Interview Linux

Interview with Sean Moss-Pultz, CEO of OpenMoko – Ninjas *ARE* Better Than Pirates

Sean Moss-Pultz was kind enough to answer a few questions with fsckin w/ linux. He’s got some pretty interesting answers to questions plaguing geeks and non-geeks alike, such as the eternal debate on which is better – Ninjas or Pirates? Keep reading for some candid responses from the CEO of the company behind the Dash […]

Sean Moss-Pultz was kind enough to answer a few questions with fsckin w/ linux. He’s got some pretty interesting answers to questions plaguing geeks and non-geeks alike, such as the eternal debate on which is better – Ninjas or Pirates? Keep reading for some candid responses from the CEO of the company behind the Dash Express GPS device and the in-development OpenMoko phone. Dash was recently named one of the top 10 startup companies to watch in 2008 by Wired Magazine.

0. How did the name “OpenMoko” come about, and does it have a meaning behind it similar to the Neo1973?

“Moko” is short for Mobile Kommunikations. Think of the “K”’s as a tribute to all hackers around the world that build software that drives our platform forward.

“Open” is obvious. But what we mean by “open” perhaps is not. We’re not just talking about software. It’s really the entire business model of our company. For example, this coming week we will release the full mechanical CAD drawings of our Neo’s case. We want people to remix our work. We want to be open from the iron to the eyeballs.

OpenMoko started as a project inside FIC (Taiwan) and has recently been turned into it’s own company. So, we’ve had to build a open software stack, build a team, build a product, plan a future, and build a company, while everyone gets to watch.

Most of the challenges, I would say, are philosophical in nature. Not technical.

In an closed company you go through various stages of hardware development. These stages are hidden from the general public. Prototype hardware is built and passed out to a few select internal developers. Later, more hardware is built. In a pilot run. This is distributed internally to more engineers in the company. Finally, it’s presented to the public like it just came out of the oven.

OpenMoko is inside out. Our prototype are shared with developers around the world. Why? because our engineers are outside the company as well as inside.

In some ways we are like a reality TV show. Showing how one builds a gadget of the future. It’s like a cross of Survivor, Dirty Jobs, and Ice Road Truckers.

1. What is your favorite brain-food? Favorite beverage?

Not sure if nachos are brain-food…but I love them! As for drinks, I would say nothing is more refreshing than water. I like things that can blend in to any environment.

2. Awhile back you said “failure is not an option.” Would you expand on that statement and explain who ultimately looses if you fail?

Hehe…perhaps I was caught up in the passion of my own thoughts. Working every breathing second of the day on something for more than year will do that to you 😉 The point that I was trying to make is that we (collectively) need the phone to be freed. It’s the only way major change will occur in this mobile industry.

3. In a philosophical sense, which is better: Ninjas or Pirates?

Oh ninjas all the way. They were artists using their art to ensure their survival in a time of violent political turmoil. Their strategies were cultural opposites of the conventional ruling Japanese Samurai class. But they lived in harmony with nature. And always kept an eye to where the future was heading.

OpenMoko has an internal ninja. You’re hear more from him later this year.

4. Due to the touch screen and lack of buttons, comparisons are inevitably made between your product to the iPhone. Two questions in one: Why is being compared to the iPhone a good thing? Why is it bad?

It’s a good thing because it brought us lots of press. It’s a bad thing because most of the press talked about us as an iPhone killer. That’s not at all what we’re trying to do.

End user freedom is our passion. Apple gives you an incredibly polished experience. Exactly how you they want you to have it. But the end user really has no freedom. They cannot change the device if they don’t like the way Apple choose to make things.

All these comparisons, unfortunately, caused a lot of confusion. But in the end it was all good. We were forced to refine our message.

5. How much can you bench press?

Not sure anymore…but I can still bench my weight. And I’m gaining weight here in Taiwan (too much good food) 😉

6. Your device seems to pull the opposite direction in where carriers seem to be headed. Revenue streams such as ringtone purchases and other paid-for customizations would obviously be impacted by your project. Have carriers in general expressed any interest in OpenMoko despite the drawbacks?

Carriers are extremely interested. But their reasons vary as much as their responses. So I think it will be a while before see us packaged with 2-year contracts.
Right now we’re focusing on being fast and flexible. So we can react to what our customers want. This is a huge challenge because of the scope of our efforts. Most companies choose either software, hardware, or manufacturing. We’re doing all three. I’m convinced this is the only way it’s possible to making a completely open phone.

7. Is OpenMoko affected by the Year 2038 Bug?

Probably. But we’ve got a heck of a lot more serious Year 2008 bugs.

