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Cellular Companies Join to Improve Linux 95

Posted by Zonk
from the tux-on-the-go dept.
TrdrJoe writes to mention a Reuters article about a group of cell companies joining up to develop an open-source Linux-based OS for many of the market's phones. From the article: "Linux software currently occupies only a tiny proportion of the mobile market, mainly in China, while market leaders Symbian and Microsoft dominate the space. The attraction of Linux for handset makers is that as the code is not owned by any one company competition is likely to be fierce between firms supplying ready-to-use embedded Linux versions for phones, driving down fees, whereas Symbian and Microsoft can keep prices higher."
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Cellular Companies Join to Improve Linux

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  • Finally (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Dested (903793)
    Its about time that bigger companys realize that they dont need to screw over a buncha people to make money.
    • ...they don't lock up the hardware so that only "approved" versions will run, like TiVo. In that case, what's the point?

      • Well, if it makes it easier to create programs that'll sync between phone and linux OSes then I'd be pleased...

        *Reboots to XP to sync WM5 again*
    • Where is '|' key on this tiny keyboard?
    • One thing I can promise you is what this WON'T result in:

      A) The ability to manipulate the phone hardware
      B) The ability to control how your phone interacts with the network
      C) The ability to do anything useful with Bluetooth or any of the other peripherals
      D) The ability to anything cool at all, really.

      Wireless companies are dead-set against locking the consumer out of decisions on how hardware which lives on their networks operates.

      This isn't going to be nearly as great as you think it will. Mark my words.
      • Perhaps not, but on a smartphone it'd be easy to run a SSH client... I'd be willing to settle for that, at least for awhile. The only phone that I know does it right now is the Sidekick, which I have been told is a waste by many. Maybe a sendmail-equilivant too... I can imagine pretty good uses for that.
        • Running ssh from a hand held gizmo isn't often useful but *can* be a life saver on the rare occasions where you need it. I've done it several time with the few Pilot^Palm units I've owned through the years.

          With a phone though, unless it's a PDA with the phone added in, I really don't see myself going through the motions of

          22231####8882777####5556664
          555337777777716337777 777724337777 (1)

          And that's assuming I can even enter my password...

          Besides, most of the smartphones already have ssh clients (the palm h

          • I meant more towards the smartphones with full QUERTY keyboards. I agree, trying to type out commands on the standard 10-digit pad would be next to impossible... no thanks.
            • With T9 it's not so bad.

              I'm just pretty certain that putting Linux on these things, whatever it does, won't give any more control to the user.
      • I'm just waiting for the mobile IM, possibly with encryption so operators can't detect anything by packet filtering.
        Mobile companies' nightmare coming true.

        But, current problem is that mobile internet access is VERY expensive. About closest thing you can get for free messaging is Blackberry.
        Things might change when UMTS networks become mainstream.

        Providers will probably blacklist ICQ, AIM, MSN etc. servers, but it doesn't stop geeks from setting their own for private networks.
  • Heh (Score:1, Insightful)

    by C_Kode (102755)
    Microsoft has to be screaming obscenities left and right. Free software attacks every single one of their real cash pipelines and Google attacks the rest. (except for hardware) Everyone know there isn't any real money in hardware unless your name is Apple. The only reason Apple makes money in hardware is because of their cult following who will fire the wallets at them like canon balls.
    • Even back in 2005 when I dug this article [businessweek.com] up for a report, MS had roughly 1/5th the "Smart" Phone market linux did (5% compared to linux's 26%). If Microsoft is screaming over this, they've been doing so for quite a while.
    • Re:Heh (Score:2, Funny)

      by WilliamSChips (793741)
      Canon balls? Are those sold by the Vatican?
    • Or if your name is ATI/Nvidia. They make tons of money just by selling X1900XTX/ 7900GT dual/quad Crossfire or SLI configurations to rich teenagers. It is interesting that they slowly stepped prices of their best models in recent years, because obviously the consumption doesn't change much with price. Other gamers usually buy mid-range cards for $200-$250 because playing recent FPS's on low-end cards isn't really enjoyable.

