back to article Stallman's Free Software Foundation says we need a free phone OS

The Free Software Foundation has published a new High Priority Projects list, the document it uses to highlight “a relatively small number of projects of great strategic importance to the goal of freedom for all computer users.” By publishing the list, the Foundation hopes to guide volunteers towards what it feels are the most …

  1. Oh Homer
    Windows

    Yes we do, but it'll never happen

    Android dominates for the same reason as Windows did before it, because it had a bucketload of cash spent on channel partners, marketing and infrastructure.

    The bit where people write the actual software is easy, and really has zero impact on adoption, no matter how good it is. The fact of it being free (in either sense) is even less relevant.

    Ultimately people use software and services because other people use that same software and services. It's a momentum thing, and getting that momentum going needs serious muscle, far beyond the FSF's philosophical musings (all of which I totally agree with, but then I'm not 99% of consumers, who really only care about results, not how they get them).

    The best chance we have of seeing something that is both free (as in freedom) and popular would be if you applied the same collaborative principle to funding as the actual free software development, so a truly free software mobile initiative could pay for all those things beyond mere software development that are absolutely necessary for market dominance.

    In other words we need crowdfunding. Sadly even most of those go titsup, because nobody ever hears about them (as even crowdfunding needs marketing - catch 22).

    Nope, there's just no way around it. You need big fat wads of greasy cash to do pretty much anything.

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Re: Yes we do, but it'll never happen

      Fully agree with all that.

      Looking back at the history of the PC, we have all benefited from the huge success of a proprietary OS running on an open hardware standard. DOS and Windows have always cost money, but they run on top of a hardware platform that is, even today, completely open to other OSes [secure boot can almost always be turned off]. The benefit is that there is a massive installed base of hardware which can run binaries for Linux, FreeBSD, etc easily, no complex recompiling needed, etc. Consequently these other OSes are accessible to ordinary users.

      There is nothing quite like that in the mobile world. I think before we can talk about a free mobile OS we need a popular free and nearly universal hardware standard for mobiles.

      The closest we've got to that is Microsoft's mobile phone hardware spec. Close, but no cigar. But if MS did offer a signing service and opened the spec, it would be possible for third parties to develop and deploy their own OS across a range of quite nice mobiles that all conform to more or less the same binary environment. That would make it easier for a free OS to come to the fore.

      Maybe it's something MS do just before the platform dies completely, at the point where they have nothing to lose by doing so.

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: Yes we do, but it'll never happen

        @bazza: spot on...

        " I think before we can talk about a free mobile OS we need a popular free and nearly universal hardware standard for mobiles."

        This is the sticking point. Yes we have things like Ubuntu One and even Cyanogen Mod but it's not that easy to get it running on your phone and not everything will quite work once you do. Worse, in six months the handset guys will have a new offering and it will be another six months after *that* before this new shiny is supported by your favoured free OS.

        Apparently this suits the hardware vendors just fine, so I don't expect the situation to improve just because the FSF wants it too. RMS simply has no leverage with the people causing the problem. Even Canonical, who actually have the cash to bribe a handset maker into offering their OS, haven't made much impression and (at time of writing) have no phone offering.

        Look at the list of supported handsets for Cyanogen Mod. It's massive, all with varying degrees of "working" and (by implication) varying degrees of "supported by a competent developer if you, dear user, run into trouble.

        Look at the list of ARM-based PCs that you can hack Linux onto. There aren't so many, but they are all still differemt so you find that only some distros are supported and they are usually running an older kernel.

        Now look at the x86-based PC, where Linux really works. There's one hardware standard. The very latest software is available for download. Installation is trivial (even in a UEFI world) and you have thousands of support options.

      2. Joe Burmeister

        Re: Yes we do, but it'll never happen

        > I think before we can talk about a free mobile OS we need a popular free and nearly universal hardware standard for mobiles.

        Abso-bloody-lutely. I've been saying this for a long time. But it's not just us FOSS people that need this. Google needs this. It gets shit for Android phones running old insecure versions of Android getting hacked/infected. WHICH IS CORRECT, IT IS THEIR FAULT. They should have mandated an auto discoverable platform and that for a phone to be called "Android" it needs to be able to have standard stock Android installable on it. The only way of doing that is auto discoverable hardware.

        The other thing is that there needs to be competition of phone OSs, including Windows Phone. For that, again, you really want standard auto discoverable hardware.

        Google don't care because they just blame the vendor for not updating the Android of the old phones. The vendors don't care because they say buy a new phone. Needless E-waste.

        This needs a big market to have some sensible regulator come and mandate this. The US or the EU would be the best placed. Pretty quickly that would be come THE standard.

        But this isn't just phones. It's basically the whole ARM platform. All these Internet Of Infected Things suffer from the same issue. So maybe ARM are to blame here too.

        I'm confident in the long run we will get there, it's just we have to go through all the stupid preventable problems first.

    2. bazza Silver badge

      Re: Yes we do, but it'll never happen

      Continued...

      But even if that were to happen, we'd come straight to your point about everything beyond the OS.

      Linux has the same problem; every year has been given year of the Linux desktop, but somehow it's never actually happened. OS X and Windows simply offer far more than a mere desktop environment.

