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Open Source-Friendly Smartphones For the Small Office? 222

Thunderstruck writes "I work in a small office with just two computers. Both machines run long-term-service releases of Ubuntu, with Gnome, and Evolution for scheduling, contact management and electronic mail. We plan to stick with Linux long-term. For telephone service, we're using smartphones. In order to keep everything straight, we need phones that can synchronize easily with the calendars and contact data on each owner's desktop machine. We cannot use cloud based services for this function due to ethics rules, and for security reasons. Right now, we do all of this with older Palm phones, but these are a dying breed. What options are out there right now for phones that will sync with Evolution (or another good Linux PIM suite) which do not require data to go through the cloud first?"
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Open Source-Friendly Smartphones For the Small Office?

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  • Yer boned... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Blackbrain ( 94923 ) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @03:56PM (#33978586)

    The short answer is "there ain't none". You may be able to hack together an in house solution with some N900 devices, but they will probably be discontinued next year. After that who knows. As for the rest, all require using proprietary sync tools (ala iTunes) or syncing to remote servers (Driod, PalmPre, Blackberry).

    • Re:Yer boned... (Score:5, Informative)

      by slinches ( 1540051 ) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @04:54PM (#33979478)

      While it's true that Nokia isn't providing much support for the N900, it shouldn't require much "hacking" to get a working sync solution because it's already been done []. The Maemo community has really impressed me with their ability to provide functionality well beyond what's available on a stock N900.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by PiSkyHi ( 1049584 )

        I don't mean to be rude, but this was in fact, Nokia's strategy. The N900 can sync with evolution because all the good software for it is open-source.

        In the new release of the firmware, even the stock N900 comes with the production repository already activated - so, even the stock N900 has a whole bunch of working applications - open source.

        The strategy with Meego is that even when the N900 is defunct the reason will be something better is there to fill its place, even if it isn't made by Nokia

    • Use QT to develop for the Maemo/Meego platform. Its as open source friendly as you could possibly get.

  • by dacarr ( 562277 ) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @03:57PM (#33978610) Homepage Journal
    On the phone side, the only phones that are pretty much open-source friendly are anything running Android and OpenMoko. I know Android won't sync to the desktop in its native state, though - and OpenMoko...dunno, ask others.

    Consider, though, the following.

    Android, in its current state, can talk to an Exchange server. If you have an option that will do this (Evo server, maybe?), use it.

    Blackberry and Windows Mobile are both syncable on Linux in general. Do searches in the Ubuntu package manager.

    Nokia Symbian, I believe, will function similarly.

    • Don't forget about WebOS... The source is so open, you can even change the built-in apps (even directly on the device via a terminal session). The "jailbreak" process to allow unsigned apps is to type "upupdowndownleftrightleftrightbastart" on the phone (which even Palm will tell you). They have even provided an RSS feed for the official App Catalog to be used by any third-party application managers to use (such as Preware)

      Even Android looks closed-source in comparison.

      WebOS 2.0 is scheduled to be releas

    • by Nursie ( 632944 ) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @11:13PM (#33982472)

      Why do people insist on ignoring Maemo on the N900?

      And yet openmoko is mentioned... Yes it is an open device but it's also a pile of (&*$.

      (I owned one, it's how I know)

  • SyncEvolution? (Score:3, Informative)

    by furrymitn ( 1681200 ) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @04:00PM (#33978656) [] Looks fairly promising using your current setup. A brief look give the assumption it's compatible with evolution, and will connect up to anything that talks syncml, and there's a syncml client for nearly any smartphone out there. And some dated info found at [] gives info on someone setting up evolution to talk activesync, which would allow for windows-based phones to sync up...
  • Windows Mobile. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by saintlupus ( 227599 ) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @04:00PM (#33978658) Homepage

    I sync Evolution with a Samsung Epix running Windows Mobile 6.5. Works fine, at least with the USB cable - I haven't tried Bluetooth.

    I'm running Debian Squeeze.


  • Nokia N900 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @04:02PM (#33978700)

    It's basically a Debian box with phone functionality.

