Gadgets running Linux are a lot of fun, but much of the value of using
Linux is lost if the resulting device is locked down and not hackable. In
cases where the device has been opened up, no end of creative hacks have
resulted; see, for example, the OpenWrt
. It is hard, however, to imagine a device with more fun
hacking potential than the Linux-running Motorola a780 cellular telephone.
There is no end of interesting things which could be done (and annoyances
which could be fixed) if that platform were to be opened up.
The good news is that Harald Welte has managed to open the a780 and install
new software onto it. With the OpenEZX
Project, he is working on creating a full replacement for the stock
software for Motorola's EZX phone platform. The following interview, the
first in a two-part series, discusses the current and future state of
LWN: What is the status of the OpenEZX project now? Is it at a
where relatively casual users might want to play with it?
I would say it's at a state where the casual linux developer can play
with it, i.e. we have a 2.6.16.x based kernel running on the phone, with
support for framebuffer, flash, microSD, touchscreen, usb-device
(usb-net mode), usb-host.
We have both a working debian-arm root filesystem and an OpenEmbedded
one. You can boot your phone using 100% Free Software (blob boot loader,
linux kernel, ...), ssh into it via usbnet, start a KDrive X11 server,
use your stylus, etc.
However, one of the most fundamental pieces (interaction with the actual
'phone' part, i.e. making calls) is not yet there. After Motorola has
released (after much pressure) the sources for the formerly-proprietary
kernel modules implementing this, I'm half way through to port them to
2.6. and integrate them.
However, since I'm virtually the only guy working on the -ezx kernel
tree, and I have many other projects and real-world issues to take care
of, progress is quite slow.
I expect that within one month, we'll have the phone part working, and
can work on the remaining sound + camera drivers.
What obstacles remain before an a780 or similar phone will actually
be useful as a phone while running a free 2.6 kernel? How can
interested people help?
At this time people can start to work on OPIE, GPE, etc. on the phone.
They can develop userspace programs, but they can only use the device as
a PDA and not as a phone yet.
For getting the phone part working, somebody with kernel device driver
development, esp. in the tty layer, usb driver and networking area (in
this priority) would be required. For me, the tty layer is new, I'm
only familiar with networking and usb driver development.
Once the basics have been taken care of, do you have a shopping list
of improvements to make which would take these phones beyond what
My most important list:
- add cryptographically secure storage for all personal data such as
contacts, calender, SMS, etc.
- make sure nobody can just dump the flash contents by plugging in a USB
cable (like it is the case with the stock models)
- get the Linux native IPsec code running over GPRS
- add support to use a Bluetooth keyboard with the phone
- add a Jabber IM client to the phone. Who wants SMS if they can send
and receive Jabber messages over GPRS?
Is Motorola cooperating with (or hindering) this project in any way?
As for OpenEZX itself, I haven't really had any direct positive or negative
contact with them.
As for the general GPL compliance (which helps OpenEZX, but which is a
legal requirement): Hard to say. To my impression, on the one hand,
there are some technical people who really like to help the GPL
compliance, and who are pressing for releasing the source of
formerly-proprietary modules. They actually also want to get me phone
samples in order to help them identify any remaining GPL issues, which
On the other hand, there seem to be some corporate/legal folks who try
to play hard, cause delays, and have very rude negotiation skills. I
guess they don't really understand what they're doing there.
On the technical front, I've heard some rumors that the A1200 and
especially the later models will make use of the TPM (yes, the PXA270
has a TPM!) in order to ensure nobody boots non-Motorola-signed kernels.
To me, this would be a clear violation of the intent of even GPLv2, and
should those rumours become true, I'll certainly do anything to enforce
my position on this. But as said, all rumours, nothing definitive known
Many thanks to Harald for answering these questions. Stay tuned for part
two of this interview (covering Harald's GPL enforcement activities), which
will appear within the next week or two.
Comments (13 posted)
To readers of LWN it is nothing new that DRM (digital
rights/restrictions management) systems restrict
consumer choice and limit even lawful access to works controlled by
them. Now, however there are encouraging signs that some governments
are starting to understand this problem.
In Norway (and other Scandinavian countries) there is a "Consumer
Ombudsman", his purpose is to ensure that companies act fairly and
lawfully toward consumers, and in particular that they adhere to the
As it turns out, using DRM may pose problems here, especially when
prevent the user from bypassing or disabling the DRM. According to
the Ombudsman, the terms of service used by the iTunes Music Store (iTMS) are
illegal. Furthermore, the DRM used on the downloaded songs further
violate the same laws. The situation is similar in Sweden and
Denmark as they have nearly-identical consumer-protection laws, and iTMS
Sweden and Denmark are currently launching similar inquiries.
An 11-page letter of complaint was sent to iTMS on May 30th. The
letter became publicly available on the 7th of June and is very
encouraging reading. I will summarize the main points of interest for
LWN readers as the
letter itself [pdf, 11 pages] is available only in Norwegian. There
is however a press
release available in English.
and the practical restrictions that arise from the DRM combine to
create what is an unbalanced, one-sided and grossly unreasonable
agreement for consumers. This is a general impression, conveyed by
the agreement as a whole. Additionally to this, the Ombudsman mentions
around a dozen points that are individually unreasonable and/or
illegal. Many of these points have no relation to DRM, but a few are
iTMS reserves the right to, at any time, even after the sale,
Norwegian contract law that a contract is binding, and that changing
a contract after it's been agreed upon requires the consent of both
parties. The ombudsman points out that, in its extreme consequence,
this term alone removes all rights of the consumer. Even those
rights you appear to have at the time of purchase can at any later
the player software and DRM. For example, the software may refuse to
not permit that. A concern is that future updates to
player software might cause customers to lose functionality that
they previously had. Saying that you are free not to upgrade is not an
acceptable solution if upgrading is a prerequisite for playing newer
songs. This would put undue pressure on the consumer to accept the
"upgrade" even if the upgrade will remove many of his previous rights.