      1. Lars Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Yes we do, but it'll never happen

        "OS X and Windows simply offer far more than a mere desktop environment.". Not quite true. Hint, there are Apple shops. Jobs did "get it".

      2. kryptylomese

        Re: Yes we do, but it'll never happen

        It already is the year of the linux desktop. We use it where I work and so do google and lots of other companies and organisations. Where it has not "won" is with the majority of home users who tend to play games (not every game works on Linux yet).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Yes we do, but it'll never happen

          A highly usable, and pretty, desktop is a thing to behold and to avoid. While PCs are great for highly sophisticated games needing lots of weird input that a joystick only can't provide, and Macs can do lots of high-end desktop publishing stuff, music and other creative design works nothing can beat my $35 (+$15 for the 32GB storage mSD) Pixel on Raspberry Pi. What IS a desktop? What do you need it for? This low-cost solution can do any web browsing I need, mail and other general computing things; think store and edit pictures and docs, etc. I can run free IDEs for more sophisticated software and other editing needs, as well as make using GPIO ports very very simple. Even with Macs and PCs you need to buy some extra h/w to do general I/O that does not require USB, SATA, or other such "fat" ports. And the icing on the cake is that every Linux/Unix desktop can to "magical mouse focus" on windows, which seem like something from another world in the Mac/PC universe. Even the native Mac Terminal windows can't manage mouse-focus. It's a small thing, but it's still not addressed after all this time.

          Anyway, desktops, $35. Works for me.

      3. Oh Homer
        Linux

        Re: "OS X and Windows simply offer far more"

        Not sure I'd go that far, especially where MacOS (and all things Apple) is concerned, which is founded entirely upon the vacuous "style over substance" ethos.

        As for Windows, there's no question that it has a yuuge ecosystem. The best kind of ecosystem.

        Sorry, couldn't resist.

        But seriously, if you carefully scrutinise the actual software in that huge ecosystem, what you discover is a vast load of crap, redundancy and just a tiny handful of genuinely good titles. When you stack all the best bits from each platform together, you get more or less the same numbers, despite the fact that the total size of each ecosystem is very different.

        Again, it isn't the actual software that makes the difference, it's the financial backing for everything else, like greasing the channel.

        Free Software doesn't need philosophers, it needs venture capitalists, and that my friend is a bit of a paradox (at least as far as the monopoly-oriented venture capitalists are concerned).

        1. IHateWearingATie

          Re: "OS X and Windows simply offer far more"

          "Free Software doesn't need philosophers, it needs venture capitalists, and that my friend is a bit of a paradox (at least as far as the monopoly-oriented venture capitalists are concerned)."

          A paradox in that venture capitalists want to make a return on the money they invest and the likelihood of making anything back on the money spent on a free mobile OS even if it were successful is pretty much nil?

          Free Software needs a generous sugardaddy, willing to spend loads and get nothing but the general feelings of love from the community in return. That's not going to happen.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: "OS X and Windows simply offer far more"

            "Free Software needs a generous sugardaddy, willing to spend loads and get nothing but the general feelings of love from the community in return. That's not going to happen."

            Actually what free software needs is a route to making money other than from licensing it.

            That route actually does exist for general purpose Linux distros: it's adding value via support so the likes of Red Hat & Suse are able to support development in order to have a product that they can sell.

            The unfortunate thing as far as phones and tablets are concerned that isn't a workable option. The route chosen there seems to have been monetizing the users. It would have been better if it had been hardware vendors getting together to develop their own OS collaboratively as something to enable them to sell H/W. Unfortunately they gave in to the easier route of signing a contract which lets them have the OS in exchange for access to those users.

          2. Oh Homer
            Holmes

            Re: "generous sugardaddy"

            No, it needs someone who understands the difference between academic freedom and freeloading, that monopolisation is not somehow the inexorable foundation of commerce, and that academic collaboration is not antithetical to profit.

            1. Defiant

              Re: "generous sugardaddy"

              Still got to do as Google says which is why it has Google bloat inside

    3. Planty Bronze badge
      FAIL

      Re: Yes we do, but it'll never happen

      What a tool. android is already opensource

      https://source.android.com

      https://source.android.com/source/licenses.html

      (Apache licence for android source, GPL for Linux kernel)

      1. MrT

        Re: Yes we do, but it'll never happen

        “key technical specifications sufficient to write free drivers for their hardware.”

        This used to kill things like Cyanogen being implemented - the OS is open, but the kernel-mode drivers are not. One example - the original HTC Desire was never able to run anything above Cyanogen 7 (IIRC) because the full set of hardware drivers were not available for anything higher. YMMV with different manufacturers, and things have improved across the intervening years, but it's still an issue.

      2. Oh Homer
        Headmaster

        Re: "android is already opensource"

        And so is GNU, but sadly it doesn't actually do much without the Linux kernel (which in turn is encumbered with proprietary restrictions).

        Android has the same problem. The proprietary nature of hardware (and subsequently the drivers for that hardware) prevents it from being truly Free.

