Coming Soon -- the Fully-Customizable Linux Phone
The Linux revolution is making a run for the smart phone market. This isn't exactly new news. In fact, Linux started taking off in the cell phone market in about 2003. Major companies from NEC to Samsung are shipping phones loaded with the open source OS, though primarily in China, and Motorola seems to be slowly-but-surely letting Linux take over its hand-held line up. Certain versions of the RAZR 2, the ROKR, the SCPL, and the China-only Ming all run a custom version of Linux designed by Motorola.
The problem is that all of these companies run their own customized, closed, and incompatible versions of Linux. Luckily, two companies are working on open, standardized, and in the case of OpenMoko (pictured above), completely free and open sourced versions of Linux for hand-helds. This doesn't mean much to those of us who can't program, but all those intrepid programmers and hackers out there are usually very willing to share the fruits of their labor with the rest of us.
A standardized mobile Linux would have many advantages. For one, an almost endless supply of applications are bound to pop up, and no convoluted hacking is required (as is the case with the iPhone). Additionally, the low overhead required for Linux means a much faster and more responsive device than anything out there running Windows Mobile. As for Palm OS (which has an oft-delayed Linux based successor in the works), well, it's showing its age and simply unable to compete with the capabilities of a Linux phone.
Wired writer Paul Adams ordered himself a pre-alpha (which means it's just past the conceptual stage) version of the OpenMoko Neo1973. The Neo1973 is currently intended for developers, but anyone can order it for $450. The device is small and rounded on both ends, and features a large bright touch screen. It doesn't skip on other features either, Bluetooth, GPS, MicroSD slot, and globe-hopping quad-band GSM so it can work on all five continents. In essence, these are all the goodies you've come to expect from high end smart phones. Future versions of the phone will feature Wi-Fi as well.
Sadly for Adams, and OpenMoko, the first "tussle" with the Linux-based supposed iPhone-killer was less than smooth, to put it lightly. At first, the phone wouldn't boot at all. Then Adams discovered he had to download the software separately to install on the phone. Once booted, he found the GPS only functioned through obscure text commands from the terminal, and that the phone couldn't connect to his T-Mobile network for some reason.
In the end, Adams opted to install OpenMoko's primary competitor, Trolltech's Qtopia, the more mature, but partially proprietary hand-held Linux variant. After installing Qtopia, the phone worked almost perfectly allowing Adams to send text messages and make calls.
So, OpenMoko's software platform isn't quite usable yet, so we certainly don't suggest buying one any time soon. However, the ability to simply replace the OS on the OpenMoko is certainly an attractive feature. Imagine picking up the latest LG handset, deciding you don't like preloaded interface, and simply downloading a replacement that seems more your style. That's a cell-phone future we can get behind.
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