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Chief Replicant Dev On Building a Truly Free Android

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the if-you-love-something-set-it-free dept.

Android 113

angry tapir writes "While Android is open source, it won't work on a phone without software that generally isn't open source. The Replicant project is an attempt to build a version of Android that doesn't rely on binary blobs for which the source code isn't available to end users, and the software currently works on a handful of handsets. I caught up with the project's lead developer to talk about their efforts to make a completely open source version of Android."

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Forst Android (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39289321)

T-1000 free and ready for business.

Definition of Open (0)

kthreadd (1558445) | more than 2 years ago | (#39289337)

I think it's time for someone to define Android.

Re:Definition of Open (1)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | more than 2 years ago | (#39289475)

I think it's time for someone to define Android.

Ask Opper [wikipedia.org] . After all, he was an android [wikipedia.org] 30 years ago (or maybe 24 years in the future)...

Re:Definition of Open (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 2 years ago | (#39290245)

"Max 404"? Now people sometimes get a quaint name at birth that becomes funny in the future; it's kind of comforting to know that our robotic brothers aren't immune to this. ;)

Re:Definition of Open (0)

muon-catalyzed (2483394) | more than 2 years ago | (#39289841)

What more definitions you want? This project alone is a testament that Android is not an open OS, or at least not fully open.

Re:Definition of Open (1)

ESL Atlanta (2586821) | more than 2 years ago | (#39290437)

Android is a Mobile OS that operates the mobile. Android is a open source but only for mobile. Because when we buy a mobile, we also have the OS. But we didn't find any opensource android as a software.

Re:Definition of Open (2)

x1r8a3k (1170111) | more than 2 years ago | (#39292277)

I was under the impression that Android itself is fully open, but drivers are not. So while you could load a free copy of android on your handset, nothing will work without a binary provided by the manufacturer of the component.

Obviously the extent of this will vary from handset to handset, but this can include such things as wi-fi, phone radio, touch sensor, display adapter, and audio. So this is really more about making an open way for Android to work with hardware.

This could all be very wrong though.

Re:Definition of Open (1)

lindi (634828) | more than 2 years ago | (#39295265)

You forgot battery charging :-)

Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39289351)

Making a full featured open source build would require Broadcom, TI, Samsumg, and Qualcomm, etc. to release their specs or drivers for video co-processors.

This will not happen.

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (4, Informative)

itsenrique (846636) | more than 2 years ago | (#39289395)

If you read the article it goes into detail about said issue. Basically, the project will not itself distribute any non-free materials, but you can load your own (and people do, it seems, for full functionality). So for example you may have to use the binary blob to get your WiFi working on your phone. I wouldn't be so dismissive about the possibility of drivers being developed for certain handsets that are fully open sourced, via some stab at reverse engineering. Now as far as quality....

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39289803)

How is "use the binary blob to get your WiFi working" any different than taking the AOSP code and the binary blobs there?

From the article:

The Replicant team is composed by people who are going one step further: in addition to agreeing with these principles, we fully reject anything non-free running on the main CPU."

They don't want that. Sadly, they are doomed to failure and don't even go for RMS's goal of no "non free binary blobs" running on the phone (at least if you want the phone to be a phone) with the "main CPU" limitation.

Even if they manage to reverse engineer all of the Samsung RIL layer and get voice calls working, they still haven't touched any of the code that runs on the radio processor (and they are at the mercy of the OEM/Chipset vendors for that.) All the OEMs have to do to stay one step ahead is change the RIL/radio processor protocol when they add new battery saving feature X and the Replicant guys get to start from scratch.

Let's say they get their 3 target phones working. They are in a race with the wireless industry as new radio chipsets come out to support new cell technologies. Even if everything they wanted to complete was done right now, there wouldn't be an LTE/4G version. There won't be a CDMA version (bye bye carrier choice.) Since 2000 modern phone networks have gone from 3G (2 varaints) to 3G transitional (3 variants) to 4G (2 variants.) 7 radio types to support across 12 years. If you want Replicant to run on the modern network, you have less than 2 years to reverse-engineer, debug, and deploy when the hardware is first released. Given that the most modern phone under consideration is the Nexus S (released back in 2010) and they don't have voice calls working.... I guess it would be a boon for cell phone carriers, in that they could support Replicant without stressing their networks with a phone that wants to do the latest high speed stuff, but that doesn't sound very geek/gadget freakish.

This is just another variant of the "free bios"/"linux bios" project, which is ok if you want to optimize 2nd or 3rd generation hardware.

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (2)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 2 years ago | (#39290695)

I got one combined word for these guys. OpenMoko.

Irrelevant (1)

shiftless (410350) | more than 2 years ago | (#39297451)

Yes, I am sure they are already aware of that clusterfuck failed attempt at producing an open phone. While OpenMoko was standing around holding their dicks, the rest of the industry moved in a completely different direction. I mean, take one look at the OpenMoko and tell me one person NOT fluent in any programming languages who would use that phone.

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39292961)

"Samsung RIL layer and get voice calls working"

Yeah, we have that working since quite a few months now. It's even pretty stable.

