Running free, an OpenMoko short report
On Wednesday I finally received my OpenMoko Freerunner, the smart phone every open source guy is dreaming of. I don't want to rant a lot about it, but just give you a rough overview on my impressions.
I received the Freerunner from Trisoft who offer amazing support (IRC, free hotline), are very helpful and dealing with them is absolutly uncomplicated. Thank you, guys! The Freerunner box is shown above. The phone ships with a stylus, a headset, a nice bag, a USB cable and a charger cable. The hardware equipment is absolutely promising: A 400Mhz processor, 128 MB SDRAM, 256 MB internal flash memory (extensible via Micro-SD), triple band GSM, Bluetooth, Wifi, GPS and 2 3D accelerometers.
When first switch on the Freerunner, the OpenMoko Linux distribution 2007.2 is booted. You see some kernel messages (cool!) and a nice boot splash after that. Booting is quite slow (felt like 1.5 minutes or so), but that's negligible for a fully blowen Linux. The interface of this initial version is based on GTK+. It looks clean, but still not really nice. However, you can live with that for now. Only rudimentary applications are installed from scratch:
PIM (names, groups and numbers only)
Messages (SMS only)
Screenshot (important! ;)
The Terminal is (what would you expect) the most important app so far for me. Without it, connecting to your PC over USB network is not really comfortable. The OpenMoko wiki is already quite good. The getting started article references most important articles. Setting up the network and updating the phone using the opkg package manager is finished within minutes.
The official OpenMoko repositories, as well as some user provided ones, offer already a huge variety of applications. I already installed a media player (not sure if this one works), some GPS tools and Mozilla Minimo. I did not have time to play around with these applications, yet. I might write more, ASA I do so.
Yesterday during our weekly Usergroup meeting I installed the brand new 2008.8 software release (code name ASU) onto my SD card. Luckily I did not put it into the flash, so my 2007.2 is still alive. Installation of the distro works flawlessly. Booting the new version feels even longer than the old one did. The interface is absolutely ugly and basic stuff like scrolling does not work really good. The mixture of GTK, QTopia and other applications and GUI framework stuff looks extremely annoying and the usability of the GUI is even worse. The only good things I found in 2008.8 is the new (qwerty) keyboard and the scrolling top shelf
I have to admit, I'm not too deep into the OpenMoko community, yet. Therefore my considerations might be a bit mis-leaded. However, I cannot understand why the GTK based approach was officially killed. The GUI looked nice and consistent, even the icons were OK. The new approach I read about (implementing FSO as a basis framework) sounds quite good to me, but the recent mixture of different platforms does not look promising in any way.
My greatest relapse so far is, that I have no clue on which platform I should start developing. It does not make much sense to choose any of the available for now, so I won't start with anything soonish. That's quite a pita, since I have lots of crazy/funny/cool ideas in mind. I'm pretty sure, that's the same for a lot of potential OpenMoko contributors out there.
For now, the Freerunner is a cool Linux platform to play with. Maybe I'll write some shell stuff to perform the most important stuff for me. Hopefully OpenMoko will come to a solution for the currently platform disaster soonish, so we all can get started contributing to the iPhone killer. I'd prefer a solution based on FSO and GTK. :)
Short note for other Freerunner enthusiasts on the Ruhrgebiet area: We entered the PHP Usergroup Dortmund as a Local Group to the OpenMoko wiki, since 3 groupies now own a Freerunner. If you like to share experiences, ideas or just want to hang around in a nice geek circle, don't hesitate to join us on the weekly meeting!