not all change is progress
January 18, 2015
Direct download links: MP3 & Ogg
Linux. It’s now ubiquitous, and powering the devices we use everyday – and some we’d never contemplate owning. With the dying embers of CES 2015 being stamped out in the wider tech press, we also focus on the use of Linux away from our daily desktops and servers.
After a gadget-friendly news segment, we’ve a truly mixed bag of your feedback. And, having spoken about it for months, it was great to finally to get our hands on an official Firefox OS phone – but just how long did our initial enthusiasm last?Intro
In the last fortnight, Joe started a personal podcast project, Jesse upgraded from Mint 17.0 to 17.1 and, shockingly, found little had changed, and Paddy has been looking into OpenSMTPD, which may well offer an escape route from the ridiculously over-featured likes of Exim and Postfix for the Linux sysadmin.
Odds ‘n’ Sods
Introducing the MintBox Mini
Moving steam’s .local folder deletes all user files on Linux
Gogo Inflight Internet is intentionally issuing fake SSL certificates
Netflix Cracks Down on VPN and Proxy “Pirates”
‘Silk Road Reloaded’ Just Launched on a Network More Secret than Tor
Did David Cameron Just Say He Wants To Undermine All Encryption In The UK?
Secret US cybersecurity report: encryption vital to protect private data
Google No Longer Provides Patches for WebView Jelly Bean and Prior
Google’s plan to become your phone company
Cyanogenmod nightlies for 31 phones drop
Mobile Industry Generated $3.3 Trillion Last Year, Created 11 Million Jobs
Samsung debuts its first Tizen phone – the Z1- in India
Snail Games introduces 3D gaming smartphone
The Linux penguin in your TV
Three ex-Google engineers have created a Microsoft Surface clone
Linux-based gadget charges mobiles wirelessly at up to 15 feet
Intel introduces Compute Stick with Atom quad-core CPU
And, with so many products of dubious value featuring at CES this year, we had a brief chat about the apparent backlash against tech ‘progress’ that’s starting to become more vocal. During the conversation, mention was made of the Microsoft/Nokia 215 Internet-ready phone.
A huge thank you to klaatu la terible for the PayPal donation, and to Daniel Lowe and Stilvoid for becoming our latest Monthly Supporters. On Flattr, spacecowboy, M3kbK1, johanv and an anonymous donor kept the wheels turning. A huge thank you from Joe, Paddy and Jesse to all of you!
Thanks for your emails and comments on our website; and also to everyone on Twitter and Google Plus for your feedback.
Herg returned to the topic of Wikipedia’s annual fundraising drive, and made the astute observation that rather than cash, the contributions best able to secure the quality of content there would be our time and effort in keeping the site up to date and accurate.
Nigel Verity suggested that the commercial use of quadcopters for delivery purposes would likely lead to the rise of a new urban sport of “drone-jacking”; and klaatu seemed to totally buy-in to our thoughts last time on alternative means of derivative distro distribution.
Florian and Ian Barton chipped in with comments on network configuration in the shell, and Joe was positively glowing following Fin’s complimentary words about the music used in the show.
Nathan D Smith and Joel offered some real-world perspective on live kernel patching; and Joel had some thoughts about Chromebooks, a topic also referred to by Daniel, who kindly linked to a website with alternative firmware for many common models.
Brindleoak wondered if perhaps Arch is the “one distro to rule them all”, and thanks also to Will for fleshing out some of Jesse’s thoughts on that subject.
We wrapped up with another comment from Will, who is keeping his fingers crossed that Mozilla’s Firefox OS might become a practical and free mobile platform. But Will had also some doubts on that score; to find out if they were justified, listen to our next segment ;)
1:27:56 Firefox OS Phone Review
At the time of recording, the ZTE Open C was the only mobile phone shipping in the UK with Firefox OS as the factory installed image.
Whilst a decidedly shonky bit of kit, Mozilla clearly believes this £40/$60 phone is a suitable platform to showcase its operating system – so how does it stack up? And does FFOS compare favourably against Android on the same hardware? Listen on to find out.
Paddy is keeping hold of the ZTE, so as and when Mozilla push out any future major release of FFOS he’ll be able to report back on the progress they’ve made.
