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Cellphones Communications Hardware

No More OpenMoko Phone 219

TuxMobil writes "Bad news for FreeRunner fans: development of the first Open Source smartphone will be discontinued. (English translation via Google) OpenMoko executive director Sean Moss-Pulz said at OpenExpo in Bern (Switzerland) that the number of staffers will be reduced to be able to stay in business. OpenMoko had high intentions: the offspring from Taiwanese electronic manufacturer First International Computer (FIC) wanted to produce an Open Source smartphone. Not only with Open Source software pre-installed, but with free drivers and open specifications of the hardware components. This would give programmers as well as users complete freedom. Up to now the manufacturer has produced two models, the first has sold 3,000 units and the second one 10,000. Both models were targeted primarily to developers. From the beginning, OpenMoko had to fight with different problems. The smartphones came onto the market after a huge delay. Some phones came with construction defects. Also, changes in the team slowed down the development. Software development for the current smartphone will be continued but with fewer resources, Moss-Pultz said. He still hopes the community will support the FreeRunner."
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No More OpenMoko Phone

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  • by miknix ( 1047580 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @06:41PM (#27460789) Homepage

    That's the point of buying an opensource phone. To use it as our sandbox.

  • Re:open source (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nine-times ( 778537 ) <> on Saturday April 04, 2009 @06:55PM (#27460905) Homepage

    Having open source does not alone make a product awesome. However, one thing having open source does is make it so, even if the product fails, the knowledge put into making that product is not lost. And that's pretty awesome.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 04, 2009 @06:55PM (#27460907)

    If sales reflect demand it appears that Joe Public doesn't see the value of an open source smart phone.

    Since when did Joe Public ever do a good job of looking after his own interests? "Freedom? Who needs that? Ooh, look, something shiny and new!" People like this cannot possibly sustain an open, non-dictatorial government for the same reason they cannot sustain an Open Source phone. I know those two things may seem unrelated but if you understand one, you understand the other, for the principle in question is quite scalable.

  • by causality ( 777677 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @06:57PM (#27460921)

    The problem was that the phone had some real glaring problems that were never resolved. Such as a one day battery life. And the inability to charge the phone after the battery wore out completely.

    I was going to be first in line to buy one when the power management problems were sorted out. But years later... they were still there. I'm really saddened that the phone never truly got the support it needed to succeed.

    So where does that leave us for free phones?

    Makes me wonder how many good ideas are ruined by poor implementation. I'm betting this is a very large number. The problem is that people throw out the baby with the bathwater and so they might conclude that open-source phones are inherently a bad idea, instead of concluding that this group failed to design/produce them correctly.

  • Re:open source (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 04, 2009 @06:59PM (#27460933)

    The GP has a valid point. Sure, OpenMoko dying is sad. But to people writing open source software who *also want their software to be used by people*, there are important lessons here. Listen to users. Prioritize so that basic functionality (oh, I dunno, battery life) is working before getting carried away with GUIs, etc. Aim at a user community which is not just developers from day one if you want a product that non-developers can later use. Too many projects act as if being open-source is the most important thing that matters for success, and this just leads to wasted effort within the community.

  • by theArtificial ( 613980 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @07:07PM (#27460977)
    Even if an idea is tainted by poor implementation it provides something for future revisions to improve upon. If there is demand a healthy market will cater to it.
  • by coryking ( 104614 ) * on Saturday April 04, 2009 @07:07PM (#27460981) Homepage Journal

    "Ideas" are worthless. Everybody has good ideas. It is actually implementing the idea that is the hard part.

    In other words, the money (and the devil) is in the details.

    so they might conclude that open-source phones are inherently a bad idea

    I've not really followed this project, but aren't the design documents public? If so, some other company could pick this up and run with it, no?

  • by Nursie ( 632944 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @07:10PM (#27460999)

    Which might have been more of a possibility if they'd effectively built a community rather than failing to communicate very well.

