N9 quality user experiences in various products.

Taking the corporate hat off, I as a community member am also puzzled. The only reason I was not completely blown by the news was that I didn't yet manage to get involved in MeeGo community on a daily basis, since I'm involved with a dozen communities already. Instead I've been more like scratching the surface with MeeGo Network Finland meetings, IRC activity, OBS usage for building a few apps for MeeGo Harmattan and MeeGo proper etc. But I can somewhat understand how people like Jarkko Moilanen from meego-fi feel. They have given a _lot_ to the MeeGo community and brand, all taken away without hearing or pre-notice.

So where to now for MeeGo community? Tizen is one obvious choice. However, for all the talks that even I started this post with, Tizen is still vaporware today, and the dislike of how community is being treated might make it easy to consider other options. Also, if Tizen's reference implementation has lesser meaning, it might also mean less to actually be "in" the Tizen community than in MeeGo. I met Jos Poortvliet at Openmind, and he invited people to openSUSE. There is a lot of common ground with MeeGo and openSUSE - strong OBS usage, RPM packaging, community side focused on KDE and therefore Qt.

I would like to now point similarly to Debian! If one is tired about corporate interests and not listening to community, there is no match for Debian's 15+ years history, purely volunteer based, trust based organization, and first of all scope. While openSUSE has traditionally focused on desktop (even though like Jos pointed out they are open to all new contributions and projects), Debian has always had the "universal" scope, ie. no boundaries besides producing free software operating system for various purposes. There are over 10 architectures maintained at the moment, including the ARM (different ports for ARMv4 and hard-float ARMv7) and x86 from MeeGo world. There are even alternative kernels to Linux, mainly the GNU/kFreeBSD port. There are multiple relevant plans and projects like the Smartphones wiki area, most noticeably Debian on Neo FreeRunner. I have run Debian on my primary mobile phone for over 2.5 years, although now in the recent months I've had dual-SIM in my Nokia N950 as well (Debian not yet running on Nokia N950 or Nokia N9 - but it can and will be done!).

What Debian may lack in both good and bad is corporate funding, if you don't count the still quite respectful contributions from Ubuntu to Debian (it's in Ubuntu's interests to contribute as much possible back to Debian, so that the delta remains small). For each and every aspect, it needs a volunteer - there are a thousand volunteer Debian Developers, and at least a double of that of people without the official DD status but who still maintain a package or two among the 25000+ packages in Debian. That means also that one my find it more lucrative to join a project that has paid people to do some of the "boring parts", more of fancy web tools, including for bug handling and build systems like the OBS (which I do love by the way). On the other hand, there is no other project in my opinion where what you do really matters as much.

To find out more about Debian from MeeGo perspective, please see the recent mailing list post Mobile UXes - From the DebConf11 BoF to the stars where I wrote most of the MeeGo (CE) part when I was asked to and known of my MeeGo involvement.

Last but not certainly least, there is the Mer project - originally "maemo reconstructed", ie. making Nokia's "not really distro" into a real distro by filling in the void places. Now it's obviously MeeGo reconstructed, and they aim to be the MeeGo they always wanted MeeGo to be! Read the post for details from Carsten Munk and other key Mer people. They share the love for Qt, and want the core to be as lean as possible. They also aim to incorporate the most community like aspect from MeeGo - MeeGo CE - as the reference vendor in Mer. They also aim to be Tizen compliant - and when Tizen comes alive, I wouldn't see why the Tizen reference implementation couldn't be used for saving resources. Maybe Nomovok and/or others could offer the Qt maintaining part.

