Qualcomm launches Open Source subsidiary
As several news sites have been reporting (here a report from LinuxDevices.com), Qualcomm has announced the launch of an Open Source Subsidiary.
As usual, I very much welcome such a move. Qualcomm is one of those companies
who have a very bad reputation in the Open Source and particularly Linux
community. They have so far failed to provide user manuals or other reference
documentation for any of their parts. They haven't even managed to publish
reference documentation on the external interfaces such as the AT command
dialect or the binary shared memory protocols that are used to interface the
GSM/CDMA/WCDMA baseband in their product.
So when it comes to an Open Source project that wants to interoperate with
Qualcomms hardware, they have so far been doing everything to make that as
hard as possible. Neither the community as large has access to the information
that it needs, nor do the Qualcomm customers get the respective document under
a license that allows them to actually contribute to Open Source projects.
If that documentation was available, or if Qualcomm was actually working on
FOSS licensed drivers and contributing those mainline, the support for
Qualcomm's hardware in Linux would be much better - resulting in less time to
market for companies interested in using Qualcomms parts in their products.
The actual press release does not indicate that this newly-founded subsidiary
truly understands this. It speaks of hardware-optimizing the performance of
mobile operating systems. That sounds like "we'll take the existing code,
make a fork, do non-portable micro-optimizations and ship that to our
customers". It does not mention actually contributing to the community
or understanding the benefit that the Open Source development model.
I remain to be convinced. Let's hope Qualcomm has scored somebody with a lot
of actual hands-on Open Source community experience to advise them properly.
Palm Pre: Nice UI, severe lack of functionality
Using the Palm Pre: Everything but an exciting experience :(
During the last week I've started to use my new Palm Pre (for those of you
who're living under a rock: The Palm Pre is a smartphone powered by an
Operating System called WebOS, which is in turn powered by the Linux kernel and
lots of other "standard" Linux programs like glibc, alsa, udev, ...
This adherence to a more standard Linux userland makes the Pre much more
attractive than the Android based products out there. Android is reinventing the
wheel everywhere, and things that Linux users and developers have been taking
for granted during the last five to ten years simply don't exist on Android.
To be honest, the experience was everything but exciting. More about that later.
Lets' start with the positive side of things. Yes, I like the device
for the following facts:
- it's using a not-too-ancient Linux kernel
- it uses a fairly standard Linux userland, that
- the development tools are also running on Linux (albeit proprietary)
- there is an easy way to access the command line of the device via USB
- there is software for re-flashing the phone in case it is bricked
- the WebOS "distribution" is built using OE and uses the ipk packet format
- they did not try to lock the device down from their users. You can easily
be root on your phone, install additional ipks from third parties and
own your phone
Which is what got me excited and made me buy one of those expensive devices.
However, looking at it from a strict user point of view, I am not very happy
with it. It simply lacks so much in functionality that it is not even funny.
- No RSS reader
The Nokia web tablets had a working, built-in RSS reader even many years ago
when the n770 was released. Given the importance of RSS feeds and blogs in todays web,
I'm surprised that webOS does not ship with a RSS reader. To make it even worse,
I could not find any third-party RSS reader for it!
- No Jabber / ICQ / AIM support
The messenger supports only SMS and Google Talk. WTF?!? What about the
millions of Jabber, ICQ, YIM, MSN and other users? Don't you think they want to use
their default messenger application with those accounts? This is particularly funny,
since they're using libpurple for the
actual messenger protocols, which is a LGPL'd library of the pidgin chat client. So the library has all those
capabilities, but Palm decided to arbitrarily remove them in their
LibpurpleAdapter program. Luckily that one is LGPL'd too, so removing the restriction
is relatively easy. But not for a regular user!
- Some applications always want to use the cellular network, even when wifi is available
This is particularly stupid when using their e-mail client. While I'm at
home or in some other area with wifi coverage, I don't want to squeeze every bit through
a high-latency cellular network. Why not simply make that decision a
per-application property that the user can set?
- Cheap mechanical quality
The mechanical quality is really disappointing for a device that sells for EUR 481. It's
much lower than what one is used to from Nokia, Blackberry or HTC devices in a
similar price range. As one example, the entire plastic of the device squeaks every time
I carefully push one of the keys on the keyboard.
- E-Mail client does not support pre-downloaded messages in subscribed IMAP folders
A standard feature that every desktop e-mail program has: Pre-download and cache the
message headers for fast listing / browsing through a mailbox. Not on the Palm Pre,
where the interactivity of the mail program is close to zero, fetching every bit over
a high-latency link. The entire point of using IMAP is to have local
copies/caches and to not suffer the latency/interactivity penalty of e.g. webmail!
- Calendar offers no integration with standard calendar formats/servers
There is no way how you can simply feed data from ical or xcal calender data into
the Palm Pre calendar. You can synchronize with Google and Exchange. WTF? Why do
we have [more or less] standard file formats for calendar data? Exactly for enabling
- No support for standards-compliant address books
You can import your contacts from Facebook, but you cannot import contacts from vcard
files, or let's say from a LDAP based address book. Great. So I first need to disclose
all the personal contact details from all my contacts, put those into Facebook
(into the US jurisdiction and a company that I don't trust) to simply get my contacts
on the phone ?!?
- Too low battery life
I can barely make it through one day even without making phone calls, simply having
the e-mail client running. The battery is too small. I would not mind a bigger/heavier
device in exchange for more power!
That is simply the user point of view. I also have many more technical points from a developer
perspective, but that is probably better kept for another post. Meanwhile I'm not sure
if the Pre was all that much of a good idea. The N900 is coming up next, and will be
much closer to the standard Linux userland stack (including X11, GTK, Qt, ...) than
the Palm Pre is.