    It would also be easier if they'd got the basics (reliable kernel, GSM firmware, graphics acceleration) going rather than making eye candy, abandoning it, making more, abandoning it again...

  • by Chas ( 5144 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @07:11PM (#27461017) Homepage Journal

    How is "downsizing" the equivallent of "no more"?


    Not even 101. Maybe 50.5. Maybe even 25.25. If worse comes to worst 12.625 (See Dick run. Run Dick run!)

  • by cliffjumper222 ( 229876 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @07:18PM (#27461055)

    With the advent of Android on Linux, OpenMoko can safely retire. There will be a flood of Android hardware out soon in addition to the G1 and at least some of it will be hackable or open enough for developers to delve into the stack if they want. For example, you'll be able to improve the hardware drivers, add functionality left out by the original makers because they feared patent infringement, and take advantage of hardware acceleration that didn't make it into the shipping product. Perhaps the only sacrosanct portion kept off limits will be the radio stack itself, which if hacked could invalidate the CE mark, FCC, GCF, PTCRB, etc.

  • by coryking ( 104614 ) * on Saturday April 04, 2009 @07:27PM (#27461099) Homepage Journal

    If you do not see the simplicity of that, it is because you don't want to

    No, everything begins as an "idea", that part is obvious. But ideas in and of themselves are worthless until you implement them.

    It takes money to do that and no one wants to invest money into an operation that fails.

    There are a lot of great ideas that never get implemented because it turns out the implementation is too hard to make it worthwhile. For example, I think it would be a great idea if you could have a lawn-mower sharing service. A neighborhood could share one lawnmower and not have to all buy their own. Since you dont usually use it more than once or twice a month, it would be a great idea, right? Well, I doubt you could ever successfully implement it.

    By the way, in most cases, a good test of your idea is if others are doing similar things as you. If you are trying to create a business or product and nobody else is doing anything even close, odds are pretty good something is wrong with your idea. Not always, but usually...

  • by causality ( 777677 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @07:45PM (#27461205)

    No, everything begins as an "idea", that part is obvious. But ideas in and of themselves are worthless until you implement them.

    I can agree to that on the condition that we are speaking of "worth" in strictly materialistic or pragmatic terms. That is, however, an artificially narrow concept. Look at most forms of art and the ideas found there, or at philosophers who truly enjoy exploring the mysteries of life. Look at the idea of freedom and how very inconvenient and costly it can be, yet so utterly worthwhile. Those are ideas that are valuable to the people who entertain them that don't need to be implemented as any product or service in order to have that value.

    There are a lot of great ideas that never get implemented because it turns out the implementation is too hard to make it worthwhile. For example, I think it would be a great idea if you could have a lawn-mower sharing service. A neighborhood could share one lawnmower and not have to all buy their own. Since you dont usually use it more than once or twice a month, it would be a great idea, right? Well, I doubt you could ever successfully implement it.

    True, though you can find that idea to be unsound before you prove this by trying to implement it and failing. For neighbors to pool any resource and share equally with one another, they first have to actually treat each other as neighbors and not as strangers who happen to live nearby (as is so common today). Otherwise this becomes open to all sorts of problems and abuse. That can be known before anything is tried.

    The idea of an Open Source phone is not inherently unsound. This failure was strictly in terms of implementation. That is, things like delays and manufacturing defects are what prevented its realization, not the fact that it was to be Open Source. That's a significant difference and I feel that this difference may go unappreciated. Thus, people throw out the baby with the bathwater and may write off the idea entirely, especially when money they intend to invest is at stake.

  • by Hairy1 ( 180056 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @07:49PM (#27461251) Homepage

    The Buzz generated by OpenMoko was huge; several people at my work were just waiting for something that could be used as a phone before they purchased one. We waited three months, then six months, and then finally gave up expecting anything. That was a year and a half ago.

