The University of São Paulo's intent to join Openmoko development

Jon 'maddog' Hall maddog at
Thu Jul 16 22:05:08 CEST 2009

Warren, et. al.

This is a long letter...I apologize for that.

        >I must admit that in my less optimistic moments,I wonder about
        that. The progress towards a stable, easily usable distro for
        the FR has been slow.
        >However, I also think that at the moment the software
        environment >requires a *lot* of work to be ready for more
        mainstream users.
        >you need people trained in usability, tonnes of usability
        testing >across a wide range of audiences, etc.

I have been reading the community list intensively for the past several

I see a group of people that have a dream, a dream which I *know* is
obtainable and a dream I share, that of having a Free And Open Phone.

I see people who have come a long way to making that dream come
true....some of whom are tired and frustrated.  I can understand that.

I am also a person who has brought about 20-35 *major* software products
to market, both as an engineer and a manager, and I *know* that the last
10% of the work is often the hardest....but also can happen the

I saw the Linux kernel in 1994, with (approximately) 124,000 people
"using it", most of whom were hobbyists, students, technical people.

Most of the 124,000 people using it then were not programmers, and could
not make much in the way of programming help.  But they could test,
generate bug reports, try out new versions and report on what worked and
what didn't.

I can't tell you the frustration I had sometimes in pulling down floppy
images and installing the software, trying to get the X-server working,
or some Ethernet card.  But I kept at it.

Some people at Digital laughed at me when I told them that "Linux is
inevitable" back in 1994.  Most said that a good operating system kernel
could not be developed in a distributed fashion by volunteers.

The Linux kernel and distributions of that day were crude compared to
the kernel and distributions of today, and at that time fit only a
certain marketplace.  But that marketplace grew, which drove more
attention, got more resources, built more marketplaces, etc.

Now there are hundreds of millions of systems running the Linux kernel,
and most of the people who laughed at me work for Red Hat Software.

In 1999 I was at a conference talking about Free Software and the GPL.
Several years later I went to a conference on Asterisk, and was told by
Mark Spencer that my speech inspired him to "Free" the Asterisk project.
At that same conference I predicted that Asterisk, as a FOSS PBX system,
would a huge amount of business and new jobs.  Now thousands of
companies around the world work with software solution providers to
install and tune Asterisk based PBX systems, with Digium leading the

You people are leading the way to abolish last major holdout of software
slavery.  Civil rights in the 1960s was not easy.

>I don't think we're going to find that the 10,000 unit
>production limit is a big issue.

The 10,000 units definitely will not be a "big issue", but not because
of the reason you imply.  It will not be a "big issue" because if it is
a "big issue" we will "simply" find a manufacturing plant to make the
additional units.  I (and others) will help the community do that.  In
fact, finding that plant would happen *way* before the 10,000 number was
hit.  I only mentioned the 10,000 as a "limit" to assure the community
that the university was serious about licensing out the design in a free
and open way....and that this licensing would be a free and open
process....yet the 10,000 is a high enough number to meet any reasonable
number of prototypes without engaging one of those companies.

On the other hand, I will be frank with the community.  Unless we can
generate a phone and software stacks that will (collectively) generate
the demand for millions of Free and Open Phones, this path will either
fail, or be extremely hard.  No hardware component vendor will take us
seriously, and we will have little or no negotiating power.

That is why I cringe a bit when I hear small numbers of phones, or
limitations on manufacturing.  Perhaps there are unstated reasons for
these small numbers, but I cringe none-the-less.


>I know it's a lot to ask, but I don't suppose you've got another
>ace up your sleeve? A university with a usability lab and an
>interest in the usability of hand-held devices?

The University of Sao Paulo has expertise in this area, and other areas
useful to the phone, as do many other universities.  But I would like to
see these universities join the project as members of the community, and
not "take it over".  The community should shape the project, just as
many other FOSS projects have been shaped by the community.  The area of
usability is, after all, mostly a software project, although shaped by
physical limitations such as screen size, number of buttons, etc.

And, as I mentioned before, the project both suffers and glorifies in
the number of software stacks that are on it.

Koolu prefers the Android distribution.  I know that some of you do not
like that stack for various reasons.  Koolu believes that Android
running on FreeRunner will generate business and interest in the
FreeRunner that will help every distribution.

For those who were at DebConf 8 last year in Argentina, you know that I
actively marketed Debian on FreeRunner, and I have been quietly working
in the background encouraging David Reyes Samblas Martinez, of Tuxbrain,
to set up a program for selling FreeRunners to additional Debian
developers during Debconf 9 at a good price to help attract more Debian
developers to the platform.

I tried to make the same offer to the 6000 FOSS developers that attended
FISL 10 this year through our Brazilian distributor, but the import
duties made the cost of the phone too high.  I am still working to fix
that problem of import duty on the phones in Brazil.

Yes, I can reach into my "sleeves" and try to pull out another ace or
two.  Please tell me what you need.  I will be glad to give help and

But I want this to remain the "Openmoko Community Project"....not the
"maddog project".  I think that is what you should want also.

So organize your needs.  Reach out to your own universities and software
usability development groups.  Get them to join the project.

Don't give up.  If you look closely, you can see the light at the end of
the tunnel.  It may be faint, but I have seen similar tunnels before,
and I can see the light now.

Warmest regards,

Jon "maddog" Hall
CTO, Koolu
Jon "maddog" Hall
Executive Director           Linux International(R)
email: maddog at         80 Amherst St. 
Voice: +1.603.672.4557       Amherst, N.H. 03031-3032 U.S.A.
Cell:  +1.603.943.6666       WWW:

Board Member: Uniforum Association
Board Member Emeritus: USENIX Association (2000-2006)

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