        Claiming that the solution is already Free is highly disingenuous, when the bit that's actually Free is only half the solution.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Yes we do, but it'll never happen

        "What a tool. android is already opensource"

        Android was open source. Now it's 50/50, unless you want pure AOSP, including messaging and e-mail apps from 2010.

        This is the failure of the Open Handset Alliance AFAIC, who sat idly by while Google replaced core open source Android apps (browser became Chrome, app launcher became Google Now Launcher, messaging Hangouts, corporate e-mail via Gmail app and so on).

        Now the original open source applications are so out of date if you want Android, you have to license from Google. It sucks, but Google played it well.

        1. philthane

          Re: Yes we do, but it'll never happen

          I have a Wiley Fox Storm phone that came with Cyanogen installed by the OEM. It's 'free enough' if not quite Stallman compliant. I use Fdroid as my preferred app store and don't use Google's Play. But then it's been the year of the Linux desktop for me since about 2000.

          Most users do not care a bit about software freedom, or understand any of the privacy and security issues that bother free software advocates, they go for the best hardware in their price range and just take the software they are 'given'.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Yes we do, but it'll never happen

          "Android was open source. Now it's 50/50,"

          Android is and always will be 100 open source, licensed by the Apache "do whatever you want with it" license.

          You seem to have assumed Google would not only write an entire opensource operating system for free, and give it to the world, but also give you all their closed stuff too. That's not going to happen. Google are a business, they have shareholders to report to.

          You are more than welcome to your your own mail client, browser, app store infrastructure and so forth. Stop assuming everything should be free, be grateful for what you have.

      4. Herby Silver badge

        Re: Yes we do, but it'll never happen

        Well, the biggest problem is what is at the other end of the wireless (cell phone) connection. Most network operators DON'T WANT an open source box banging on their hardware for whatever reason. It must follow a bunch of rules to work properly. The suppliers of the communication chips (Qualcomm, et al) aren't want to release the specifics of how their chips operate so getting an open source driver for them will probably prove difficult.

        Working with anything that involves something regulated (network/cell phone providers) probably needs to be regulated in some way as well, and free-wheeling software that is ripe for a spammer to pick up on and spew forth just won't make it out of the gate.

        Sorry, that is how it goes. Unfortunate, but that's life. All of this makes Android about as close as it gets.

        1. fuzzie

          Re: Yes we do, but it'll never happen

          We had, and sometimes still have, the same issue with Wifi chipsets and drivers, but through various cunning schemes and firmware extraction kits we've mostly routed around it. Fortunately other things like oFono and OpenLTE already exist.

  2. gobaskof

    Fingers crossed

    I hope they will succeed in a feasible phone operating system where others have failed, as android is getting more and more frustrating. Hopefully they will take the easy route of starting AOSP and building something from there. No it is not perfect or ideal but it would foster compatibility and it might actually get finished unlike GNU HURD.

    Also a pity to see octave fall off the list. I know many people are moving over to numpy, but personally I still prefer Octave for data analysis over numpy.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Fingers crossed

      If you want to do data analysis user R with the data.table library. ggplot for charts etc.

  3. CheesyTheClown

    Isn't he cute?

    Stallman managed to make it into the news again. And here we thought he was finally gone.

    1) You can make the best free phone OS but no one will use it

    2) Every vendor will give it a try because ... well why not

    3) Every vendor will stop supporting it within days of it being released

    The consumer who defines the success of a platform or not doesn't give a shit about free. They want music, videos and games.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Isn't he cute?

      "The consumer who defines the success of a platform or not doesn't give a shit about free. They want music, videos and games."

      They'll get those because the browser and media player are the two bits of FOSS that get the most lurve from developers.

      What they will also get is no annoying vendor-enhanced user experience, which I seem to recall provokes a "how do I switch this crap off and make it like my old phone" response from pretty much every end-user when they buy a new phone.

      They'll also get security patches for more than six months on the device that they now use for online banking and offline payments. Children may not care about that, and I'll grant that they make the most noise on the interwebs, but anyone old enough to actually earn their own money might be interested in not losing it.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Isn't he cute?

        "What they will also get is no annoying vendor-enhanced user experience"

        Sadly that's what they'll not get because this includes all the user-parasitising crap that the vendors see as making them the most money, therefore no vendor is going to sell such a product.

  4. FrankAlphaXII

    High Priority must translate into something like this in GNUspeak:

    "Lets bitch about everyone else (while offering nothing constructive but whining), while restricting your freedoms in the name of freedom (stay away from those nasty permissive BSD licenses, use GPLv3 and be sure to sign your copyright over to FSF!), make something half baked and nearly unusable (Have you tried Gnash?), and then drop it off the list in a couple of years"

    1. Hans 1 Silver badge
      Windows

      @FrankAlphaXII

      Have you forgotten that GNU provide the GNU tools, you know, all the userland stuff for Linux, available for many other UNIX's as well ?

      Gnash and GNU Classpath were useless, agreed, but so much more very, very, useful stuff came out of their brains - I think that deserves some RESPECT!

      If you are happy to have stuff run on your computer that you cannot trust, good for you, I am not!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Have you forgotten that GNU provide the GNU tools, you know, all the userland stuff for Linux, available for many other UNIX's as well ?"