    I got the Neo 1973 and used it in my autonomous boat project [], as it had GPS, GPRS, could run Python and connect via USB to many types of devices. At this point while late there was still some promise.

    One issue was the desire to please the techies. In order to be a real success it would always have needed to operate well as a phone. It never really achieved that. I would have preferred to see development limited to providing basic phone functionality first, then once that was stable extending it.

    Instead it seemed that the Neo became a techie plaything, which was cool for me wanting a small device for my robotics, but not so good for a company trying to compete in the phone market where millions of units are sold. OpenMoko didn't deliver working software. The first rule of Open Source is to deliver something that works early.

    Although there is a community around OpenMoko I suspect it will move to platforms that have a real future on mobile devices now. The Android platform may not be perfect yet, but it holds far more promise as a polished product that techies can extend, yet is still a viable mass market phone.

    Personally I feel that Sean was too idealistic, and that OpenMoko needed someone stronger that could make some hard headed business decisions rather than making decisions that would see the total reworking of the platform when the first one wasn't even working.

    I am very disappointed that such a great opportunity has failed because those in charge misunderstood that the tech people were his market. Certainly a healthy community is a good thing, but you can't create a polished product by trying to please every man and his dog.

  • by Warbothong ( 905464 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @07:54PM (#27461281) Homepage

    I agree. The OS bundled with the phone (Om.2007) has been obsolete since at least September (when I got mine), yet the official successor (Om.2008) hasn't really come out of testing yet.

    I've currently got Android on mine and Qt Extended on the MicroSD card. As far as I'm concerned the official software should've been abandoned long ago, but (ironically for a Free phone) they were too reluctant to give up control.

    Om.2008's a nice system to play with, but all of the bits that actually make it a phone (dialer, contacts, calendar, SMS, etc.) are taken from Qtopia/Qt Extended, all OpenMoko have done is add an Enlightenment-based menu and some meagre repositories.

    If development effort was spent making Qt more awesome on the FreeRunner, rather than competing with it, then in the worst case there would be a default OS better than anything OpenMoko have shipped (Qt), and in the best case there would be an awesome OS (Qt + OpenMoko developer effort). With the path chosen, however, it's ended up with both projects shutting down (although in Qt's case it's more likely due to its new ownership by Nokia, who are working on freeing Symbian).

    The inertia OpenMoko put behind the project will be missed, but from my own perspective their part is over, since I've got the hardware. Hopefully in time someone else will step up to provide hardware to other people.

    Software-wise I'm putting my bets on Debian for a hacker-friendly system and Android for a smartphone. I'm fluent enough in Debian packaging and Java that I should be able to help the community in taking the masses of hard work from these projects and adding the little nudges that keep them from falling off the FreeRunner platform for at least a while. The problem is that this is precisely what OpenMoko should have been doing (replace Android with Qt).

    I would shrug this off as the market working, but in this case I'd like to think of it as the market disliking bad management rather than the market disliking (what I see as) awesome technology. It's like the Amiga all over again :(

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 04, 2009 @07:55PM (#27461289)

    Android on the Freerunner can be as open as the people writing the port want to make it.

  • by Nursie ( 632944 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @08:04PM (#27461351)

    No, I'm sorry, but now you can just fuck off too.

    The "GPL is viral" meme was lame ten years ago, the fact that you still spout it now is basically proof of mental deficiency.

    OM was developed by a company full of people that also get up and go to work every day.

    It was managed badly. That has nothing to do with the license. Grow up.

  • by coryking ( 104614 ) * on Saturday April 04, 2009 @08:07PM (#27461385) Homepage Journal

    I said "similar". Not duplicate.

    Wouldn't you be rather concerned if you were gonna try starting your hypothetical lawn-mower service and couldn't find a single example of anybody doing anything even remotely similar? I know I would be!

    That said, pretty much everything in existence is a refinement of the stuff before it. Most TV shows are refinements of older ones--Family Guy was influenced by Simpsons. Aqua Teen Hunger Force was influenced by Family Guy and Simpsons (and Robot Chicken).

