Newlyweds: Nokia’s Maemo and Intel’s Moblin

This is good news for mobile free software (or open source, as you wish to call it): Maemo and Moblin joined forces today.  I had lots of expectations for Maemo, but so far Nokia hasn’t pushed it enough. This merge of the two project may give it a new life.  Now the issue is only to have more mobile devices and phones out there that use this platform, without getting tempted with proprietarization (like evil Motorola is doing –hint: don’t buy a Milestone).

MeeGo combines Intel’s Moblin and Nokia’s Maemo projects at the Linux Foundation to create one open source uber-platform for the next generation of computing devices: tablets, pocketable computers, netbooks, automotive IVI and more.

Why should you pay attention to this announcement? With MeeGo you have the world’s largest chip manufacturer and the world’s largest mobile handset manufacturer joining forces to create an incredible opportunity for developers who want to reach millions of users with innovative technology.

via Bringing the Magic to Linux with MeeGo | Linux.com.

Mobile phone markets are designed to split our community

Apple’s iPhone biggest innovation is its mobile app store: for the first time it allowed installing software on the mobile device with the convenience of any modern GNU/Linux distribution. Like in Debian, Fedora, Ubuntu, installing software is just a matter of browsing a repository and click on a button. It’s such a good idea that now every mobile phone manufacturer has created its own mobile app store version. Nokia has Ovi Store, RIM/BlackBerry has App World, Android has its Market. I’m sure that more will come, also from the network operators.

Differently from GNU/Linux software repositories, though, these markets only allow non-free software. The manufacturers together with the network operators act as strict gatekeepers, allowing to reach the users only binaries signed with developers keys. Even if there are many free/libre software projects distributed on the mobile stores (Funambol, WordPress, and many other), the users cannot practically enjoy the freedom to modify the software autonomously because of tivoization.  So we have in our hands powerful computers, always connected to the network but its users are deprived of one significant freedom. The worst effect of these mobile stores is that they split our community, forcing free developers to choose between distributing their software while compromising their morality or not distribute at all.

Given the sad news about OpenMoko ceasing development of the new phone, it’s necessary to gather up and think of alternatives. Jailbreak and Cydia on iPhone is a start, and other phones will need similar liberation. But these are just short-term palliatives. In the long run, I hope we’ll have more OpenMoko-like devices, with full freedom attached.

Will Nokia become FLOSS best friend?

Google’s power is making more people concerned that their motto ‘do no evil’ is not reassuring enough. Fabrizio Capobianco’s blog post summarizes the concerns of the Winston Smith Project. Google is scary because it controls the access point to the internet for 90% of users and because it’s expanding its reach to the mobile network. But G is not the only one trying to blend the separation between your desktop computer and your cell phone: it just happen to be a very visible one. Look at the chart on Funambol’s white paper on mobile sync opportunities and strategies: everybody is doing the same.

Mobile sync opportunities

Microsoft is not less scary, because with its monopoly on the desktop computers it controls the users’ applications and data. Extending their power from the desktop to the mobile environment is within their reach: after all, they succeeded expanding from the desktop to the server. They can do it again, if they play it right. Apple controls and has access to data for millions of desktop+mobile users: maybe MobileMe is not yet widely used but nonetheless the closed and proprietary nature of all Apple things and the quantity of iTunes+iPod users makes them scary enough.

Nokia is peculiar: it has a huge market share on mobile phones, but its Ovi services don’t have a strong companion on the desktop. With all the other operating systems controlled by competitors, Nokia could start collaborating more with the free software community to better integrate Ovi with Gnome or KDE for example. I think it would be a wise move since there are many GNU/Linux desktops out there, and more will come during 2009.’  Will Nokia become the next Free Software community Best Friend Forever, now that Google has become scary?

Nokia and the L of smart freedom

The good news today is that Nokia relicensed the Qt (pr: cute) libraries under the GNU Lesser General Public License, demonstrating that the mobile ecosystem is where things happen. The GNU Lesser GPL is a license that allows non-free and free software to co-exist. Yes, with the LGPL the FSF admits that non-free software exists. Confused/surprised? You shouldn’t be: the FSF and Stallman are much less of a fundamentalist than they are painted by the FUD-drones. The LGPL is a strategic tool to allow free software developers to help each other: when a free library doesn’t offer any particular advantages over alternative non-free libraries, then it makes sense to use the Lesser GPL for it, instead of the GPL. Using the LGPL library will give a cost saving opportunity to proprietary software developers, while free software developers will get code contributions and a wider user base.’  The L stands for “smart freedom”.

Interesting to notice that this is the second license change for the project: from the Q Public License to the GNU GPL. Now they’re under the Lesser GPL, with a more transparent development model, a git repository and, wow, contributors will keep the copyright of their code (no contributors agreement to sign). Nokia seems very aggressive, and they’re right. With Android in town they need to fight with all the weapons they have.

