When I was looking for a new mobile phone and looked at smart phones more than a year ago, I’ve found there has been no working smart phone equipped with a truly free operating system providing rich set of applications and nice development environment. It seems there happened at least two important changes in this area during last year.
I’ve found Neo FreeRunner is still not dead. And looking at their latest news I can see a great change: Debian is taken seriously now as the primary operating system for the device. This means the phone can be equipped with a reliable operating system, I should be able to install my favorite applications on the phone, there should be a working development environment and it would make sense to contribute to the development of the phone software environment (nothing of that applied to the former OpenMoko operating system). For this fact, if I was buying a smart phone today, I would buy the FreeRunner without much doubts. So after fixing the wrong operating system strategy now the question is what will happen with the hardware. We’ll see.
As for big vendors, Nokia is still interested in providing operating systems based on GNU/Linux platform in their phones and possibly future tablets. They’ve abandoned Maemo which is no pity. When I looked at Maemo web pages last time, I’ve got the impression that Maemo is a semi-free operating system providing only a very limited set of supported packages and not being worth to contribute to. Why simply not to use Android under such conditions? The only real advantage of Maemo might be that with a significant effort and patience one could in theory port his favorite applications and all their dependencies to the system, there is no such option with Android. It’s better to avoid such systems.
Now Nokia joined its efforts with Intel on development of MeeGo operating system. Will MeeGo fix the problems of Maemo? They promise MeeGo itself will be completely open source, this is good. But will it provide all the important applications such as Emacs, KStars, Scid with Stockfish, etc.? I doubt, it’s no easy thing to develop a complete operating system distribution and it’s even harder under corporation umbrella where it’s likely the distribution will be rather closed and driven mostly by marketing requirements. And if all the marketing wants is to provide just another Android and iPhone competitor then the question is again: Why not to use Android straight out? If Nokia would like to be different (would it?) then they could work on making Debian easily installable and runnable on their phones and tablets. Then those devices could be real killers in a certain market segment. We’ll see.