Let it not be said that free software projects can't keep secrets: it would
seem that quite a few people in the GNOME community knew that Nokia was
working on a Linux-powered, GNOME-based gadget, but they sure didn't let
the rest of us in on the story. In any case, Nokia has now broken cover
the (third-quarter) availability of the Nokia 770 Internet
, a new toy with a great deal of promise. What seems even more
promising, however, is how Nokia is going about the development and
marketing of this device.
The 770 is a 230-gram device with an 800x480 color touchscreen display. It
has an ARM processor, 64MB of memory, 128MB of flash for storage and a slot
for a 64MB card, a wireless network interface, a Bluetooth interface, a USB
connector, and an audio output. Despite being a Nokia product, one thing
this device does not have is a cellular phone. It can access the
net via its wireless interface, or via a GPRS link over Bluetooth.
The software side includes a wide array of free software, starting with a
core Linux distribution (said to be Debian-based) and adding in GStreamer,
D-BUS, matchbox, GNOME, GTK+, Helix, and more. Interestingly, the 770 is
said to contain a version of Webcore with GTK grafted on, and the Opera
browser as well.
So far, this looks like just another Linux-powered gadget. Nokia has gone
beyond that, however, with its creation of maemo, a development environment for the
770 (and its successors). Maemo includes all the source and binary
packages needed to create applications for the 770; there is even an
apt repository. The development environment allows most
work to be done on an x86 system, which should speed the process
considerably - and help ensure that applications are available from the
first day that the 770 begins shipping.
Last week, LWN called for the creation of a
truly open media gadget which could be hacked on by its users. We were a
little surprised to get a response this quickly. The 770 is not exactly
the device we were looking for, but it is a big step in the right
direction. In particular, it does, indeed, appear to be a fully open
device with full support from its manufacturer for improvements by its
users. This openness, combined with (seemingly) nice hardware and rational
pricing, could lead to the formation of an enthusiastic developer and user
community for the 770. Expect to see a lot of these gadgets at Linux
conferences in the near future - starting with GUADEC, where Nokia is expected to have
a large delegation and some samples to give away.
Meanwhile, some observers have wondered how Nokia is able to square its
clear support for free software with its equally clear support for software
patents in Europe. Nokia has given a partial answer in the form of this
Nokia hereby commits not to assert any of its Patents (as defined
herein below) against any Linux Kernel (as defined herein below)
existing as of 25 May 2005. The aforesaid non-assertion shall
extend to any future Linux Kernel to the extent that Nokia does not
declare any new functionality embodied in such Linux Kernel to be
outside the scope of this Patent Statement.
This "non-assertion" pledge does not apply, however, to anybody who is
pushing patent claims against the kernel, meaning that Nokia is leaving
open the possibility of using its patents to defend the kernel against an
attack from elsewhere. The patent grant falls far short of what the
community would like: it applies only to the kernel, and, for future
kernels, it only applies as long as Nokia feels like letting it apply. The
wording of the statement would seem, even, to exclude most distributor
But, as an overt recognition of the problem and a partial grant, it is at
least a step in the right direction.
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