Ideological choices fuel the free software movement

Slashdot reported a long time ago from no-room-at-the-ecosystem dept. something which I’d usually just entitle “brainaids”.

“Mozilla has decided to stop development of a version of its Firefox mobile Web browser for phones running Windows Mobile. The reason is that Microsoft has closed the door to native applications on smartphones running its new Windows Phone 7 Series software. More reasoning can be found in a blog post by Stuart Parmenter, director of Mobile Engineering at Mozilla.”

Unfortunately most people seem to think that battery power, ease of use and stability are irrelevant. Or they don’t actually want something mobile but rather a cool gadget. This causes people to buy unstable, unusable and/or incredibly restricted phones from these three categories:

  • Apple iPhone
  • Random Google Android mobile
  • Random Windows 7 mobile

Despite high price-tags none of these choices are good, mostly due to their respective operating systems. All of these phones market themselves to be “powerful” and probably “versatile” and maybe even “usable”. Though none of them – of course – market the restrictions implied.

Apple iPhone

A cool, sleek interface. In these days a nice piece of hardware too. Probably easy to sell, because you have the backing of an “app store” and also the “cool factor” which means everyone has it and everyone is talking about it.

The downsides are: To legally distribute software for use on the iPhone, you need Apple’s approval. This approval implies that you accept Apple as a benevolent God who – when feeling the urge – can shut down software on your phone that you legally bought. The software approval thing also means that anything anyone does better than Apple will not be accepted into the App Store. Geez.

Android phones

None of these phones are other than slow and unstable when it comes to using then. Besides this the software distribution is messy and difficult to overview. There is no immediate logic in which Android version runs what software and on which phone.

My personal reason for disliking it is purely ideological. Marketing says it’s “open”, promotes “open source” and whatever. However, the platform doesn’t appeal to open source software and everything has to be written very specifically for the Android phone. Porting software is apparently not as simple as one could’ve hoped.

Lately Oraclesince the Sun acquiry, have been yelling that Google infringe patents and copyright. This because Google has their own Java virtual machine for the Android phones. The patent issue itself isn’t troublesome, I think it’s worse that Google didn’t just run Linux straight-up on their otherwise capable platforms.

Windows 7 phones

No one buys these for themselves… They’re probably just bought through companies who offer them to suffering employees. Same thing here applies as with Apple: Both companies are evil.

Latest news are that (as mentioned above) Windows 7 mobiles won’t allow native applications. This system of signed applications opens up for a system of Apple-like dictatorial “blessed apps”. It also obviously disables development by homebrew hackers.

The sum of it all

Besides this I recently saw an article on Australia planning to ban certain iPhone apps. Something which is only possible if there is a single, signed software repository (Apple) – or just an architecture which requires signed executables (Microsoft). This mere concept of centralistic control defies how the Internet happens.

Consider your everyday tasks which are either of private concern, some sort of communication or information access. These routines are all possible to do using libre (free) software. The Free software is in no way under usage control of neither private companies, your neighbor nor any governmental censorship bureau.

With libre licensing:
You control your device and software.
No one else can interfere.

The Nokia N900, runs the GNU/Linux operating system. This reflects the “ideological choice” of this post’s subject, the choice to run Free software. What is essential is the ability to share and – especially – modify the source code. Even if you won’t do it yourself.

Free software in practice disables an external dictatorship over the software your machine runs. This comes from the fact that any developer, through international copyright, is given the legal right to modify and distribute changes. This also means that even if all the world’s developers suddenly disappeared the current version would still be shared in a fine, working condition.

This causes the direct opposite evolution compared to proprietary (closed source) software companies who offer you only one choice – the latest version. They need you to update to increase the revenue while Free software is only interested in functionality and effectiveness. This is most noticable when an already fine, working proprietary software gets a new version: the update will most certainly include bloat and/or new restrictions.

This post not only encourages your informed choice for smartphones – a major business which fuels proprietary software. It is meant to persuade you to use Free software to the greatest extent possible. You’re probably already using OpenOffice or Mozilla Firefox – which is great because every single replaced software counts. If you like those, your next step may be Ubuntu – to replace the entire operating system.

Feel free to contact a local computer nerd for guidance.

13 thoughts on “Ideological choices fuel the free software movement”

  1. Interesting. I’m about to buy a smartphone and have been looking for a suitable Android phone but I must say that the N900 looks really promising. How’s the community around the N900, both app-writing and OS-related, compared with the Android movement?? Is it as easy to write your own apps for the N900 as it is with Android? How’s the customizing possibilities? I have been using Nokia phones for quite some time but have experienced both ups and downs in the menu usability between different phones…

    1. PMyran: The N900 can run any software that’s available for Linux and compilable for the ARM platform. Unfortunately, I believe, this means you can’t runt ‘wine’. But then again, you can run rdesktop to any computer anywhere. And if you please, you can setup openvpn or whatever.