        Quite, but we're not exactly talking about a rewrite of a decades old text editor or directory search tool here. The GNU Project has invariably sucked at building complex tech. Great at certain components, a swamp of stagnation and dead-on-arrival projects everywhere else. Even their compilers are struggling these days. That shouldn't surprise anyone given the GNU Project's objective isn't to produce valuable, worthwhile software, but to produce "free" software and force everyone else onto it.

      2. Displacement Activity

        "Have you forgotten that GNU provide the GNU tools, you know, all the userland stuff for Linux, available for many other UNIX's as well ?"

        Errr.... I'd be a lot more impressed if they hadn't taken a huge amount of *existing* free software, and rewritten it simply because they disgreed with the definition of 'free'.

    2. Carney3

      It's not FSF's fault that Gnash is limited at best. Adobe's absurdly draconian licensing requirements in effect created a requirement that the only people legally permitted to do Gnash development were people who had NEVER used Flash, ever. In any browser, on any PC or device they had ever used. That made it almost impossible to find Gnash developers.

  5. dbtx Bronze badge
    Coat

    srsly?

    "...we need a free phone MCU firmware."

    FTFY.

    A phone does not need has never needed an OS. That'll be two cents, please.

    1. FrankAlphaXII

      Re: srsly?

      Wouldn't that be 25 cents?

      1. dbtx Bronze badge

        Re: srsly?

        Good question... I still plan on having a mobile, though. So far it's just a MC8777V with a SIM holder and a couple headphone jacks soldered on, because of (admittedly FSF-like?) production delays and distractions. Anyway if that 3G modem's firmware or my own derpy dialer counts as an OS, then I stand corrected.

    2. khjohansen
      Coat

      Re: srsly?

      You and I may differ in what makes an OS ...

      But I like to be able to keep a "contacts" list, to be able to answer a (missed) call with a TXT (or email, even!)

      - mine's the one with the ham radio in the pocket(s)

      1. dbtx Bronze badge

        Re: srsly?

        Contacts and texts are a given-- easily stored in EEPROM, but emails are for keyboards. The other day I proved to myself for like the twelfth time that "briefly" replying to an email on a touchscreen-- because my delightful phone had already buzzed me about it-- was its very own punishment.

        The reason I even *have* such a phondleslab is my roommate donated it to me, and the only reason I *needed* any is because somebody took the Nokia 6030 out of my pocket after they put me in a coma. I sorta miss it because it was simpler-- my phone was a phone and my camera was a camera and my MP3 player was an MP3 player and my computer was a computer. Also I had 2x 17670 LiIon cells glued onto the sides and soldered in parallel so it would go for a week between charges. It's probably at the bottom of Wolf Creek now. Net10 tells me the IMEI was 104257237361304, will you holler if it turns up on the brown market? (you know, the one where all they sell is crap)

  6. DougS Silver badge

    Basically their wish list is "copy what's hot today"

    You can tell by looking at what projects they've dropped off their list - stuff that used to be hot but no longer is.

    When the personal assistant hype dies down that will drop off their radar and they'll announce a need to implement freeware VR.

    1. AMBxx Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Basically their wish list is "copy what's hot today"

      Can anyone out there list this guy's previous successes?

      1. wolfetone Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: Basically their wish list is "copy what's hot today"

        GNU wouldn't have to go far.

      2. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

        Re: Basically their wish list is "copy what's hot today"

        "Can anyone out there list this guy's previous successes?"

        Stallman's?

        It's a bit much to list.. It's called GNU/Linux for a reason. Do some research.

  7. Doc Ock
    Big Brother

    I'd be happy if there was a phone OS that was updated for a reasonable length of time for the model, say five years, and it didn't spy on me.

    I buy trousers that doesn't rifle the contents of my pockets and report it back to the mother ship, Stallman has a good point but at other commenters have said, it will never happen.

    1. wheelybird

      Like the Jolla phone?

      Though of course, good luck finding one to buy these days.

    2. Lomax
      Stop

      It already *did* happen; it's called Sailfish OS. And no, you don't need a Jolla handset to install it: https://www.androidpit.com/if-i-left-android-id-go-to-sailfish-os

  8. Mage Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Free PA

    No.

    Why should a "free" OS copy every stupid feature of the closed ones?

  9. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Nope dont want a phone OS

    Just want a phone that is potentially an optional peripheral in my chosen OS.

  10. HmmmYes Silver badge

    The DOS/Windows parallel dont fly.

    Phones have too much personal data on them and are connected to 3rd parties. I find the lack of control on a smart phone pretty uncomfortable - I just dont know its doing.

    ME? I stick to feature phones - text + talk. And use it as a bluetooth modem.

  11. HmmmYes Silver badge

    Oh oh - Can I say:

    WIll it run HURD?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A free Siri/Cortana/Alexa clone,

    This will fail for the same reason the Google Earth clone failed, the sheer power required to run it.

    These are not, "oh lets put 10,000 possible queries into a server. and that's done".

    Lets take a basic query

    "Hi, where is the nearest petrol station"

    Voice:

    So first up it needs to understand what you have just said, No easy task in itself.