      I really expect Intel to finally produce something worth of respect and get into the
  • Analogy (Score:5, Funny)

    by mtDNA (123855) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @03:54PM (#15542947) Homepage
    "Cell Companies" is to "Improve Linux" as "Gang of Escaped Lobotomy Patients" is to "Improve MIT".
    • Re:Analogy (Score:2, Insightful)

      by fullphaser (939696)
      Well, if nothing else they can throw the one thing they do have at the project (which for the most part isn't brains) but they can throw money at the software, and money is usally a good thing, so you could hire programmers and still keep the software free.
    • You are being completely unfair....

      to the escaped mental patients.

      Trying to use my formerly AT&T, now cingular phone on a cingular network has shown me just how disfunctional cellphone companies are.
    • Re:Analogy (Score:5, Funny)

      by Lord Prox (521892) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @04:38PM (#15543368) Homepage
      Not to nitpick, but I believe that a flock or herd of lobotomy patients is properly refered to as a "drool" not a gang.





      Got Debt? [debtishell.com]
    • . . . "Gang of Escaped Lobotomy Patients" is to "Improve MIT".

      I think they call those "alumni."

    • But the real question is:

      Can an infinite number of Cell Companies having an infinite amount of time eventually improve Linux?

    • From past experiences with Motorola's disaster of a Linux based cellphone platform EZX, I have no faith in cell phone companies to deliver what consumers would actually want out of a Linux based phone. I hope I'm wrong, it seems all this announcement will lead to is another closed platform, where the full benefits of using Linux as an operating system will be ignored. Microsoft's current Windows Mobile platform, while having its share of problems, works very well for what I want to accomplish: easy Calen
  • by tepples (727027) <tepples&gmail,com> on Thursday June 15, 2006 @03:56PM (#15542964) Homepage Journal

    In North America, the vast majority of mobile phones are subsidized by a network operator. Developers of operating systems for mobile phones generally allow a network operator to use lockout features to control what software may be run on a subsidized phone. Such systems include "Get It Now" in implementations of BREW on phones sold by Verizon and "Mobile2Market" in Windows Mobile smartphones. The features exist purportedly to improve the "security" of a network, but in practice, network operators use them in order to require that all applications be purchased at jacked-up prices from a network operator's online store, and so that free software or other freeware self-published by a hobbyist developer (who generally cannot afford the code signing fees) cannot compete.

    Will this Linux OS for mobile phones support the same kind of lockout, where the hardware verifies an approved kernel and the kernel verifies approved apps?

    • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Thursday June 15, 2006 @04:03PM (#15543040) Homepage Journal
      Will this Linux OS for mobile phones support the same kind of lockout, where the hardware verifies an approved kernel and the kernel verifies approved apps?

      Probably, but at the same time, it'll be linux-based, which means it's more hackable.

      With that said; You can unlock the locked features on damned near any cellular telephone. I'm only particularly familiar with Motorola but on their phones there's files called "SEEM" files that are the config files. There's numerous SEEM editors, and guides to SEEM editing, sufficient to unlock full functionality on pretty much any phone. They can be created by examining the differences between provider-altered SEEM files, and the SEEM files on a Motorola-retail phone, or by using Motorola PST (the official service software, available ALL OVER the web) to modify phones with specific features, then comparing SEEM files.

      • There's numerous SEEM editors, and guides to SEEM editing, sufficient to unlock full functionality on pretty much any phone.

        Speaking of which, are there any that don't require Windows? I'd like to hack my RAZR, but I'm a Mac and Linux guy...

        • Sorry, each and every one I've seen is a windows tool. I suggest vmware :) (vmware allows connecting USB peripherals to the VM, which will be a big help.) If you need some help seem hacking, drop me a line, but howardforums will be able to tell you a lot more than I will. Also if you're a motorola guy, www.motomodders.net is a nice new[er] resource, they have some very nice flashes/flexes. I just put a motorola-original (retail phone, not from a provider) flash and the motomodders.net flex on my V555 and so
          • Wow, thanks for the info! Just one more quick question: what's the quickest/easiest way to get Java applications or games onto the phone, and where can I get them (aside from paying Cingular's exhorbitant prices, of course!)? And are there any good Free (as in GPL) apps for it?

