#007: Great gadgets!

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006

This is one post in a series, describing challenges we need to overcome to make free software ubiquitous on the desktop.

This world is increasingly defined not so much by the PC, as by the things we use when we are nowhere near a PC. The music player. The smart phone. The digital camera. GPS devices. And many, perhaps most, of these new devices can and do run Linux. Free software in the embedded market is becoming a commodity, in the same way that MS-DOS and then Windows made the PC a standardised software environment.

Except that Linux in the gadget sector is still very much a black art, a highly fragmented story where devices are all use vaguely similar but ultimately different free software – at every level, from the kernel on up to the GUI.

There have been many attempts to “make a platform” for the mobile and embedded markets that can rival what Microsoft has achieved on the PC. Microsoft themselves, of course, are pushing hard to extend the Windows franchise into the mobile and gadget space, with some success if I look at the quality of their latest releases of Windows Mobile.

Symbian was an interesting attempt to create some commonality without creating a hegemony, but ultimately I think that effort foundered on the rocky shores of a trust-less industry. It’s hard to imagine an industry more plagued by distrust than the complex web of manufacturers and operators that makes up the modern wireless telecommunications sector.

Which leaves us looking for something more. I think Linux has potential in this sector, and Trolltech does too by the looks of things. But they sell software and at Ubuntu we give it away, so I’ve yet to make the case in my head for Ubuntu to get involved despite the fact that many folks have urged us just to do it. Whether we do or don’t, I think its a great area for new free software developers to focus their attention. There is tremendous change, and change always creates opportunity.

23 Responses to “#007: Great gadgets!”

  1. Claes Mogren Says:

    Hi Mark!

    Indeed there are some interesting things happening right now.

    OpenMoko is a completely open platform for Linux on mobile phones. The official homepage is http://www.openmoko.com/ and you can find additional press information here: http://www.openmoko.com/press/index.html

    The first phone using OpenMoko is the FIC Neo 1973 that will be available in late January 2007. (Check out openmoko.org by that time.)

    Best regards,
    Claes Mogren

  2. Metro Says:

    Wonderful that you bring this to discussion because I have something on this that I could not say on IRC on the other day :)

    I will speak about PS3 if you let me. I think out of the box the PS3 has everything to be the next computer. Well I must say that the PS3 could have more memory but for the review I have seen: http://ps3.ign.com/articles/748/748255p1.html and only after we can have all the hardware working right (it is not on the review…) the PS3 could be the best thing that happens to Linux.

    If we can have Ubuntu with a CD full automated (a base install could be enough if automatix do the rest (Automatix is a wonderful part of Ubuntu community in my opinion) it will be perfect.

    If we analyze what apple do we see that the closed hardware is the best thing they can have because they concentrate on that and can build the Mac OS X close to it. With Linux we make the opposite. And the biggest problem to overcome from the newbies is to put all the hardware working. Beginning with the USB modems.
    With the PS3 we have a fast computer for a great price. The hardware will not change any time soon. It will work. I don’t care about Sony or another company I also don’t play games. I will buy a PS3 only to fold.
    The example of PS3 is only because I see there a tremendous potential. It will be sell like donuts and the price will go down.

    If we can have a brand or two of hardware with a Ubuntu installation with all the hardware working it will be great also.

    If people cant have all the hardware working, they will never change to linux. I see this all day long. I also hope that the new release from VMware with drag and drop enabled from Windows to Linux and Linux to Windows can help the newbie. But that will come in another discussion :)

  3. free software advocate Says:

    I think to most promising gadget-freesoftware plataform is maemo. Is there room for collaboration between ubuntu and maemo?

  4. Rahcyan Says:

    i wish you will watch at this project…. it need help and I think it can interrest you…


  5. jsgotangco Says:

    With improvements to Symbian becoming more and more functional, plus the fact that Nokia has been introducing free software components to Symbian itself (like the Symbian S60v3 Web Browser), it has more or less become the de facto for devices. Perhaps this is a good springboard to look into as well. Since I’ve been using a Nokia E61 for work, I could say that my OS of choice is not just GNU/Linux, but also Symbian.

  6. ASF Says:

    I can see at least two different approachs (challenges) on the gadget market for Linux:

    The first one is how to convince the manufacturers to offer official support for Linux, as a regular user platform of choice just like Windows and MacOS, for their lines of products (ex: Palm, iPods, etc). Perhaps only through the increase of the user base or by some licensing agreements (in this case, how can we do it safely?)