    Location Data for person requesting:

    It needs to know where you are now, right now, not 3 weeks ago.

    Location Data for requested service.

    It needs to know about every petrol station, in every country. Updated constantly.

    Computing

    Basic bit, but it needs to know that the nearest one open at 3am is not the one you are closest to. Oh and you're on a motorway, so the closest, open at 3am may not the closest to you, but the closest by road.

    "Now remind me to get the milk from Sainsburys on my way home."

    1. Steve K Silver badge

      Re: A free Siri/Cortana/Alexa clone,

      Agreed - Alexa etc. are about personalisation via a large data slurp to achieve this kind of secondary functionality (and of course other tracking data for the primary advertising purposes)

      If you don't like it then you are free to avoid using these services BUT I don't see how a FSF model (for those who don't want to use the commercial services) can offer this kind of service without some kind of data slurping of its own - and of course the associated storage and processing for these complex queries.

      Unless they mean something like Alexa that people host themselves purely for their own use?

    2. tiggity Silver badge

      Re: A free Siri/Cortana/Alexa clone,

      It will fail because it's a gimicky toy, those that desperately love (digital) personal assistants a lot are not very likely to want to / be able to develop one. Those capable of developing one will have better things to do with their time.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A free Siri/Cortana/Alexa clone,

        "It will fail because it's a gimicky toy,"

        It depends on how it's used. I've been driving along and had to go to somewhere.

        Phone Cortana from steering wheel controls

        Cortana, navigate to XYZ.

        Done.

        No need to stop, no need to take hands off wheel, can happily concentrate on road.

        I probably use Cortana more in the car than anywhere else. My kids use it in place of Google.

  13. Tom Paine Silver badge

    Re: headline

    "FSF Says We Need a Free Phone OS". Subhead "Because that worked so well for Mozilla, <list of failed free/free-ish phone projects>"

    Whether or not there's a need is completely unaffected by whether or not previous attempts to provide one have failed or succeeded. We need cheap clean carbon-free fusion power; after billions of dollars and Euros of R&D, only a few hugely expensive reactors have kept a reaction going long enough to get more power out than went in, and then only in miniscule amounts for a few seconds. Does that mean we don't need cheap clean electricity? Of course not.

  14. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Sadly yes

    I would love a phone that didn't sell me to Google. And that didn't have Apple's walled garden costs.

    But since Microsoft couldn't get traction for their Winphone. (I love mine, but know it's the end of the line.) How could a phone OS from the land of beards and sandals make it?

    As noted it's fashion + the games/films(aka "movies) market that drives sales.

    Betamax couldn't beat VHS. Winphone couldn't beat Google or Apple, what chance a freeOS phone.

    BTW Why is " Free video editing software" off the list? Something that would let ordinary folk/small SOHO users edit the odd promotional or training video and the family hols without paying for an expensive suite would surely be useful?

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Sadly yes

      BTW Why is " Free video editing software" off the list?

      Maybe they reckon it's been achieved with Blender.

      1. Lomax
        Pint

        Re: Sadly yes

        Blender +1; It's actually better than most closed source 3D packages, and makes for a surprisingly capable video editor as well. Cheers Blender!

    2. phy445

      Re: Sadly yes

      Because VLMC exists?

      1. AMBxx Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Sadly yes

        Given Microsoft's market share in phone, perhaps they should give the OS away (minus the data slurping). With the forthcoming stuff to run x86 binaries, they might even succeed.

        1. The Original Steve

          Re: Sadly yes

          Windows Mobile 10 is free believe it or not!

  15. Lotaresco

    A free phone OS

    Well even acknowledging that he means "free" as in speech not "free" as in beer, it's difficult to see how this will work. Free as in speech means that some organisation has to shoulder the administrative and support burdens associated with the OS or every phone manufacturer will have to provide in-house that support or someone somewhere runs an operation that charges the phone manufacturers a licence fee or support fee. Ultimately that's not going to look too different to Android.

    Then there is the issue of the freetards to whom "free" means "free" as in beer. They will be there at the watering holes paying nothing, expecting everything.

    So the only way this would work is if some organisation got behind it and provided a reference model for hardware, operating system and interface with an administration of effort to develop the code and support the distribution. Maybe we could call that organisation something like "The Free Software Foundation"? Nothing like leading by example, Richard.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: A free phone OS

      "Free as in speech means that some organisation has to shoulder the administrative and support burdens associated with the OS or every phone manufacturer will have to provide in-house that support or someone somewhere runs an operation that charges the phone manufacturers a licence fee or support fee. Ultimately that's not going to look too different to Android."

      An alternative would be a collaborative effort between H/W manufacturers to build a common OS. It would work out cheaper than each building their own. They could actually have done that without needing to get a return by continually leaching on their customers with walled gardens or data slurping if they'd been content with simply getting the return by using it as a vehicle to sell H/W.

      So it could have looked different to Android, IOS or Windows. However I suspect that they'd have simply jumped on the bandwagon of selling the H/W and then monetizing the users in one way or another (or in as many ways as they could manage). However, as Google got in first with Android it didn't happen.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Before we get a proper free phone OS.

    We need phone hardware without locked bootloaders.

