The 16th community update has been released. There has been lot more activity
these weeks with the news of future release schedule and feature list of
Om2009,Kernel milestone list for a stable kernel,new mailing list for GTA03
ideas and much more. Read on.
I being fairly new to Openmoko, decided to take an interview of Wolfgang
Spraul to post for the community update.This answered the questions I had on
what work we would be doing post GTA03 suspension,where we are heading
to,improvements and setbacks we as a company faced and more generally his
views on open source.This helps me understand the process and company much
more.I hope this interests some others too. Enjoy reading!
1) What is your background, for example your previous work?
Tons of software, from filesystem drivers (MacOpener) to mobile
applications (Documents To Go). Was involved in total failures (TI
Advantra), a .com business (3Box in Germany), and 12 years with DataViz
in Connecticut where I learnt an unbelievable amount of good stuff! When
you start working somewhere, make sure you can learn something, and
there are people you can learn from. I was just lucky.
So I was coding pretty much every day of my life since I was 12 years
old, for about 20 years until early 2007 when I took 6 months off to
think about a new direction.
2) How did you get involved with Openmoko?
I was following OpenEZX, and one day Harald (whom I had never met in
person at that time) emails me saying he got an invitation to go to
Taiwan for some phone project. I was sitting in DataViz's Connecticut
office and thought "wow - where is Taiwan and how come they are doing
Linux phones there?". This was before Openmoko was started, maybe early
2006 or so.
From then on it took quite some time, I had a lot of work to finish at
DataViz, Harald introduced me to Sean whom I met for the first time at
Paulaner in Shanghai in September 2006, for some good German beer and
sausage :-) I finally joined full-time in August 2007 or so.
3) There is no shortage of recent fluctuation at Openmoko. What
or set backs have you seen since the project was initially launched?
Oh wow. Too many, a book should be written ;-)
Improvements were made mostly in Western software engineers
understanding the Eastern hardware development environment and culture
much better. So many people visited Taipei, we have a 4-bedroom
apartment for visiting FOSS developers, we have shuffled so many people
to SMT factories, our factory in Suzhou, etc.
Vice versa, the English skills in our Taipei office have improved a lot
(we hired a teacher). By now we must have one of the best
English-speaking teams in Taiwan or China...
Setbacks? It took us forever to get the buzz and other audio issues
fixed, and until today we cannot really deliver it into the field. Distributors
like Tuxbrain help us improve the situation, but we should have done better in
the first place.
Another one - although we realized 'lack of focus' and never-ending changes to
early on, we were unable to stop it, until it was too late and the whole
design was ruined.
4) What is your take on Android?
Great stuff. Google knows what they are doing, they have some of the
brightest and best people in the industry.
The challenge I see for them now is to demonstrate the cost savings that
are typically associated with open source to their device manufacturing Hold
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partners. Right now I believe many OEMs are overwhelmed by the
complexity of Android, and the furious pace at which it is developed.
But over time Google will figure this out, and I believe Android will
become a spectacular success. The first real 'network operating system'
to me. Will show up in netbooks, notebooks, portable media players, digital
picture frames, etc.
And Google has a functioning business model behind it too, so the party
can go on for a while. Lots of good open source software is written,
maybe over time the community finds out how to extract and cut the best
pieces into more modular libraries and packages.
5) There is a variety of opinions on what is 'open' these days. What is
definition of an open device?
Most normal end users I talk to think that open means that a lot of
interesting applications can easily be installed on a device. In that
sense I believe that the Apple iPhone is leading the pack in 'openness'
right now since they invest a ton of money and brains into their
SDK/IDE, APIs, libraries, etc. And amazing applications come out of it.
A second, older definition is the classical 'open' as in 100% Free
Software. Openmoko extended this even further by also releasing
mechanical CAD files under a Creative Commons Share-Alike license,
hardware schematics, even our complete production testing software. I
hope we will continue to do so for future devices. The limits of this
kind of openness have by far not been reached yet - there are a number
of closed firmwares still (Wi-Fi, GPS, GSM), even Openmoko hasn't
released the hardware GERBER files under an open license, etc.
A third definition I see on the horizon is 'open' as in interoperability
between devices. More and more computing devices have RF built in. Maybe
one day, people will say a device is 'open' if it can interact with many
other devices. If it cannot, or can only interact with other devices
from the same company, people may see the device as 'closed'. This is a
definition I believe Openmoko should pay attention to, if RF interfaces
are locked down by other vendors (even if restricted programming APIs
are available), Openmoko devices could be different, and interesting
applications would become possible.
6) What are the recent organizational changes wrt to engineering?
The biggest change is that my engineering budget was cut a lot, and my
job was to implement those cuts. We tried to do that in a way that would
focus the money in areas where the community is weakest, such as
hardware, or where we could enable others, such as the Om2009
distribution, daily builds and kernel work.
7) What is the work currently happening wrt GTA02 improvements ?
There is a big push towards Om2009, a new software we hope to release in
June or July.
Also we are still trying to track down some more GSM Calypso bugs, such
as the well-known #1024 recamping, and also some GPRS instability
problems we have found out about recently.
Other than that - fixing bugs from trac.
8) If paroli is the answer to above .Then does paroli address all the major
issues we had in Om2008 releases?
I think the major issues we had with Om2008 were kernel related. Paroli
is a new telephony application, written in Python on top of FSO and thus
much more modular and extensible than what we had with Qtopia in Om2008.
As for the Om20008 kernel bugs, yes, I believe the state of our kernel
now is much better than it was in 2008, hopefully we can keep it there
and fix some more bugs until the release.
9)More on Plan B and when it is expected?
I thought it's an open hair straightener?
10) What is the future of Om2009 after june release,will it continue with
We will try to find out what people want. Anybody still downloading the
GTA01 images? Should we rather focus on the kernel and support other
distributions, or do more application level work? etc.
What makes the real Free Sofware world so different is the degree of
modularity that you can find for example in something like Debian. It's
the result of endless experiments, ripping and mixing, forking,
branching, arguments over which direction a particular piece of software
should take, etc. So I'm not worried if Openmoko's software activities
look less thought through, or more chaotic, than for example Android. We
are constantly measuring the pulse of the community, where things are
headed - should we switch from ETK to Elementary, should we go back from
Paroli to Tichy, from Python to Vala, and so on.
11) Will openmoko continue work on any phone projects that is intended for
general users after plan B?
Oh definitely. Openmoko has created so much momentum, both as a brand
and in terms of people, current and former. Many of these people have
learnt a lot, they are now inside or outside of Openmoko, and they are
passionate about making open devices.
I'm not sure whether it will be a feature phone, or smart phone. Based
around an ARM core or maybe MIPS core (some MIPS companies are eager to
enter the cell phone space). We will try to be much smarter in using
partners and recycling existing stuff, whether that's GTA02, or even
Android. But when it ships, it needs to be the most open phone out
there, and it needs to have the best hardware quality of any phone.
That's something we learnt the hard way with GTA01 and GTA02. Where a
typical phone company would cover up hardware problems with software
workarounds, in an open phone that's not really possible because the
whole point of openness is that you can take it and do new things. But
then how can the hardware manufacturer foresee and test all these
unexpected new things? Next time around we will need to be much smarter
about this. Rather just ship a phone with 2 features that are deeply and
thoroughly tested, than 10 features that are just quickly thrown together.
The quality requirements of future phones are also the reason why I
enjoy cleaning up and fixing GTA02 now. Both hardware and software
problems. Cleaning up the mess you created yourself is one of the best
ways to reflect, learn, and be ready to do better next time.
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