Taiwanese device maker OpenMoko chose Independence Day in the United States to announce the launch of Neo FreeRunner, its latest Linux-based open smartphone platform. Delivered with minimal functionality, owners are encouraged to develop and/or install their own applications and functionality.

The unit is well equipped, sporting a 400Mhz processor, 640x480 pixel touch-sensitive display, BlueTooth, GPS, WiFi and either a 850 MHz or 900 MHz tri-band GSM radio. Other ecoutraments include a pair of 3D accelerometers for understanding its orientation, 128 MB SDRAM and 256MB of storage.

On the outside, the FreeRunner is remarkably free of controls. There's really nothing on its face; sides are home to illuminated power and auxiliary buttons, a phone jack, USB and a connector for an external GPS antenna. Though the device comes with software preinstalled, the company invites people to download the latest build from its Web site.

For US$399, the handsome black FreeRunner is accompanied by a power supply/charger, plug adapters, removable battery, stylus, microSD 512MB SD card and USB sync cable. On power up, FreeRunner offers no fewer than six boot options: boot from memory, boot from the SD card, set the console to USB, set the consule to serial, reset, power off. OpenMoko on its Web site offers pretty good documentation, including specifics about all hardware and where to find drivers.

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I am Technical Editor of the [url=http://www.crn.com]CRN Test Center[/url], a kind of computer-centric "Consumer Reports" for retailers and VARs ([url=http://crn.com]www.crn.com[/url]). I bought my first computer in 1980, an Atari 800. In addition to adventure games like Zork, I also played with the hardware, dabbling with ROM dumps and mods to the 810 disk drive. That's also where I learned BASIC programming. After 1984, I moved to PCs, clones and NetWare, and then to Apple IIs and Macs until around 1990. In July of that year I got my first job at a publishing company, supporting about 25 Mac users (including the staff of "MacWeek").

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