    Thats the main crux of the problem. Id ditch Android in a heartbeat for a proper open phone OS if it could easily be deployed.

    The only thing getting in the way is crappy bootloaders. They can be fiddly to flash and usually trip some sort of warranty fuse if modified.

    1. Ogi

      Re: Before we get a proper free phone OS.

      Well the Neo900 guys are working to make a Nokia N900 replacement that is totally open hardware and software:

      http://neo900.org/

      It is coming along, but like all crowd funded projects, lacking in marketing, so few people are aware of it to contribute, so the estimated per-unit cost is still quite high. In theory if enough people are interested the costs for the end user should drop.

    2. Lotaresco

      Re: Before we get a proper free phone OS.

      "We need phone hardware without locked bootloaders... Thats the main crux of the problem."

      No, seriously it isn't. The main crux of the problem is where's the demand for this? A phone is just an appliance, where's the need for a "free" ToasterOS or FridgeOS or even SmartTV OS? The consumer just wants something that works and when it breaks either a nice repairman comes to make it work or the shop that sold it to you provides a warranty replacement.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Before we get a proper free phone OS.

        A phone is just an appliance, where's the need for a "free" ToasterOS or FridgeOS or even SmartTV OS?

        Frankly I don't want a ToasterOS or a FridgeOS at all. Come to that I don't want a smart TV either. But as soon as a phone's capabilities get to be equivalent of a general purpose computer it becomes more than just an appliance and it seems to be irresistible to vendors to use those capabilities to monetize the user. I have no desire to be monetized but I would like a phone which has more capabilities than my old Symbian. In short, I'd like a phone that I can trust with at least a basic repertoire of applications that I can also trust and I can't see a non-free OS being trustable. Sadly, for reasons already discussed, it seems unlikely that this is going to happen because it requires commercial vendors to facilitate its being loaded on the phone.

        Actually the free smart TV OS is easier: a dumb TV and a PC running something like MythTV on Linux or BSD.

        1. Lotaresco

          Re: Before we get a proper free phone OS.

          "Actually the free smart TV OS is easier: "

          But not necessary.

          As to running things on your phone, a decent notebook PC will do that better, cheaper with the OS of your choice.

          I am actually in favour of people rooting their phone and running any software on it they like. Provided they sign a contract that says that if they are responsible for a malware outbreak they will fund the entire cost of cleanup and a brand new phone for anyone else affected. The contract will also state that if they can't afford the costs they agree to donate all of their organs to those in need. With immediate effect.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Before we get a proper free phone OS.

            "I am actually in favour of people rooting their phone and running any software on it they like. Provided they sign a contract that says that if they are responsible for a malware outbreak they will fund the entire cost of cleanup and a brand new phone for anyone else affected."

            Why don't the existing phone/phone OS vendors take on that responsibility for their existing products?

          2. Oh Homer
            Headmaster

            Re: "malware outbreak"

            A proprietary OS, which is only updated by the vendor once in a blue moon (or not at all, if you have an older, now unsupported device), is far more likely to facilitate such an outbreak.

            The delivery mechanism for so-called "stock Android ROMs" is simply archaic. The idea that you must wait months or longer for your lacklustre vendor to deliver an entire OS image, which must be "flashed" in toto, rather than receive daily incremental updates to (amongst other things) zero-day vulnerabilities, is like something out of the Stone Age.

            Even Windows isn't that bad.

            Personally I think you've got it backwards. It should be the vendor who has to provide a warranty assuming full liability for the damage caused by his failure to provide critical updates in a timely fashion.

            Or better yet, the vendor should stick to vending hardware, and leave the software to us, starting with the full sources to his hardware drivers. Why exactly does there need to be this never-ending relationship between the buyer and seller, anyway? When was that vote taken?

            Why hardware manufacturers don't already do that is one of the world's great mysteries. I mean, it's not like we're somehow going to stop buying their hardware just because we know how it works, and equally it's not like their competitors lack the engineering facilities necessary to figure out how it works, even in the absence of those sources, so why bother hiding that information from the public, especially when the only consequences of all that secrecy is a cesspool of malware and a customer base that is desperate to dump them for a more flexible alternative.

          3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Before we get a proper free phone OS.

            "As to running things on your phone, a decent notebook PC will do that better, cheaper with the OS of your choice."

            It does tend to require very baggy pockets.

    3. fuzzie
      Thumb Down

      Re: Before we get a proper free phone OS.

      Even open boot loaders only go so far. Despite all its faults, Android has at least given handsets a reasonably standard hardware abstraction layer. Unfortunately, that still depends on SoC and other hardware suppliers shipping board support package blobs. And they have little incentive to keep support their hardware past the one or two years that it's the new and shiny. That prevents newer Android releases from being back-ported or even other OS's being hosted on that HAL.

      We actually need consumer advocacy/protection groups to stand up and mandate that all consumer products should have a viable support lifetime, much like we do for cars, white goods, etc. The manufacturer much continue to supply current drivers for X years and/or release those drivers as open source so others can use/support it. But I can already ready all the IP lawyers wailing.

  17. Permidion

    free phone OS

    Sailfish is not free enough ?