Of course we don't rewrite software running on the modem: the time it would take would make the phone obsolete (see the kind of phones OsmocomBB supports: it's often 2G-only and the OS is running on the same chip as the modem code
--
PaulK

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (1)

jonwil (467024) | more than 2 years ago | (#39297135)

Given the success of the open source noveau drivers for the nvidia GPUs, I see no reason why a similar project to reverse engineer e.g. PowerVR GPUs or Qualcomm Adreno GPUs could not succeed in the same way.

If I had the skills required, I would have a go at that myself for the PowerVR GPU in my Nokia N900 but I dont have the skills necessary to reverse engineer ARM software (especially ARM drivers)

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (1)

masternerdguy (2468142) | more than 2 years ago | (#39289431)

Ive always said its those guys fault. They should have implemented an open standard from day 0.

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39289483)

Like with pc-videocards, why don't they let others to write drivers for their hardware? After all it means selling more hadware. Selling drivers for limited set of platform is not their business.

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (1)

Sir_Sri (199544) | more than 2 years ago | (#39289793)

How do they sell 'more hardware'? 100% of computers have video cards in them. If you're cheap you get intel, if you want gaming you get Nvidia/AMD in a 60/40 split more or less. And they're already in the HPC space (and have been for several years).

Unless you have some great way for how an open source driver could let you run database queries on a GPU that a closed source can't, there aren't a lot of places they want to pickup sales.

There aren't enough people who care about open source to shift the 60/40 split in the gaming space. And those guys don't want to have an open source driver because if there's a huge layer of liability if the video cards die due to a driver bug (which by the way, they do, but at least when nvidia releases the driver they're the ones liable, so it's pretty cut and dried).

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (2)

s73v3r (963317) | more than 2 years ago | (#39290119)

why don't they let others to write drivers for their hardware?

Because that would require opening up the specs of the chips, which might reveal trade secrets in how the GPU does things.

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (1, Redundant)

houstonbofh (602064) | more than 2 years ago | (#39289563)

This will not happen.

I love statements like that. So certain of the future... But, there are a few projects now looking at fully open source ARM based systems. (for example, http://rhombus-tech.net/ [rhombus-tech.net] ) This means all specs out there, and drivers. As they come out and get popular, the cost will fall, and more closed companies will use them as they are cheaper. As this continues, they will end up with a competitive advantage over the closed hardware, which will open, or perish. I could be wrong, but I doubt it.

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (2)

s73v3r (963317) | more than 2 years ago | (#39290151)

As they come out and get popular,

That's the rub, though. How are they going to get popular? And don't say because they're open, because the amount of people who care about that is not significant enough to make something popular.

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (1)

houstonbofh (602064) | more than 2 years ago | (#39296859)

http://www.tomshardware.com/news/Raspberry-Pi-Eben-Upton-RS-Components-Premier-Farnell-Linux,14851.html [tomshardware.com] I would say the popularity is not a question... A lot of people still want a small, cheap and open computer, and there is no one in that market space.

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | more than 2 years ago | (#39290367)

Won't happen in the phone business. Its nice that Rhombus-Tech want to make an open source ARM SoC. It'll still be covered by licensing and patents though. Its not like you could take their silicon design and make your own. ARM will sue you. I very much doubt them or anyone else getting in to the business is making open source gsm/cdma/lte chipsets. I personally have no use for a cellphone that has no cellphone functionality. May as we buy an ipod touch.

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (1)

houstonbofh (602064) | more than 2 years ago | (#39296861)

But the drivers will be open, and that will make it cheaper for both open and closed projects.

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (1)

flargleblarg (685368) | more than 2 years ago | (#39290593)

I love statements like that. So certain of the future...

So certain are you. Always with you it cannot be done. Hear you nothing that I say?

lol. (1)

shiftless (410350) | more than 2 years ago | (#39297487)

As this continues, they will end up with a competitive advantage over the closed hardware, which will open, or perish. I could be wrong, but I doubt it.

Yeah, that's what they said about Linux too.

It is clear from a single glance at this web site that who's ever behind this effort doesn't have the first CLUE about anything except engineering. If I have to scroll and down your web page a few times and dig through four or five paragraphs just to figure out what your device IS, you are doomed. I still don't even know what it's GOOD for. And I'm an electronics technician, embedded programmer, etc...etc...etc! Marketing FAIL.

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (5, Insightful)

NuShrike (561140) | more than 2 years ago | (#39289575)

Ah, young idealism, trying to be the Debian. I was there, once. It is true that it's better to have open-source drivers, but you need a stable, open, documented hardware platform. PCs are, Android is neither.

You will spend your entire life rebuilding "plumbing" after which the hardware you've built it for is long dead while its descendents -- you cannot support. A life where you didn't actually build anything useful, the next iPhone nor next game-changing piece of software-engineering, but just ran in a mouse-wheel.

Reality is we just have to bend-over a little and suck up buying new hardware; accept the respective new binary blobs. Just try to stay above it. CyanogenMod is doing a good job there.

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (2, Insightful)

FrozenFOXX (1048276) | more than 2 years ago | (#39290143)

Ah, young idealism, trying to be the Debian. I was there, once. It is true that it's better to have open-source drivers, but you need a stable, open, documented hardware platform. PCs are, Android is neither.

You will spend your entire life rebuilding "plumbing" after which the hardware you've built it for is long dead while its descendents -- you cannot support. A life where you didn't actually build anything useful, the next iPhone nor next game-changing piece of software-engineering, but just ran in a mouse-wheel.

Reality is we just have to bend-over a little and suck up buying new hardware; accept the respective new binary blobs. Just try to stay above it. CyanogenMod is doing a good job there.

You're absolutely right, no good will ever come of trying to replicate and eventually surpass closed-source efforts. I'm definitely glad nobody ever decided to reverse-engineer UNIX or even implement his own version of of it. I mean that'd just be craziness!

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (2)

viperidaenz (2515578) | more than 2 years ago | (#39290407)

Surpass closed-source efforts? Please enlighten me on how a 3rd party with no access to any official documentation relying on reverse engineering is going to surpass the efforts of those who actually designed and produced the thing you're trying to make it work on.

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39290967)

Well, for example, the Linux driver for the wireless USB dongles using the RT73 chipset from Ralink is a hundred times better than the ones from the manufacturer. Note I said 'ones', plural. It's better than the official Linux driver and the Windows driver. Gives much better reception and range.

It's so good I even set up a mini-router in VirtualBox for Windows to connect to, inside Windows itself.

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (4, Informative)

oakgrove (845019) | more than 2 years ago | (#39292047)

I've had some reversed engineered drivers in Linux that stomped the closed source Windows counterparts. A USB cellular data dongle I got from Verizon years ago took over a minute to connect in windows and would disconnect constantly. In Linux with the free driver it connected in about 5 seconds and never disconnected unless I explicitly told it to. I'm sure there's more to it than just the driver itself but just because something is a reverse engineered piece of code doesn't mean it's going to be worse especially if the OEM intentionally puts some bullshit in their drivers to please their real customers, e.g., Verizon et al.

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | more than 2 years ago | (#39292553)

Was that Verizon bloatware drivers or ones from the actual manufacture of the device? When you say free to you actually mean full open source? Because I'm pretty sure you didn't get charged to download the Windows drivers. That makes them free too.

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (1)

oakgrove (845019) | more than 2 years ago | (#39292629)

Was that Verizon bloatware drivers or ones from the actual manufacture of the device?

I really couldn't tell you. It's just what came with the device. I do know that you could dial up with it without opening the application and it still took a minute or so to get a connection and it would still drop so I'm inclined to believe that the driver was what caused it and I don't think Verizon writes actual drivers.

When you say free to you actually mean full open source?

Yes, the linux driver is Free as in RMS.

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39293061)

Yeah, that's our problem. It is very hard to add any innovation when we are way behind OEMs and have to do a huge amount of work just to have something barely stable and usable. CyanogenMod adds features and it's easy for them, because they don't have to rewrite anything and whatever they add can be seen as a new feature and so an improvement.

Though, I believe it is worth it: if took less than 6 months to have calls on Nexus S using only free software on CPU: that is good enough for me to keep going.

--
PaulK

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (1)

fliptout (9217) | more than 2 years ago | (#39292089)

Recreating all this low level software that drives hardware is completely non-trivial when you have no documentation. Expect much frustration if you decide to waste away your life going this route.

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (1)

slashgrim (1247284) | more than 2 years ago | (#39291705)

Ah, young idealism, trying to be the Debian. I was there, once. It is true that it's better to have open-source drivers, but you need a stable, open, documented hardware platform. PCs are, Android is neither.

Debian includes access to a "non-free" official repository that his non-open-source drivers. Please don't refer to the Debian Foundation as "young ideal[ists]." They've done a great job balancing idealism and pragmatism.

PCs are not an "open, documented hardware platform." Here's an interesting thread from 2004 about this same issue debated at Debian http://lists.debian.org/debian-vote/2004/02/msg00136.html [debian.org]

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (1)

stephanruby (542433) | more than 2 years ago | (#39296365)

You will spend your entire life rebuilding "plumbing" after which the hardware you've built it for is long dead while its descendents -- you cannot support.

You say this as this is a bad thing. All the developers working on OpenMoko for instance got recruited by Nokia, Palm, and eventually Android. It doesn't matter if their original vision didn't succeed. For many of them, they wouldn't have gotten that kind of unique development experience any other way.

We got the shaft (1)

shiftless (410350) | more than 2 years ago | (#39297543)

Yeah, they got the gold mine, and the rest of us got the shaft

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (1)

Daniel Phillips (238627) | more than 2 years ago | (#39297505)

Reality is we just have to bend-over a little and suck up buying new hardware...

OK, you bend over. Luckily for you, some of the rest of us will continue to pursue their dreams.

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (3, Insightful)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 2 years ago | (#39289645)

Making a full featured open source build would require Broadcom, TI, Samsumg, and Qualcomm, etc. to release their specs or drivers for video co-processors.

This will not happen.

Why would it matter? It's not like there's a free, open MPEG 4 decoder (hardware or software) that doesn't infringe on patents.
There are a ton of free and open codecs, but they're all infringing. If anyone tried to ship a (physical) device with that implementation, they'd be sued by everyone under the sun. Even if you believe a particular implementation is not infringing, there's exactly zero chance of the little guy winning in court.

