A780 GNU/Linux cell phone

Motorola A780

Motorola has the first more generally successful GNU/Linux-based cell phone in China and Europe, and reportedly sold 2 million Linux-based phones, including the A780 and the newer A1200, in China in Q3 2006. Using MontaVista embedded Linux 2.4 and Trolltech’s Qtopia, the quad-band GSM A780 started shipping in August 2005. It’s reviewed on linuxdevices.com and OSNews.com.

I recently picked one up second-hand on eBay from Hong Kong by way of LA. Once you download the Opera Mini browser to improve web performance, the 150 kbps EDGE (rarely falling back to 50 kbps GPRS) Cingular connection for data, such as email and web browsing, is nothing to write home about, but certainly ok for limited use, like looking up entries on Wikipedia while waiting for lunch in a restaurant. Fortunately, gigabit web phones are coming. Meanwhile, people are poking at the GNU/Linux side of the A780.

Using information assembled by Dino Kern at www.troodon.org/A780, I set up a telnet connection into the phone that works over Bluetooth or USB. It’s pretty cool to make the connection and issue dmesg and ls -latr to see what’s up on the phone, but it’s not really a true open source environment, yet.

Motorola probably could profit hugely from market leadership with open source phones (Japanese companies NEC, Panasonic, and NTT Docomo are also active in this space, as are Chinese companies Zhongxing tongxun [ZTE] and Datang) but I don’t think you can say that Motorola’s strategy is “open source” today. They’ve been building needed technology and talking around the periphery of open source for several years now, without making the management decision to “go native,” as noted in June by Eugenia Loli-Queru, editor of OSNews.com. The official Motorola strategy appears to be defensive — the party line is that application developers should write Java applications on Motorola’s J2ME platform. Kinda booring!

Meanwhile, Harald Welte and others are working to create a flashable, open-source Linux 2.6 environment for the A780 and its successors through the OpenEZX project. The MotorolaFans.com, Opie, and OpenEmbedded sites also have related information. It will be interesting to see what happens with Linux on (and around) cell phones.

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