There has been quite a bit of news on the mobile OS space lately. We’re starting to see a trend of diversifying solutions, as opposed to the “me-too; Android” phones over the last couple of years. On the hardware side, Nokia is continuing its decline, but as this Guardian article shows, still delivers about a quarter of the handsets (smart and feature phones) to the Western European market. It is far surpassed by Samsung at almost 40%, while Apple, who only make smart phones, sold some 10% of the devices.
On the software side, Google released Android 4.1, including source code, while Facebook has announced their own customized OS, however it is likely to be Android based. Meanwhile, old Nokia employees still believe in their adopted child, MeeGo, and has forked off a company to continue development.
New on the block is Mozilla, with their Boot to Gecko, Mobile Firefox OS. They showed off screenshots this week. Mozilla has taken a bold step by basing all “native” applications and UI on HTML5. It should make applications easy to develop, however, there still has to be a OS specific API beyond HTML5 to handle features like cross-application intents (e.g. use this number to call), copy/paste, etc. and possibly hardware functions like camera, motion sensors, compass and so on.
To round off, a recent H-Online article by Andrew Back discusses how all the “open” alternatives still rely on proprietary hardware drivers for radio, and other auxiliary chips. As long as the fireware for these are closed there is a problem for security and freedom, he asserts. He mentions the OsmocomBB project as a free GSM implementation, but also that fully free and open software radios are unlikely to see the light, as it will not get certification by telecom regulators, and thus will be illegal to operate.
In the world of OSes for mobile phones, there have been a lot of changes lately, with some going away and others joining the race. A while back, Intel announced that they would drop MeeGo, which means that it is dead since there is nobody else to support it if the community can’t keep it going. But at the same time, they said the code would be merged with another mobile OS. Intel and the Linux Foundation will be steering the OS with the very unfortunate name Tizen (it can easily be mistaken for meaning penis in some of the Scandinavian languages).
Meanwhile, over at Nokia they are betting on Windows Mobile (and making many of their employees disgruntled), while at the same time releasing the already defunct MeeGo OS in their N9 phone. However, since these are all OSes for high end smart phones, they also need something for their so called “feature phones” which are not power full enough (or have different user groups) to drive all the complex functionality. Enter Meltemi, ironically enough a Linux based OS to replace Symbian S40 series.
The story does not end there, though. Amongst the free mobile OSes, KDE is entering the race. Not with a complete separate OS, but rather a UX platform, Plasma Active, with an API for phones, tables, set-top boxes, home automation, and so on. Plasma Active has to run on top of some OS, and currently they are using MeeGo and openSUSE based Balsam Professional.
It is refreshing to see a lot of movement in this area, and hopefully it will lead to a free alternative. However, the at moment it is still looking somewhat bleak for truly free mobile phone OSes. The firmware and driver issue seems to be never ending, and not even the OpenMoko can escape it.
Timo Jyrinki has an interesting write-up about free software on mobile phones. Mentioning FreeSmartphone.Org (FSO), Openmoko, Debian’s FSO group, SHR, QtMoko, and MeeGo.
He highlights the promising combination of GNU/Linux + Qt in MeeGo, and also hopes for further development in FSO, SHR, and QtMoko. However, he concludes that getting the community to take over the MeeGo project after Nokia leaves might be difficult task.
Just found a great driver app for the Android: “BlueInput” by Teksoft. It’s also available on the market, easiest found by the company name. It claims to support a multitude of bluetooth keyboards and mice. What’s best, it worked perfectly with my old Nokia SU-8W right out of the box. Finally, I don’t have fumble with those on-screen keys any more.
Yesterday it was announced that Nokia would partner with Microsoft for their new smart phones. Investors did not like the news, and sent Nokia’s stock down 14% on heavy trading. Slashdot did not like the news, with comments like “rest in peace“, and several “this was the last Nokia I’ll own“. The Register called it Losers Alliance.
Although Nokia says they will keep MeeGo around, it seems unlikely that it will top priority. Microlith’s comment describes the bleak future of open smart phones in the near future:
“The problem with Android, IMO, is that the entire ecosystem composing it and much of what surrounds it is entirely insular, and to no great benefit.
It shares no common libraries or interfaces with what you find in most Linux distributions. It uses a unique libc that no other distribution uses. It uses a file system layout that is not found anywhere else. Its GUI rendering subsystem is completely unique and incompatible with all others.
The end result is that changes to Android stay within the Android system and do not benefit open source projects outside of it. And projects outside of it require heavy rewrites to work, at all, on Android. Not to mention that Android has no real repository type system, so you’re left trading .apk files and latching on to the market, which is only available on the default builds of some devices and not at all on others.
