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Open phone hardware vendor frees schematics

Aug 6, 2008 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 1 views

OpenMoko has promised to publish schematic diagrams for its latest hardware design, the Neo FreeRunner. Schematics should enable community developers to create alternative firmware for the device, in order to better adapt it to entirely new purposes.

Examples of potential adaptations include turning the phone into a GPRS data modem or a portable navigation device optimized for best GPS performance.

OpenMoko is often associated with a similarly named project, which aims to create a completely open source mobile phone software stack. However, OpenMoko the company is a spin-off and subsidiary of FIC (First International Computer), and like its parent company, is essentially a hardware company. “If a customer came to us who wanted to run a different operating system on our hardware, we'd say, 'here you go,'” a spokesperson at the company's LinuxWorld booth told

And indeed, OpenMoko has already seen one of its hardware designs used in a non-phone product — Dash Navigation's Dash Express. Presumably, Dash licensed schematics, in order to create a bootloader optimized for using the platform as a PND.

Schematic diagrams are representations of electrical circuits. Publishing them does not allow others to duplicate a circuit board design — Gerber files would be needed for that — at least not without considerable time and effort. Instead, having access to schematics will enable firmware developers to adapt other bootloaders to the platform.

Thus, community developers will now be empowered to change not only the NeoFreerunner's Linux operating system, but also create new firmware for it, such as custom builds of of U-Boot, RedBoot, or RMON. Some consumer electronics companies have their own in-house firmwares that have seen use in multiple product generations.

The OpenMoko project also reported at the show that it sold out of the FreeRunner design within a week of their Independence Day FreeRunner model. Thus, having open schematics may be something of a moot point, for now.

Thomas Seiler, CEO of GPS chip supplier u-blox, stated, “It is vitally important that developers have access to this data and it improves product quality. Going forward we think that more manufactures and more consumers will demand open architecture products with optimum performance.”

OpenMoko CEO Sean Moss-Pultz commented, “Why should industry be afraid of opening up its design? Schematics are simply another form of documentation and vital to future success, service, and satisfaction in the market. We believe our products would be incomplete without them.”

Werner Almesberger, OpenMoko architect, stated, “One of the freedoms we value the most is the freedom to explore. To fully understand the details of complex systems, to adapt, and enhance them. We now take our commitment to openness to the next level by releasing our schematics to the public, allowing anyone to find out how the system works and how to improve it.”

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