Paul Boddie's Free Software-related blog

Paul's activities and perspectives around Free Software

What do I think about the Fairphone?

Thomas Koch asks what we think about the Fairphone.

I think that the Fairphone people are generally aware of Free Software and are in favour of it, but I also think that such matters are somewhat beyond their existing experiences, so that’s why the illustration on their site is a phone running something that might be Windows Phone (I wouldn’t really know, myself) showing Skype on the screen.

The rather awkward-to-navigate Web site mentions

Root access: Install your preferred operating system and take control of your data.

Android OS (4.2 Jelly Bean): Special interface developed by Kwame Corporation (Also open!)

Of course, without a full familiarity with Free Software, it’s very easy for people to say “open” and not deliver what we expect when we consider openness and freedom. Moreover, without proper hardware support, promises of “root access” don’t go very far. It does seem to be the case that the “special interface” will be released as Free Software (more information available on the DroidCon site in a slightly more convenient form than the alternatives). But I haven’t seen much evidence of truly open support for the “Mediatek 6589 chipset” although it is theoretically possible that it could exist. That the MT6589 apparently employs PowerVR technology does not inspire a great deal of hope for Free Software drivers and firmware, however.

Certainly, those of us interested in Free Software should consider helping Fairphone to deliver the same kind of transparency in the software supply chain that they intend to deliver in the physical supply chains. Having software that can in its entirety be maintained independently of the hardware vendor means that the device can be viable indefinitely, and the result would be a product that promotes the sustainability aspirations of the Fairphone endeavour.

I’d be tempted to order one myself if we could realistically expect to bring about Free (and Fair) Software on a Freephone.

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