iPhone and Open Moko

The Apple iPhone has been front page news in the UK, after a big build up of leaked hype over the holiday season. But I’m just as uninterested in the iPhone as Windows Vista, because both totally limit what you can do with your computer.

OpenMoko Logo

OpenMoko is a GNU/Linux system for mobile phones, specifically the FIC Neo1973. Sean Moss-Pultz, one of the most active FIC employees on the OpenMoko mailing list, is thinking in just the way I am:

I talked with a lot of interesting people over the past four days [at the Consumer Electronics Show “geek week” in Las Vegas]. The single thing that stood out the most is how many people compared us to the iPhone. On the one hand, I’m still blushing from being compared to a company of that caliber. But on the other hand, I find the comparison unexpected. Don’t get me wrong, they are quite interesting. Personally I just thought of the Neo1973 as sort of the anti-iPhone. Even though I’ve only seen pictures, I’m sure Apple will have an incredible UI. But likewise, [it is] a closed system like the iPod. So even though Apple’s phone might be very elegant phone, its going to be more of the same stuff that (IMHO) has held the mobile industry back — namely the lack of an open ecosystem for developers. What really excites me now is how we can work together to make OpenMoko even more innovative. We’ll be four months into collaborative development before the public even gets an iPhone. And judging from the ideas / comments that have been flying around this list for the past few months, I don’t see any reason why, together, we can come up with some applications that allow people to use phones in entirely new ways.

Another poster, Michael Shiloh, commented on moko fans trying to bash the iPhone, which I thought was especially insightful:

It’s like trying to convince people to switch to GNU+Linux. If I were to replace the iMac in our living room with GNU+Linux, I would probably turn my family against GNU+Linux because of the little differences and inconsistencies. But, when a friend complained about fighting Windows viruses all the time, I quietly handed him an Ubuntu live CD (I always carry 2 or 3 with me), and now he’s converted. When it’s the wrong move, it upsets people, but when it’s the right move, you don’t have to push at all.

I caught up with some old friends from high school at the weekend, and they asked me to continue talking about Free Software, and near the end said they’d like to try it out on a spare laptop.

This put the question of what distribution to recommend into relief again. Looking at the gNewsense, Fedora and Ubuntu websites, Ubuntu has significantly better information design that makes people feel safe, and sure about how to get hold of the software. Fedora’s site assumes too much technical knowledge, although it looks as good as Ubuntu. gNewsense needs a lot of work - but its up to its small community to do something about that. Its installation process is more friendly to novice users compared to Fedora’s, being Ubuntu derived, too, and if we can improve the gNewsense branding in the distribution as well as the website, it could easily be a great recommendation.

The best thing, of course, would be to update the GNU website’s frontpage with a clear message - as clear as the Ubuntu website’s, at least - that this is what the GNU system is, and here is how to get it, and use it.

In the end, I decided not to recommend any distribution, but to just point to the GNU website in my friend’s native language. It’s quite suprising that the ‘quickstart guides’ for Ubuntu and Fedora are not obviously available in many languages.

Creative Commons License
The iPhone and Open Moko by David Crossland, except the quotations and unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

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