Maemo was developed with that compatibility in mind, and is a large part of the reason I bought it. It was most of what the OpenMoko Freerunner tried to be, and MeeGo only improved the openness aspect of it. MeeGo allowed mobile devices to retain continuity with the rest of the open source ecosystem you find in most desktop Linux systems, thus changes and improvements to both ends benefits everyone. In addition, it removed the non-device-specific closed bits and created a platform independent of any one handset vendor.
Android leaves you a second (or more likely, third) class citizen in this effort, as the AOSP does not, last I checked, flow upstream into the Android core and the AOSP only receives the latest changes to Android after it’s been delivered to device manufacturers (see Honeycomb and Motorola.)
So this is very much a Microsoft victory against Open Source, if not Free Software, projects in the mobile space. And Android is not a way forward that is very fair to end users and non-corporate developers.”
Nokia N900 has been out for a while, and after N8 was released, everybody is now waiting for N9 which will be the first mobile to use the new MeeGo OS. However, MeeGo has already been officially ported to N900. From their set up instructions, this practically sold me on the phone already: “The ’scp’ and ’ssh’ tools should be available from within the device and you can transfer files in and out with them. You should also be able to run ‘yum install’ now, to install packages.“. That’s something users of all other phones cannot and probably will never be able to do.
I thought I’d have a look at which packages are available for the ARM7 architecture. The packages specific to ARM7 are not that surprising; just the basic stuff. However, looking at the repodata/patterns.xml file, it starts getting interesting. The package called meego-handset-devel-support has some very welcome dependencies, including: wget, openssh-server, rsync, screen, qt-devel, make, gcc, strace, valgrind, powertop.
All these can be found in the core section. However, the packages there are also available for other non-handset form factors, and might not be installable on a phone. We will just have to wait and see.
So although this looks very promising, I’m still holding on to my N80 for a while. Even after four years of use, it’s the best phone I’ve had. I’ll let others take care of the early adoption and testing.
With Android out of the door, IM chat over IP on the mobile will soon be a staple. Paying for SMS text messaging will soon be a thing of the past. However, what about all those other devices which hasn’t caught up yet? fring saves the day!
Fring supports text chat for Skype, MSN, Google Talk, ICQ, SIP, Twitter, Yahoo! and AIM. Furthermore, it supports Skype and SIP voice over IP, which should be a welcome service. Finally, it can connect to Facebook, Gmail Notifier, Vtap Video Streaming, Orkut Social Network, Yandex Push Email, and more.
From your phone, you can download fring by pointing it to m.fring.com. On my N80, two applications were installed, and fring started up automatically. You’ll have to sign up for an account, and then add the IM networks you already use. Your friends will automatically appear in a searchable list.
Tonight brings yet another classic on to my N80. Using the ScummVM virtual machine for the old LucasArts games, it is possible to use the old files on the mobile. ScummVM is by the way implemented for a wide range of devices and OSes, including Fedora, Debian, Ubuntu and other Linux distributions, PalmOS, Symbian, Nintendo and so on.
As for the games, you’ll have to buy them yourself. However, those floppies you bought in the early 90s only had an expected lifespan of four till five years. Searching for abandonware zak mckracken, or download monkey island might get you what you’re looking for.
Yes, the headline is correct. Tonight I just installed the classic FPS on my mobile! It is in fact rendering very well, and quicker than what I remember from 15 years back on the PC. True, the CPU on the mobile is probably ten times faster than the 33 MHz 386 we had at home, and the screen is very small, but I’m still impressed.
Two downloads are required:
1. The engine by Markus Mertama (go for the free “Core” shareware option)
(I had to transfer the SIS file to the memory card, since the “Services” application on the phone did not manage to read it as a binary.)
2. The WAD (resource) file, shareware edition. You can get it here:
Make sure you put the WAD file under E:\wads (on the memory card).
Now, you might think that is quite nifty. But it gets better! I recently bought a SU-W8 wireless bluetooth keyboard. And of course it works perfectly with the game too! Including CTRL for firing and ALT+LEFT/RIGHT arrows for strafing.
If the engine could flip the view 90 degrees to use more of the screen space, it would be perfect!
Also useful, is Petteri Muilu’s Auto key lock for N80 which does not have this feature built in.
I just installed putty SSH on my Nokia N80. And I can now log in to my home computer over SSH from ANYWHERE. Is that cool or what?
putty for Symbian is available as open source, for free, here: