back to article GNOME Foundation backs 'freedom-oriented' smartphone

The GNOME Foundation has backed efforts to create a "freedom-oriented" smartphone that protects users' privacy and runs only open-source software. The Librem 5 promises to run privacy-centric Debian derivative PureOS by default and to support "most GNU+Linux distributions". Purism, a maker of laptops running PureOS for the …

  1. AMBxx Silver badge

    But

    Love the idea, but then I liked Windows Phone - same problem too - lack of apps will stop this gaining many users.

    1. gv

      Re: But

      If it has a browser app and maybe a port of the f-droid repository, I think I would definitely spend my money on this.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: But

      Love the idea, but then I liked Windows Phone

      If you liked Windows phone, this one is probably not for you but otherwise I agree :).

      There's also the little fact that the Matrix has a serious funding problem so it may not even be around that much longer. It would have been better if they left that out, it now looks like necrosis has already set in before it's even funded. That is admittedly an entirely new approach to incentivise people to part with their money, but I can tell you it doesn't work for me..

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Pirate

      Re: But

      "only runs open source"

      I've seen that kind of thing tried before, and it didn't work very well. Example, Debian Linux and the 'non-free' repo that you have to manually add to the package manager. Not quite so heavy-handed but same idea.

      That goes along with the 'tainted kernel' thing for Linux kernel drivers that don't explicitly have that "I am GPL'd" macro someplace in the code.

      Stallman must be behind this...

      [pirate icon because I want REAL freedom, not just freedom to do what "they" want you to do]

      1. Sandtitz Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: But

        "That goes along with the 'tainted kernel' thing for Linux kernel drivers"

        "Ulch - that code was tainted! You feel deathly sick."

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ' lack of apps will stop this gaining many users.'

    It'd be nice to see Privacy-led choices on the market for a change. Following the Snowden revelations or Facebook/Google data-abuses, many thought a new cottage industry would pop up. But I guess industry didn't get the memo!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: But I guess industry didn't get the memo!

      They got the memo. The consumers didn't.

    2. Dave559 Bronze badge

      Re: ' lack of apps will stop this gaining many users.'

      For existing alternatives not focussed on data-mining, there's Sailfish OS, and there was Ubuntu Phone and Firefox OS, but, sadly, I agree, without reasonable app support, nowadays, it's hard, if not impossible, to build up a user base.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As long as it isn't saddled with systemd

    1. Teiwaz Silver badge

      As long as it isn't saddled with systemd

      if it's Gnome of course it be Systemd.

  4. Lysenko

    i.MX6/8 !!??

    That would be the ARM chip from FreeScale, recently acquired by NXP who were in turn recently acquired by QualCom? I would be very wary of treading that path. Not only is future support in question, it's expensive compared to an AllWinner A64 or similar. Also, Matrix Network? That would be the outfit who recently posted: "Matrix needs you! We are facing a funding crisis."?

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: i.MX6/8 !!??

      Presumably the architecture of this Gnome Phone is such that it won't require binary blobs from ODMs for each security update. Even Android is finally moving in this direction with Project Treble.

      1. Lysenko

        Re: i.MX6/8 !!??

        @Dave 126

        True. The AllWinner habit of driving a coach and horses over the GPL temporarily escaped me. They're certainly not the sort of supplier GNOME people would want to deal with.

    2. davidp231

      Re: i.MX6/8 !!??

      "That would be the outfit who recently posted: "Matrix needs you! We are facing a funding crisis."

      Wikipedia do it all the time.

      1. Flakk Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: i.MX6/8 !!??

        "That would be the outfit who recently posted: "Matrix needs you! We are facing a funding crisis."

        Wikipedia do it all the time.

        Yep. Jimmy Wales needs a new bass boat.

  5. DropBear Silver badge

    Normally I would be all over something like this, except... yeah, except.

    - with Android spec/price ratios being what they are (and my needs being as modest as they are) these days, I just can't justify spending $600 on a phone;

    - while I love Open Source I really, really don't like HTML5 _anything_ (as opposed to native code), and they distinctly sound like they intend to provide calling software and not much else any time soon; now, I'd be perfectly fine without native Facebook and Twitter apps but ultimately a desktop Linux duct taped to a feature phone is not what I'm having in mind for a phone in 2017.

    - last but not least the past is littered with glorious attempts to create a phone that finally breaks away from The Man, pretty much all of which are either paperweight or still running their original software today, all of them being dead ends now; and as far as dead ends in technology go, I've been there, many times, got the t-shirt, and these days I'm just a bit tired of having to abandon ship and start everything from scratch yet again, especially if it can be avoided.

    Oh, and I love Gnome/GTK dearly, but hate the whole Gnome 3 thing. So, yeah...

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      > - last but not least the past is littered with glorious attempts to create a phone that finally breaks away from The Man

      That was my first thought. I wish them well, but I hear past names on the wind, like SailFish, FireFox, Ubuntu Phone, Palm, BlackPhone... I haven't clicked through the link, so I don't know if this Gnome Phone has addressed why they think they will succeed where others have failed.

