Open source must move from desktop to mobile

Linux International executive director Jon ‘maddog’ Hall looks forward to a time when users aren’t forced into ‘closed’ relationships with phone providers.

It's time for open source technology to move from the desktop and into mobile to create a true open source phone.

So says the director of Linux International, Jon maddog' Hall, who believes that mobile phone users have so far been trapped in "closed" relationships, meaning once they've bought a phone and signed a contract, their "freedom" to change anything disappears.

He used an example of a user buying a phone that was Wi-Fi enabled, but without the ability to use VoIP because it would "cut back" on network revenues.

Hall also said that, under contract, a user could not change provider, otherwise they could be blocked from service.

"I could unlock the phone, right? Sure you can, but the problem is that these phones are no longer phones. They are computer systems," he said.

"Just like any sophisticated computer system they're open to viruses and all sorts of attack."

Users who have unlocked phones can not get the right software updates and patches to protect them from viruses, according to Hall.

Users are also forced to pay for services they might not want, are unable to choose their own ISP, are told when to upgrade their phone, and are unable to modify it which Hall said means they don't truly own it.

Hall pointed at Apple's iPhone as completely "closed" for all those reasons.

With the development of true open source phones, users and the community would have the source code, so software would be much easier to fix, with users safe if a hardware manufacturer went bust, according to Hall.

With a proprietary vendor, a phone could have no value whatsoever, but an open phone would have an open operating system that had been updated with the new patches.

"The old phone has value to somebody. It has all the same functionality as a new operating system," he said.

"You could take your old phone into the market and get money for it, which lowers the total cost of ownership of your new phone."

Hall also said that that with open source phones, an operating system could be ported to as many hardware platforms as possible, giving users greater choice of the hardware, operating system and the services used.

"The data and the training that you've done with your old phone migrates over to the new phone, with the same operating system," said Hall.

"You've got the new phone, new features, and your data migrates naturally."

Hall said that platforms like Android were open only if a user was allowed to be. This meant that Android phones could, in theory, be just as closed as an iPhone.

He said: "If you buy a phone from T-Mobile that is running Android like the G1, it is locked to the vendor and the image is signed, so you can't change it and boot it."

"Because it is locked, all the advantages of openness goes away" Hall added.

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