Mobile Linux Phones

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Status Report 2007

By Tom Jager [1]]


"Motorola's been fiddling with Linux for some time, promising to open the Linux-based phone OS that it uses on a couple of shipping models, but, like many other exhibitors in the mobile Linux realm, Motorola can't decide where to draw the line between protected intellectual property and The Public Good. As a result, in Motorola's booth as at its developer site, Motorola teases a couple of Linux phones in its current line-up, but it won't commit to open-sourcing the phones' OS. That's the very dilemma that Apple faced with iPhone, and Apple came down in favor of closed-ness. Motorola had to show up at its LinuxWorld Expo booth with Eclipse-based software development tools, ably demonstrated by a booth tech who seemed fed up with a whole week of being asked, "have you opened your phones’ Linux yet?" He seemed so pleased at having a chance to demo Motorola’s Eclipse toolset that I felt compelled to stay through his demo, despite a tug in the direction of Palm's booth, where an extraordinarily capable, albeit far beefier heir apparent to the sorely missed Zaurus was on display. And Palm's Linux gadget makes phone calls." (


"Of the big players in handsets, Palm is definitely where the mobile Linux action is. Its Foleo "mobile companion" is everything you could want in a sub-sub-notebook clamshell: An efficient Intel Xscale 32-bit ARM CPU, five hours of battery life, a 1024 x 600 display, support for an external display, storage expansion through SD and Compact Flash memory cards as well as USB, Palm, and Windows Mobile sync, Wi-Fi, and an Ubuntu Linux development environment. You can hack Foleo and flash your code directly to the Foleo's non-volatile memory. You do so at your own risk but also, likely, to your delight.

Foleo isn't a phone, although it will connect to the Internet through a Palm or Windows Mobile phone if you have one, and Foleo doesn't play media files. But representatives in Palm's LinuxWorld Expo booth were quick to respond to questions about Foleo's limitations with "we’re actively looking for developers." Foleo pushes enough standards buttons, including DirectFB graphics, to draw developers easily.

Palm promises an introductory price of $499 and delivery "this summer," but Palm booth reps told me that the thing is finished. In a booth far less flashy, an outfit called Openmoko was showing developer previews of a gorgeous, fully open-source $300 Linux phone called Neo that's already sold out. The device has tons of gawk appeal for its UI's visual similarities to iPhone (it looks nothing like you'd expect phone Linux to look), but publicity on Neo hit before iPhone made its debut. The company that makes Neo is in transition, as it were, in the process of being spun off from its parent. But OpenMoko is real, with matching .org and .com URLs and everything, and I'm curious about where the project will end up." (

More Information

  1. Open Moko
  2. P2P Telephony