I expect now a tougher competition between the two major toolkits, Qt and GTK+, with a polarization of the battle field. On the Qt side there is Nokia, on the GTK+ side there is Sun, Novell, RedHat, HP and all mobile’  Linux platforms. Nokia is also supporting GTK+ for its Maemo Internet Tablets, but I guess they’ll pull the plug and switch to Qt in a few months.

Does it still make sense to push the development of the somewhat inferior LGPL GTK+ when you can switch to LGPL Qt? We’ll have to wait and see. What is sure is that free software is definitely here to stay and play a major role in the mobile arena (and I’m betting that Capo wins his bet –Microsoft will offer Windows Mobile as free software).

(via ArsTechnica)

The iPhone killer existed before the iPhone

And Nokia didn’t know about it. The Linux-based Maemo platform had all the potential to radically change the cell phone landscape long before Apple came out with the iPhone. But Nokia preferred to be ultra-conservative and marketed the Internet Tablet devices such as the Nokia N810 as a toy for geeks.

Maybe this strategy has paid off since now Nokia is hiring those geeks to work on the Maemo software platform. This is a good sign for the free software movement because Nokia is flexing its muscles in the business arena pushing both its free/open source platforms: QT/GTK+ Maemo and the upcoming open sourced Symbian.

Way to go Nokia. Only be fast because I need a new phone and I have decided to buy one that comes with freedom attached, no strings.

Are you a developer? Apply here: Nokia – Apply Your Imagination.

Cross-platform and interoperability is the key

When it comes to connecting people, the first thing you need to do is use the same language.’  That doesn’t mean force everybody to use your language, because that’s what dictators do (and dictators are wiped out by history). To connect people you have to adapt to people’s language, eventually learning many of them.

This post describes a user experience with new services launched by Nokia and he highlights the major issue I have seen with most, if not all, of the services offered by the big guys:

Nokia Chat I can appreciate because it’s cool new tech — but unless it’s going to support those cool features on a wide range of devices, including non-Nokia ones, it’s pretty pointless for me.

That’s hitting the nail on the head: how can somebody design a chat system that is not interoperable with the rest of the world? It’s the abc of networked economies. Like the fax machine or the telephone itself, more users more (squared) value.

Thinking that everybody will want to buy a Nokia (or Samsung or iPhone or you-name-it) to be able to chat with other that have the same system is arrogant, to say the least. Nonetheless, it’s a mistake that many incumbents are making and one that Funambol is trying hard to avoid. By releasing clients for all platforms Funambol demonstrates that it believes in cross-platform, open standards and interoperability.

Make Funambol work on QTopia, get paid and get a free phone

Why wait until summer to code and earn $3,000? Funambol has just announced the availability of a $3,000 bounty to develop a plugin to allow Funambol to run on Qtopia devices. Trolltech, the makers of Qtopia, was just acquired this week by Nokia and as a result, Qtopia will become more commonly used.

Trolltech and Funambol would like to make sure that Funambol software works on Qtopia, so we are happy to provide you with a free Trolltech Green Phone or OpenMoko phone, a free Trolltech SDK and, of ourse, Funambol software. This would involve developing a plug-in to sync PIM data (contacts and calendar to start with) and maybe push email later.

If interested, follow the procedure on the code sniper page and submit a proposal.

Developers looking for information on Funambol’s code should look at Funambol’s wiki and at code from other community contributions (like the Android plugin, for example or the simpler Jajah plugin).

Nokia goes for Trolltech

Now, this is surprising: Nokia acquired Trolltech, makers of toolkit QT, GTK’s competitor. What surprises me is that Nokia is using GTK on its tablet products (the 770, N800 and N810). So now Nokia has a stake in many platforms: its own flavour of Symbian for its cell phones, GTK/Gnome on the internet tablets and now QT… for what? It’s hard to guess. Is Nokia interested in QTopia, the platform used in embedded devices, including the dead sold out Trolltech Greenphone?

Nokia contro il W3C, scontro sui brevetti software

Ho l’impressione che Stephan Wenger di Nokia voglia dare una spallata al WorldWideWeb Consortium (W3C) impegnato nella definizione del prossimo standard HTML5. Teniamo a mente che tra tutti gli enti di standardizzazione, W3C è l’unico a prevedere in una policy esplicita che eventuali brevetti negli standard devono essere rilasciati dai titolari con licenze royalty-free e perpetue.

Il paper segnalatomi dal prof. Fuggetta mi sembra quasi un colpo di rovescio per aggirare questa policy anti-brevetti, dato che Nokia è una di quelle pochissime aziende europee favorevoli ai brevetti sul software. Fa bene invece il W3C a resistere a questo ennesimo attacco della lobby pro-brevetti. Certo OGG Theora non è il formato tecnicamente migliore, la gestione del formato è criticabile, ma è il migliore disponibile. Mi auguro che questo confronto con il W3C serva a far discutere ancora sulle idiozie dei brevetti sugli algoritmi MPEG.

Se ne parla su vari blog e anche sul forum del palmare (parzialmente basato su software libero) Nokia. È possibile seguire la discussione nella mailing list pubblica del W3C.