LibrePlanet: Conference/2010/Hacking/Free phones workshop

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Please remember that this event is focused on free software, not open source. We have a set of guidelines for speakers, but we ask everyone to be mindful of the power of words and the importance of framing the issues being discussed and worked on in the best possible terms.

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Everyone who attends gets a free t-shirt too

The following is a dump from our previous free phones event in September.


We will go over the following:


List of free/mostly-free phones:

To be released soon:

Moral Abstraction Devices[1]:

  • Novatel's MiFi 2200 portable EV-DO router

Criteria to be counted:

  • available for purchase
  • ability to make phone calls
  • ability to let users develop software for it
  • not required to void phone warranty to benefit (in some way) from freedoms provided. Eg. sure you can install Debian on an iPhone, but that doesn't mean the iPhone counts.

Mobile operating systems


Some activists are working to develop and maintain a freed versions of the most known and preinstalled mobile os:

  • Replicant (a freed Android)
  • Mer (a freed Maemo) "Mer is now an inactive project"

See Talk:Future Phone Freedom Workshop#Are they trying to screw you? for why this might be a good thing to do.

partially free

For the moment we have the following:

Comparison Table

FSO based (SHR etc.) MeeGo Web OS Android Bada Ophone (Android based) Access Linux Platform
Company Openmoko Nokia + Intel Palm Google Samsung China Mobile Access Co.
License GPL + others various free software licenses [2] Palm EULA, GPL, others Apache 2.0 and GPLv2, closed for google apps rumors say free software Apache 2.0 and GPLv2 don't know
Supported Architectures ARM ARM, i386 ARM ARM, MIPS, Power Architecture, x86 ARM ARM, MIPS, Power Architecture, x86 ARM
Update method opkg RPM os internal app os internal app don't know yet don't know don't know
Package manager opkg RPM Package Manager don't know ipk? don't know yet don't know don't know
Default user interface Enlightenment's Illume default Qt UI but gtk, clutter and MX supported non free Web OS UI Android Enlightenment's Illume don'know, should be Android don't know

Usability vs. Freedom

The Neo Freerunner is completely free (on the main cpu), but not really usable. Usability should be graded as follows:

  1. can be used as a phone reliably (includes address book)
  2. can be used for common smartphone tasks, such as calendaring and web browsing
  3. can synchronize with external services
  4. ...

Developer freedom

Ability to develop on the phone using a free development environment. (I think all of them can be developed using only free software. [look into Android]).

Stack freedom

Go over, for each phone, what parts of the phone stack are [not] free. Maybe a chart to show all of the phones in comparison (there's bound to be something online that compares this already; if not, let's make it).

Hackability freedom

Ok, so you want to "root" your phone (if it is not already rooted). What can you do with that power? How hard is it to gain this access?

What cool things has this given to users? (I suspect there are a lot of interesting hacks in the OpenMoko world)


Is there a community around the phone? How healthy / vibrant is it?

Carrier freedom

If the phone is locked to a carrier, what is that carrier's attitude toward exercising your SW freedom and what are the potential repercussions of going against their stated desires?

Going forward toward a usable, free phone

What parts of the SW stack are missing to make each platform entirely free and usable?

Comparison Table

G1, G1 ADP, MyTouch
(Maemo 5)
US Carriers AT&T, T-Mobile AT&T, T-Mobile Sprint AT&T, T-Mobile AT&T
Usability (ugh, meh, woo, yay!) meh woo woo unk yay!
License Free software proprietary and apache2 for userland; GPLv2 for linux proprietary and various free for userland; GPLv2 for linux proprietary and various free for userland; GPLv2 for linux all proprietary
Base applications free (varied) free apart google apps mixed mixed nonfree
Purchasable yes yes (contract subsidy) yes (contract subsidy) yes yes (contract subsidy)
Ability to install custom OS yes yes (exploit or downgrade) yes [3] yes[4] maybe (exploit only; actively discouraged)
Radio Firmwares(GPS, GSM, Wifi) nonfree, nonfree, free[5] All nonfree[6] All nonfree unk, unk, nonfree[7] All nonfree
OS GNU/Linux Android/Linux GNU/Linux GNU/Linux nonfree
GUI layer free (varied) free (Android) nonfree (WebOS)[8] free (Maemo) nonfree
SDK free mix[9] nonfree free[10] nonfree
SDK runs on Free Software yes yes yes yes no
Hacking voids warranty? no yes unk unk yes
App store om-showroom in development nonfree by default; free version available, FLOSS Dispenser nonfree by default; free version available, PreWare[11] free, Hildon Application Manager nonfree

See also


  1. nonfree but lets you use non-phone mobile devices as phones via voip
  2. GPLv2 for Linux, GNU LGPLv2 for API and libraries, for the software "All OSI compatible licenses are OK in principle but there is following emphasis: Use of GNU (L)GPL version 2.x is encouraged and currently use of GNU (L)GPL version 3 is discouraged." see here
  3. SHR already compiled, first call made - installed OS is OpenEmbedded variant
  4. It remains to be seen if/how subsidized versions will be locked down - if indeed they appear at all.
  5. John Sullivan, Operations Manager at the FSF writes: I was correct -- there is no linux-loaded proprietary firmware for the wifi. There is of course proprietary firmware in flash on the chip, but it is not upgradeable. See for example this mailing list post - "---2 The 2nd best option would be that all software on the main CPU is Free Software, and other firmwares are not user-upgradeable, do not have to be loaded at boot time, and can thus be considered to be part of the 'circuit' of that chip, a black box. Some people find this option laughable, as it looks like someone not wanting to know the truth, but for a number of reasons the FSF and Richard Stallman believe this is the right way to protect freedom. GTA02 is at this level, let's call it the 'FSF level' :-)". The proprietary firmware on the chip has been a source of problems (because for example it is compiled with debug options on), so that's presumably why people are saying otherwise. root@om-gta02 /lib/modules/2.6.29-rc3 $ find . -name *.bin doesn't return anything, fwiw.
  6. There are 4 CPU,The Arm9 CPU controls the modem+gps(mDSP),the audio(aDSP),and the mDSP and the aDSP are all non-free,the application CPU is an arm9,not much is known about the msm architecture
  7. GSM/GPS firmwares may be stored in rom, however, they are almost certainly upgradable
  8. Can also run directfb GUI without WebOS GUI, however no one has written tslib module for touchscreen yet so limited usefullness
  9. Official SDK requires nonfree Sun Java,can be liberated if you compile your own and use a patch
  10. Toolchain is all free, to run the device emulator you need nonfree Nokia binaries.
  11. You do not need to access the GNU/Linux command line or "root your Pre" to install or use Preware (which is the GPLv2 app store client). However you install it with "WebOS Quick Install", which is nonfree software, under a provision that allows "WebOS applications that are in-testing, which under section 4.2 of the Palm SDK License Agreement allows for such unapproved applications to be installed on Palm devices" [1]