In the discussion of the ZTE smart phone I thought that a couple of points were overlooked that may would make the phone attractive to some market segments; the FLOSS nature of FirefoxOS, and that FirefoxOS phones could offer a smart phone alternative to the Google Android surveillance state eco-system.
I am far from being a FLOSS zealot, but escaping the Google surveillance drag net has become an increasingly important issue and has me hoping for the success of FirefoxOS, Sailfish, or the Ubuntu Touch. Nonetheless, I agree with your analysis that the entrenchment of Android and iOS in the western world will make it a very tough battle for all challengers.
The functionality requirements of a smart phone are very low in my case and I’d gladly migrate from my 4 year old Android phone to the ZTE phone you reviewed (worts and all) just to move farther away from Google. Sadly, here in the USA the cellular carrier oligopoly offers no service for any smart phone platforms beyond Android/iOS/WindowsPhone and BlackberryOS.
I’ve spent some time in the last year trying to decide whether to migrate to an iOS phone or go back to a feature phone (ugh), all the while hoping that one of the FLOSS phone alternatives might gain a toehold somewhere in the world and offer a glimmer of hope.
I was glad to hear that the FirefoxOS platform is still progressing, albeit it sounds like it’s survival is still far from certain. I’d be interested in hearing more about the current state of European cellular carrier service options for FirefoxOS (or any FLOSS) smart phones. Do the carriers in Europe support the FLOSS smart phones on par with Android and iOS phones?
Don’t kid yourself SonOfNed – Firefox OS is just as “Free” as Android. i.e. not very. The lower layers use Android kernel, complete with binary-only drivers, and has the same story of a totally non-free radio subsystem. Except with FFxOS you get no applications and (hilariously) a really crap browser! These binary blob bits are the reason Mozilla cannot provide updates – they have no right to redistribute the whole system image. Quite why they didn’t forsee this and provide a mechanism for updating the higher level “firefoxy” bits is a mystery. Probably because that would have required carefull planning, rather than their chaotic bugzilla-driven-development approach.
As an aside, one of the consequences of only providing binary drivers is that they are compatible with a narrow window of kernel releases. You can’t just run the latest 3.16 or whatever. You need to use the old and crusty 3.2 or whatever version the drivers work with. I think Canonical are doing the same, and just shipping the Android kernel + binary drivers. This old fairytale http://lwn.net/Articles/162686/ is a reality in the smartphone world.
Also, the few apps in the Firefox marketplace are not all FLOSS. They are as mixed a bag as the Android play store, with proprietary ones mixed in with the free ones. This isn’t Trisquel. It’s more like download.com.
If you want freedom without suffering needlessly then you’d be better off buying a 2nd hand Android phone – you can get a good 2013-era model for about the price of this ZTE Firefox OS crap – and installing a non-Google ROM with f-droid. Better hardware and a wider selection of really free apps. Install “Firefox for Android” on it and you’ve got half of the Firefox phone OS right there, but better implemented.
The problem (for free software) is that Android-the-OS has set the bar really high, and Google show no sign of standing still.
lol, the irony of FFxOS having a crappy browser is not lost me :-). Thx for the link to the lwn post, I’ve long been interested in the ABI/API driver strategy debates and hadn’t run across that article before.
I am a big fan of the princples of Mozilla.org, but I sometimes cringe at Mozilla’s product strategy and execution. It appears that FFxOS may be another case in point, although hopefully they can recover from a weak launch of FFxOS.
FWIW, I’m not really a FLOSS zealot although I prefer more FLOSS over less. Personally, my immediate goal is to move further away from the constant surveillance of Google platforms/apps/services. You offer a good strategy in using a FLOSS Android derivative, but given my very low requirements for the functionality from my smartphone I’ve been trying to avoid having to spend the time to sysadmin my phone. I’m hoping for more of a appliance like solution. I’m also thinking about the masses of non-tech consumers in my rooting for the success of additional non-Android alternatives in the smart phone marketplace(s).
For the smartphone power power users, I agree that it would be hard to resist the lure of the constantly accelerating features offered by the Android based systems.
re: propriety drivers – I’m no expert on the smart phone eco-systems, but my understanding is that the modem (radio) drivers in all the smart phones are closed source, including CyanogenMod and Replicant. I’ve been assuming that there is no way to completely avoid the surveillance risk of binary blobs in cell phones, although I assume that risk is more of state-actor and cellular provider surveillance then surveillance from platform or app providers. I’d be very interested if someone were to point out that I am mistaken in this regard.
