Those looking for open source phones will be feeling the squeeze further, as the Meego project (the OS that powers the N9) is being scrapped, and merged into new projects. Nokia are most likely to abandon the free and open source mobile operating system, and move to Window 8 RT on their next phone release. The N9 received considerably bad publicity due to the fact that the OS it came preinstalled with was essentially being scrapped, and this was announced on the very same day the phone was released.
So, what does the future hold for those wanting an open source mobile device?
Samsung have decided to become involved in the Tizen project, which will use a lot of the code from Meego. Whereas the big contributors to Meego were largely Intel and Nokia, now it will be Intel and Samsung. Furthermore, Sprint Nextel have also announced that they will be joining the Tizen association. There was some controversy about whether Tizen would support Qt, which is an application development framework for C++, or whether there would be a general abandonment of this for HTML 5 which was stated to be the trend for future mobile applications. It was recently answered that Qt would continue to exist on the Tizen project.
Nokia are one of the last supporters of ‘roughly’ open hardware standards. This was abandoned before the N9, but large amounts of the information continue to remain open. The only really ‘true’ open source mobile platform is the OpenMoko Freerunner. This device though, has had terrible success and generally does not enter the thoughts of most consumers when considering a mobile computing device that makes phone calls – that is – a smartphone. So we can largely give up on the idea of an open hardware solution, unless Nokia has a change of heart or Samsung comes out and surprises us all.
But what about Android people ask? Here, lies what might be the saving grace of those who want the benefits of Open Source on their mobile phones. While it is not truly open and free, it represents a ‘good enough’ compromise that many will appreciate.
Despite the impending death of Meego into obscurity, the mobile scene gives us good hope to believe that Free Open Source software will prosper in the future. While Android is not free, large amounts of the code are covered by the GPL which will ensure that the code will remain open and free, long into the future. This will help provide smartphone users who choose to use this technology, the choice and control that they demand of their mobile operating systems. Purists may not be completely pleased on this issue but the success, in my eyes, has been fairly profound.