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No FreeRunner follow-up, says OpenMoko

Cuts staff, turns focus on secret Plan B

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OpenMoko, the company behind the open source FreeRunner handset, is giving up on creating a new version in favour of fixing the old one and working on a new secret project.

In a presentation at OpenExpo in Bern, the OpenMoko CEO, Sean Moss-Pultz, told delegates that development on the new handset - GTA03 - would be postponed while the FreeRunner is fixed and the company focuses on "Project B". Staff levels are to be cut, though it seems some specialists have already left the company.

Quite what Project B is we don't know, only that it's not a telephone and that it can be done with a third of the resources the GTA03 would have needed - and thus is more within the capabilities of both the company and its supporting community.

Apparently OpenMoko has shifted around 10,000 FreeRunner handsets, and there is certainly a development community churning out applications for the handset, even though it lacks 3G (or even EDGE) for licensing reasons. But 10,000 isn't a significant number for hardware, and the advantages of being "open source" are much harder to quantify in hardware.

Not that the company has shied away from trying to promote the community ideals in hardware as well as software - as demonstrated by the plan to fix the persistent buzzing that plagues the FreeRunner, which involves owners meeting up at trade shows to fix each other's handsets.

"We do it in software by having [volunteers] write code - we do it in marketing by having community members man trade show booths, we did it in sales with the group purchase," said marketing veep Steve Mosher. "So when it comes to fixing the [FreeRunner] in the field we are going to start with a volunteer approach... I've shipped the parts to fix phones to a few individuals... volunteers with soldering irons [are] ready to do their best."

But since OpenMoko was announced, back in 2006, the mobile phone industry has embraced open source with enthusiasm: Android, Symbian and LiMo all offer open-source alternatives to the iPhone and Windows Mobile platforms, while Access Linux is turning up on TVs and satnav boxes and everyone is developing mobile phone applications. Open-source hardware still lacks a definition, let alone a business case, and the FreeRunner remains little more than a reference design or hobby project - a luxury that fewer and fewer people can afford. ®

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