Shiny geek toy?

Christopher Heiny heiny at
Thu Dec 7 05:00:31 CET 2006

What exactly is it that we want OpenMoko to be?

Do we really want a shiny geek toy?  Something that is super cool and 
technologically advanced, but only nerds will want to hack on?

Or should we be working toward a solid OpenSource platform that will 
encourage other phone manufacturers to build on it and in turn give their 
work back to the community?

To take a recently discussed example: an FPGA is really super cool and 
flexible and you can do just about anything with one.  But the downside is 
that it is HARD to do that stuff.  Even if you, personally, find VHDL or 
Verilog to be easy to work with and understand, the average engineer 
working at someplace like Samsung or Nokia (or wherever) will not have the 
same skills you do.

Additionally, it takes time (lots of time) even for skilled engineers to 
design, implement, and debug new features for FPGAs.  Time to market is 
critical for most phone manufacturers, especially in countries such as 
Korea where product lifetimes are often measured in months.

Yeah, we can trowel on all kinds of creamy technological goodness.  Myself, 
I want a dozen A-to-D channels so that I can use the phone for data 
collection and analysis in my race car.  Honest - that would absolutely 
rule!  But it's not what the customer on the street wants, and it's not 
what the manufacturer trying to sell to that customer wants.

To be a success, in the same way that OpenSource projects like OpenOffice, 
Apache, Firefox, and others are successes, OpenMoko will have to provide a 
compelling reason for phone manufacturers to choose it over closed source 
options such as WinCE, Rexx, and others.  Five of the critical enablers to 
this are:

    - rock solid reliablity.  Anything in the phone should "just work", and 
it must do it every time.

    - complete functionality.  There should never, ever, be a greyed out 
button in the GUI.  Sure OpenMoko might support four different kinds of 
software radio, but if the manufacturer has to do their own I18N to pick up 
OpenMoko, they'll choose WinCE instead.

    - desirable functionality.  Does the functionality provided by OpenMoko 
appeal to the typical human-on-the-street purchaser of this class of phone?  
Phone manufacturers are going to choose platforms that will help them sell 
the most phones, even for halo products.

    - easy to customize or extend.  Not just by VHDL aces and Perl wizards, 
but by the average C/C++/Java programmer two years out of university.  His 
boss is going to choose a platform that plays to his skills (or lack 

    - support fast development.  That young coder in the previous bullet is 
going to be under a LOT of time pressure.  His boss is going to choose the 
platform that he feels will best help him meet schedule, and will see C++ 
and Java as enablers, VHDL and Perl as barriers.

Shiny geek toys are cool, and I love them.  But if we want to rule the 
world, they don't help that happen.  Once we've achieved world domination, 
we can add all the sparkly bits to OpenMoko we want.  Heck, people will 
probably be doing it for us.


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