  18. andy 103

    The problem with anything free and open...

    The mindset of people who use free (in either sense) software simply goes against how real life actually works.

    The mindset seems to be "if we built it, they will come" and seems to try and use value propositions which the vast majority of people neither care - or in some cases - are not even aware about. A good example of when people say their code is open for others to review and scrutinise... do you really think most end users give a shit? Hint: they don't.

    The whole Linux vs Windows debates are a classic example of this. Why was Windows so successful? Because it was a commercial product which was being marketed by a company with boat loads of cash. The fact it cost money to buy and was seen as being backed by a professional company, that's a GOOD THING as far as the majority are usually concerned. You can go on about all the benefits of open source software, but at the end of the day, nobody really cares in the big, real world. Most people just want to get their stuff done - using the same software all their colleagues and friends use - without issue. And when there are issues, it's a paid product backed by a company, so surely they'll offer support (right?).

    Even if these projects produced The Best Thing Ever(tm) they would never get off the ground - because nobody is there to push them forward and advertise them. And nobody really cares about things being "open to scrutinty" and all the other BS open source people come out with. They care within their own tinnie tiny little communities - but they are the 1% and do not appeal to the other 99. Until they fix that literally nobody in the big wide world will even notice these projects exist.

    1. Lotaresco

      Re: The problem with anything free and open...

      "Why was Windows so successful?"

      Because it was sold to people who didn't care about the end user experience. The same people who thought that "no one got fired for buying IBM". It also didn't hurt that Microsoft took the approach that they wouldn't kick up a fuss about piracy. Later they drove the nails home by convincing OEMs to ship PCs with Windows installed as the default.

      No one in their right mind would have bought Windows for personal use. It was awful. GEM and AmigaOS knocked the stuffing out of Windows on the Jackintosh and the Amiga respectively.

      1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

        Re: The problem with anything free and open...

        Don't downvote that posting unless you are old enough to have tried to use the joke that was Windows 1.0. ok?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The problem with anything free and open...

      Your "windows vs linux" argument is shallow. You are merely regurgitating the years of inbreeding and isolation behind the facade of the desktop. In the real world, most things are running on Unix and Linux. I used to use that as a example for idiots, and I'm being nice, that could not accept they were already Unix users on a daily basis; every time they picked up the phone they were using a system running Unix, not Windows. The bulk of the world's compute infrastructure is NOT running Windows. Even inside Microsoft's own Azure Cloud you can routinely spin up non-Windows instances. Why? Because the bulk of the world's compute infrastructure is not running Windows. Desktops, and tablets? Yes, there's lots of Microsoft variations there, and the recent phone. There are far more operating systems, and things much like operating systems, running variants of Unix and Linux overall. This is known.

      I use Windows 7 mostly these days, but I "fix" it by running BASH instances from the super cool Git tools that seem to have forked CygWin, which I also was a big fan of. And nowadays I can run quite a few VM wrangler apps; right now it's Oracle's VirtualBox with the Vagrant command line tool. It just doesn't matter how much windozy garbage there is in this crusty 7 year old Windows build because, thank Science, that I can run proper OSes on top of the crap heap. YMMV.

      I kinda know a lot about desktops because I've been using every different flavor of every different desktop ever for several decades, except BEOS and some obscure window managers, and I'd rather use any of the Linux desktop WMs on top of a proper Linux kernel than either Mac or Windows desktops. Because in the end, you should be able to decouple your work from the silly desktop paradigm and run/edit your junk remotely via a command line. Why not? If you require a mouse, you may be looking for cheese. It's needed for some visual editing, but requiring it for your work otherwise is a sign of design weakness.

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

    4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: The problem with anything free and open...

      "They care within their own tinnie tiny little communities - but they are the 1% and do not appeal to the other 99. Until they fix that literally nobody in the big wide world will even notice these projects exist."

      OK, I get that you're running Windows. It's also clear that you're connecting that to the net. Now go and find the little box that sits between your nice Windows PC and the net. Does that also run Windows? No? What does it run, tucked away in there? It'd guess you're probably running a fair bit of free S/W of one sort or another without even giving it any thought.

    5. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

      Re: The problem with anything free and open...

      "They care within their own tinnie tiny little communities - but they are the 1% and do not appeal to the other 99. Until they fix that literally nobody in the big wide world will even notice these projects exist."

      Fix what? That most people are stupid? Just like you seem to be.

      You don't seem to know that Linux is EVERYWHERE. Certainly in a lot more devices than Windows.

  19. linear_

    Free Google Earth replacement?

    You mean something like ArcGIS Explorer?

    http://www.esri.com/software/arcgis/explorer-desktop

    This has been around for a few years now and does (I think) most things Google Earth does and more.

  20. Lomax

    Sail away

    Sailfish OS is very much alive and well - and even provides an Android compatibility layer, for those who still need their spyware. This comment was posted from my Jolla.

  21. Defiant

    Symbian Please

    I'd prefer an updated Symbian OS because it's lighter than Android

    1. fuzzie

      Re: Symbian Please

      In spirit SailfishOS is where you want to be. The basic platform and stuff is all C++/Qt/QML. Sure, it has Dalvik for the Android compatibility, but you don't need to run Android apps.