    Add blue tooth keyboard & mouse, plug the video out into a decent monitor and I'm not even sure you need a desktop or laptop.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Neil Watson ( 60859 )

      I believe the N900 is soon to be discontinued. Maemo is depreciated in favour of Meego. AFAIK Meego will not be officially supported on the N900. Finally the N900 has been plagued with USB failures. There are claims that a design flaw makes the USB port weak and prone to falling off. []

      • >> I believe the N900 is soon to be discontinued.

        So, does that mean the phone will stop working? WTF?? And you will be able to boot into Meego with your N900 in future anyway.

        The USB port problem was fixed long back. If you have taken pain to search forum threads, then you should also check the timestamp (that thread is almost a year old) if they fixed a year old problem already or not.

    • by RichM ( 754883 )

      It's basically a Debian box with phone functionality. Add blue tooth keyboard & mouse, plug the video out into a decent monitor and I'm not even sure you need a desktop or laptop.

      Nobody would have imagined this to be possible in the year 2000. We've made progress.

  • I recently bought an E-63 and it will sync with Evo. Great little phone, and I do not have to diddle with it. It just works.
    • by kwalker ( 1383 )

      What software do you use to sync? I've also got an E63 and I'm thinking of getting an E72/E73 but I want something that will sync with Evolution.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 21, 2010 @04:03PM (#33978708)

    I recommend using Zimbra. It's free, is an excellent mail server similar in functionality to Exchange, and will easily install on either Debian 5.0 or any version of Ubuntu. You can use any mail client, and they even have their own client, as well as a feature-rich ajax-based web client. I sync it to my Android phone via MAPI, and it works very seamlessly.

  • zimbra & droid? (Score:3, Informative)

    by doug ( 926 ) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @04:03PM (#33978720)

    I've never used it, but if you set up a zimbra server, then you can use the connectors available for the 'droids. That should give you the services you need on a box that you control.

    - doug

  • by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @04:03PM (#33978724)
    If you're already using debian-based products, why not use Maemo for the phones and apt-get debian-ARM .debs? Even if regular syncing doesn't work, you could automate an rsync over SSH with passwordless pke.
    • by tepples ( 727027 )

      why not use Maemo for the phones

      Because it's nicer to see and hold a phone before buying a dozen of them. Or because T-Mobile might have 0 bars at the office.

  • Get a small (hosted or not) server to sync your desktop and all kinds of other mobile devices against. There are free and open source packages for Calendaring, E-mail (obviously) and Contacts either separately or together. If you already have a server, which you most likely do have, it will be able to handle this little bit of extra web service. This way you'll also be better protected in case a client computer decides to crash.

    Otherwise, Ubuntu One and other service can get you these services for a small p

    • by kwalker ( 1383 )

      I've been looking for something like this for a while, especially as my device herd has grown. What software would you use on the server side? I've looked into several (SOGo, eGroupware, DAVIcal, etc) but they all break in some form or other. The closest I've ever gotten is a mostly-sync (Contacts and Notes) with with eGroupware but it throws a very opaque error when I try to sync my calendar items (gets about 20 of 401 then throws an "invalid server address" error).

  • I'm not a fan of the cloud but I've never considered it unethical. Care to elaborate?
    • Re:Ethics? (Score:5, Informative)

      by PhilHibbs ( 4537 ) <> on Thursday October 21, 2010 @04:13PM (#33978880) Homepage Journal

      If you have employee information in your phone contacts, you are bound (in the UK) by the Data Protection Act to protect that data. If it's being sent to some cloudy server that might be hosted in a foreign country, then you are breaking the law.

  • Mobile E-Mail (Score:4, Informative)

    by sheehaje ( 240093 ) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @04:07PM (#33978776)

    Most of the mobile world I know of is slowly moving away from direct synchronisation with the desktop. Instead, the desktop and the mobile device sync with the mail/groupware server.

    I suggest taking a look at Zimbra as it supports most devices out there. You can go at it both ways too, with either a server sync or a desktop sync.

    We are using Exchange right now with the Evolution MAPI conduit. We are moving away from this solution in favor of Zimbra which will work across desktop and mobile platforms.

  • Some Exchange alternatives may work with ActiveSync. This opens up your options to Palm Pre, Android, and iPhone. They may also work with Blackberry Enterprise Server. (Novell may have a solution that runs on Linux.)

