Mobile Open Source: Into The Spotlight


Every year, millions of Americans gather around the table to give thanks and join in overindulgence until the turkey kicks in and leads to football-laced dreams. But back in 2006, on the 7th of November, Werner Almesberger, Michael Lauer, Sean Moss-Pultz, and Harald Welte of First International Computer announced the “OpenMoko” project. “Om”, or Openmoko Linux was built from the Linux kernel, and sported a gui created using the X.Org server. The original version Om 2007 used the GTK+ toolkit and featured Matchbox as a window manager. In 2008 they added support for QT and Enlightenment and development continued until 2009, when the community took over as Openmoko cancelled further software development.

The iPod and Mozilla’s Firefox browser were slowly chipping at the Microsoft empire, but Apple had yet to grab a big chunk of the market. They stuck to the niches they knew: graphic design, art, students and teachers, schools, and well, little else. But rumors told of an iPod phone coming from Cupertino that Steve would reveal soon. The January, 2007 Apple Keynote was more exciting than anything to date, and Mr Jobs brought the big gun, the iPhone. The mobile world reeled. In a land of Razr’s and Symbian phones, the iPhone was mainstream. Nothing like what was beginning in the open source community.

While most people enjoyed the summer of 2009 in the northern hemisphere, the Neo 1973 was released. The debut was ultimately noticed mostly by developers and nerds of the world. The device was sold exclusively through the website, and was followed by a GPS device for your car, the Dash Express. Eventually the Neo Freerunner followed, giving new life to the little open source phones. Neo’s shipped out at $300, but for an extra $150 you got a gun case to carry it in and a guitar pick to take it apart. Samsung dished out 266Mhz of bleeding edge speed and the memory was overwhelming with 128MB SDRAM and 64MB NAND flash for all those apps you can’t live without… The touchscreen was 2.8” across. With bluetooth, GPS, USB (slave AND host!), an audio jack, microSD/SDHC slot and wifi, it was all the 1200mAH battery could handle.

While I still remember reading several of Apple’s patent filings regarding multitouch and various future iPhone staples, I was caught completely off guard when I handled the HTC Dream for the first time. It was clunky, strange and awkward, but at the same time beautiful and intriguing; I was an addict. Launching in late 2008, google seemed late to the party. Research In Motion, Microsoft and Symbian powered everything, and Apple had real momentum.

Android was actually founded in 2003, by Andy Rubin, Rich Miner, Nick Sears, and Chris White. Rubin wanted “smarter mobile devices that are more aware of its owner’s location and preferences.” Little was known of Android until Google acquired it in 2005, planning to enter the mobile market. Google streamlined everything quickly and molded Android into an actual operating system.

Today’s announcement is more ambitious than any single ‘Google Phone’ that the press has been speculating about over the past few weeks. Our vision is that the powerful platform we’re unveiling will power thousands of different phone models.”

Eric Schmidtformer Google Chairman/CEO

After announcing, the Open Handset Alliance was born, Android stormed the economy, and Verizon’s “Droid” marketing fed the fire as Android grew exponentially.

Today, Android has ran into fierce legal trouble with various patent infringement accusations. Samsung has been fighting injunctions everywhere. Google acquired Motorola to increase it’s ability to defend itself and even assist other companies like HTC. How will Android change to meet these challenges? And what does Tizen’s future hold?

About Eric Pfister

I am a Service Writer and Systems Administrator in the automotive industry with about a decade of IT service.