Replicant is a software project. You can download a build (or baked ROM) and throw it on your device. You have to play the revision / sku / country / network lottery. Replicant Build 1.0 works on Phone Brand X, Model Y, SKU ending in ZZZ, with a manufacture date of W or later, in country V, on network U, with features T working.
It won't ever receive the attention from lawyers that a physical device would. But due to the work involved in maintaining it and running it, it won't ever receive the attention from regular people that a physical device would, either.

The people who care about an open Android and are willing to jump through hoops to run Replicant won't give a shit about hardware video decoding or the DSP behind the camera not doing it's shit right. They care about not being locked down and not being tracked.

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (1)

serviscope_minor (664417) | more than 2 years ago | (#39292763)

in country V, on network U,

That at least is not a problem in most of the world. If it does GSM, then it will work more or less in any country on eny network.

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (1)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 2 years ago | (#39293077)

In most of the world sure.
In the most important market in the world, nope.

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (1)

serviscope_minor (664417) | more than 2 years ago | (#39294499)

In the most important market in the world, nope.

Er, the USA is the single biggest national market, but the entire rest of the world is the market for GSM phones. The EU alone is slightly bigger. Even the USA has a significant amount of GSM. So, I would contend that GSM is the most important market by far.

Re:Say goodbye to most coprocessors. (1)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 2 years ago | (#39294677)

In the most important market in the world, nope.

Er, the USA is the single biggest national market, but the entire rest of the world is the market for GSM phones. The EU alone is slightly bigger. Even the USA has a significant amount of GSM. So, I would contend that GSM is the most important market by far.

Except different countries within the "GSM market" still get different hardware variations, so in terms of guaranteeing shit will run on a given device, you still have to account for country AND network.

Wrong focus (5, Insightful)

pr0nbot (313417) | more than 2 years ago | (#39289507)

While all the attempts to work around proprietary obstacles (rooting, homebrew, emulation etc) undoubtedly have their merits and utility, I think the real focus ought to be on getting hold of open, documented, standards-based, royalty-free hardware.

Maybe it's a pipe dream, but thousands of man-hours will be spunked off trying to reverse engineer radio chipsets or whatever, which could more fruitfully be spent writing or improving software.

I appreciate that folks are free to spend their time however they like, pursuing whatever floats their boat, that's not the point I'm making. Just that getting one vendor to make one decent fully-open handset would represent such a huge step forwards compared to coercing stuff to half run on the handset of some company whose goals are diametrically opposed to yours.

False choice (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 2 years ago | (#39289739)

While all the attempts to work around proprietary obstacles (rooting, homebrew, emulation etc) undoubtedly have their merits and utility, I think the real focus ought to be on getting hold of open, documented, standards-based, royalty-free hardware.

There are people working on that, but why does that have to be the real focus rather than a real focus? You seem to suggest that there ought to be only one area of effort, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Re:False choice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39290129)

I perused the LFS post yesterday and there is this post today. It makes me wonder what is the end game of this kind of work. So let's assume that a royalty-free handset is created with royalty-free software and and build of Android that is free as air. What am I supposed to do with it? Should I just run the software from the Android market and be marginally relieved that it runs? Is my goal to develop my own software for it? If I develop software for it will it be able to be for profit? What is the actual point of making a system without any commercial components? It seems like a flight of fancy to me to even hope for these things. Just get your joy from working on your own software on a commercial Android handset.

Re:False choice (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | more than 2 years ago | (#39290471)

There will still be a lot of profit in the hardware space. You can't download the hardware.

Re:False choice (1)

s73v3r (963317) | more than 2 years ago | (#39290179)

Because that one area of effort is the most likely to actually affect anything. The others, while free to be pursued, won't amount to much.

Re:False choice (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 2 years ago | (#39290401)

Because that one area of effort is the most likely to actually affect anything.

The claim that only open mobile hardware will is likely to "affect anything", while open mobile software is unlikely to, ought to have some evidence presented to support it if it is to be taken seriously. Both open mobile hardware and open mobile software exist, and the latter seems to have had some notable impact already.

Further, even if it was the area most likely to have impact, the people with the skills to pursue it aren't necessarily the same people with the skills to pursue better and more complete open mobile software, so it wouldn't be an real "either/or" situation, since the resources available for each effort aren't freely convertible.

No, he's right (1)

shiftless (410350) | more than 2 years ago | (#39297577)

Further, even if it was the area most likely to have impact, the people with the skills to pursue it aren't necessarily the same people with the skills to pursue better and more complete open mobile software, so it wouldn't be an real "either/or" situation, since the resources available for each effort aren't freely convertible.

You don't think those software people spending all that time and energy hacking into someone else's shit, couldn't instead better utilize their resources writing a new (and possibly better) implementation from scratch? Which they can have full ownership of and maintain, upgrade, and occasionally replace as the years go by, instead of always having to follow the manufacturer be three steps behind?