I must be ignorant and/or spoiled on this side of the pond SonOfNed as I’ve never had any issue connecting a phone to the network. I’ve run Android, entirely free versions of android, Ubuntu Touch and now FFOS without so much of a hitch. In fact we all did, as you can tell because it wasn’t even mentioned in the review. Are you sure it’s not the hardware rather than the software that limits your choice in the US? (I’m thinking of an interview with the new community manager on another fortnightly podcast hosted by 4 linux chaps. In this they discussed the release of the imminent Ubuntu Touch phone, and that it wasn’t shipping in the US due to their red tape and difficult requirements).
As for your other reluctance to move to FFOS due to our slating of the usability and functionality; I would suggest that the update which we only touched on briefly was far superior and actually quite nice to use. Okay it wasn’t going to rival android 4.4.4 or iOS (whatever they’re on) but it was better. I’ll pop a screenshot or two of the old and new interfaces on G+.
Jesse, I’m pretty clueless about the cellular networking options in Europe myself. I haven’t been on that side of the pond since the advent of smart phones.
Are new cell phones commonly ‘locked’ to particular cellular network providers in the European markets?
Initially in the USA, ‘locked’ phones were universal and it is still the norm for most new phone sold. Unlocking phones (not to be confused with rooting or jail-breaking) was initially ruled illiegal in the USA, then legal, then illegal, then legal again, but only if your Cellular Carrier permits it ( I think, but it remains to be tested in court ):
Of course the hard core techies were developing ways to unlock their smart phones all along, but the cellular providers are not supportive of it for the most part. Locking mechanisms can add a layer of complexity to replacing the stock ROM as well as moving phones between cellular providers in the USA, beyond just the question of whether the particular phone is compatible with the network protocols of the target cellular service.
Smart phone enthusiasts certainly are unlocking and migrating phones over here with or without permission, but from what little I’ve read in the forums, it appears that getting around the locking mechanisms introduces plenty of potential pit falls and is not always successful, depending on the specific situation.
Is carrier locking an issue in the European markets?
I did some web surfing to try to answer my
own question about carrier locking in Europe
and discovered some significant news about
the carrier locking situation here in the
Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act was signed into law in late 2014. Hopefully it will help to push the USA marketplace towards carrier unlocked phones as a standard right for consumers.
Historically, my provider (Virgin Mobile USA, a MVNO wholly owned by Sprint) has adamantly refused to unlock phones, even full price no-contract phones purchased new from VM. Supposedly, Virgin Mobile has now “agreed to allow domestic unlocking on all mobile devices launched after February 15, 2015“. It seems rather scummy to me that they are limiting the unlocking to new yet to be launched phones, but it is encouraging to see some movement in the right direction.
I still don’t feel like I have a very good understanding of the carrier locking situation in Europe. It appears to me that carrier locking does exist there, but I can’t really tell how prevalent it is. Is it predominant among carriers or is there enough choice over there that it is easy to avoid (without resorting to non-stock ROMs)? Just curious.
I was going to write a big long explanation but I think this link covers what you want to know:
Thx Joe, that ofcom.org page certainly helps my understanding of the situation in the UK. As far as I can tell, it looks like the carrier locking situation is similiar for new phone sales, but consumers in the UK have a lot more vendors that support post sales unlocking then we currently do here in the USA. Hopefully things will eventually improve in the USA due to the Wireless Competition Act, time will tell.
I think Joe’s response sums up the official line nicely, however I should point out that there are loads of places that sell phone accessories, normally of questionable repute, who will unlock nearly any phone for a fee. This then allows you to wander off to another carrier and they have no issue with it. Now I think about it, I unlocked my S3 using a app!
Thanks Jesse for the tip about unlocking services. Many ‘independent’ cell phone repair shops and free-lancers offer such services here in the USA.
I believe that the situation is a bit more complicated here in the USA however. My understanding is that in Europe the cellular networks are predominantly GSM based. Here in the USA, only 1 of the 4 major networks are GSM based (AT&T). I read recently that over 50% of the cell phones in the USA are on the CDMA based networks.
