I've written a number of posts looking at less-familiar advantages of open source over closed source, and here's another one. Proprietary systems can't be forked, which means that it's not possible to change the underlying ethos, for example by tweaking the software or using code on a different platform. But you can with open source, as this interesting example shows.
Fairphone is, as its name implies, built with fairness in mind. That contrasts with today's smartphones which contain many minerals sourced in a variety of unsavoury ways, ranging from being "merely" exploitative to downright bloodstained. That's not something we think about much as we play with our latest shiny toy, but Fairphone wants to change that. And of course, as part of its fairness, everything will be open (although it's based on Android 4.2, so I wonder whether some elements will be closed nonetheless.)
Here's a good summary of the Fairphone way:
During their life-cycle, electronic goods influence many people's lives. People are involved from the mining to the recycling, yet the social and environmental issues are often neglected and left out of the equation. We strive for radical transparency as a way to unfold the complexity of the chain. We believe that through shared responsibility, shared value can be created for all stakeholders. In fact, by making a phone, and being part of the market, we will believe we will find the right partners. Partners, like KwameCorp, who will join us on our journey towards a fair phone. Kwame is a digital R&D agency, and believes that a fair phone deserves an OS which reflects ideals of transparency and fairness in its user experience and design. An OS which empowers the user to be conscious about his usage behaviour, from energy footprint to hardware used. In order to support this philosophy, fair phone's interface design needs to be free from clutter, simple, and very honest. Ultimately Kwame envisions a simple but better OS. One that allows for space to reflect and realize but also one that minimizes the time you need to get to what is important.
The page linked to there also has a couple of embedded presentations, given recently at DroidCon Berlin. The second of these offers some idea of what the phone's operating system will look like. And for more details of how the project developed, and how it hopes to achieve its lofty goals, the site's blog is well-worth reading.
Fairphone is certainly a worthy endeavour, albeit a slightly precarious one: it's using a crowdfunded model whereby it needs 5000 pre-orders for production to begin. The price is ‚¬325, and at the time of writing the project is just over halfway in terms of number of people committing themselves to buying one, with 17 days left. As an interesting open project taking a very different approach from current smartphones, let's hope it succeeds; after all the hard work that has gone into designing it, it would be unfair if it didn't....
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