HTC announcement about no more locked-down phones

As it has been covered at various news site, HTC has apparently announced that they will not be shipping Android phones with locked-down bootloaders.

If this is really true, it would mean that more people not only have the theoretical freedom to run modified versions of Linux (granted by GPLv2), but also the practical freedom. If there is no cryptographic restriction on only booting HTC-supplied versions of the Linux kernel (and other software), this is good news!

It comes as a bit of surprise though. "Traditionally", HTC is known for behaving unfriendly towards the community. Not only due to their source code releases being constantly too late, but also due to the fact that their phones were some of the first to use cryptographic signatures to keep people from installing their own versions of Linux (and Android).

The other surprising move has come from Motorola, who probably has the longest tradition of shipping Linux-based phones (in various degrees of GPL compliance), but then using technical means to deprive their customers of the Freedoms the GPL wants to grant to them, i.e. the freedom to run modified versions of the Software (Linux in this case). They did this with the later models of the EZX range, with their MAGX phones, as well as now with their Android phones over the last couple of years. So it was very puzzling to see the same Motorola announce a 180 degree turn in policy at least for their Xoom tablet.

Also, in recent news, Sony Ericsson made a similar announcement that at least some of their Xperia models can be bootloader unlocked.

It's really striking. During the least seven years, I used to be involved in a number of projects that tried to enable the user of mobile smartphones to have the full source code for (at least) the Linux kernel, and to be able to modify, tinker and re-program it any way they want. Now some of the vendors seem to be moving in the right direction.

What's sad is that Samsung is not capitalizing on their potential here. They have always had very timely and complete source code releases for all their Linux based phones at, and they have very rarely tried to lock any of the bootloaders. I don't know if this is intentional or not. But now the other vendors are getting good PR for stopping to do something that (to my knowledge) Samsung has not done, at least not to the extent of the others.

In any case, I still think the Nexus S is the best choice for anyone who wants to have a developer friendly device. It is fully supported in the main AOSP tree, everything in the kernel is GPLv2, and those binary userspace blobs that are required are distributed independently at so they can be integrated into custom builds. This is by no means perfect, but the best compromise that seems available at this point. I still don't understand why the userspace drivers for the GSM/3G modem, Wifi, Bluetooth and GPS would need to be proprietary. Or even the NFC par, it's sort-of ridiculous to have that proprietary with Free Software RFID stacks like libnfc and librfid around...