As Sean has now made his latest OpenMoko
Announcement last night, this is a good point in time for me to write some more
bits. Up to this announcement it was hard for me to publicly state anything, since the whole internal restructuring process has been underway, but not yet publicly announced.
I can only join Sean in his assessment about the superb support of FIC's senior
management. They are providing us with the kind of resources we wanted.
But being the realist (well, Sean as optimist would call me pessimist, you know
that old story), I also see severe challenges both right now, and ahead.
Whatever you might think: I bet that none of you has not the slightest idea
about how many problems the OpenMoko team is fighting all day long. If you're
thinking "what's the problem with a purely technical task, i.e. designing
hardware and software for an Open phone"? Then my reply would be: It's
not that big of a technical problem.
However, the really big issues start as soon as you leave the R&D world. On the
one hand, there is the actual hardware production. Many components have
incredible lead times (3 months or more), and our yet
sort-of-unknown-but-initially-very-low quantities are not particularly helpful
either. Any .tw OEM/ODM thinks in different terminology. The kind of
production processes, shipping infrastructure, ... is just not meant for
low-volume and direct shipment. We obviously knew this from the beginning, but
everyone just happily works in their usual mode of operation, ignoring our
concerns for many months.
Then think about the various customs / legal / trade issues. If you ship
components from Taiwan to mainland china and use them to manufacture a
product there, you need a special import license in order to get those products
back into Taiwan. This license costs money (and, most of all: Time).
Or another example is the lack of double-tax agreements between Taiwan and the
rest of the world. So payments to all our various external consultants all
over Europe are taxed twice: Once in Taiwan, a second time in the respective
country of residence.
For the last two weeks I have been working on finalizing the floor plan and
infrastructure planning for the new FIC Mobile Communications and OpenMoko
software groups offices in Taipei. And believe it or not, it is a very long
and time consuming fight to ever get what you actually want. We know exactly
what kind of servers, switches and routers we want. We know to which height we
want to reduce the cubicles. We know what kind of Internet uplink we want.
Still, it's close to impossible to get anything done. People will just
outright refuse to do what they are asked (and paid!) to do.
Take our new servers as one minor example. You would assume that it is no
problem at all to configure high-end servers around here. When doing this in
Germany, I usually consult one of the many mailorder stores, go through their
extensive list of mainboards and other components, select products based on
their availability, price and features, and within 24hours I have everything
delivered to my doorstep. 99% of those components are from Taiwanese companies.
Now enter Taiwan. First of all, you will discover that the concept of
mailorder or extensive online product lists doesn't exist. "Taiwanese people
don't trust e-commerce", is what they tell me. Secondly, you can't just call
those places and ask them if they have a certain product, since apparently they
would always say yes, only to get you into their store.
If you actually get into the various stores, you will see that almost all of
the products you want are not available locally. "Not sold into the Taiwan
market" is something that you hear very often. So e.g. the choice of Socket
478 mainboards from ASUS goes down from 52 (German online store) to something
So in the end we were really unable to find anything remotely decent (good
performance, chipsets with excellent free software support) locally and I ended
up importing Asus and Tyan mainboards from Germany into Taiwan, while buying the
other components in Taiwan.
Now I could continue and name dozens of examples like this. If this project
was just about _developing_ hardware and software, I would be a happy man, and
we could look ahead to complete one device after the other. But it's all the
other issues, administrative, political, cultural, sales, finance, accounting,
shipping, ... which make people like Sean and me run at something like 20-25% of
their usual efficiency, despite putting in at least 180% of regular working
hours. And there is nobody who can help this, because nobody non-technical
really understands what we're doing here, and why we need to do it different
than whatever they might have done it before.