    2. Poncey McPonceface
      Alert

      > - last but not least the past is littered with glorious attempts to create a phone that finally breaks away from The Man

      Only one attempt needs to succeed :)

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        But EVERY attempt MUST get past The Man's control of the airwaves. What do you do when ALL routes pass through Hell?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I find this an interesting and hopeful development.

  7. TiddlyPom
    Thumb Up

    Shame RISC-V is not ready yet

    If the GNOME foundation wanted a system that was completely free from proprietary software (and firmware) then (ideally) it should be running on a RISC-V processor (MIPS-like open instruction set architecture licensed under BSD license) - but obviously that is not an option - yet. gcc 7.1 will have full RISC-V support and RISC-V support is planned for the 4.15 release of the Linux. Obviously way in the future but it could be something that a freedom oriented smart phone should encourage.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Meh

    Just file them over there...

    ...with the big pile of Firefox phones.

  9. Simon Ward

    Good luck with that ...

    Nice idea, but ...

    They may want to ask Mozilla and Canonical how they got on with their respective phone plans.

  10. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Comparison with the Planet Gemini?

    The Gemini did crowd-funding in March and more than hit the target of $500k and is on target to deliver phones by the end of the year — all crowd-funding projects carry a degree of risk. It is aiming to do this by using as much off-the-shelf equipment and software as possible, and this will undoubtedly include BLOBs for some stuff.

    This phone will be more expensive and without the USP of a real keyboard and will take much longer to develop (nothing due before 2019). In summary something for the true believers: unimpressive hardware at a premium price at some point in the future. Good luck with that!

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Comparison with the Planet Gemini?

      Not all Gemini devices will have SIMs. Without having even a monochrome display on its outer lid I'm not sure how practical it will be as a phone - it seems pitched more as a companion to a phone, a laptop replacement but not a phone replacement. Various small Bluetooth headset devices with screens and call buttons exist - these could help.

      Gemini can run Linux or Android.

  11. ibmalone Silver badge

    Ah good, Gnome foundation on a phone. That's something I wont be needing my barge pole for. "We've decided few users really wanted a 'phone calls' feature and have focused on integrating our <insert own chat app that nobody uses here>."

  12. James 51 Silver badge

    Wonder if they would benefit from working with the fairphone people. There does seem to be a large overlap in the philosophies behind them.

  13. DrXym Silver badge

    Been down this road before

    We've been down this road many times before with WebOS, FirefoxOS, MeeGo, Tizen etc.

    People care about the general usability of the device as a phone, planner, messaging platform etc. as well as the availability of the apps they want to use on it - maps, Youtube, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter etc.

    It's an issue of little importance if the kernel or the software over the top is free as in libre or not. What matters is that the device does the stuff they bought it for.

    If this "freedom oriented" smartphone expects to go anywhere it had better remember that. Even in the absence of apps, the most important part is getting the user experience right. It's great that Debian is underneath it and all but if the gui sucks then it sucks regardless.

    1. wheelybird

      Re: Been down this road before

      webOS got the user experience _very_ right. So right that Apple are "borrowing" a lot of the UX designs for that iPhone X. The demise of webOS was down to corporate mismanagement, not UX or the lack of apps.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Pirate

        Re: Been down this road before

        "webOS got the user experience _very_ right"

        I don't agree. Maybe for a lot of content-consumption-only users, but not everyone. Otherwise, I'd change my desktop to look like that...

        and the screenshots I've seen remind me of the XBox panel-based interfaced [which irritates me] and Windows "Ape" and have the 2D FLATSO etc..

        Maybe ok for a tiny phone screen from the noughties (or 00-ties, whatever), but 'modern' gear has better resolution and speed, and can at LEAST be 3D skeuomorphic...

        (yeah I'm trying to start a rebellion here - pirate icon)

  14. Nimby
    WTF?

    Eh?

    I'm completely lost by the price point. The hardware seems ... not quite right either. The apps? Also a likely problem. The world of independent and/or secure phones with their new innovative OSes is literally littered with totally dead projects, one-off phones, and OSes that no one could update today if they still had the phone and wanted to. And I'm really not a fan of the latest Gnome interfaces. But uh ... yeah. Sounds like a real winner. I can't even begin to imagine why there's a crowdfunding shortfall...

    I would love to see someone identify the issues and actually address them with a real plan for how to make a secure non-Apple non-Google phone with a lifespan longer than a pet hamster. Such a survival plan document would be way more interesting than phantomware specs for an overpriced piece of kit.

  15. Mycho Silver badge

    Tempted

    If it looks like it'll happen I will consider chipping in to improve the availability of smartphone drivers etcetera.

    Continues breathing normally

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The big problem behind trying to get around The Man is that The Man controls the airwaves (and that's true everywhere it counts). If you want to have a wireless device, you have to submit to The Man eventually or face radio cops chasing you.

    And all they really need is a radio chip to pwn you.