Anybody want to help? 🙂

8. (As far as I know) OpenMoko hasn’t adopted GPLv3, instead opting to utilize the GPLv2 and LGPL. What are the reasons for using licenses other than GPLv3, and is the GPLv3 compatable with “doing business” in 2008?

I am not a lawyer so I only feel comfortable replying on a personal level. I really the message behind GPLv3. The loopholes it tries to close are real and destructive to the spirit of the original message. In short we will use it. But I cannot make a sweeping statement and say we will use it for everything. Besides, technically that’s just not possible. We make products and a software distribution. This forces us to work with many different licenses.

To deal with these kind of problems we have come up with something we (informally) call our “Software Freedom Requirements”. These are still being refined, but let me just state what we have now:

1) Libraries cannot be GPL — The idea is that libraries are what you use to build your house, your private space that you can control in any way you like. Our preference is LGPL, BSD/MIT less so, but still acceptable. GPL is not acceptable.
2) Everything but libraries should be GPL — The idea is that this is the shared public good, democracy. LGPL and even less so BSD/MIT would be acceptable, but not be loved. We think that those licenses defend the rights of developers, but not the rights of the end user.
3) Contributions must be welcomed back — A company that wants to work with us has to accept valuable contributions back into their mainline, without transfer of copyright, based on technical rather than political merit. This makes dual-licensing impossible. If the company has a program of buying back contributions including transfer of copyright that is also acceptable, as long as valuable contributions will indeed get bought back.

We also have “Hardware Freedom Requirements”. Equally as important, because, as Wolfgang Spraul once said, “Software is what makes hardware dangerous.” 😉

Listed in order of priority:

1) Fully and publicly disclose datasheets, [or]
2) Fully disclose datasheets to OpenMoko and allow us to use that documentation to write a documented GPL driver, [or]
3) Fully release an existing driver under the GPL.

We’ve worked with those for almost a year now. So things are extremely concise. Hopefully we can simplify our message in the Software Freedom Requirements over time.

OpenMoko is, and will always try to be, the most progressive mobile distribution available. Like Moglen, we want to “Resist the resistance!”

9. What’s the progress on your AE86 restoration? Got any pictures yet?

Since OpenMoko started just about everything else in my life has stopped — my AE86 is no exception. Here’s a picture — about 75% done.
Sean Moss-Pultz’s AE86

10. The Dash Express was recently announced and uses almost the same hardware that the OpenMoko does. I would assume that there was some significant collaboration with their teams. How much work was able to be directly integrated back into the OpenMoko project?

Yeah lots of collaboration — we’re all the same team 😉

This was our first OpenMoko-based device that will ship in high-volume to the consumer. So naturally we’re thrilled with results.

Look for more great stuff in 2008. We’re just getting warmed up.

I’d like to personally thank Sean for spending the time to answer these questions. I for one am eagerly looking forward to progress OpenMoko makes towards launching a mass-market open source phone. You can count on at least one person (me) to ditch their locked down, proprietary iPhone when OpenMoko’s device is ready for prime-time.

13 replies on “Interview with Sean Moss-Pultz, CEO of OpenMoko – Ninjas *ARE* Better Than Pirates”

Good questions Wayne and thanks to Mr. Moss-Pultz for taking the time to be interviewed. Perhaps next time the interviewee should be asked with apocalypse is most likely out of astroids, zombies or nuclear war?

Very interesting read.

I’m watching OpenMoko closely, and contents of Sean’s head are just another pointer that company is heading the right direction.

We really do need to free our communications, if we are to evolve…

@PredatoryFern: Nonsense! Everyone knows that the apocalypse will come when the dead arise from their graves! 😉

Oh, and ninjas FTW


How would you feel about apocalyptic ninja zombies? Nuclear pirates?

I don’t know about you, but some nights, I find it hard to sleep… O_O

Ninja zombies! Give them a Laser Shark Launcher and you got yourself the ultimate weapon of destruction. Maybe Nuclear Pirates riding bears with crocodiles instead of arms? Scary… O_ô

Ok, sorry Wayne, what was this blog about? That Linux thing? 😀

Iván: Everyone knows you can’t run linux on its own…

“Are you saying that this linux can run on a computer without windows underneath it, at all ? As in, without a boot disk, without any drivers, and without any services ?”

Wayne: Extra-terrestrial, nuclear-powered ninjas who need no sleep, have no fear and can deploy Zombie pirates might be the single most frightening thing to cause an apocalypse.

Either way, it’s funny to read if you take it as seriously as someone trying to wage war on violence in words.

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