    It has been a while since I've looked for these kinds of solutions. The one thing that has likely not changed, however, is the fact you'll have to pay for the connections between your computer/server and the phones.

    Email is going to be the easiest solution. Calendaring will be the hardest.


  • If you can set up your own SyncML server, then there are clients for pretty much all the major phone platforms.

    Google is of course your friend. You could start by looking at stuff like Synthesis AG, SyncEvolution and Funambol.

  • New palm OS. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by camelrider ( 46141 )

    Isn't there a new Palm version about to be released? I believe it uses WebOS.

  • Samsung Galaxy S (Score:2, Informative)

    by cfriedt ( 1189527 )
    As pointed out [] by Harald Welte (he's as good an authority on the subject as any), the Samsung Galaxy S is a good candidate. Samsung makes all of its source open and there probably isn't firmware locking, AFAIK.
  • Instead of trusting your data to someone else's cloud, you could always run your own server on something like Zarafa...
    I have a Zarafa setup to which i have an iphone and a nexus one synced, all the data travels over SSL. I actually find this a lot more useful than having to connect my phone over usb every day.

  • Blackberry

    Synch to Evolution using "multisync". I also use "googlesync" on the blackberry, so my assistant can schedule me by editing web interface (or, calendaring events via email -- but the web schedule turns out to be remarkably useful for me). But, I am based on an older Fedora -- there have been improvements in the past 2 years.

  • Windows/Exchange (Score:2, Insightful)

    by magamiako1 ( 1026318 )
    You should ask yourself during this trial on how many more business-specific applications you're going to have to dig around for and come up with hobbled-together solutions when you could have very well done this easily with Windows SBS/Exchange and been done with it. In fact, you'd be already most of the way finished doing this if you just used SBS.

    Your boss can focus more time on actually conducting business and less time trying to come up with "OSS" ways to do it.

    Remember, IT works for business--not the
    • by Kamokazi ( 1080091 ) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @04:34PM (#33979178)
      That would be a little overkill for 2 users, but it is a good point. I agree with your last statement completely. We acquired a company admin'd by a Linux-obsessed freak, and the people we hired on were quite happy about not having to send the occasional un-openable MS Office doc to the one person with Office to re-save and convert for OO.o use, and how well Exchange handled their email than Zimbra, etc. His over-adamant use of OSS was a hindrance on the business. As a sysadmin, you first obligation is to your employer, not your principles.

      Of course, we're both going to get voted down because we are a bunch of MS sellouts, despite a full third of my servers/appliances running Linux and other OSS...
      • wrong! (Score:2, Insightful)

        by higuita ( 129722 )

        As a sysadmin, you first obligation is to your employer, not your principles.

        Wrong, before being a sysadmin, one is a person, and as a person, the principles should be above what the employer demand. Of course, one of the basic principles is also not harm the company you work for :)

        example: i would never send spam or do false advertising, even if that would help the company, but of course, i would not force to the accounting guy and all his (excel) scripted spreadsheet files. On the other ha

        • No, he was right. Your first obligation is to your employer, not your principles. You should be doing the right thing for the company, and if that means proprietary software would be a better fit, or even something that you're not entirely comfortable with, then that's the direction one should take.

          If it something where where your principles conflict with what the company is asking of you, then it's time to seek new employment. It's perfectly fine to assert your position and why you think it's better, but u

      • by dbIII ( 701233 )
        So unexpected changes had to be made and you are blaming the guy that didn't expect them? The problem is merely that one working enviroment now has to operate with another and due to MS compatiblity issues that will not happen instantly without effort. For instance you can't learn how to keep the shambolic heap that is MS Exchange going instantly, it takes time to learn the quirks and workarounds required to get reliable backups and reliable email delivery.
    • by ratboy666 ( 104074 ) <fred_weigel&hotmail,com> on Thursday October 21, 2010 @08:22PM (#33981654) Journal

      Really, I must ask... What part of "the two computers use Evolution" did you not understand?
      What part of "two computers" did you not understand?

      Now, what phone are you recommending?

      There was no complaint about services, costs, or anything remotely resembling a question about installing MS SBS.

