OpenMoko: Software stacks

My OpenMoko arrived a few days ago, and comes with the stock OM2007.2 software. I upgraded it with the opkg update command and then tried to use it for a few days at the LUGRADIO Live 2008 event. It didn’t go that well, so I started hunting around to look at the other software stacks. There are three different software stacks for the phone. This is described in some detail here.

The OM2007.2 stack, based on GMAE, is really very good but suffers from performance problems and is (currently) fairly incomplete. It was for this reason that OpenMoko decided to go to the ASU or April Software Update. ASU is also going to be conveniently called the August Software Update when it is updated in August.

The ASU is based on Qtopia phone stack, but converted to work with the X11 server used on the FreeRunner (FR). I’ve downloaded the ASU and found it to be very, very slow. The mix of applications was interesting as it supports both Qtopia and OM2007.2 applications. This is currently where most of the effort at OpenMoko is going at the moment, so its probably the phone stack to use in the near future. However, I found it too slow, and difficult, to use as a day-to-day phone.

The other stack is the FSO, so named because it is being implemented around the stack, a set of interfaces that are exposed via dbus. This is what OpenMoko see as the future of the phone system and so is worth keeping an eye on. I’ve not pulled down a copy so I can’t comment on it. Looking at the project on the web it seems to be in its early stages.

So, the OM2007.2 stack is slightly buggy and a bit slow, and the ASU stack is more buggy, very slow, but the near future of the phone. So what can you use on your phone if you actually just want to be able to SMS and make phone calls? That answer, currently, appears to be to Qtopia stack. There is a snapshot at Trolltech’s website which provides a download with a kernel and filesystem for the 4.3.2 edition of Qtopia. And it works very well and is fast. But it only provides a basic phone functionality although you can add packages.

So what I’m going to do is to load the ASU into the SD card, with Qtopia in the main part of the phone and boot into ASU whenever there is an update just to keep an eye on it. The FR makes it very easy to have multiple distributions on the phone at any one time meaning I can have the best of both worlds: a functional phone with Qtopia, and a mobile computer which just happens to have GSM/GPRS/Bluetooth and WiFi communications capabilities.