[Tinkerphones] ZeroPhone site offline

Paul Boddie paul at boddie.org.uk
Mon Jan 3 18:43:18 CET 2022


On Sunday, 2 January 2022 22:01:51 CET H. Nikolaus Schaller wrote:
>
> you have probably pinpointed the most important aspect of all discussions.
> 
> We have no high-quality power management in any of the devices...
> We spend (spent) a lot of time to make it work, get hardware out just
> to get the same feedback as you have cited above.
> 
> We (as the OpenMoko and GTA04 community) have faced it. I think also
> the Librem 5 has. And the Pinephone you have cited.
> 
> What should be different?
> - well it needs a team dedicated at making hardware reliable and improve
>   power efficiency
> - this needs a lot of insights into hardware and good doscumentation
> - and - maybe - a stable basis to work on
> - there should also not be fragmentation between several groups
>   having multiple desktops to choose from is good, but having multiple
>   power managements?

To what extent do you think Linux itself is part of the problem here? We both 
know that it can be frustrating to adapt Linux to the realities of various 
devices, and then there is the matter of getting modifications adopted in the 
mainline. None of this is a particularly efficient process, and so doing 
things "the right way" doesn't really fit in with getting a product to work 
well, unless you have lots of resources, of course.

It seems to me that, as you say, you need people with experience who have 
access to decent documentation, working at the lowest level of the software 
stack, making sure that the hardware is functioning properly. All of that is 
hard enough without a bunch of other people telling you that they just decided 
to rework the APIs and that you have to change your code to follow suit, or 
without weird regressions or deprecations that have been introduced elsewhere.

I've presumably mentioned the use of L4Re to test the Letux 400 and other 
MIPS-based hardware on this list. One significant reason for doing so is to 
just eliminate all the noise from "Linux" when familiarising myself with the 
hardware and exploring how it works. And once one does that, one wonders why 
there can't just be a layer dealing with the hardware in a proper component-
based architecture with things like documented interfaces and all the things 
that people have learned from object-oriented programming over the last few 
decades.

> This raises an interesting question: can a loosely organised open source
> community ever fulfill these user's expectaions? Or does it need a
> commercial effort following a plan, an agenda, doing scrum etc. having
> enough resources and not waiting for volunteers? This does not exclude to
> make the results open source (like Google does with Android), but it needs
> big funds...

Although I think you and Michael have been lucky having various people show up 
and handle certain troublesome aspects of the Pyra software and hardware, 
getting people with the right expertise to help out with projects probably has 
to go beyond the "volunteers welcome" mindset. We saw this with Neo900, which 
admittedly suffered from other difficulties, where it was practically 
impossible to get people involved with the right skills, even when payment was 
offered.

Also, there is a phenomenon where the people who might have the ability to 
accelerate a project tend to get given devices, sometimes on an almost 
speculative basis. Nokia sent out devices to developers - I think the N950 
might have been a notable case of that - and I think the MIPS Creator CI20 was 
sent out to people who were perceived as being potentially helpful. How many 
of these devices quickly end up in the desk drawer in the office along with 
all the other things that those people get sent? Meanwhile, other people wait 
for wider availability of the product to have a chance at getting involved, if 
that ever even occurs.

The more I think back ten years or so, the more I see that opportunities were 
lost. The Ben NanoNote was an interesting device, but the reaction from 
certain commentators was predictably consumerist. I only regret not getting 
interested in that sooner, just to try and sustain the momentum it had so that 
it might have led to other things. How much messing around ends up being done 
with single-board computers now to reproduce similar kinds of products to one 
that people were too cheap and sniffy to pay 99 EUR for?

Similarly, with Openmoko there was a chance to iterate in the hardware design 
and to build a long term initiative, but a combination of factors brought this 
to an end prematurely. Despite the tendency of some people to deliberately 
portray that effort in a negative way in order to assert that they would not 
make the same mistakes, one significant repetition of history that such people 
have failed to escape is precisely the mismanagement of customer expectations 
that occurred with Openmoko. That may have been inadvertent with Openmoko, 
however, and people today have no such excuse.

Ultimately, the conclusion must be that long term initiatives are a good 
thing: we cannot have things starting and then ending and then other people 
coming along and starting again from scratch. This makes the failure of 
crowdfunding campaigns particularly painful, since if they are not going to 
deliver a product, maybe the work that went into the product might be 
delivered so that people can genuinely believe the claims that seem to be made 
that supporters are somehow investing in Free Software and open hardware.

And one might think that enduring Free Software organisations might seek to be 
custodians of these long term initiatives, too. But as previously noted, their 
cultural instincts render them passive: it is far better to badmouth Apple, 
apparently, than to actually invest in infrastructure and solutions that might 
keep the very basis of those organisations' existence viable for the 
population at large. If no-one can buy hardware that can conveniently run Free 
Software any more, it will be futile to exhort consumers to buy anything at 
all.

Well, still nothing particularly constructive here: that will have to wait for 
another message!

Paul




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