As this somewhat dated article explains, carrier unlocking a CDMA phone requires cooperation from the cellular provider (who is frequently a MVNO that is reselling access to one of the four big networks in the USA).
The landscape of which cellular providers are cooperating with which has changed since that article was written, but even as of today not all the USA providers are open to unlocking and/or restrict which other providers they will cooperate with on unlocking their CDMA handsets.
My current provider (Virgin Mobile USA) is a MVNO on the CDMA based Sprint cellular network. VM is a wholly owned subsidiary of Sprint. But as of this date VM will not unlock a full price VM phone to be enrolled with any other service provider, including Sprint Mobile.
Technically, it is possible to ‘clone’ the ROM from a legit handset from a different provider (ESN/MEID and all) but that is illegal here and no ‘unlocking service’ offers that for obvious reasons.
Over the four years that I’ve owned my phone I’ve saved enough money with my VM plan to pay for the phone multiple times. My VM plan costs $35/mo for unlimited Text/Data & 300 minutes, no contract (I actually have a grandfathered rate of $25/mo) I purchased my phone for full price when I started with VM. I can’t complain about my total cost of ownership for the phone, but the principle of VM dictating what I can do with a phone I own outright more then annoys me, I’ll omit the long discussion about vendor controlled computing on our personal devices.
I mention all this just to help the non-USA Luddite listeners understand how the USA cellular marketplace may currently differ from the cellular marketplace in other parts of the world. FWIW, I feel like I learned much about the European marketplace from this thread. Thanks :-)
Jesse is correct that the 2.x versions of FFOS were an improvement on 1.3. But I still couldn’t live with the OS as a daily driver (hate that phrase, but hey ho).
There seem to be four fundamental issues to me. Firstly, a lack of decent apps. Providing you could find ones that meet your needs, that wouldn’t necessarily be a show stopper. And the lack of development effort visible was actually welcome at times – the Twitter app still had the nice old interface rather than the one they’ve now moved to on Android!
Secondly, apps taking advantage of offline capabilities were thin on the ground, and generally really poor. If you’re like Jesse, you may have an abundance of free Wi-Fi surrounding you wherever you go, but some of us don’t have that, and spend a reasonable amount on cellular data. In those circumstances, not having a decent offline podcatcher (as an example I specifically hunted for) would be a killer from a cost perspective.
Thirdly, app to app, and app to OS, integration was really poor. If you could live with siloed apps, then this might not be an issue (as I suggested on the show in a different context when talking about the Microsoft/Nokia 215). But it wasn’t until I used FFOS that I realised how much I rely every day on this functionality within Android.
Lastly, the update mechanism (or lack of it, bar backing up your data, flashing a new ROM, and restoring your data) is fundamentally broken. If we worry about how updates work on Android, consider an OS where the old Linux Mint adage of ‘nuke and pave’ is the only way forward – something no non-techie would contemplate. It’s 2015, and it’s madness.
And as a bonus, listening back to the show I realised I stopped Joe mid flow, and just before he was about to explain how awful the browsing experience was. On an OS produced by Mozilla…
Now, none of the above should be construed as suggesting that FFOS doesn’t have a future. Panasonic are planning to use it to run their smart TVs; and, in this category of devices, it will probably work well. But that’s because a TV is an appliance – my criticisms largely don’t apply in this case. But a modern smartphone isn’t an appliance – it’s a general purpose computing device, exactly like a desktop PC. And the value that you get from a smartphone is basically lost when it becomes a tool that demands an always-on ‘net connection, and is only capable of only running one isolated app at a time.
Thx for the complete run-down on FFxOS Paddy. I’ll be sure not to head down that path any time soon :-)
I’m just glad to see that FLOSS based ‘stock’ smart phone alternatives to Google Android have yet to be completely snuffed out. It’s no secret that I’ve grown increasingly leery of the Google surveillance machine. The first 2 quotes from Google’s Board Chairman and ex-CEO on the following page pretty much provide the basis for my concerns about the direction of Google’s position on privacy, I’m not convinced that they were ‘slips of the tongue’:
As Paddy pointed out; “..a modern smartphone isn’t an appliance – it’s a general purpose computing device.” Certainly true. The Andronium Project and (discontinued) Ubuntu for Android Project illustrate the potential that is already technologically possible today.
