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

Warren Baird wjbaird at
Fri Jul 17 00:12:04 CEST 2009

On Thu, Jul 16, 2009 at 4:05 PM, Jon 'maddog' Hall <maddog at> wrote:

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

maddog - Now you are making me feel old!  :-)   I think I first installed a
0.99 version of linux on a 386 in '93 - and was very happy to be able to use
it to do my university math assignments in LaTex...

I think you make a good analogy in many ways - for one, I'm sure that the
386 I first installed linux on had much less processing power, ram and
storage than the Freerunner has.   But more importantly, you could make a
linux system in those days do something useful, but you had to work pretty
hard at it - digging through usenet groups for modelines so you could get
your monitor to work, twiddling irqs, etc.   Definitely not for the faint of

I think in many ways the Freerunner is at about that stage now.  Instead of
tweaking the Xconfig file you need to tweak the Alsa configs, but the
principal is the same.  Maybe SHR will prove me wrong, but I still think
we've got a long ways to go before we can get even a basic functioning phone
without a lot of twiddling.

In the last few years Linux on the desktop has reached the point where you
can get a long way without any system administration skills - It's been a
few years now since I've had to twiddle an Xorg.conf file, and I mostly
interact with my linux systems as an end-user, and only very rarely have to
fall back on my past life of doing sysadmin-ish things...

I only hope it won't take 15 years for the Freerunner to catch up with Linux
on the desktop! :-)

> 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.

I certainly agree that both the hardware and software stacks needs to be
improved to hit this goal.  A good friend of mine just bought an HTC android
based phone - he'd have been an ideal FR target - very much pro-opensource,
and with years of experience with Linux.   His main reason for not getting a
Freerunner was that mobile data access was important to him, and GPRS just
wasn't fast enough.  Having played with both my wife's iPhone 3G and using a
browser over GPRS on the FR, I must admit that it makes me kinda jealous...

> 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.

I agree completely - I don't want a uni lab to come along and say "here's
what your UI should look like".    But I think it'd be very valuable for
most of the distros to have someone with real usability experience look at
what they have so far and say 'maybe you should try X, Y and Z'.

> 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.

I think a profusion of distros is great when there is a profusion of
developers to work on them...  I must admit that I think the current FR
community isn't large enough to maintain the wide diversity of distros
currently.  The merging of the 3 different QtE based efforts into qtmoko is
a very promising sign.

Android definitely has my interest.   It sounds like it's getting very close
to being usable, and should open up a much larger community of application

I think the best possible thing for the FR software stack would be further
consolidation.  If we could get the majority of developers working on one of
qtmoko, an X based distro (some combination of
SHR/OM2009/debian/hackable1/etc), and android, I think it'd greatly increase
the rate of progress.

> 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
> guidance.

Well - I'm not sure what I need - but what I want is the ubuntu of
Freerunner distros - easy to install, runs flawlessly and stable out of the
box, pretty, very intuitive UI with lots of (optional) eye candy, and tight
integration between the applications.   Ideally available for download in
about 2 weeks when I get my buzzfixed FR back.   Oh - and a pony.   I
definitely want a pony...


Warren Baird - Photographer and Digital Artist
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