November 16, 2018
Most of us here at Necuno Solutions started getting interested in FOSS mobile devices and operating systems early on and have been involved ever since either by following them closely and spreading the word or contributing to them with code. The spark started in the communities and even though Necuno Mobile is built with enterprise customers with high security needs in mind, we want to give back and offer Necuno Mobile as an engineering platform to the communities and developers.
This blog post will be about our philosophies and thoughts regarding the mobile landscape. This blog post will also be about the communities, the place where the spark for open source started for us.
In our world today, programming is now being taught to toddlers since everything in the world is moving in a digital direction where everything is programmed and everything is programmable. We also currently have the largest platforms to develop and program on, in control of large entities. They essentially control what you can program. Often going as far as stifling programming to be only happening in their tightly confined space, the so called ‘walled gardens’. For example in the current mobile world, developers are pushed to work in the tightly confined user space only providing apps to the users while keeping the inner workings of the system a black box. By keeping the inner workings a black box and out of reach they can keep users in the unknown of what is really going on in the system. This is where the control happens. Ultimately your device cannot be safe if no one except the entities controlling it can see what is in it.
This also brings in the question what happens when the entity in control decides to ‘turn off the faucet’, and suddenly you can’t download their binaries to develop on or worse, use your phone. Everything stops. You aren’t in control of your device.
One could argue that innovation in mobile devices has been stagnating for over a decade now. We could ask, is it because there is nothing to innovate in the space anymore or is it because most developers are pushed to innovate in tightly confined spaces where no true innovations occur. Open sourcing deeper levels of the system and allowing developers to work on more than just the user space will boost innovation and provide more transparency as well as privacy to the user.
The world is moving to a more and more privacy intrusive direction. Most free things people use, are used as data siphons for organizations to gather data that will be packaged and then sold to marketing companies. This is starting to form a counter reaction and currently more privacy oriented solutions and people interested in privacy and protecting their data are on the rise. This is good. We want to be part of the same movement. We do not need or want your data, your data is not our fuel. We are in the same boat as you. We want privacy and security focused mobile ecosystem, from hardware to software, with open source as its driving force. We are not creating this just for you, we want this as well. By encouraging open source mobile ecosystems we can together make mobile devices be in the users control and provide verifiable privacy and security.
The long term goal of open source mobile device is a tall task. It requires multiple incremental steps over a long period to be achieved. It cannot be done by a single company and shouldn’t be done by a single company. It should be achieved through the efforts of multiple companies, hardware and software, and the FOSS community. The ultimate goal being an open source mobile device with rich app ecosystem and where the user is in control and the device is verifiably secure all the way from hardware to the applications.
In the open source mobile ecosystem the developer distribution is skewed regarding the development efforts, for a valid reason. App ecosystem is what attracts the most amount of users and larger user base in turn attracts developers. Apps also can bring in extra revenue to the developers which again attracts the developers. This often is not the case for FOSS developers working on the lower levels of the system in their free time.
The hardware and lower level is where it all starts. The properly done base. Open source hardware, drivers, firmwares and kernel are all the ones that require the most effort currently, but they have the least amount of developers working on them. Understandably so, there is no wide-spread fame or money in the lower level FOSS development. Often the people working on them are enthusiasts who enjoy the hard challenge and are driven by the ideology of open source mobile device. This is where it begins though. Well done base running on mainline or close to the mainline kernel attracts like-minded developers to contribute to the higher levels of the system.
Next up is the system and UI/UX level where the user experience is created and the intricate workings of the system are handled. This is very crucial part of the system and once properly done and stable it will start to attract the early adopters and small part of the like-minded app developers. This is where currently most FOSS mobile operating systems are, still in heavy development and mostly if not exclusively in use of developers.
Above the system level is where the apps live. This is also where developers are only allowed to focus on the current platforms. There obviously are other good incentives to work on apps for large user bases, for example loads of money if you happen to be one of the lucky ones who make it in the highly competitive app market. However, apps are in the core of achieving the critical mass where the ball starts rolling and the platform starts to attract users exponentially, its still in the future for FOSS mobile operating systems, but we are on the path there. All the news about data gathering and privacy intrusions are also certainly helping.
We want to work with communities as much as possible and provide support as much as our resources allow. We want to provide a platform for developers to develop their dream open source mobile device that has not been provided before. We want to help unify the communities more by aiming to provide a common open hardware to build upon and we will provide communications channels for collaboration between communities working on Necuno Mobile. Hopefully also encouraging new like-minded developers and early adopters to join these communities and work with us all on more open mobile future. If together we can achieve boundary-breaking collaborations between the communities, we can bring in more growth and interested users to FOSS platforms and that way boost the development of the communities.
Necuno Mobile will, in sense, be a dual-use device. It has been built with enterprise customers with high security needs in mind but it also works as a platform for truly FOSS mobile operating systems. This is why we want it in the hands of the communities. It will be a hardcore engineering unit for the hardcore user, the early adopter, the developer. The broader end goal seems to be the same for every FOSS operating system, real usable open source alternative to the current duopoly and the current state of the mobile hardware, we want to be part of that end goal.
If you are a developer, part of a community or a company interested in open hardware. Please contact us through email@example.com. We are happy to hear your ideas and suggestions or answer any questions you may have.