It appears inevitable to me that the future of ‘desktops for the masses’ is headed in that direction, although I have no clue how long it will take to become mainstream. I recall some discussion of this topic on the Linux Luddites website last year.
What gives me big pause with the “smartphone as a desktop” trend however, is that “vendor lock down” still seems to dominate the eco-systems for devices that contain cellular radios, both in terms of vendor controlled signed code as well as cellular network provider lock-in. Furthermore, here in the USA the net-neutrality laws are weak, but even those paltry laws don’t apply to cellular network providers.
I would love to have the convenience of a powerful desktop system that I could put in my pocket and use for internet access anywhere, but I’m waiting to see how the whole cellular device eco-systems sort themselves out. Hopefully the options to avoid “vendor lock-down” will continue to improve, but I think that the battles are far from over here in the USA.
In the meantime, Xubuntu runs great on my notebook :-)
Also a plus on the FxOS side is that, unlike android,
you can fairly easily compile and install yourself if
Mozilla decides to stop supporting your phone, unlike
some of my older phones which never really got
cyanogen support and are still stuck at their release
version of android.
I also recently upgraded my Nexus 4 from FxOS 2.2 to 3.0, and it is noticibly smoother and more stable than before, and copy & paste support is finally here. Carddav support is still missing, but I’m overall happy.
Good on paddy for looking in to OpenSMTPD. We owe so much to the OpenBSD folks already with OpenSSH. OpeNTPD and OpenBGPD look interesting as well, and we may all be using libreSSL (or lib re-SSL) before long.
Another great show. I enjoyed the discussion on the CES products. I am an iPhone user but found the discussion of continuing support for older Android OS versions interesting especially considering new phones are still being introduced to the market that use KitKat, like the HTC Desire 510. The impression I got from your discussion is that KitKat will not be supported much longer.
I also would like to chime in on the idea that it is hard to give up technology once you start using it. I don’t know about your side of the pond but over here having an unlimited data plan for your cell phone is a big deal. I have been grandfathered in with Verizon for a number of years and we pay $140 a month for two smartphones and a feature phone. We are in the process of switching to a pay as we go plan (Ting as advertised through another Linux podcast) and that is forcing us to change our usage. For example we use streaming video and music all the time now (6 to 10 GB a month) but under Ting we want to stay under 2 GB (preferably under 1 GB) altogether. If we are diligent in waiting for Wi-Fi spots to use data we should be able to save nearly $100 a month. If we had never had the unlimited it would be easy but as you alluded to once you have it it is hard to let it go.
Anyhow keep up the great work.
Hi Jason in VenezuelA (I enjoy guessing but accept I’m rarely correct). Glad to hear you enjoyed the show and the discussion on end-of-life as I also found it an interesting point. The big question is how long can you expect a company to maintain old software? The example of Apple is a good one as, correct me if I’m wrong, when one paid for their PC operating system they maintained it for a long time. Then they changed to a free upgrade model and suddenly the support life decreased dramatically with the justification that it’s free to upgrade. This is true for the software, but not the hardware, and to my cynical mind this is Apple’s way to force people to buy new hardware which makes them more money with the benefit of not having to spend time maintaining old versions.
Now look at Microsoft and their support of XP – they kept it going for so long that people became entrenched and despite their being 3, and almost 4 as I write this, new versions of Windows since that release, the latest stats say 40% of people are still on XP!! The problem this creates is that the flock of users are then spread across multiple bases and the ecosystem becomes fragmented. They’re having to lure people away from 7 & 8 with a free upgrade, I guess hoping that the hardware which came with 7 is still good enough for 10, probably to then try and keep all Windows users on the same version – pushing updates much like Apple.
The same thoughts can be turned to the viability of maintaining old phone OS’s, and where in the cycle Google sit.
