25 February 2010

Open Source Re-writes the Rules for Mobile

It is well known that an old PC, underpowered for ever-more greedy Windows versions, will generally run GNU/Linux without a problem. This means that hardware can be kept for longer using open source, saving money and sparing the environment.

One consequence of open source's rapid spread in the world of mobiles is that you can now do the same in that market:

Have an old HTC Tilt, Polaris, Niki, or Vogue laying around collecting dust because you can’t stand using Windows Mobile? Well, according to the XDA Developers forum you may be able to get a little more life out of your old device by hacking it to run the latest version of Android.

This was simply not possible with older, proprietary mobile operating systems, because you couldn't hack them to work on different hardware. With Android, that all changes, opening up a whole new world of mobile re-use. As the same post rightly points out:

This story shows me once again how important Android is to the mobile OS space. The idea of taking older phones and using a free, powerful OS to breath new life into them is the promise of open source software like Android.

Indeed, and another instance of where free software really does give you new and useful freedoms.

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Anonymous said...

Linux is awesome. Heck the default Android can be custom compiled to only include necessities making it even thinner. =)

Props to Linus and Linux. =)

Glyn Moody said...


Andrew Katz said...


This is a little like the car scrappage debate (is it better for the environment to keep your old car, or to trade in for a more efficient one, but the old car needs to be disposed of and the new one will have cost a lot in manufacturing resources).

My netbook, to take a not particularly good example (which uses around 12 watts, including screen), is vastly more energy efficent than the much less powerful desktop PC I had 5 years ago (200 watts excluding screen, 350 watts, I estimate, including the screen), so it's not necessarily a good thing to keep old kit going. However, I don't know how the whole equation looks if you take the manufacturing and disposal costs of change to a new PC (to the environment) into account, but I'd be interested to know.

I suspect this argument is unlikely to apply to phones though - their energy usage is teeny in comparison to PCs.

And I've got a couple of old smartphones in the drawer that I'd love to give a new lease of life to...

Glyn Moody said...

@Andrew: fair point about the netbooks et al., but as you say, for mobiles recycling is almost certainly better.