      But, since you brought it up -- a copy of MS SBS costs $1,089 ( -- and something for taxes. And, of course, a computer to run it on, installation and training... call it $2000 (I'd go higher, but, hey, MS people are fairly inexpensive - normally, I'd figure $100/hour for installation and training, and a $600 + taxes for the server, $2000 combined, and a services budget of 10 hours so $3000 total. Feel free to quote less).

      But wait! He still has to buy the smartphones! Doesn't save one single sou.

      But wait! For this ABSOLUTELY RETARDED answer (because you didn't answer the question at all), you get a +5 moderation.

      So there is more than one idiot involved.

      Like I said in another post, I use a Blackberry (I get the one with the biggest keyboard), and I sync to Evolution with multisync.

      • In this case, he can use whichever phones he wants. Since most phones integrate with Exchange (iPhone, Android devices)--it frees up his boss to buy whichever phone he damn feels necessary to purchase.

        Keep in mind, the original requirements was that he not put anything into the cloud. Understandable, but there's a certain cost associated with not putting things into the cloud. Again, amost every flavor of smart phone supports IMAP/POP/Exchange e-mail relatively simply.

        You're assuming that one pays retail pr
  • So long as you have encrypted connections, what's wrong with using 'the cloud'? I don't think you'll find any modern phone that syncs email with a desktop email client anymore. Why the heck would that be desirable anyway?

    Also, I'd like to put in a plug for the HP Pre. The contacts and email applications on WebOS are better than what I've seen on Android or iPhone. You can have tons of calendars and even multiple Exchange accounts on the same phone.

    • So long as you have encrypted connections, what's wrong with using 'the cloud'? I don't think you'll find any modern phone that syncs email with a desktop email client anymore. Why the heck would that be desirable anyway?

      The problem isn't the connection, but who has access to the data once it is on the remote server? That is a difficult enough question with a hosted, off-site server but with cloud computing it becomes unanswerable because the data is spread (or should be) to various geographical locations. How accountable is your cloud provider for you data security?

      • by hawguy ( 1600213 )

        For most small businesses their data is safer in the cloud than on their own servers (though the original article submitter is likely savvy enough to keep their servers patched and secure).

        I tried to convince a small non-profit that they should move to Google Docs to get calendaring and access to files from home. They refused, saying "We don't trust them with our email and documents, what if hackers broke in". Yet they were using their ISP's POP3 mail server for email with no password encryption, and their

  • I don't sync devices with USB to my computer anymore that was last decade. When you say on the cloud what do you mean? You do realize your email travels across the internet unencrypted and is readable by anyone in the path unless you have taken measures to encrypt every email right? The future is sending data directly to the device over the Internet or VPN if your so inclined just as you would your desktop. So setup a mail server and have your device connect to the mail server via imap or POP3 and ical... o

    • by hawguy ( 1600213 )

      Isn't Wifi last decade too? And Bluetooth. You're so archaic, my next phone will connect to the net via TCP/IP: "Traditional Carrier Pigeon Internet Protocol". Latency sucks, but bandwidth is incredible. I've seen theoretical transfer rates in excess of 1Gbit/second (with latency in the 1 hour range, depending on your distance from home).

      I don't treat my phone as a little computer with much the same capabilities as my big computer because it's lacking the screen and keyboard that my computer has. If I want

  • by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @04:36PM (#33979208)

    If you have ethics and security issues with storing data in the cloud, then shouldn't you also be looking for a device or application that encrypts sensitive data?

    Do any Android phones do encryption natively? I've heard that the upcoming Droid Pro claims to. I know the iPhone has encryption support, but I don't know how whether it encrypts all application data or only data that Apple deems 'sensitive'.

    • Along those lines, I would think that if "ethical" and "security" are a problem, having valuable data on a phone is downright stupid. How many people lose their phones? I happens all the time.

      I don't know what is non-ethical or un-ethical about using a cloud (whatever THAT means). Does that mean you can't use WIFI or 3G to transmit data? Does it mean you have ethical problems with hosted solutions? What would those Ethical problems be if the data was encrypted both in transit and in storage?

      I've worked with

      • by hawguy ( 1600213 )

        As other posters have pointed out, there are valid reasons to be cautious about the cloud. He's not saying "ethical" as in immoral, but ethics as in a professional responsibility to protect client data.

