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.Β  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.

Many of my friends keep asking me what I think of the iPhone, if it’s good and whether they should buy one. They are all non-techie people that want a very good phone and are willing to pay the extra money for a good handset that does email and web navigation, and a decent phone too. For such kind of customers, the iPhone seems to be the only choice out there. Lets face it: there are no free software alternatives out there. And even the proprietary platforms are not up to the task. Windows Mobile is not designed to be cool (no Microsoft product is, except the Xbox, maybe) and its usability compares poorly to iPhone OS. BlackBerry and Symbian are boring… There is no comparison: iPhone has raised the bar for all of them and they deserve the attention of the market.

Now, the question is: will I ever get one? Let me put it this way: I will consider buying one when I will be allowed to install software that is not coming from the Apple Store AND when there will be a VoIP application for it. Does it mean I’ll never get one? It’s up to Apple (like the calendar API problem, that is hurting Funambol). I’m curious to see what the iPhone Dev Camp crowd thinks of this problem or if they consider this a problem at all.

Like me, others are concerned with Apple’s DRM policy.’  Joshua Gay, campaign manager of the FSF, wrote Why free software and Apple’s iPhone don’t mix:

Apple’s license says that to write and distribute software for the iPhone, developers have to agree that any freedom users should have to modify and share their software is secondary to the paramount requirement of observing and protecting Apple’s DRM system.

[…] Apple […] want[s] to control what users do with their computers.

Write to Steve Jobs and let him know that you won’t buy an iPhone until Apple will empower users to develop and install free software on the device. Let FSF know what he says.

Even if I don’t have an iPod (and I won’t buy one … I’ll tell you why one of these days) I’ve asked Funambol’s community to translate into English an article by Luis Medina written in Spanish. Paulo Sergio Lopes Fernandes and German Viscuso contributed the translation.

I liked the article not only because it’s a good hack, but mostly because it demonstrates the importance of being able to tinker with the hardware you own. You should always be able to improve, evolve, fix whatever software comes with any device. While we wait for Apple to open up its system releasing its awaited SDK, here is a good read for you iTouch users and Fedora 8 (easily portable to other GNU/Linux distributions).

Synchronizing contacts iPod Touch – Evolution

This guide should also work if you are using an iPhone although… no guarantees.
How to synchronize contacts from my iPod Touch and Fedora 8?

1. Register at myFunambol

2. Install syncevolution

# yum -y install syncevolution

3. Configure syncevolution:

 Continue reading