            • The easiest way to get Java MIDlets onto a motorola phone is to use MIDway, which is a java loader. Once you have enabled the loader, you can use this to load 'em. I believe you can download the JDK for the Motorola phones, which will come with MIDway, a phone Java emulator to let you run/test midlets on your desktop system, and I think there's even a tool in there to enable the loader if you don't have PST or another tool that enables it. You can easily get midlets via bittorrent or other P2P; the exact me
      • No, at least Vodafone on Sony phones in Europe is unhackable. You can't flash the phone, you can't even delete the annoying sound and animation files from them.

        Great if other providers/phones aren't as bad.
        • You bought a Sony phone and you're complaining? You should be strung up by your tendons. Some manufacturers are simply less odious than others, and sony is pretty stinky. I feel especially sorry for anyone who bought their walkman mp3 player phone, that has a whopping 256MB flash in it.

          Even on Motorola phones there are files that can't be deleted without flashing, but at least it can be done. You can also hack Samsung and Nokia phones well. Why would anyone buy anything else unless it was some kind of h

          • Um, no?

            I had a Nokia before, and that phone was a veritable PITA. Sony, on their website, has information about environmental policy (not they're much better than the competition, but still...), they have information that they work with the Mac (hello Nokia!), and in general, their website had lots of information more.

            I sold the Nokia for 80 more than I bought the Sony for (a K700), but the Sony is MUCH better, and much more responsive, plus it actually plays MP3s without randomly stopping in a song and st
            • Maybe you can hack *some* Nokias, but mine was very abysmal (and other Nokias has a really ugly design, or were reviewed to be very slow too, so not my thing really; Samsung has an awful model numbering and website, so I have no idea what kinds of phones they sell; every provider seems to change the model numbers even more).

              Well, I agree that the design and UI for all Nokia phones I've ever seen has been 100% pure crap. That doesn't change the fact that there's scads of easily available hacking tools fo

          • erm.. no..

            Sony Ericsson phones are technically ERICSSON phones (just have a bit of sony marketing).

            SonyEricsson is a joint ventur between Sony, and ERicsson, Headquatered in London UK. Sony provides the money, Ericsson provides the tech.

            This actually shows up a lot. SE phones (even the walkman brands) are the only "Sony" named Music Players, that does NOT support ATRAC, but does support MP3s, MP4 (AAC). and PROVIDED the phoen has not been buggered by Vodafone, et al, they are actually quite open in design.
      • Your basic point about Motorola phones is true, but...

        I bought a Motorola phone a few weeks ago, and subsequently found out about all the hacking stuff available. (I'd really like to increase the volume and enable the sound recorder.) Unfortunately, I couldn't get it to work. Some references said it might be necessary to install PSTools to get the drivers. But the PSTools software you refer to as "all over the web" I could only find at a .ru site.

        I downloaded it and thought about it. Then I thought about it
        • I downloaded it and thought about it. Then I thought about it some more. ...I still haven't installed it. In other words, it isn't that easy.

          Your neurosis notwithstanding, it's extremely easy.

          You actually don't need the Motorola PST software to make most changes to your phone. You only need to be able to put the phone in the PST mode, and use the PST drivers.

          There's two ways to accomplish this. One is by using PST, with the PST drivers. This is not legal.

          The other way is to download the Motorol

    • This is exactly what Apple does.
      • So along those lines... How long before we have an iPhone? Apple has to see the implications of this market. They aren't exactly getting a whole lot of converts, so their only choice is to expand their offerings...
      • Where?

        For the only Apple system, which would be Mac OS X, there are tons of free apps, even on Apple's 3rd party software website (which is linked into the "Apple" menu on any Mac), and it's really easy to write your own apps with Cocoa.
    • Generally, I would think that this would just make it that much easier. I imagine that if there are those that can develop Linux for a Treo 650 [grack.com], which was really never meant to run it in the first place, having actual hardware designed for some form of Linux would lend itself to more easily getting a distribution running on those phones. Get another Linux version on there and bypass the crap that the network operator installed for your "convenience".
    • if you want to write your own mobile code you should check out www.savaje.com then?
      If you aren't familiar with them you can check out a post in my blog I made about them a month ago.
      http://deancollinsblog.blogspot.com/2006/05/javaon e.html [blogspot.com]

      cheers,
      Dean
  • by path_man (610677) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @04:03PM (#15543030)
    So am I going to save $50 on the next cell phone that I buy because my handset manufacturer didn't have to pay a licensing fee for the phone's operating system? Highly doubtful.

