Open Source Handheld GCW-Zero Nears Kickstarter Goal

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There’s only 8 days until the end of Game Consoles Worldwide’s Kickstarter campaign for their open source handheld, GCW-Zero. With another $28,000 to go, the GCW-Zero is very close to hitting it’s funding goal of $130,000; but also dangerously close to missing it.

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GCW-Zero

The GCW-Zero is based on an Ingenic JZ4770 1 GHz MIPS CPU, with the OpenGL ES 2.0 compatible Vivante GC860 GPU, and 512 MB of DDR 2 RAM. It features 16 GB of onboard flash storage, expandable via a MicroSDHC slot, USB 2.0 OTG, Mini HDMI, and 2.4 GHz B/G/N WiFi.

On the software side, the GCW-Zero is running OpenDingux, a build of Linux originally created for the Dingoo A320/A330 handheld systems. With OpenDingux, developers can easily port over existing Linux games and applications to the GCW-Zero, which is likely to be a big part of the system’s software library.

The GCW-Zero’s capable hardware, combined with its powerful Linux operating system, offer a lot of promise to gamers. The system will easily be able to emulate game consoles of the fifth generation (Sony Playstation) and older, and is more than up to the task of running original games and applications.

Software Marketplace

Aside from the hardware itself, GCW also plans on rolling out a software repository like the Android “Play Store” where GCW-Zero owners will be able to download open and proprietary software alike:

We want to create a repository, similar to an App Market, where users can download free, open source software and also buy closed-source/indie software from developers. We would like to have classic games in this repository as well: for games that have an open source engine and proprietary data, we would like to make it simple for users to buy and install the data files. A successful KickStarter project could help attract attention of proprietary data rights holders. This would allow us to host or provide it along with the game engine. All games/applications submitted to the App Market will be reviewed for copyright compliance.

Creating a marketplace where the licensing of each individual application is clearly listed has been a debate in community for awhile now, and it will be good to see such a system being part of the stock user experience rather than requiring additional software.

Open Source Commitment

If setting up a license-aware marketplace wasn’t enough of a clue that the team behind the GCW-Zero had software freedom in mind when they were developing the system, the Kickstarter “Risks and Challenges” section directly addresses the issue of closed source proprietary software on the finished product:

We will bring you regular firmware updates, so early adopters can expect more and more functionality with each new release.

Another thing that we are still working on is the OpenGL driver. Unfortunately, we will not be able to release this as open source. People who only want a fully open source system can simply leave out the OpenGL driver though; the 2D graphics system (Linux framebuffer) works fine without it.

The Wi-Fi module itself uses binary firmware, but the driver that runs on the MIPS CPU is open source. Every other driver we are using is fully open source and that source will be published on github as soon as the first unit’s ship.

The userland (libraries and applications) is fully open source and its source is already available, as well as the tools for creating and flashing firmware images.

The fact that the team has so diligently tracked down the closed source software in their operating system is impressive, to say the least. With a few caveats, the freedom conscious user will be able to use nothing but FOSS software on their handheld console; a claim that would be tough to make about anything else on the market.

Market Ready

[one_half last=”no”]One of the best parts of the GCW-Zero is the fact that the system is essentially finished; the hardware is done, and aside from some small tweaks and improvements, the OpenDingux OS is pretty much feature complete. In fact, 40 units have already been shipped to early adopters and developers. Backers don’t have to worry about a vaporware device which will take years to reach production status, the GCW-Zero is here now and ready for mass production.

With the money from the Kickstarter campaign, GCW will be able to put in an order for 3,000 units of the finished product, enough to establish themselves and meet initial demand. Even if the Kickstarter doesn’t reach its goal, GCW plans on trying again and has every intention to bring the product to mass production one way or another.

But hopefully, it won’t come to that point. Anyone who has a passion for open and retro gaming can’t afford to miss the opportunity to back this very unique piece of hardware and ensure its widespread availability.[/one_half]


Tom Nardi

Tom is a Network Engineer with focus on GNU/Linux and open source software. He is a frequent submitter to "2600", and maintains a personal site of his projects and areas of research at: www.digifail.com .

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