        Until a cloud service takes the blackberry approach where the only person that has the key to decrypt the data stored on their server is the customer himself, Cloud services will have a hard time assuring customers that their data is secure and won't be inadvertently released to another customer. (not to men

      • by hawguy ( 1600213 )

        I forgot to answer your point about the phones:

        Along those lines, I would think that if "ethical" and "security" are a problem, having valuable data on a phone is downright stupid. How many people lose their phones? I happens all the time.

        My Blackberry is protected by a passphrase and auto-locks after 30 seconds of inactivity. (which is set by BES policy, it's not something I can configure).

        The data stored on the phone is encrypted.

        If someone picks up my phone, they have 8 guesses at the passphrase before the phone wipes itself. As soon as I report the phone lost/stolen to my IT department, the phone will be wiped remotely (or will be wiped the next time the phone is on the cellular network).


    • From the things that I've seen and heard, the ability for iPhone's encryption to protect your data is somewhat nebulous, since there seem to be plenty of attacks on the access controls to the key.

      iOS's claims to do encryption are based on the operating system/hardware to do the encryption for you and you trust that nobody can circumvent or duplicate the hardware. Data's not really safe unless you have encryption all the way to the application layer, so that the data's safe even if attacker has physical acce

  • SyncEvolution (Score:4, Informative)

    by ackbar ( 1316031 ) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @04:50PM (#33979412)
    I use SyncEvolution with my Nokia E71. Works flawlessly. Will also work with the Nokia N900 and I'm guessing any Symbian S60 phone. []
  • If you don't want to go cloud you will either have to set up your own server or directly sync between the desktops and the phones. Since you are already set on Evolution you will have to find a solution that works with Evolution. I have done a lot of research into syncing for myself and for my job. For Evolution there is a mature solution called SyncEvolution that even has corporate sponsors. SyncEvolution speaks SyncML, so you simply have to find either phones or a server that speaks SyncML.

    For servers: ht []

  • If your calendaring solution supports publishing via CalDAV or Exchange ActiveSync, then the iPhone will sync over-the-air for both of these systems.
    I have a number of clients running Kerio Connect (not Open Source, but runs on Linux if you're interested) that's essentially a drop-in replacement for Exchange and it supports ActiveSync. iPhones sync to this for mail, calendar and contacts very well. As do most other smartphones that aren't a BlackBerry.

    If you don't like the idea of using ActiveSync, you can

  • Life will be a lot easier for you if you run a calendar server that supports an open standard, such as CalDAV.
    Don't bother syncing the phone with the desktop computer, sync the desktop computer and the phone with your calendar server.
    Things will work a lot better that way, you can share your calendars with each other and you've got a single point to backup for all calendar information.

  • I've been really happy with this approach, personally. I run eGroupware [] on my server, and it in turn provides device-agnostic GroupDAV and SyncML services (among others) that I use to keep my smartphone (an iPhone 3G, but options exist for pretty much everything else too) synchronized. I don't use Evolution, but I understand that it is supported as a client (I use Thunderbird / Lightning, although there's currently a bug in one or both of them causing problems that I haven't tracked down).

    On top of integrat

  • by lytles ( 24756 ) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @05:17PM (#33979816) Homepage
    that's not an office, that's a closet ...
  • For a long time Palm has worked incredibly well over the wire with Linux and Linux sync tools. I cannot speak about the latest and greatest of this. but if they use the same backend protocol then it should be the same. In a newer sense there have been no tools to do a over the wire sync with android yet. which is ironic as it is a Linux smartphone OS. However there are a number of over the air solutions that exist. one of which is actually provided by Ubuntu in the Ubuntu one service. this is based off of
  • I have to admit to feeling slightly concerned over the amount of people recommending Zimbra, which have founded their business on Outlook integration with Linux. The submitter already has a neat Debian setup, so I don't really get why people would be pushing Microsoft lock-in onto them. If anything, we need to get away from that, and onto open standards. (IE5 + ASP anyone?)

Order and simplification are the first steps toward mastery of a subject -- the actual enemy is the unknown. -- Thomas Mann