    Am I going to have better features and/or functionality because linux is running instead of Microsoft phone OS? Again, highly doubtful. Maybe it'll be a little easier to be extensible or perhaps more flexibly upgraded but really, on a cell phone is this a big deal?

    From what I can gather, the only ones who really benefit from linux on the handsets are shareholders of the manufacturers themselves, as they'll be able to save $x on y phones every year, thus adding to their bottom line.

    Meh, this is a nonissue. The headline should have been, "Cellular Companies Look For Ways To Save Money".
    • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Thursday June 15, 2006 @04:07PM (#15543072) Homepage Journal
      Maybe it'll be a little easier to be extensible or perhaps more flexibly upgraded but really, on a cell phone is this a big deal?

      I think it'll be a bigger deal that they will be more stable. I have a PDA running Windows Mobile 2003 (I know, not the latest... but let me continue) and it crashes pretty frequently, locks up more frequently than that, and twice has crashed out and lost all my data. Well, it would have, but after the first time it happened I configured an automated nightly backup to my SD card.

      This stuff is moderately acceptable on a PDA, except for losing all my data, which is just plain unacceptable. (I have all updates applied, just in case you were wondering.) It's totally unacceptable on a phone, and I've heard time and time again that the phone version of the software is no faster nor more reliable.

      Even my Motorola phones using official software sometimes have to be manually cold-rebooted :P

      • If losing your data is 'just plain unacceptable', then why did you get that PDA? The reason I ask is that it should have been made clear to you that if e.g. your battery runs fully out, you also lose all your data that isn't written away to your slot-in memory card on a WM2003 device.

        That's one of the 'big' features of WM5; persistent storage (that is, writing out data to flash memory)
        • Re:WM2003 (Score:4, Informative)

          by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Thursday June 15, 2006 @07:35PM (#15545011) Homepage Journal
          If losing your data is 'just plain unacceptable', then why did you get that PDA? The reason I ask is that it should have been made clear to you that if e.g. your battery runs fully out, you also lose all your data that isn't written away to your slot-in memory card on a WM2003 device.

          Well, it's probably because that's not my fucking problem. I haven't yet run out the battery in the device, which also has a backup battery for maintaining memory.

          What actually happened, contrary to your assumption that I am a fucking retard, is that application crashes caused the device to somehow mysteriously reset itself to factory settings, eliminating all of my data from the internal storage, including installed programs. After it happened the first time I discovered WHY compaq bundled an "iPAQ Backup" application, and started using it. The first time it was an application crash in SPB AirIslands Demo that caused the OS to crash and, as I mentioned caused it to reset. The second time it was actually iPAQ Backup that crashed... thankfully, right after backing up my system.

          An application should never be able to take down the OS. This happens all the time. The OS crashing should never be able to delete all your data from internal storage and restore your device to factory settings. I've only EVER seen this happen on my iPAQ.

          • It's not just Compaq, I've had exactly the same experience with my Acer N50. Reflashing with latest updates helped a little but I still get funny crashes and unwanted factory-default resets.
        • This is more like a design problem. On a current Palm (wasn't always so though, don't know when they switched, my old one only died recently) when your battery dies, nothing happens (apart from the unit not powering up). The main memory is flash too. So basically you only lose youre data when the unit physically dies (which does happen every few years) or if you have a *really* buggy app which wipes the memory (possible but unseen so far). It's still a good idea to backup of course, the Palm software does t
      • i'd like to say you're right, but whoever programmed the gprs functionality on the motorola a780 needs to be taken out and shot. fortunately, having installed a shell on the phone, i can restart the daemon manually, whenever i want to go into the net. i don't know how the normal user would be able to do this without restarting the whole phone.

        motorola appears to have absolutely no interest in fixing this bug, btw. the way i see it, gnu/linux and other *nix operating systems are more stable than most produ
    • by C_Kode (102755) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @04:10PM (#15543099) Journal
      I disagree. In the end it will mean a lot for the users. Competition is real and helps the consumer. The battle has only begun in this area and the phone makers are taking a step in the battle to remove the middleman. While the saving in our pocket may never be a huge wad of cash it will be more than it is today because of competition.