So, it might be that Tizen itself is enough for most people's needs. The key point however in this post is not to fall in agony if one corporate based project takes big turns - it has happened before, it will happen in the future. There are always enough political and business reasons from some points of view to do Big Changes. But the wider community is out there, always, and it's bigger than you think. You should consider where you want to contribute by asking yourself why you are/were part of for example the MeeGo community. Aaron Seigo from KDE asked us all this question in the Openmind MeeGo Reignited session, and I think it's good to repeat.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

MeeGo (CE) and the FreeSmartphone.Org Distributions

Debian MeeGo mixup. MeeGo screenshot CC-BY, Debian screenshot by me
FreeSmartphone.Org (FSO), Openmoko, Debian's FSO group, SHR, QtMoko et cetera are a few of the community based intertwined projects to bring free software to smartphones. They have a relatively long and colorful history of doing this, and have nowadays been approaching multiple target devices despite limited resources and for example the losing of Openmoko Inc. in 2009. I've been using Debian on my Neo FreeRunner phone for over two years now, and over three years of FreeRunner use altogether. FSO2, the next generation stack, is finally coming into Debian now, extending the basic phone support besides Openmoko phones to eg. Palm Pre, Nexus One, Nokia N900 and a few HTC phones. It needs a lot of tweaking and eg. a proper kernel, but still.

Four years after beginning of sales of the first Openmoko device (Neo1973), we're still in the pioneering phase of free distributions for mobile phones. There is no "Ubuntu for phones" so to speak, not for even a selected models. Meanwhile, like so often in the wide world, competing free software approaches have arrived. Android is the obvious one, and has seen a port to Neo Freerunner among else. Android is not as open a project as one could like, and replaces everything we've known with its own code, but nevertheless it requires to be noted and is completely usable in its free software form. But since there are limitations to its approach, and since it's more of an own separate world from the rest of Linux distributions, it is not as interesting to me as the others in the long run, at least in its current shape.

A more similar competitor to FSO and distributions using FSO is MeeGo and its middleware, and to be more precise so far specifically Nokia's efforts on it. Obviously there is the strong competitor for the best general population smartphone of the year, the Qt based Nokia N9, but its default software is more of a proprietary thing even though it has a neatly rock solid free software foundation with separate free/non-free repositories and all that. Nice and great for the (GNU/)Linux in general, but the Harmattan software is not exactly on topic for this blog post. It's however in my opinion the best marketing to vendors around the world GNU/Linux + Qt can get as Android Linux has been taking most of the limelight. But meanwhile, with significantly smaller focus and resources, Nokia has also been sponsoring to try to create a truly community based mobile phone software stack at the MeeGo upstream, nowadays called "MeeGo Community Edition" or MeeGo CE for short. It co-operates with the MeeGo Handset target of MeeGo (and Intel) that hasn't got actual target consumer hardware at the moment, although that might change soon (?), but has been doing some nice applications recently. CE has the target hardware and additional device specific and non-specific software cooking. It used to target Nokia N900 only, but nowadays the project has added N950 (the for-developers-only phone) and N9 to the targets, and it is starting to seem there should be no showstoppers to bring MeeGo CE (or other distributions later on) to them, despite some earlier doubts. A few needed bits to void the warranty we all want to do are still missing, though, but coming. After that it's just developing free software. Usual caveats about specifics of a few kernel drivers apply, as the devices were not designed with the sole purpose of free software drivers in mind. Hopefully mobile 3D gets into a better shape in the coming years, but that's another story.

MeeGo (CE) smartphone middleware, of course, shares nothing with FSO *). While FSO is a "handle everything" in itself with its wide variety of daemons, MeeGo consists of more separate software like Intel's and Nokia's oFono for modem support. FSO demo UIs and SHR UIs have traditionally focused on using Enlightenment 17 for its suitability to low power machines, while in MeeGo everything is written in Qt. As Qt/QML is becoming faster and faster, and it's very powerful to write, there might be quite a bit of useful software emerging from there also for other distributions besides MeeGo itself. Actually, there is already a Debian MeeGo stack maintainer group available, although it hasn't yet focused on the UIs as far as I can see (if I'll have free time I'll join the effort and see for myself in more detail). There is also the QtMoko distribution, based on the original, canceled Trolltech/Nokia Qt Extended (Qtopia) project, but ported to newer Qt:s and put on top of Debian.

*) Although, correct me if I'm wrong and I might be, the Nokia N900 isi modem driver in FSO was ported/learned from oFono.