Overgeneralizing (1)

shiftless (410350) | more than 2 years ago | (#39297569)

You're overgeneralizing. It's quite clear that in this specific instance, it is a much smarter allocation of scarce resources to a) develop ACTUAL open silicon, thus also building an owned ASSET (knowledge of how to produce said silicon, and improve/upgrade it and spin off as a business committed to your open ideals), or b) form some kind of an alliance with a company who is willing to supply you with open hardware, rather than the worse choice which is c) spending 10x the effort trying to hack into, understand, then duplicate (poorly) someone else's efforts.

Re:Wrong focus (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39289887)

Not revealing who I am or what I do, but these radio chipsets as well as, something like nVidia's video drivers do a lot of crap in software that you would expect being done by the hardware it runs. They don't want you to see or know that.

Re:Wrong focus (1)

TBerben (1061176) | more than 2 years ago | (#39290045)

You mean like Openmoko [openmoko.org] ?

Re:Wrong focus (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39290317)

hold of open, documented, standards-based, royalty-free hardware

Not going to happen. There are a set of companies that own the standards. You want to use them? You PAY for it. Even if you implement your own. They have the patents to back it up...

In fact most of them have *very* well written out standards. Getting a copy of them is fairly easy (usually nda or off some site where someone did not lock it down). Its the patent gates you are going to have to work thru... And these dudes guard it jealously.

Re:Wrong focus (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | more than 2 years ago | (#39290843)

I think the real focus ought to be on getting hold of open, documented, standards-based, royalty-free hardware.

That's a lot harder than you think.

All you have to do is rewind to Nokia, Samsung and Motorola's patent lawsuits over 3G and mobile technology against Apple. Apple buys the chips from Infineon (now Intel) or Qualcomm and sticks it in their phones and gets sued for not licensing the technology (which apparently aren't conveyed by purchasing hte chips). Which means the only products we can use would be ones where the license fees are paid up - either existing phones, or built-up modules like the "internet sticks".

The only thing protecting this is that it's fairly obscure and there's no money in it.

Re:Wrong focus (1)

jonwil (467024) | more than 2 years ago | (#39297313)

It may not be perfect but the new GTA04 hardware is the closest thing you can get to a truly open phone. Right now you need to obtain a case yourself from a GTA02 phone as they dont have a way to produce cases cheaply enough (there are people working on ways to order cases from 3d printing services though).

You get full schematics for the hardware (including a board layout diagram). The only closed source user-space bits that exist are 3D drivers for the GPU (which are only required if you need 3D) and a binary firmware that's downloaded to the WiFi chip (and there are efforts to write a free replacement for that AFAIK). The cellular modem module is supported by open source software such as oFono.

Due to the regulations surrounding WiFi, cellular standards like GSM and UMTS, bluetooth and other radio transmitters (and in the case of the cellular standards, the secret/proprietary nature of some parts of the standards like the crypto), its unlikely you will see any company release a device that talks those frequencies with no closed software at all. Same with GPS where restrictions exist on what civilian GPS receivers are allowed to do and where the details of the GPS protocol are only available if the manufacturer is willing to follow the rules (mostly concerned with making sure civilian GPS devices cant be built or re-purposed in a way that would allow their use on ICBMs and other missiles)

Re:Wrong focus (1)

Daniel Phillips (238627) | more than 2 years ago | (#39297517)

Maybe it's a pipe dream, but thousands of man-hours will be spunked off trying to reverse engineer radio chipsets or whatever, which could more fruitfully be spent writing or improving software.

Oh true, so it's really lucky there are literally millions of manhours out there just looking for challenging problems like this to get involved in, isn't it?

I'd welcome the day (1)

dutchwhizzman (817898) | more than 2 years ago | (#39289513)

I'd welcome the day that I can block google from my Internet experience. Their insistence on wanting your personal data just because you want to use a smart phone with features and services that are provided by several other parties is annoying me highly. Not to the point that I'd step over to Apple, because they essentially do the same, but to the point that I choose not to use smart phones. If an alternative to android would become available, I'd be more than happy to try it out.

Re:I'd welcome the day (3, Informative)

glop (181086) | more than 2 years ago | (#39289639)

There is cyanogenmod which is a distribution of Android with more freedom.
After that you can choose not to install the Google Apps, not configure any Google accounts (or have a dummy one).

Avoiding Google on Cyanogenmod means:
- no Google market for apps. You can download packages for Open Source apps, you can use somebody else's market (say Amazon if you don't feel like they are bad for your privacy)
- no gmail, you can use another mail service, choose a non Google mail client
- no Google maps. There is an Open Street Map application but it's not lightweight and seamless (not used it in 6 months though)

I do that on my Nook Color but I actually have a dummy Google account and I use Google books and other Google apps as it's easier. And I got the Google market too as I mostly use the machine for entertainment (i.e read books, listen to music) and development so it's not really a very private device...

 

Even closer (3, Informative)

Benanov (583592) | more than 2 years ago | (#39289661)

Replicant starts where CyanogenMod left off. It ships with most of the CM tweaks, and then adds in things like F-Droid, which is an Android Free Software repository client.

Re:I'd welcome the day (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39289651)

Some years ago, I got a smartphone because certain people (relatives) were very annoyed at not being able to reach me. I settled on a Windows Mobile 6 based phone. Despite all the talk, I do not consider any of the current generation of smartphones to be an upgrade. They aren't communication devices, they aren't multipurpose devices with communication capability, they are targetted advertisement conduits with a few bells and whistles.