      Linux is a pro consumer product. This is a consumer win.
      • Exactly. The money saved by the companies will initially turn into small savings for consumers, but it takes the market away from microsoft, and gives it to those consumers. The first company will offer phones with X savings, and the next company will say, we don't even have to charge that much to make a profit. They go cheaper and are happy making more money because more people will buy the cheaper product, that the next company has to continue the trend. Of course this is in the ideal world, but witho
      • Competition helps the consumer.

        In this case, who is the consumer? The manufacturers of mobile phones.
    • Well the real benefit to geeks is that your phone will become more hackable. With source released you could, in theory, modify the OS, and add any features you want. Of course this assumes the OS isn't hard wired into the phone, although even that could be overcome with a little hardware hacking.
    • Not you perhaps, but the companies that make and sell the cellphones will propably save... a lot. So for them it is a big deal.
    • this may be a huge win for consumers. My biggest problem with my cell phone is that I can't write applications for it. When other companies like linksys adopted linux for their embedded systems, it allowed entire communities to be created around, for example, the NSLU2, allowing me for example to load programs onto it. Admittedly, cell providers want to control what services are run on the device, which probably means they will keep the platform as closed as possible, ie. closed drivers and applications.
      • Would it be legal for them to keep the drivers closed? The Kororaa project was recently spotlighted for this issue, recall; I'm sure that an operating system qualifies as a derivative work of the Linux kernel, even if the attendant applications are not included in that.
      • I Expect that there will be central authority for signing applications. However, because it will be open, it should be possible to turn it off (even as a a menu option) and load whatever you want in the phone.
    • Cellphones are loaded with copy protection mechanisms, so having linux would be a nice way to get around that. As it stands now, certain pictures, applications, and ringtones can't be freely sent to other devices from the Treo 700p (and probably the 'w' model) via IR or bluetooth because they're copy protected.

      I'm guessing that a more open OS such as linux would be a nice way around this. Also, I'm guessing that linux on a treo 650 would be much better than Palm OS. Currently my shiny new 700p has already

    • > the only ones who really benefit from linux on the handsets are shareholders of the
      > manufacturers themselves

      In some cases the handset vendors (or their linux OS vendors) contribute improvements back to the community, to the betterment of a variety of linux-based consumer electronics devices (such as improvements in XScale PXA27x platform support that largely resulted from Motorola's use of that platform for various phones).
    • No. Symbian costs about $2.50 per phone - one reason why Symbian have only recently turned a profit.

      Symbian is pretty open from a developer's point of view and bigger partners can get access to the source code for the kernel and servers (without the GUI or all the device drivers because these belong to the manufacturers).

      From what I can see this openness is not entirely pleasing to mobile phone operators whose thirst for "Average Revenue per User" or ARPU is unquenchable - they would rather like to monopol
  • Who forms the head?
  • But can they run Linux??

    Oh, wait, um....
  • I worked with one of the people who was working on the linux phones at Motorola. The potential these things have is amazing. He said that at one point, he was running a web server off of his phone. Of course, as has been pointed out, the ability to hack your own phone is often limited by the carrier.
  • Just one question (Score:3, Informative)

    by martinultima (832468) <martinultima@gmail.com> on Thursday June 15, 2006 @04:32PM (#15543302) Homepage Journal
    But will it support Linux? No, seriously – specifically, what I mean is, will it support syncing to a Linux desktop, or will Linux only be as far as the phone itself? Because even though I don't have a cell phone, I'm a Linux user, and I suspect that if Linux had more/better official support for "weirder" peripheral devices such as cell phones it might catch on with even more people than are already using it.