MeeGo CE is not only a project to bring a proper MeeGo distribution to a few smartphones, but also to shake out bugs in the MeeGo project's contributions and community processes. It is acting as a completely open MeeGo product contributor, and investigating how things should be optimally done so that everything gets integrated into the MeeGo properly, and that proper MeeGo software releases can be done for the target devices. Therefore it's also an important project for the vitality of the whole MeeGo.

MeeGo CE has so far had a whole team in Nokia working on it, but for obvious strategy related reasons community cannot rely on it lasting forever. The real hurdle is for the wider free smartphones community to be ready for really embracing a project that is already a community project but to outsiders might seem like a company project. I believe it's never easy to grow a volunteer community if the starting setup is a paid company team, but it mainly requires a) the interested people and b) the few smart ones to take control and communication responsibility so that it's not anymore seen as a company project. MeeGo CE never was a traditional company project, everything being done in the open and together with volunteers, but I just know how people perceive these things by default. People tend to assume stuff as someone else's responsibility

Whatever happens, I hope there are enough people interested in free software for mobile phones to carry on all these different approaches to the software needed. I hope MeeGo / MeeGo CE will have a great future, and I hope that both the middleware like FSO and MeeGo's components, and the UIs like FSO, SHR, QtMoko and MeeGo Handheld UIs continue to develop. I also hope other distributions like Debian will gather a strong suite of packaged software for smartphones. I know I have had some hard time to find suitable apps for my phone at times.

For those interested about how I use Debian as my mobile phone OS, see

Friday, June 17, 2011

Blogger, atom, rss & planetplanet 2.5 years later

Just reminding myself (and you) of the following pretty important tip that I got 2.5 years ago and already forgot: use alt=rss in blogger feeds when giving the feed to planetplanet. Planetplanet treats the "updated" field of Atom feeds similar to "published".

So hopefully planet Debian fixed now as well.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

”Tuning an old but free phone” video now available

It was good that I didn't hold up my blog post in November until the videos from FSCONS 2010 (Free Society Conference and Nordic Summit) are out, but now they finally are:

Timo Jyrinki - Tuning an old but free phone (pt 1/2)
Timo Jyrinki - Tuning an old but free phone (pt 2/2)

Definitely see also all videos and since Vimeo doesn't work in Gnash, use a script to download.

ps. As a related item to the talk's future oriented aspects, while waiting for GTA04A3 boards to arrive, GTA04A2 has been patched to run Debian/LXDE.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

MeeGo Summit FI Days 1 & 2

MeeGo Summit FI is now nearing completion, with several keynotes and other presentations, Meegathon 24h contest just coming to an end and a lot of interesting discussions had. See full program for details. Yesterday was a hugely energetic day, but today the lack of sleep starts to kick in a bit at least for me.

Some highlights via photos:

Keynote venue was a movie theater

MeeGo status update by Valtteri Halla / Intel - talking among else about tablets, IVI, and the 20 person team at Nokia doing MeeGo(.com) for N900 phone

Mikko Terho / Nokia - "Internet for the next billion => Qt good candidate", "code wins politics and standards"

Carsten Munk / Nomovok - "Hacking your existence: the importance of open-ended devices in the MeeGo world"

In addition to MeeGo tablet demonstrations a Wayland compositor was demoed by a Nomovok employee.

One of the many Qt / QML related talks was held by Tapani Mikola / Nokia

Evening party

Day 2 started with a few more presentations and Finhack event launching in the Protomo room as well

Still remaining for the day are Meegathon demonstrations (well actually I'm right now already following those while finishing this - cool demos!) , Meegathon awards, a panel discussion on "MeeGo, Nokia, Finns - finished? Can MeeGo be important in Finland without being inside Nokia's core?", BoF sessions and finally Intel AppUp Application Lab including some MeeGo table give-outs.

Thanks to organizers, many of whom were volunteers. The event has been running completely smoothly, coming not as a big surprise after the hugely successful last summer's Akademy 2010 also held in Tampere.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

MeeGo Summit FI starts tomorrow

I'm participating in the MeeGo Summit FI that starts tomorrow, and I'm already in Tampere now, as you can see. The summit is at an interesting time, given that there is a huge amount of stuff happening around MeeGo while at the same time Nokia is balancing on what do both in the far future and what to do to ship the MeeGo device they've already promised. The summit is fully and overly booked for >300 attendees. There is also Finhack free software event happening alongside on Saturday at the same venue.