    The second, some standardization of embeded Linux seems a requirement. And improvements of resources like memory and energy management.

  7. Jussi Kukkonen Says:

    Do you have an opinion on Maemo (maemo.org), Mark? I think it has potential, although as long as there are no other device manufacturers than Nokia, it’s hard to judge the longevity (which, in my opinion, is a major benefit of using open/free solutions).

  8. Ezequiel Martin Camara Says:

    This is also a sector in which the newly GPL Java can be transformed into a mighty weapon of free software. There is a lot of work done in embedded Java, and it could be used to put a fast foot on the door, getting gadgets that do not run Linux connected to the free software world.

  9. swj Says:


  10. tinin Says:

    It would be great to have kubuntu version for cellphones and also for ps3

    “Sony Adds PS3 Support to Linux Kernel”

  11. Sebastian Galante Says:

    Mobuntu it would be the name version for cellphones, palms and pocketpc

  12. lyceum Says:

    I would agree with every word of your post, and raise you one, what can Ubuntu/Canonical do to help in this transion? I know that you funal a LOT of money into the FOSS world, and I for one thank you and Canonical for all you do. I am learning more about computers so I can do more to help myself.

    There are two things I would like to see, but I do not know how to get them started. One would be an Ubuntu OC for the Palm/handheld computers. If we could link a handheld to a PC, an Ubuntu PC preferably with a USB (like normal) and then remove the OS, replacing it with a handheld version of Ubutnu, that was made to work with Ubutnu… wow, I get all happy just thinking about it. It would need to be a program you can get easily from Ubuntu so anyone coule do it.

    The second thing is like the first, create a way to hook an MP3 player up to an Ubuntu PC and replace the OS with a program made to work with Ubuntu. IT would have to play Oggs, of course.

    I feel that this could take the market in a new direction, for home and business. A company could run off of Ubuntu only, and they might need support… I am not asking you to fund more projects. I am sure there are people out there that would join in to work on this, I jsut don’t know where to begin myself. Even if to start you would have to get one one type of hardware, it would be a start.

    Well, that’s my 2 cents.

  13. Eugenia’s rants and thoughts :: Mark Shuttleworth on Gadgets :: December :: 2006 Says:

    […] Ubuntu’s front man, Mark Shuttleworth, wrote an interesting blog piece on gadgets and Linux. He stresses out that Linux should be used more on gadgets, however, I think he forgets that the PC side of any gadget is as important. […]

  14. Ben Says:

    Just support OpenMoko :-)

    It uses apt-get, runs the 2.6.18 Kernel, and is already being developed. What more could you want?

  15. Andreas Nilsson Says:

    The 770 is a great little machine running Linux and a lot of GNOME tech.
    It would be great if Canonial could put some effort into making my Ubuntu install out of the box work better with my 770 device.

  16. Lesley Clayton Says:

    I know that great gadgets definitely define my life – not because they are in fashion and look great on skin, but because they serve a purpose and make my life work better! I fly and I believe that every girl pilot needs some seriously hot side-kicks, like a multi-function cell, laptop, PDA and not to mention GPS garmin – easy cockpit. It also allows me to file flight plans and receive updated info when frequencies or TMA rules change. Most of my connected stuff is windows with a little sun, symbian and others so I would like to experience more OS. The embedded market is fascinating and has many benefits for keeping people safe and for rescue purposes – like transport tracking techno, but unfortunately their is always the flip side and the need arises for stronger encryption, renewed privacy policies and legislation!

  17. Trevor Turton Says:

    There are a large and rapidly growing number of electronic gadgets in pockets and purses, and mobile phones lead the way. Mobuntu sounds like a timely idea. But KDE and Gnome are far too large and slow to implement on current mobile technology, which leaves the question of the user interface wide open. Browsers clearly have a large role to play because so much content and function is locked up in HTML. Ten years ago Netscape had dreams of making their browser the desktop, but it didn’t happen. WAP sadly didn’t deliver on its promise. Opera Mini (http://www.operamini.com/) does a great job of delivering the web to the mobile via a small Java midlet (about 100Kb), but the hard work of decoding raw HTML is done by a Nokia proxy server, which renders it down to a much simpler, more regular form that the mini browser presents. It works well, but this approach debars secure communication because Opera’s proxy sees everything. If Opera persists in allowing their mini browser to access SSL websites, they can expect a lot of impressive resumés from organized crime.