    Beck influenced a ton of people out there. Beck himself has a strong resemblance to folk music.

    Digg was a derivative of Slashdot. Slashdot was a derivative of the BBS.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 04, 2009 @08:10PM (#27461403)

    You forgot one more important thing that openmoko heavily contributed to, that otherwise would not be done. The *kernel.* None of the stacks would be around if they didn't devote resources to kernel development. An argument can be made that maybe they should have switched focus to low-level only sooner (the management issue), but at the time there were very few stacks.

  • by coryking ( 104614 ) * on Saturday April 04, 2009 @08:14PM (#27461427) Homepage Journal

    The sad story is that if you do what other people also do you can make a living, but you can't make it big.

    Flickr did what everybody else was doing--they created a photo album on the internet. Only they learned what all the other ones were doing wrong and made it better.

    Very little is a wholly unique, novel idea. 98% of everything out there is a refinement of what everybody else is doing.

    There is a technical term for things that are unique--disruptive technologies. And creating a successful plan to implement said ideas are far harder than usually. A lot of people with really good disruptive tech. fail to create an implementation that lets them succeed. See also: Crossing the Chasm [].

  • Re:open source (Score:4, Insightful)

    by BlackCreek ( 1004083 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @08:30PM (#27461543)

    Wake up dude. It is easier to rewrite, than to read code.

    I don't know much of OMoko. But from what I see from the mess they made, never actually getting the thing to work as a phone. I don't expect much of their code to be on a level of maturity that would grant the time investment to get acquainted to it.

    My honest guess, as developer, is that the code produced by these guys that did not get merged into other active projects will just die.

  • by Warbothong ( 905464 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @08:31PM (#27461551) Homepage

    I'm sorry, I know this story needs some influx from people higher up in the know, but to me that's an awful lot of buzzword bingo.

    I think I read it as someone's working on the buzzing issue, making a new model would be prohibitively expensive and would hurt sales of the current model, there's an announcement coming?

  • by Zerth ( 26112 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @09:10PM (#27461771)

    I wonder how hard it is to do a small-qty purchase of a cell-phone module. Just the bits that make phone calls and send/receive audio, over serial or whatever. Possibly also the simcard stuff, if that is necessary to be done by the radio hardware instead of software.

    Bring your own computing device(say a gumstix), display, and power.

    I'm sure that probably violates some FCC rules, so I haven't really tried to source one.

  • Re:open source (Score:3, Insightful)

    by coryking ( 104614 ) * on Saturday April 04, 2009 @09:18PM (#27461801) Homepage Journal

    There is nothing wrong with initially aiming for developers. In fact, I'd say if you are a startup company doing anything tech, targeting developers is a great way to get started. You want your product to generate buzz with blogging nerds like that Schobel guy (aka tech evangelists). It would be a huge mistake to try to cast your net to large and target "everybody". Gotta start somewhere, and nerds, even a specific type of nerd, is a safe bet.

    Remember how many bloggers were hyping the Razr when it came out? Flickr targeted developers by offering an API. Google got its roots targeting nerds. Digg, same thing. Hell, Firefox was able to start by marketing to nerds like us and the buzz we generated pushed it into the mainstream. If you can't sell your warez to developers and nerds, you'll never sell it with the public at large.

    The bit that kills you is if you don't realize that the developer crowd is a small part of market and you are only using them to gain enough street cred to expand into larger market segments. Sure, you can avoid "selling out", but if you want to be truly successful, you gotta cross that chasm and move into the meaty part of the bell curve.

    That said, I don't know if OpenMoko failed because they didn't successfully cross the chasm, or because they weren't able to successfully sell to nerds at all. Or probably something completely different.