A view towards the venue(s), Finlayson area in Tampere.
The company I work for, Nomovok's CEO illustrated the MeeGo situation extraordinarily well a little less than two months ago. I think it's one of the best insights you can get from anywhere in public at the moment. Now things are starting to really heat up. Of course the Big thing is the MeeGo Conference in San Francisco in the end of May, but it takes nothing away from this being the major event both in the country formerly known as NokiaLandia, and also globally given the amount of MeeGo related talent here. Nomovok is teasing people with the SteelRat - a launchpad for MeeGo tablet creation and an UX, based on latest MeeGo Core - a beta of which will be available now in Tampere and first version in San Fransisco. Meanwhile we and others are investing in also the MeeGo IVI and MeeGo TV platforms, not forgetting about the handset industry that is more visible to many tech savvy consumers.

Pre-registration and building on-going.
At the same time there is a lot of exciting stuff going on in the Ubuntu project (Ubuntu 11.04 upcoming, I'm already using it and reporting bugs), together with Linaro and other ARM players. As a founder of Ubuntu Finland I'm always eager to see if I can work there also on work time, not only on free time. And regarding ARM, Nomovok is the key player in having ARM on MeeGo as well.

Then on the completely other end of spectrum, I'm eagerly waiting for the GTA04 project to have my Neo FreeRunner(s) bumped up to modern specs. At the end of the day I'm still using over 2,5 year old phone myself, since I want to run the software that is both free and completely selected (and if I want, done) by me. With GTA04, I could choose between MeeGo armv7hl port, Debian armhf port or Ubuntu as the base distribution to use my software.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Openmoko is dead, long live the Openmoko ...with ”GTA04” project

The 2008 product release, Openmoko Inc's – now in other business areas than mobile phones – Neo FreeRunner is finally starting to get a ”spiritual” successor, in form of the GTA04 project (not to forget about gta02-core project, either). Yes, the ”even schematics and cover CAD files are CC-BY-SA” free mobile phone is back... or at least if the German company Golden Delicious finishes what's it has been doing lately. Of course, the original FreeRunner is also still on sale as an improved version.

Since I have two FreeRunners, I look forward to replacing one of those with the new innards while keeping the other one as a daily phone while kernel and modem drivers get ready with the new platform. With a newer platform with ARMv7 instruction set, there would be easily also other ”traditional” distributions choices besides Debian to choose from, like Ubuntu or MeeGo. Both have oFono (+ telepathy etc.) packaged up, while Ubuntu also has a lot of the FreeSmartphone.Org (FSO) stack that has come to Ubuntu from Debian's pkg-fso team that I'm part of. Both software stacks are capable of getting updated with new modem drivers, although I think currently FSO has more daily / only phone users than oFono at this point of time still (I haven't yet heard of many Nokia N900 users using only free software distribution while using the phone functionality of such a distro as the one to count on).

So, a quote from today's Openmoko Community Updates:



GTA04 is a project by the long time distributor and hw developer, German company Golden Delicious. The name is loaned from Openmoko project because of the spiritual continuation - GTA01 was the codename for Neo1973, GTA02 was the Neo FreeRunner, and GTA03 was the canceled successor product. Besides offering improved versions of Neo FreeRunner (better battery life, better audio output), they've a complete replacement board planned to fit an existing Neo FreeRunner case and use the existing display.

The key details of GTA04 include among else:

  • OMAP3530 ARMv7 CPU
  • UMTS/3G (HSPA)
  • USB 2.0 OTG
  • WLAN, BT, FM transceiver
  • Barometric Altimeter, Accelerometer, Compass, Gyroscope
  • Optionally camera

Find your GTA04 information at the following addresses:

Latest news:

Visit the FOSDEM in Brussels, Belgium next weekend (5th/6th of February, 2011) to see GTA04 in action and discuss about it! See , ,