My no longer secret project: OpenMoko Linux GSM phone

Yesterday, it was finally revealed on what kind of secret project I was working for the last four months: A quite unique, really free and open Linux GSM (smart-)phone produced by the Taiwan-based manufacturer FIC

In this project I'm responsible for the system-level software design and implementation. This means: Kernel, drivers, GSM communication infrastructure, etc.

So why is this project so exciting? Because it's [yet another] Linux phone? No. It's because this is the first time (to the best of my knowledge), that a vendor is

  • involving (hiring) prominent community members to do the actual architecture design and implementation
  • planning to completely open up their Linux distribution for any contributed development, e.g. use a package manager that can access arbitrary package feeds
  • trying very hard to make sure almost everything will be Free Software, from drivers up to the UI applications
  • actively providing documentation and interfaces for third party development on any level of the system, from debug interface, boot loader, kernel, middleware through the UI applications
  • using X11 to allow users to run any existing X11 Linux application (within resource constraints)

So basically, from a Free Software community level, this is exactly the kind of phone you want to get involved with, and play with. Yes, it's not the perfect phone. It runs a proprietary GSM stack on a separate processor. There are some minor, self-contained proprietary bits on the back end side in userspace. But well, it's probably the best you can do as a first shot of a new generation of devices, and without too much existing market power to put on upstream vendors.