Virginia in the United States actually, but Venezuela was a great guess! It has been a while since I commented here and I think I used Jason in Virginia before, I’ll go back to that in the future. I don’t own any Apple PCs so I’m not sure what their policies are on updates. I agree that maintaining old software is a financial drain on companies, hence the planned obsolescence we see built into operating systems. I do not think there is a way around it for proprietary software because of the financial costs required to support the older software. With open source software things a little different. For example I can install some Linux distros on my old Windows XP box (750 MB of RAM) and still use it. Unfortunately that will only happen as long as enough people have interest in keeping the distros updated and around.
I guess my question is more around the fact that you can go buy new Android phones that have versions of the OS will never be updated! For example my 19 year old son has move to Tracfone for his cell phone needs. He never uses the cell phone except in emergencies and goes weeks without even picking it up. The $20 phone he bought, an LG Optimus Dynamic LG38C, came with the 2.3 version of the software and will never get any kind of meaningful software update. I wonder how many purchasers of these devices know that they will never have updates or if they even care.
It seems hard for me to believe that the majority of non-technical consumers shopping for a phone would be giving much thought to the Android platform support system yet alone have any awareness of how broken that system seems to be for stock Android phones.
I may be wrong but my impression is that only recent ‘flagship’ model phones receive Android updates, often very delayed, if their carrier even provides updates at all.
I doubt the information is available, but I would really like to see some statistics on what percentage of total Android phones currently in service receive Android platform updates. It would not surprise me if in reality that was a shockingly small percentage.
With Android vulnerabilities like the WebView arbitrary code execution in the wild, we may not have to wait for the ‘Internet of Things’ to see how the internet copes with tens or hundreds of millions of exploited devices continuously online. I really hope that I am wrong in that regard.
Regarding Apple OS updates (including iOS), I don’t know if it’s their official policy but in my experience Apple seems to support their latest major OS release plus the previous one, with major releases coming out about once a year.
My teenage daughter has a 3+ year old iPhone 4s that is very heavily used in many capacities including streaming video. We’ve installed 2 major iOS upgrades since the phone was new and it still runs great, seems to have plenty of h/w resource headroom remaining for more iOS upgrades. ( although we do hang back on the N – 1 release )
FWIW, Netmarketshare is now reporting that Windows XP installations are down to 18.26% of Desktops.
Right before the Win XP ‘end of support’ last Spring, Netmarketshare was reporting it at nearly 40%, dropping to 28% a month after the XP ‘end of support’.
I checked 6 months later and it had fallen to 24%, so the 18% figure four months on seems to be following the same trajectory in very rough terms.
There are still twice as many Win XP Desktops reportedly running as Mac OS-X and Linux Desktops combined. I am often amazed that every day is not some type of cyber armageddon :-)
Just a comment to say how much I enjoy your show. Your review of Firefox OS was very thorough and I learnt a lot even though I have been using a FxOS device (a lowly ZTE Open) for a number of months. I think your criticisms are justified but for me, the phone and OS are good enough for now. I can call, text, carry around a sizeable part of my prized Magnatune collection plus email & browse if I really need to. I had been holding off getting a smart phone for too long because I didn’t want to be locked into Apple or more enmeshed in Google than I am already. So I’m hoping FxOS has a good future and want to support it.
I have also been slowly listening my way through your past shows and they are really great. Highlights for me so far have been the Slackware based distro reviews plus the interview with the EDE developer. Hope you will continue to have developer interviews in the future.
Thanks for your great work.
Best wishes, Aaron
Thanks for your comment Aaron, glad you like the show. Also good to know we have a genuine FxOS listener out there! We’re looking into developer interviews, but its important to find one that fits in with the commentary we have, someone who fits into the show with some relevance. Listen out for what we find!
I’m puzzled by the negative reaction to the new MintBox
aka Compulab Fitlet. For years I’ve been looking for a
small, inexpensive, low power computer to build a Real
24×7 home/SB firewall with.
I use and like the approach of OpenWRT, but trying to find decent and compatible consumer grade hardware is a nightmare; router vendors change hardware specs in a heartbeat to chase the cheapest chips. Most vendors (incl. ASUS, Buffalo) seemed to have abandoned FOSS compatible boxes. Using a ‘old PC’ is a waste of space and high priced electricity.
Hopefully Compulab will keep the multiple hardware configurations and expandability with very good price points and (yet to be) proven reliability (notice the warranty – FIVE YEARS! – unheard of for consumer hardware).
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