Openmoko Throws Everything Behind "Plan B"

Putting Linux on mobile phones is all the rage these days, what with Google's Android popping up on prototypes left and right, and even the venerable Palm pushing the Pre, a penguin-phone of its own. That wasn't always true, though, but way back in those dark days of proprietary phoning — at least a little ways back — there was Openmoko bringing us hope of truly-open telephony.

Openmoko's Neo 1973, and particularly its successor the Freerunner have hooked more than a few hacker's hearts. Indeed, Linux Journal's own Cory Wright gave the FreeRunner a good going over back in December, and pronounced that "[t]he Neo FreeRunner has it all." It's beginning to look, though, like the FreeRunner will be keeping its hooks in those hearts for some time, as Openmoko's CEO Sean Moss-Pultz, speaking at OpenExpo in Switzerland last week, revealed that the company will be pursuing an "altered strategy" that will leave the Freerunner at the forefront of the company's plans for the foreseeable future.

Reports have varied greatly over exactly what Openmoko is doing. What has been uniform across them is that the company is pursuing an as-yet undefined "Plan B" while continuing to support and market the FreeRunner. According to some reports, the company is dropping development of the GTA03, which had been intended to succeed the FreeRunner, entirely. Others suggest that the GTA03 is merely delayed — something that has apparently plagued GTA03 development for some time — and that Openmoko is only considering "shelving" the project. Still others have declared that Openmoko will be discontinuing the FreeRunner itself — something the other reports have universally disputed.

Not unusually, all the reports cite the same two sources: Sean Moss-Pultz's OpenExpo announcement and a statement by Steve Mosher, Openmoko Marketing Vice President, sent to Openmoko's community mailing list in an attempt to clarify Moss-Pultz's remarks. According to Mosher's email, Openmoko has/had the choice of two paths going forward: launch the GTA03, or scrap the GTA03 in favor of "Plan B." In either situation, the company would, in Mosher's words, "Fulfill our promises on FreeRunner." According to the email, the company took into consideration that the design of the GTA03 has changed constantly, and as a result, the production schedule has changed constantly; it recognized that the resources needed to continue the GTA03 are three times those needed for "Plan B," and that it doesn't have three times those resources — that is, it doesn't have the resources to continue the GTA03 in any case — and as a result, Openmoko decided to eliminate the GTA03 as it was defined, continue forward with the FreeRunner, and pursue the mysterious "Plan B."

In addition to this, the company has — or will — cut its staff by half, presumably, to reflect the reduced resources available and the elimination of its main R&D effort. Some have also suggested that other FOSS mobile platforms, some of which have a great deal more funding behind them, may have stolen Openmoko's thunder, leaving it unable to keep up with the rest of the Open-phone pack.

It would appear from Mosher's comments — which included the above quote that the GTA03 "as it was defined" is no more — that we may not have seen the last of that product, and indeed, when "Plan B" does emerge from the mist, we may well find it is a reformulation of GTA03. What seems obvious, for now at least, is that Openmoko intends to continue to manufacture, market, and improve the FreeRunner and continue to develop anew, whatever "Plan B" may be. Indeed, Mosher's final two points were "Buy a FreeRunner." and "Get involved in GTA03 discussions."

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