      If you please, there’s an easy-chroot setup that automatically downloads an entire Debian chroot which you can run any app in an ordinary X environment (such as Gimp). Naturally, the resolution (or computing speed) isn’t quite satisfying – but I’ve personally used the Gimp for minor editing besides resizing/cropping.

      There’s even a somewhat good Exchange e-mail support. My friend who works at an IT company has successfully replaced his Windows Mobile cell with the N900, which includes interfacing to the Active Directory.

      Heck, even the BitTorrent client Transmission is available in one of the official repositories. As I said, there’s anything in the repository that compiles on the ARM architecture – which is just about everything.

  2. Good writing. I’ve been considering a new phone to replace my aging SonyEricsson Symbian phone and have discarded the different choices in the following order:

    – Windows Mobile (a no-brainer, really)
    – iPhone (same reason as you mention)
    – Android (same reason + that Google collects information about what you do with YOUR phone + that you have to root all these supposedly “free” phones to do as you like with it, what’s up with that??)

    and, well, there’s only Nokia N900 left. Nothing else is really good enough today, which is a bit sad. I really thought Android would revolutionary (at least I was led to believe that from all the hype), but it’s pretty much just another closed platform even if it’s built on (partly) open source.

    1. Queriuem: I’m not entirely sure how long it is until Nokia releases its next-generation phone. If it’s worth waiting for, or if you should get the N900. But as long as it – either Nokia or any other vendor – uses a pure GNU/Linux installation, with ordinary POSIX APIs and everything, it reasonably can’t be a downer.

      Also, hardware-wise, the N900 beats the shit out of other phones. You can probably even beat the shit out of another phone using the N900.

  3. About the Android…the thing with the Android system is that if you want to use Java programs on your phone then you with N900 either must run with ordinary Java that is optimized for desktops or use the JavaME that is a closed platform that Sun (now Oracle) has failed to migrate into modern Java since they want to keep it backward compatible. They also try to charge money for it.

    The Android is sort of a hack by Google to avoid getting stuck with JavaMEs mess and get a modern Java platform for mobiles. By implementing the Java langauge, but not calling it Java they essentially aimed to skip paying Oracle an license for every sold unit. Unfortunately for Google Sun was purchased by Oracle that does not have Suns policy about not using patents offensively. No idea how it will pay out, but I would argue that Android no matter what is a rather interesting platform.

  4. Interesting read. I’d however like to ask you to take a look at the Palm Pre and iots operating system WebOS. WebOS is based on linux and is realeased so that anyone willing and able to can edit it. There are patches galore out there and Palm as acompany have not made any attempt to stifle this.

    The app catalogue does have some similarities with the apple one, but unlike apple’s it does not cost any money for the person adding an app and also seems to have slightly softer rulings on what to allow. That said there is a Homebrew market that is very active and anyone can create apps that can be easily installed on the phone outside of the app catalogue, a bunch of these have since “graduated” and can now be found in the normal app-store.

    All in all, a good phone in my opinion.

    1. The Palm Pre still doesn’t run a near-vanilla Linux distribution. I thought it interesting when it was first announced, but I can’t remember what made me feel distaste. Was it perhaps that you couldn’t ‘root’ by default or something?

      In either case, Maemo is a stable, compatible platform with a large community. Also it’s indirectly supported – by being an ordinary Linux distribution – by the entire GNU/Linux/BSD developer armada.

      1. Not being a Linux-user myself I can’t comment on the pureness of the distro, but there are most likely changes to it in order to make some things easier for non-*nix persons.

        If you enter “developer mode” you can without any trouble run normal terminal programs on it (or so I’ve read, as I said I don’t use *nix).

        1. Having a graphical user interface doesn’t make anything “less *nix”. It’s a long-lived myth that Unix based systems are hard to use.

          Unfortunately the Palm Pre has an incredibly low resolution (as with most iPhones people use). But if there’s a developer mode available without having to void warranty or “hack”, it’s a definite plus. I guess it’s a rather okay alternative to the N900 if you want a Free platform.

          …but is the Palm Pre available (easily) in Sweden/Europe? And is it relatively affordable?

          1. Available, nope. I’d probably had bought it if it had been sold here when it was launched. IIRC it was priced about the same as most other hi-end smartphones, eg $200 + 2 year contract.

            And the whole thing with it basically being a web browser pointed to local “web apps” is cool in a way, but a little weird, while N900/Maemo uses lots of the same tech used in plain desktop distributions like Ubuntu.

    1. Good news, PMyran! It probably won’t be delivered with firmware PR 1.2, so the first thing you do when you get the phone should be to flash it to get the latest version.

      You may also want to add the ‘extras’ (and perhaps ‘extras-testing’ and ‘extras-devel’) repositories to get lots of more useful applications and extensions. This way you can get support for more IM protocols etc.

      If you’re using XMPP (Jabber/Google Talk), you can add if you wish.

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