      1. Lomax

        Re: Symbian Please

        And Dalvik is an *optional* component - not installed on my Jolla.

  22. Dinsdale247

    Android is a non-starter

    Nothing will change while Google is steering the phone OS ship. Google has been able to lock out all other Phone OS comers because:

    1) They use a non-standard C library called bionic. It's written specifically with system calls that only work properly with the Linux Kernel, which had to be patched for Android. Now, all drivers are proprietary and written specifically for Bionic. This naturally pushes all ARM based systems towards Android because hardware vendors suck at software. One of the SailfishOS founders wrote a library called libhybris that wraps/translates bionic calls into calls that GNU libc understand so a standard Linux kernel can be used. This is how the KDE Plasma Mobile team can run on the Nexus 5 and Oneplus One.

    2) They use a non-standard Java runtime called Davlik that is incorporated directly into the Kernel. While Blackberry and Nokia proved that it could be ported (there also used to be something called Alien Davlik), it's not straightforward. To counter this threat, Google is replacing it with the Android Runtime (ART), which is proprietary and closed. All items are pre-compiled to ONLY work with Google ART, so they can't be re-used on other platforms, and you will no-longer be able to run apps from other stores on Google Android.

    3) Google Apps - Google Apps now incorporates all the 'good stuff' from Android. GPS systems, Google integration, Google Assistant, App Store, browser, all of it. It is proprietary and closed and is a binary installation on all platforms. Stock Cyanogen (or whatever it's called now) is nothing but a kernel, userland and UI shell. Sure you can make phone calls, but not much else.

    What does this mean? The problem is not consumers or vendors or adoption. The problem is Google manipulating FOSS for it's own gains.

    What is the Answer? Start a NEW OS that does not use Android or the Linux kernel and keep it free from corporate money. Everybody seems to have forgotten that both GNU/Linux and Android/Linux were not the popular choice a few years ago but people didn't just stop contributing because it wasn't popular. Who cares about consumer adoption? Build it and they will come.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fun fact

    Some guy made a lines-of-code scanning tool, it was an interesting exercise and I can't remember much about it. But the core GNU utils, so not like flex/bison but GCC, the core-utils, grep and "those things" was nearly 2 orders of magnitudes bigger than the kernel with all of its drivers (like 75x)

    This was certainly after 2010, 2012 comes to mind, which was (fuck!) half a decade ago. I now call it GNU/Linux out of respect for Stallman writing the initial versions of everything.

    What I really want to see is better governance, like the Octave project - there's no leader - there's a "take it or leave it (or fork it)" attitude and it drives me nuts. What these guys need is a leader really, better coordination.

    (This was supposed to be at some guy slagging off the GNU project and saying Linux was bigger but also encumbered with proprietary problems)

    Also freenode needs to be destroyed. I fucking hate freenode.

    With better organisation and guidance projects would have a direction, a task list (that isn't YEARS old) so forth.

    No software is made of only the fun bits to write FFS.

    But anyway....

  24. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    Stallman is right, as he usually is, of course.

    If you stop to think about how things are at the moment, isn't it just a bit absurd that we have extremely complex devices which do things that we don't know about. We don't have the specifications for their internals, and we don't have access to the software that actually runs on them, except in binary form (if that even).

    Bit of magic here, bit of magic there. Bit of unnoticed spying here, and there. Bit of "oh, it's a year old, throw it away" too.

    Total lunacy seen from a little distance, without having been brainwashed to think it's all normal!

  25. mykingdomforanos

    You can prise my general purpose computer from my cold, dead hands

    As much as RMS's purist nagging can sometimes become irritating, deity save us from a world in which computing devices are reduced to being little more than proprietary viewports onto the catalogues of the entertainment and content industries. His dogmatism often provides a necessary antidote and counterbalance to those who care *only* about "games, music and videos".

    There are other reasons we should cut him some slack too. After all, he did have major hand in creating the world's second-best text editor...

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They are basically not relevant, which is sad.

    The FSF has been on a downward spiral recently. This is largely because of the incompetence of their CEO and only current Sys Admin. You don't have to look very far to see how grossly incompetent John Sullivan is, just Google the FSF and you'll see his review ":Just. Got it see how it goes. Bye". When you can't even figure out how to post a review for your organization on Google reviews and you leave this as your review for over 6 months...maybe you shouldn't head a tech company? Then there is Trisquel, basically the only OS that meets their strict requirements and is maintained by their current Sys Admin. Trisquel's home page currently has their end of year 2015 statement as the most current post and it tells us that Trisquel 8 will be released in 2016...it wasn't.

    Heck, on Free Software Directory Day their directory was down! Of course, all of this incompetence is growing during a time with accusations of discrimination and intolerance at the Free Software Foundation are growing. Isn't the world of tech already enough of a man's club, maybe the FSF's board should look at bringing in some truly innovative and talented people - even if they aren't people that fit into their white/male-centered office environment.

  27. rahabrx

    This article fails to define free but uses it over a dozen times

    This article fails to define free but uses it over a dozen times. It should be qualified and explained that the FSF's definition of free is disputed in the open source community at large.

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