GNU discussion (was re:Free your phone)

Marcel de Jong mdejong at
Mon Jan 22 01:13:29 CET 2007

Hello all,

On this recent discussion on yes/no GNU/Linux, I saw this and that
popped up a question for me:

On 1/21/07, Dave Crossland <dave at> wrote:
> If more people are aware of why freedom and community matter, then
> they will buy more products that support freedom and community, like
> more Neos.

How does adding three more letters and a / increase people's knowledge
on free and open software?

Let's look at an example:
Joe Schmoe goes into a store to buy a new phone.
He sees a large selection of phones in the store. He's in the market
of a smartphone, so he  choses the department of smartphones.
And then goes looking at the specs and the software bundled with the phone.
He sees that he can choose between phones that run Microsoft Windows
Mobile, Symbian, PalmOS, Nokia proprietary OS, Sony/Ericsson
proprietary OS, and GNU/Linux.
Then looks at the software. Okay, Windows has a nice layout, and has
some really nice apps.
PalmOS' UI is nicely integrated, all apps look decent, though the
input system is something to get used to.
Symbian looks dated and both S/E's as well as Nokia's system look clunky.
The GNU/Linux package looks nice too, and look this one even has GPS
built-in, and has all accessories added in the bundle for merely $350!
That looks like a great system. I'll take it.

Joe Schmoe doesn't care whether it's GNU/Linux or 'just' Linux. It's
not as if he's going to Google "GNU/Linux" while he's in the store to
find out the core-principles of the software.
What he does care about is that It Just Works(tm).
If he takes it out of the box, and charges the unit does the phone
work, can he call his buddies to tell about his new acquisition, can
he text his mates, can he use the calendar?
It should just work, and easily without having to hack the system.
(this should especially hold true for the 'consumer phone' that was
announced in Openmoko's press release)

Sure, credit where credit is due, and I don't see any problem with
having the manual refer to GNU/Linux (but I also have no qualms if it
But I think it's a bit farfetched to attribute 3 letters and a / to
all-customer awareness of the principles behind it.
If someone buys the phone merely on the grounds that it runs Linux,
chances are he or she is already aware of the history and ideals
behind GNU and Linux.

Let's not get lost in this bottomless pit of misconceptions and
well-intended suggestions.
And let's focus our efforts on making this phone a device which Just Works! :)

This has been my two cents.

Marcel de Jong

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