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.
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