The Norwegian iTMS can only be used from Norway. This restriction is enforced
by only allowing Norwegian credit cards to be used on the Norwegian iTMS, by the
discrimination of consumers, and an artificial barrier to trade. Both
are at odds with EU free-competition law. Currently the same song is
sold for £0.79 in the UK and $0.99 in the USA, a price-difference of
46% at todays exchange-rate. A customer from the UK is prevented from
buying cheaper from the American iTMS.
The DRM on the music ensures that it plays on only a small number
of devices, mainly those produced by Apple themselves. Selection of
technical protections where licenses are not given to third parties,
and where no open source players exist (lack of open source players is
explicitly mentioned) can lead to a problematic locking of
content and players; in order to listen to your music you
might be forced to buy a certain player. Not because it's the one you
prefer, but because it's the only one supporting the DRM.
Some content is "iTMS exclusive", which is problematic as long as
that means only being playable on a limited number of devices. A
result could be that such content is not playable at all in the future,
should Apple choose not to cooperate. If it does not generate a profit
for Apple to make old content available on the next generation of
platforms, the result could be the permanent loss of the content.
"Cultural content has importance to society above and beyond
its ability to generate a profit," the Ombudsman writes; he is also
critical of developments which might end up limiting access to
cultural content that is not profitable.
He notes that the lack of licensing of the DRM means that in
the future we will either get a monopoly in music distribution, or
consumers will be forced to buy two or more playback devices to be
able to listen to the music they want. And, for good measure, it
is currently easy to remove the iTMS DRM so the restrictions may end
up harming lawful consumers while having little or no effect on
large-scale illegal copiers.
The next thing that happens is that Apple needs to answer the
letter by June 21st. The Ombudsman's first choice is to reach an
agreement with Apple and avoid the need to take legal action. It is
pretty hard to believe that outcome will be possible in this case. If an
agreement is not reached, the Ombudsman will file a formal complaint
with the Market Council. The ruling of the Market Council is legally
binding unless appealed to the courts within 3 weeks.
neither is the use of DRM. Similar terms and similar technology are used by
several of the main competitors to iTMS. According to the Ombudsman,
from the other companies if they are successful with iTMS. They choose
to start out with iTMS simply because it is the largest actor.
While the issues the Ombudsman raises are valid and important,
there is still something missing. The lack of open source players is
mentioned, but only in passing as part of the discussion of the
DRM used not being widely licensed. It is not stated explicitly, but
the impression given by the letter is that removing the possibility of
retroactively changing contract terms and licensing the DRM under
terms would go a long way toward satisfying the Ombudsman's objections.
The larger good coming from this is thus likely to be the increased
awareness of all the issues surrounding DRM. At this stage, increased
general knowledge of DRM can only be a good thing.
Comments (23 posted)
Sometimes, when a fun toy becomes available, your editor has no alternative
but to go off and play with it. Later on, when LWN deadlines loom, the
next step is obvious: justify all that playing by writing an article. One
of those moments came when Google finally made its Google Earth
application available for Linux under a free-beer license.
Unlike Picasa, Google Earth is a native Linux application, ported to the Qt
widget set. Like Picasa, however, Google Earth is not free software. So
it comes as a large shell script which we, trusting users that we are, are
expected to feed directly to bash. A few clicks later, the application is
installed, and the user can proceed to explore the planet on a Linux
At least, that is how it is supposed to work. Google Earth promptly
crashed on your editor's x86-64 Fedora Development system. Since this is a
proprietary application, there is no way for any of us to fix the problem,
or to even build it properly for this architecture. So, no Google Earth on
this platform. Happily, the i386 Ubuntu system runs it just fine. Or not
so fine; Google Earth is a little shaky there as well. The window is not
always rendered properly, it occasionally decides to randomly roam in a
certain direction until stopped, and it locked up entirely once - while
having grabbed the pointer and rendered the display useless, of course.
All that notwithstanding, Google Earth is a fun toy. Your editor started
at his childhood home, and quickly located the Cirque of the Towers in the
Wind River range - one of the most beautiful places on the planet; the
result was the image shown on the right. Typing in "Venice, Italy"
resulted in a rather ballistic-seeming flight across the ocean, yielding a
gorgeous view of Piazza San Marco. One can almost make out individual
pigeons. The resolution of the available imagery
varies, and there is not always much in the way of additional information,
but there are very few spots on the planet which cannot be viewed at some
scale. It can be difficult to turn it off and get some real work done.
There are those who have already started to complain about the non-free
nature of this application. There is no doubt that a truly free version
of Google Earth would be a great thing - imagine what the community could
do, starting with a base like this. The simple fact is, however, that
Google has not done us any harm by making a non-free Google Earth
available. Those who do not want non-free software on their systems can
simply refuse to install it. The rest of us can have some fun.
For those of us who want a free tool of this nature, one option would
appear to be the WW2D project,
which has posted some interesting screenshots. Unfortunately, your editor
was unable to get enough of the project web site's attention to
successfully download a copy. Also of interest is Earth3d. This application shows some
real potential, though your editor found the navigation to be painful and,
of course, the higher-resolution imagery is not freely available.
Nonetheless, the initial work exists for the creation of a free planet
viewer, if we truly want to create one.
Comments (54 posted)
Page editor: Jonathan Corbet
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