Maybe one of these years someone will try making a smart phone again, but until then, obsolete tech is better than modern e-spam.

Why do you need a smartphone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39289909)

People can reach me just fine on a phone that is ONLY A PHONE.

Re:Why do you need a smartphone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39290289)

People can reach me just fine on a phone that is ONLY A PHONE.

Yeah, because you can't think of one person who needs one thing a regular phone can't do. Here's a SMALL list of things you might not need to buy if you got a $199 phone instead of a $0 feature phone:

MP3 player

Digital camera

PDA

Netbook

Portable gaming system

GPS

I mean, none of that applies to me since I use my iPad for all of that instead of my iPhone except netbook which I replaced with a MacBook Air, but you get the point...

Re:I'd welcome the day (1)

s73v3r (963317) | more than 2 years ago | (#39290207)

I'm sorry, but your worthless tripe is devoid of anything the least bit accurate.

Re:I'd welcome the day (2)

hobarrera (2008506) | more than 2 years ago | (#39289727)

That's why I have a Nokia N900. A Nokia N9 might be of interest to you as well.

Re:I'd welcome the day (1)

c.r.o.c.o (123083) | more than 2 years ago | (#39290473)

I had both the N900 and the N9, and they are completely different. On the N900 everything was customizable and open, with regular Linux repositories that did not require any authentication. Also the kernel was open, and many people modified it without any impact to functionality. Basically a factory rooted device.

  The N9 in contrast has a very nice yet completely locked down interface. It depends on the Ovi store which requires authentication, or on community repositories which as of two weeks ago had virtually no apps. The kernel can only be modded if you enable open mode (not the same as dev mode), and that has many drawbacks to functionality.

But the biggest problem with the N9 is the absolute lack of developers. If on the N900 people had faith in the platform, the N9 is a known dead end. Nobody develops for it, except porting some Symbian apps.

Considering even the cheapest N9 is priced above similar Android devices (single core, lower res screen, low RAM), you'd either have to be a huge Nokia fan or severily hate Google to buy one. I personally hate Google, but not enough to waste about $5-600 on an inferior products.

Re:I'd welcome the day (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39292123)

I hate the arrogant Google assholes and won't touch a Google product with a 10ft pole, but that's not the reason why I have a Nokia N9. I simply find the 'swipe' interface a better user experience than Android ICS. I need very few applications and all those I found on the Ovi store. I still have a Nokia N900 as well, which I adore.

I find that the N9 performance is very good and will not get an Android phone, ever.

--
mchurch

Re:I'd welcome the day (1)

s73v3r (963317) | more than 2 years ago | (#39290197)

If an alternative to android would become available, I'd be more than happy to try it out.

WP7? WebOS? MeeGo?

These alternatives exist.

Further, there is nothing requiring you to give them your personal data.

replicant.us? (1)

jginspace (678908) | more than 2 years ago | (#39289541)

Great tld for an open source project.

Re:replicant.us? (1)

clarkn0va (807617) | more than 2 years ago | (#39290339)

If it's hosted in the US, then what would be a better tld? .com?

Re:replicant.us? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39293313)

Both domain name and hosting are kindly provided to us for free. Using the org TLD could have been better, but I wasn't there when the decision was taken.
Maybe we could change that in the future or grab replicant.org as well.

Anyway, we're not an open source project but a free software project. AOSP is an open source project ;)

--
PaulK

Redundancy (1, Insightful)

Rydia (556444) | more than 2 years ago | (#39289737)

While I appreciate the thought that all software should be open-source, I can't shake the feeling that FOSS advocates are wasting their time and talent attempting to endlessly reinvent the wheel. I'm sure that avoiding proprietary blobs would be great, but it is worth all this effort with so little gain? You'll have a (very) small audience that will download it and put up with the inevitable incompatibilities, but why is so much effort being thrown at projects like this and nouveau; projects whose ideal result is something that perfectly mimics something that has already been made and is already in widespread use. Since ideal results are never possible, you are inevitably left making the excuse "sure, it's not as good, but it's more ideologically pure!" which is only really convincing for the most hardline ideologues.

Instead of endless FOSS projects just trying to replicate things we already have, I'd like to see these supremely generous and talented people work on new projects. Why spend time on nouveau when you could work on, say, a new cross-platform graphics API? I just don't think FOSS will ever gain significant mindshare as long as it is continuously trying to emulate functional applications that people are already using.

Re:Redundancy (3, Insightful)

PhilHibbs (4537) | more than 2 years ago | (#39289871)

I'd like to see people who give their money to the charities that they support stop doing so and give it to the charities that I support instead.

Exactly (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39290357)

It's almost as if the people who voluntarily work on open source projects do so out of self-interest, and don't consider the demands of third parties at all. It's almost as if volunteering requires self-interest.

What the hell else did he expect? You can't make demands on open source. If you want something done, you can (A) offer money, or (B) do it yourself. This isn't an insult to anybody; this is simply reality.

No (1)

shiftless (410350) | more than 2 years ago | (#39297635)

What the hell else did he expect? You can't make demands on open source. If you want something done, you can (A) offer money, or (B) do it yourself. This isn't an insult to anybody; this is simply reality.

