04.26.10

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Modest Proposal to Palm: Set WebOS Free, Encourage Homebrew

Posted in Apple, GNU/Linux, Google, Kernel at 4:08 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Palm Pre with WebOS and Palm OS

Summary: Android is too restricted and closed and therein lies Palm’s potential to make a comeback, by essentially learning from OpenMoko

IN A market where it is so hard to find Free (as in “freedom”) phones, Palm has a real opportunity to make an impact. And no, not even Android is free or open, despite all that marketing. The thing which Palm and Google have in common is that they both use Linux in their operating system (Google’s bastardisation of Linux withstanding).

The black sheep in the world where Linux phones are becoming the standard are probably Blackberry, Symbian (which is now claiming to have “opened up”), and Apple’s mobile OS which hardly even supports multitasking. Microsoft’s is a dying OS which does not even support “cut/copy and paste” or has any applications, as we already explained in the morning.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Apple's primitive OS is causing trouble to networks, so it is already banned in some US colleges. [via]

The tablet, lauded by many as the next wave in education technology, has already been rejected by two top universities, George Washington University and Princeton University, because of network stability issues. Cornell University also says it is seeing connectivity problems with the device and is concerned about bandwidth overload.

The hypePad was also banned in Israel for a while (the US models anyway, until very recently) because of compatibility issues associated with networks. If this sounds familiar, it should. Administrators experienced the same problem with Windows Vista on some networks; since the code is secret, it is not simple to resolve, either.

But here comes the shocker from Apple, a company that thrives in deception. Apple is actually calling Adobe Flash “closed and proprietary” as a reason for banning it [1, 2, 3]:

On Wednesday, Apple PR sent a – gasp! – statement to CNET regarding the ongoing Adobe kerfuffle, and the irony is that it called Flash “closed and proprietary”.

What a bunch of hypocrites. Apple’s proprietary software, with DRM and remote kill switches and who knows what else, is just about as “closed and proprietary” as anything can get. Did Apple actually approve the above message before it was spouted out?

“Palm should market itself as being the opposite of Apple.”Here is where Palm comes into this. Palm has already filed a complaint against Apple after Apple played dirty games and also intimidated Palm (Apple later attacked Android too and it gets even worse than that [1, 2]). Palm should market itself as being the opposite of Apple.

Palm has promoted its proprietary software for ages, but it never censored applications like Apple does, for example. It also arrived at the scene at a time when all mobile/PDA platforms (or most of them) were completely indifferent when it comes to Free software, so maybe there is an excuse here (Foleo was already being developed with Linux).

Diego argues about the differences between Apple and Linux at the lower level; both are considered UNIX compliant, but only one of them is free in the GPL sense. Therein lies Palm’s advantage and there are tens of millions of desktop GNU/Linux users who are potential Palm customers, assuming that Palm plays gracefully with them (it currently does not). Back in the days, Palm supported Windows and Mac OS, but it did not support GNU/Linux. That’s quite a spit in the face. Palm relied on hackers to develop their own Free/libre applications for GNU/Linux (or maybe use Wine). A couple of days ago someone wrote this post on how to use a Palm Pilot with GNU/Linux. It is not very simple and support is not 100% complete (e.g. for third-party applications).

Palm Pilots can work with Ubuntu. Learn which program you will need and how to use this to install software to your device.

If you are using Ubuntu, there are times where you can’t use older hardware since it was never ever made for Linux. One older popular piece of hardware is the Palm Pilot. While you might not expect something like this to work, it will with your Ubuntu installation.

Personally, I’ve used gpilot and kpilot over the years, but now I use jpilot, which is great. I have been a Palm user for almost a decade (there were hardly hackable devices at the time I started). Palm OS accepts any software one wishes to install on the devices, unlike Apple for example. This is the right thing to allow and Palm should consider doing it again. It already has to an extent. Here is a new post about running Linux applications in WebOS. Why did it take so long for Palm to allow this? Hubris? Desire for total control (usually excused by ‘security’)? Last year’s Pre surveillance scandal was a sign of unnecessary arrogance.

WebOS is a pretty versatile Mobile Operating System and the folks at WebOS Internals have managed to run some Linux applications including OpenOffice on a Palm Pre!! It appears you can run X11 on the Palm Pre and this opens up many possibilities for WebOS users.

This is a nice start, but it does not go far enough. WebOS is still proprietary and this gives the wrong impression. Palm may have embraced Linux, but it never ever embraced Free software. Palm ought to do something similar to OpenMoko but with a lot more capital (Palm has about half a billion dollars in the bank, based on its most recent claims).

Time for change, right?

Palm’s first stage was adopting Linux, but it was far too closed above that layer (the kernel). Palm ought to market it like Sharp did with the Zaurus. It should be free to control, it should be hackable, it should be marketed as the “phone of liberty” (a place for developers not to be oppressed by a software/hardware vendor). As it stands at the moment, Palm in the marketplace is a 5th wheel and there is no compelling reason to head over to Palm’s shelf.

According to this, Palm intends to remove the hardware barrier, which would be a good start. But it does not go far enough.

Rubinstein said that Palm would look at letting other mobile manufacturers use its smartphone operating system in a bid to make a bit of cash.

According to The Register, Palm denies that it’s up for sale.

Jon Rubinstein, the CEO concerned, has told the Financial Times that he “believe[s] Palm can survive as an independent company” and that the company has “a plan that gets us to profitability”.

The Register is pessimistic just because Palm’s current plans offer no radical change. If Palm really wants to stun the market, then it should ‘pull an OpenMoko’ and openly offer its platform which is far more mature than OpenMoko. Palm claims that it is opening up to more platforms, which is good. The decision to let any application run on the platform is also good, but what good is it when WebOS remains proprietary? A big splash requires a bold big push and Palm can make it happen by announcing to the world that WebOS is the world’s Free/libre platform of choice for phones (OpenMoko was the first and Android is nowhere near that status).

Posted by an 8-year Palm customer, who contributed to the company on a voluntary basis

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A Single Comment

  1. uberVU - social comments said,

    April 26, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Identica by schestowitz: Modest Proposal to #Palm : Set #WebOS Free, Encourage Homebrew http://ur1.ca/x9eh #linux #palmos #pre #gpl…

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