    I think that the next big thing to facilitate access to remote services from mobiles will be the humble IM client. There is an excellent open standard for IM (http://jabber.org/). On mobiles, IM communication is charged at data rates, a tiny fraction of voice or SMS rates. Chat is handy but rather limited, but the Jabber protocols include a host of handy optional extensions such as images, crypto, compression, and data forms. IM servers are small and simple enough that any business that currently operates a web server could complement it with a secure IM server. The Wildfire IM server’s executables, for example, total less than 1MB (http://www.jivesoftware.org/wildfire/). Jabber data forms are just about as capable as HTML forms, and could be used to deliver just about any business transaction that is currently offered via HTML forms. Jabber forms don’t do AJAX, but AJAX is a clumsy work-around to reduce the impact of synchronous communications that browsers impose on us. The Jabber IM protocol provides an open, near-real-time communications channel with both client and server push. Jabber extension include support for IP telephony (http://www.newtelephony.com/news/69h131350387011.html) and lots of other cutting-edge modes of communciation.

    Linux is the obvious choice for the kernel. IM clients have been written in C or C++, but there are already a large number of open source IM clients written in Java (http://www.jabber.org/software/clients.shtml), and Java, at last is also open source. We have lots of nice options open to us. In essence, IM is giving us a second chance to invent the web, and this time the standards are being developed by the user community rather than a bunch of meglomaniac companies bent on out-innovating their competitors, and ultimately, their customers.

  18. miraceti Says:

    Just to reply to Metro:
    I read today that Yellow Dog Linux has a version that will run on the PS3 using kernel 2.4.20. It would certainly be interesting to see how the cell processors perform in Linux :) http://www.terrasoftsolutions.com/news/2006/2006-10-17.shtml

  19. Laurent GUERBY Says:

    I recommand the maemo approach choosen by Nokia for its Nokia 770 Internet Tablet : the core is (debian)Linux/X/GTK, Nokia engineers provide guidelines (“hildon”), documentation, source code for most of the sotware and some level of support to the developpers around it.


    Big official releases seem to happen twice a year, but there’s a continuous stream of free software being ported to it (sometimes developped specifically), see:


    It seems reasonably successfull.

    I bought a bluetooth GPS device and installed “Maemo Mapper” (application specifically developped by a volunteer, not a port), downloaded a few maps out of google and it just worked.

    Just yesterday, thanks to the Canonical team having fixed:


    I installed a port of a VNC viewer, also installed openvpn on my Nokia 770 et voila, everywhere I get wifi, I get secure VNC access to my ubuntu desktop at home through my Nokia 770.

  20. Ubuntu-blogi » Arkisto » Uutisia ja lainauksia, viikko 49 Says:

    […] “The smart phone. The digital camera. GPS devices. And many, perhaps most, of these new devices can and do run Linux. Free software in the embedded market is becoming a commodity, in the same way that MS-DOS and then Windows made the PC a standardised software environment.” -Mark Shuttleworth analysoi blogissaan Linuxin mahdollisuuksia sulautetuissa järjestelmissä (esim. älypuhelimet ja musiikkisoittimet). (lähde: http://www.markshuttleworth.com/archives/71) […]

  21. Maurizio Colucci Says:

    Don’t forget the fingerprint reader. It is invaluable for logging in quickly. Under linux it would be even more important because the password is also asked after login.

  22. Laurent GUERBY Says:

    Recommended reading: Dr. Ari Jaaksi, Nokia’s director of open source at Nokia on Building consumer products with open source at LinuxDevice:


    “Nokia launched its first Linux and open source based product, the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet, and the http://www.maemo.org community web site in 2005. Internet tablets are a new kind of mobile internet devices and the community web site supports application development on these devices. These initiatives provide Nokia with an open source based software platform for handheld devices. This article discusses our experiences of using Linux and open source at Nokia[…]”

  23. And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here ? Says:

    […] Into the blue again after the moneys gone We can expect to see more new and interesting devices come out. Of course slaking the thirst of the gadget beast is all but impossible but it will always be there seeking new toys for the old boys. As usual however will be problem of interoperability and the fact that the manufacturers and vendors will invest time to ensure functionality with XP and Vista but will most likely need to be cajoled into functionality with Ubuntu Linux. I would like to see 2007 be the year when vendors look to open source as a means to add a unique selling point to their product rather than an afterthought. […]