In a rather brief period of time, we have gone from having
no choice of free software to run on our mobile phones to having two. With
of Qtopia Phone Edition (QPE) for the Neo 1973, two software stacks are
for users to choose from. A choice of GUIs will not be a surprise to Linux
users, with GNOME, KDE, and others available on that platform, but it is
quite a breath of fresh air in the normally locked-down mobile phone arena.
Also tucked into the Trolltech press release was an announcement that all of
QPE was being released under the GPLv2. Prior to that, certain components
of QPE – telephony, Digital Rights Management (DRM), and the safe
execution environment modules – were only available under a
commercial source license. The other choice, OpenMoko, which was
reviewed in August, is also available under the GPL (v2
or later). Paralleling the differences between the two major desktop
environments for Linux, QPE is based on Trolltech's Qtopia – a Qt derived
GUI library – like KDE, whereas OpenMoko is GTK-based, like GNOME.
QPE is the more mature software of the two, and it shows in the interface.
The Neo port of QPE is more responsive and more consistent than the early
versions of OpenMoko, which is not surprising as QPE is already in use.
There are millions of QPE phones in the hands of customers, mostly in Asia,
so QPE has been put through its paces already, while OpenMoko is still
under rapid development.
QPE on the Neo suffered from some of the same audio issues –
mediocre quality and echo canceling problems – that were found with
OpenMoko, which could easily be caused by the hardware or Linux drivers.
It is, after all, an early developer release. OpenMoko is still working on
the final hardware design for the "mass market" version, scheduled for
December, presumably these kinds of issues are high on their list. With
additional hardware being added - accelerometers, graphics hardware, and
Wi-Fi networking - there is still a great deal to do.
The QPE applications are more numerous and offer more functionality than those
found on OpenMoko. The current version does suffer from a number of glitches,
though, as audio must be enabled manually and the suspend functionality
is flaky at best. It does have most of the features that users have come
to expect from a mobile phone, which gives it quite a bit of a lead on
Trolltech has a hardware platform available to developers as well, the
but it is more of a reference platform, rather than a consumer-oriented
device. Changing the license on the entire QPE platform, while providing
the software on a device that developers can actually use as a
phone is a good strategic move for Trolltech. It should attract free
software developers, resulting in additional software available for their
It is nice to see the
OpenMoko and QPE developers play nicely together; much of the infrastructure
that OpenMoko put in place is being used by QPE and the two groups have been
cooperating to port QPE to the Neo. OpenMoko behaves quite differently
from other companies in
the embedded device space. They have little interest in lock-in, preferring
to build a useful hardware device for which multiple different software
stacks can be written. They put together an infrastructure layer based on
Linux and invited anyone to join in.
It is quite possible that other software vendors will do just that.
Sun had a demo of its JavaFX Mobile
phone software running on the Neo in May and has promised to GPL that
code at some point. All of these options will allow users to pick an
interface that works well for them, taking their data, ringtones, and, in
many cases, favorite free applications along with them. Choices are not
something that mobile phone users are used to – they are generally
stuck with annoying, crippled interfaces forced on them by the
manufacturers and carriers. – but it is something they could
get used to.
to post comments)