As you touched upon, the whole purpose of doing things and giving them away "free" is to flatter one's ego (stating factually, not judging) which has a need to feel as if one is contributing to society. And yet our ego also tends to become defensive at criticism, shouting things like "well if you don't like it do it yourself!" if anyone has the audacity to mention a way in which our contribution is helpful, but could even be further improved. This is because acknowledging that the other person may be right, would imply to our fragile little ego that it might be WRONG, and it just can't accept that.

So is the problem the person making the feature request...or the developer who is so wrapped up in himself he can't be bothered to listen to or accept another person's ideas? Quite an egotistical position to take indeed, especially considering all of "his" ideas aren't HIS to begin with; they are merely his (in many cases, quite unoriginal) interpretations of ideas already held and propagated through society. There are 7 billion more interpretations where his came from.

The stupidest part of this very commonly-held mindset is that it's self defeating. People spend so much time clinging to mediocrity that they are unable to do anything great. They reject all conscious ideas which originate from anything other than their own thought processes, rather than have to face some negative ones while at the same time accepting good ones and turning them to their own advantage. They doom themselves to failure in the marketplace and at life, sinking into obscurity as their names are buried in history.

Yes (1)

shiftless (410350) | more than 2 years ago | (#39297591)

Agreed

Re:Redundancy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39290057)

The thing here is that if they (we) don't do it, no one else will. And here lies the problem: for FOSS people this is not just a question of ideological purity. It is a question to know what is running on your device. Unfortunately, this message didn't get to the broader population of tech-user people. People don't care what do they have in their burger, let alone what do they have running on their phones and so on.

But there is a real danger here. As computers, and computer-based devices are getting more and more essential to our life, to our communications, if we don't create a _culture_, a moral and practical incentive for being aware what you using, and what is that doing exactly, and trust only those things that gives you the option to see and find out what it does, we are heading to an ever more interesting paradigm of human civilisation.
We are ready to embrace devices and software which can not be supervised by its user, where your system administrator is a company which can not be trusted. In the digital realm there's a huge primitive accumulation going on, and most of the people are stuck in to their digital shopping malls with no viable exit. It is a prison, where you have to not only pay for using any technology, but transform yourself to a commodity, a raw material for other's profit making (ad-industry).

Our everyday devices are plagued with advertisements, user tracking, wire tapping. This is the infantilisation of the society as a whole.

Re:Redundancy (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#39290273)

Since ideal results are never possible, you are inevitably left making the excuse "sure, it's not as good, but it's more ideologically pure!" which is only really convincing for the most hardline ideologues.

But [the obsessive compulsive pursuit of] ideological purity is the whole point of FOSS.
 
It won't get you chicks. It won't make (except for a lucky handful) you enough money to get you a latte. It won't amount to more than a subsidiary bullet point on any resume worth reviewing. If you're really lucky, it'll get you the respect of maybe half a dozen people when they remember to think about it.
 
So, after dislocating your arm patting yourself on the back, ideological purity is all that's left.

Re:Redundancy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39290333)

Interesting that you mention nouveau, since the ATI open source drivers are actually getting to be better than the closed source ones in many ways

Re:Redundancy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39290465)

Because we want the option of being in control of our devices. It's not about getting people to use FOSS.

Re:Redundancy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39290577)

cough... cough.. linux kernel... cough... cough....

Re:Redundancy (1)

kruhft (323362) | more than 2 years ago | (#39291041)

The point of creating an open source alternative to a proprietary system is not to make something that is almost the same but not quite as good, it is to create something that will continue to live on after the proprietary company dies. Or something that allows you to modify and fix the code if you find a bug and the proprietary company is non-responsive to a legacy product.

RMS started his crusade when he couldn't get the manufacturer to fix a binary printer driver. This project aims to give that option to those that use modern cell phones.

It's not just about reimplementing what there already is, it's about creating open and free versions of what is closed a proprietary.

Re:Redundancy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39291131)

The worst part is, hardware moves so fast that by the time they've reverse engineered a binary blob fully: it's irrelevant already.

Re:Redundancy (1)

mrmeval (662166) | more than 2 years ago | (#39295425)

Samsung's proprietary processor and other proprietary chips in it's Vibrant phones means I'm unlikely to see a fully working Gingerbread release anytime soon. I will deal with this as is but won't trust Samsung since they dropped support for this one. I picked them based on wow and got walloped.

Hardware is hard, the open hardware phones I've seen are weak and underwhelming though a valiant attempt I saw no point in getting one.

"Non-free blobs" is beside the point. (2)

Microlith (54737) | more than 2 years ago | (#39289877)

The part that will cause problems for Replicant is that they cannot be an upstream. They will forever trail Google as the platform goes where Google desires and nowhere else. All of the components, Dalvik, Bionic, the GUI and rendering subsystem, all remain exclusively developed behind closed doors by Google.

Until they can fully fork it, there's no more reason to use Replicant rather than CyanogenMod. If you're interested in a truly Free mobile platform, take a look and put some weight behind the other projects out there like Tizen or, for a really open platform, Mer. Letting Google lead everyone by the nose won't get those interested in mobile FOSS anywhere.