  17. Anonymous Blowhard

    We don't need more hardware!

    I think the problem they're trying to solve "phones free from corporate control" isn't going to be solved by hardware; as others have posted, it's just too expensive to develop and market a phone, and the list of would-be phone makers gets longer every year.

    Linux succeeded because it didn't try to sell you a new computer, instead it made it possible to free existing hardware from proprietary operating systems, often giving them better performance than the original software. As Linux became more accepted, some manufacturers even started offering it as a supported OS.

    What I'd like is a phone operating system that I can install on existing hardware (get rid of Bixby on my S8+ for a start!). Obviously this is not an easy trick, and there are some issues with getting around built-in blocks that manufacturers put into phones, but having something that could be installed on old iPhones or Samsung Galaxy 6s would allow the project to get started and make it possible for developers all over the world to contribute - just like Linux.

    Tying the software to a specific hardware platform will just make it a short lived, niche product.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: We don't need more hardware!

      If you're gonna go that route, though, you might as well stick with AOSP since that's (1) supported by a Linux kernel anyway, and (2) was built from the outset for phones.

      If you're saying it's not possible to build a phone using unencumbered COTS hardware, then there's simply no hope for an unencumbered phone (and there may well be no hope because radio access requires government permission with all that entails).

      1. fuzzie

        Re: We don't need more hardware!

        I'm going to give this a humongous +1. Doing hardware is a huuuuge distraction from building an open platform/eco system, etc. Learn from FirefoxOS, Ubuntu, and Jolla/SailfishOS. When you (eventually, if ever) get something out of the door, you're a generation behind (if you're lucky), with no benefits of scale, distribution or price.

        Jolla's recent switch to porting to Sony's OpenDevices is much more sane approach. Sony gets to do the hardware, ensure the boot loader can be unlocked, do CE/UL/carrier certification, and sell into the general market. Jolla has a much more manageable task of occasionally porting to new hardware, but focusing primarily on the software.

        Building a new eco system and app store is one serious uphill battle. I'd argue SailfishOS is only really usable as a daily driver due to Alien Dalvik support. A freedom phone won't/can't include that.

    2. ma1010 Silver badge

      Re: We don't need more hardware!

      *COUGH*CayanogenMod*COUGH*

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Am I sensing a horse-cart situation here ?

    Before deciding that "GNOME is the answer", I'd like to know what the original question was.

    I have a *lot* of grumbles with Android. But none of them would be fixed by this project.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Am I sensing a horse-cart situation here ?

      my grumbles with Android could be fixed by an improved UI toolkit that application designers could adopt...

      you know, something that gives you 3D skeuomorphic without the difficulty of application-drawn controls, etc.

      I don't expect GNOME devs, who "feel" that 2D FLATSO is a good thing [obviously], and "feel" that GNOME 3 is better than GNOME 2 was [I use MATE as a desktop], and "feel" that requiring 'special keys' without proper documentation to access the properties of the panel are a good thing [Linus _specifically_ bitched about that], and INTEGRATING! WITH! SYSTEMD! AND! DBUS! is a good thing [obviously NOT a good thing], would come up with a phone/slab OS that's any better than 'droid.

      I think it would be WORSE for all of the things we do not like about 'droid.

      I can't imagine what their "app store" would look like. And I doubt you'll be able to install un-approved applications, the way you can on 'droid (i.e. anybody can turn "that" off and load any APK file they download, if they want to).

    2. Mycho Silver badge

      Re: Am I sensing a horse-cart situation here ?

      As I understand it, the question was "Do we offer our support?" and was asked by the GNOME foundation.

      I've yet to see any announcement from Purism that they've accepted anything more than the publicity. Feel free to correct me.

  19. YARR
    Thumb Up

    I hope this succeeds in the long term but agree with the points about hardware. Hardware changes quickly and driver support is soon dropped. Software development usually overruns and can struggle to keep up. They should focus on creating a software foundation that is hardware-agnostic that others can build on. Open source hardware can be developed once the software is mature and there is established demand.

    Regarding apps, why re-invent the wheel, can't Android apps run atop this and be sand-boxed if there are security issues with the APIs?

    Given how Google are restricting access to the Play store for ideological reasons, and major phone makers dislike being dependent on Google, the time is nigh for the birth of a free (uncensored) Android app store, which could then be used by secure open source phones.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      "They should focus on creating a software foundation that is hardware-agnostic that others can build on."

      But given how cutthroat the SoC market is, how things are constantly shuffled to keep from Giving Information To The Enemy, you pretty much can't produce a hardware-agnostic system without their cooperation, and they're not in a position to cooperate. Either one of them has to gain true dominance to dictate terms, or they have to finally get tired of the war and start negotiating.

  20. the future is back!

    As my iPhone morphs into less a phone/messaging device and more a marketing system, this becomes a hopeful development.

  21. Mycho Silver badge

    Funded

    As of this morning the device is fully funded.

    The early specs say Gnome and KDE are options.

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