    (A week or so ago I had to install the software for a Motorola cameraphone onto a friend's [Windows] laptop... didn't work at all, and what was really annoying was that there wasn't any Linux program available that supported his specific phone. Probably wouldn't matter for him, but it really annoys me because there wasn't any way to – even temporarily – set up a Linux system to download the pictures that were on there so we could at least get that done, and worry about the rest later... sorry if it doesn't make any sense to anyone else :-)
    • FWIW, if the phone isn't crippled (think Veri$on here), and it's bluetooth you do have some options. I can readily send contacts and pictures from my phone to my laptop. Ideally I'd like to be able to sync a calendar in both directions. There are plugins for Evolution but I may want something more cross platform friendly like a Google Cal.
    • If all you need is to copy pictures, the phone is probably able to present itself as a mass storage device via USB or Bluetooth, as mine does. Many phones also have SyncML support at least declared, so you may try OpenSync at them.
    • don't get me started on manufacturers offering blatently stupid configurations for usb devices. you'd think they could manage to set the usb-port so the phone is recognised as a mass storage device (on the motorola a780 it works if the solar wind is in the right direction).

      i recently got stuck helping a friend with a dictation device with a built in usb slave port. anyway, she'd installed the software (windows) to her machine, and the software just kept crashing and losing her data. so i thought, well sur
  • Companies and people pooling their resources together on a project that profits all of them. Data is not something that has to be restricted like Microsoft and RIAA/MPAA want you to think.

    "If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas." -George Bernard Shaw

    These companies are combining their resorces to make a linux distro for the
  • by kuleiana (629890) <adam.prall@thinkingman.com> on Thursday June 15, 2006 @05:32PM (#15543975) Homepage Journal

    ...therefore, I'm all for it! Well, just kidding, I'm sure he's not a bad guy, but really, who wants to use Windows on their cell phone, after putting up with it on their desktop for so long? Microsoft has done a great job of marketing "Windows Mobile" as if it were really just a scaled down "mobile OS" version of Windows XP, through its interface skin and marketing materials (although any reasonable person like Mac user little ole me won't like it). The need for a robust OS that is user-friendly enough to be used on phones and other devices is so overdue that people like myself are practically ready to write it themselves.

    Of course, this doesn't make me a fan of cell phone companies, I think they're the worst when it comes to thinking of users' needs. Now if Linux Mobile [sourceforge.net] were just a little bit farther along, we'd be all set...

  • There are already a few Linux phones out there..

    see:
    http://linuxdevices.com/news/NS9996556326.html [linuxdevices.com]

    You can even test drive Qtopia via a LiveCD.

    Download here (114MByte):
    http://qtopia.net/iso/qtopia-4.1.1-2006_04-20_1114 .iso [qtopia.net]

    Simon.
  • the problem now is that phones are getting more complex. this complexity makes their reliability suffer much like a regular windows phone. i remember the earlier phones where the purpose is just to call and you don't have to reboot or the phone suddenly stopped working.

    i am not sure if linux will be helping but i hope they will get reliability right. my phone now locks from time to time and needs rebooting. there are times when applications crash (though a reboot is not needed.) but it is quite annoyin
  • I hope that the cellular companies will release their future firmware as an open source licence. We will be able to modify it, improve new functionnalities, cutomize it ! The firmware of my current cellular (sony ericsson) has a lot of bugs and many functionnalites are missing that I cannot add with the J2ME apps. An open source firmware will be usefull for everybody.
  • Don't forget that TiVo is built on Linux and KDE will/has widget support. Motorola IMO could do a better UI; we have two of their cellular phones and I think they could use better GUI/menu system. Maybe if they focus less on the kernel and spend money outsourcing the looks improvements can be had. If Apple does a cellphone it'll look as good as iChat AV.
  • Smartphone prices are about to go down and mobile companies don't want to be locked into another Microsoft tax (or Symbian tax). On the other side, they realize that Symbian itself is not the best solution for the future where mobile hardware will become faster and contain more memory (nevertheless some novel ideas from symbian should be reused).

    They seem to be doing the right thing. Founding the organization which will be responsible for developing the system they will all use. Cohesion and standardization

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