Re:"Non-free blobs" is beside the point. (1)

b0101101001010000 (1082031) | more than 2 years ago | (#39290403)

I disagree. The blobs are the root problem (at least with ARM chips). Without acceleration, ARM systems are unusable. ARM partitions the system into compute units and optimizes for lots of units cooperating through a shared memory. This is in contrast to Intel which is optimized for centralized processing. This fundamental is why ARM systems use 1/10th the power. Got a little video about it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1WDrhL-vUI [youtube.com]

Re:"Non-free blobs" is beside the point. (1)

Microlith (54737) | more than 2 years ago | (#39292383)

No, blobs are an obvious problem. The real problem here is Google distracting people from creating truly open and Free platforms by drawing them on to the platform whose direction and technology they control and develop behind closed doors, and sees no use outside of Android.

I wouldn't make this point if Dalvik, Bionic, et. al. were each their own open source project funded by Google, and others, but instead they're ALL contained and directed by Google's desires for their platform.

Re:"Non-free blobs" is beside the point. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39292225)

As opposed to, say, glibc, which is in the grip of a single megalomaniac. Really, none of your complaints are valid, and none of your alternatives any better. They all rely on (the same) proprietary drivers to run on any real hardware, and they all have completely open userspace.

Re:"Non-free blobs" is beside the point. (1)

Microlith (54737) | more than 2 years ago | (#39292343)

As opposed to, say, glibc, which is in the grip of a single megalomaniac.

Read up on egcs, which forked from its original project then eventually replaced it and became GCC. There is already a GPL alternative for glibc, eglibc. If enough people switch to it, glibc could find itself replaced with a compatible, equal, and even more open project.

They all rely on (the same) proprietary drivers to run on any real hardware, and they all have completely open userspace.

Until Google closes the source again. They could also disappear the AOSP on a whim, too. Sure you'd have what was already released, but unless you're going to continue with a divergent project that has competition in existing, heavily developed projects already, there's no point.

Linaro's Android Builds (2)

b0101101001010000 (1082031) | more than 2 years ago | (#39289985)

This is really awesome. People are welcome to take a look Linaro's Android builds, which are aimed at the development boards that most of the SoC manufactures are creating. The builds are easy to try. Insert an SD card into your computer, run one command and bingo! There even easy to build from source. See http://www.linaro.org/engineering/getting-started/low-cost-development-boards [linaro.org] for the complete list of boards.

We've got:

AOSP clone (Panda): [linaro.org]
AOSP with 4.6 (Panda) [linaro.org]
Snowball [linaro.org]
iMX6 [linaro.org]
iMX53 [linaro.org]
Origen [linaro.org]

Re:Linaro's Android Builds (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39290733)

The point is that these still rely on binary blobs of vendor firmware, which makes life difficult.

Re:Linaro's Android Builds (1)

b0101101001010000 (1082031) | more than 2 years ago | (#39292799)

No they don't. We have enabled builds but we also have "open only builds": https://android-build.linaro.org/builds/~linaro-android/panda-ics-gcc46-kwg-upstream-open/ [linaro.org] [linaro.org] That is a 100% open Panda Android build based on the upstream Linux kernel. No proprietary libs at all. Or this one: https://android-build.linaro.org/builds/~linaro-android/imx6-ics-gcc47-freescalelt-stable-open/ [linaro.org] [linaro.org] That's a 100% open iMX6 build against GCC 4.7 that has no proprietary components. So not only is it possible, its being done.

Freetards being freetards (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39289989)

Nothing to see here.

How long before... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39290275)

... CarrierIQ is embedded as well?

*Binary* blobs? (1)

rabenja (919226) | more than 2 years ago | (#39291323)

B^2LOB ?

Replicant is an apt name for this project (2)

Artifex (18308) | more than 2 years ago | (#39291485)

I don't expect many current smartphones to still be in use 4 years later.
In fact, I might rename my phone "Roy," if that's not too Batty.

Every ecosystem needs a Debian (2)

PAPPP (546666) | more than 2 years ago | (#39292039)

It's much easier to sell vendors on "Hey, use this, you don't have to develop your own" than "Open up that code you wrote because it's the right thing to do." Good, working, open solutions trickling in upstream because they are established and convenient is the best way to make a platform open, even if the fully open versions are never quite as friendly. The strictly Free systems, like Debian and Replicant, are how the open solutions get developed, improved, and established as standard so that everyone benefits.
I'd love it if the SoC vendors were on board, but that would require a very large external disruption. Making open (preferably GPL-style so it stays open) code the standard will win out by attrition.

Re:Every ecosystem needs a Debian (2)

b0101101001010000 (1082031) | more than 2 years ago | (#39292687)

We already have it at Linaro: Look at this build from Linaro: https://android-build.linaro.org/builds/~linaro-android/panda-ics-gcc46-kwg-upstream-open/ [linaro.org] That is a 100% open Panda Android build based on the upstream Linux kernel. No proprietary libs at all. Or this one: https://android-build.linaro.org/builds/~linaro-android/imx6-ics-gcc47-freescalelt-stable-open/ [linaro.org] That's a 100% open iMX6 build against GCC 4.7 that has no proprietary components. So not only is it possible, its being done.
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