  • Re:open source (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 04, 2009 @09:42PM (#27461975)

    OpenMoko failed because it was a phone that couldn't make or receive phone calls reliably, and when you did connect to someone they were often inaudible because of a hardware flaw that created a loud buzzing noise. Also, its core technologies were years behind the cutting edge (barely-functioning 2G in a world where 3.5G is giving way to 4G). No mystery here. It failed because it was a terrible, terrible phone.

    Open Source's inability to deliver any sort of consumer-level device that isn't an expensive, misfunctioning joke should be a source of considerable concern to anybody who cares about the future of FOSS.

  • by iksrazal_br ( 614172 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @10:32PM (#27462215) Homepage
    Openmoko is now earily similair to a zombie company - keeps blowing sunshine while its developers quits or gets fired in droves, they stop building products, the only ones left are in marketing, and they linger on without doing much. The facts are:

    1) The 10,000 phones are mostly of the 900mhz variety, which has a "buzz" issue that makes the phone unusable. You need to go to a "buzz fix" party to do a non-trivial hardware mod. The "A7" version that fixes these issues is in perpetual delay, with no release date in site.

    2) The only two paid kernel developers have left this last month or have announced they are leaving, some key hardware guys have left in the last two months. Some key UI people have left over the last 6-8 months.

    3) They've abandoned the next model, the GT03, and they have publicly stated no 3G without a guaranteed sales of 50,000 units.

    I like the idea of Free software on mostly open hardware - only they can't for whatever reason get the hardware part right. I think the software is not the problem, its the hardware. The Freerunner has been described as a Porsche body with a lawnmower engine, and looking at openPandora, I scratch my head and wonder why its like that.

    IMHO its like any project that is going down the tubes - far too few developers on a project changing scope too often.

    Hardware's not easy - I damn near went insane from the politics of embedded linux projects myself - but I can't imagine working with a constantly changing hardware scope while everyone is leaving. I'd be pleasantly surprised if openmoko makes a comeback at this point - the first problem is I wonder how they could attract talent in the future, even if they could afford it.
  • by StreetStealth ( 980200 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @10:54PM (#27462333) Journal

    I had to chuckle every time I read a FOSS zealot's dismissal of the iPhone as "bling," defending OpenMoko as a superior alternative.

    As an ideal, yes, an open phone OS is superior. But for actually using a phone, for actually running mobile applications, for actually keeping a calendar and a directory of contacts and syncing it and calling people when you need to and actually talking and getting things done, there is no comparison. OM isn't even in the same league as the iPhone OS.

    What it comes down to, of course, is design. Even if OM had ever actually released a stable, consumer-ready package, the Apple product would, quite simply, still have had the vast advantage of a team of skilled HCI researchers and designers behind it. The iPhone is a pleasure to use because of the great amount of work that went into defining its interaction vocabulary and user experience as well as the solid software engineering and exhaustive testing.

    This is something that will never be replaced by developers making icons in GIMP. Nor will it be replaced by artists making icons in Photoshop. It's design, not graphics, not animation, that sets great products apart from mediocre ones.

  • by iksrazal_br ( 614172 ) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @12:48AM (#27462869) Homepage
    Uh, with the limited developer resources openmoko has always had, spending a year on a cancelled project is clearly poor management. Releasing the Freerunner with broken hardware is also poor management. I'd feel better about openmoko's chances as a company if they fired the management instead of all the developers. That never happens though - which is often why companies fail.
  • by Fizzl ( 209397 ) <fizzl.fizzl@net> on Sunday April 05, 2009 @01:06AM (#27462937) Homepage Journal

    While I was working on Nokia 7710 [] we had a batch of prototypes which had malfunctioning circuit in the charge control, which caused the phone to discharge the battery completely if left alone for long enough. We destroyed quite a load of batteries before a proto manager figured out what was going on.

    (And yeah, Nokia had an "iPhone" years ago. Badly marketed, too expensive and touchscreen&scalable UI postponed for years because of internal s60/s90 politics war. Still pisses me off :))

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