Growing mobile Linux so other phone makers will adopt it

Continuing the discussion from Still no hope for EU reseller?:

To not derail the EU reseller thread further, i am starting a new thread here about how to grow mobile Linux so other phone makers will adopt it.

The issue is not the size of the potential market (which is quite large in my opinion). Rather, the issue is convincing other phone makers that they can make a profit and people will pay for mobile Linux, and I think the only way to do that is for the Librem 5 to be successful in the marketplace. The PinePhone will also help, but most profits lie in the high-end models (like the iPhone and Samsung S/Note-series), so Purism has to demonstrate that there is demand in that segment to attract other phone makers to the market.

As I have noted before, we don’t have to worry about Librem 5 competitors–nobody else is going to make a phone that runs on 100% free software, has hardware kill switches and provides free/open schematics. Everyone else is going to use an integrated mobile SoC like the Snapdragon, Exynos or MediaTek Helios, which prevents those 3 things.

PINE64 says that it will make a future phone based on a 22nm 4-core SoC (which I’m pretty sure is the Rockchip RK3530), but first PINE64 will make an SBC and I don’t think PINE64 will hire kernel developers to make this happen quickly. We can be reasonably certain that Librem 5 will have no competitors in its market niche for the next 3-4 years.

So far, we have only had phones like Planet Computers Gemini and Cosmo, the Sony Xperia X/XA2/10 and Fairphone 2, where Linux is a secondary option that people can install on their own or is offered for sale by third parties. The Volla Phone is moving Linux to being one of the OS options that can be selected when ordering the phone.

If the Librem 5 is successful, I foresee other phone makers starting offering Linux as one of the OS options on a few select models when ordering them online. They will be cautious and hedge their bets on mobile Linux, so they can fall back on their Android sales if the Linux option fails. They will probably go with either Sailfish OS or Phosh, as the best available option. I think that Purism can facilitate this in two ways:

  1. Get Phosh adopted as an official GNOME project and every major distro to package it, so it is no longer perceived as being controlled exclusively by Purism.
  2. Offer to provide commercial support for Linux/Phosh like Canonical offered support for laptop makers selling Ubuntu preinstalled, because many phone makers won’t use an OS if they don’t think it is properly supported.

Once Linux is offered as an option for phone buyers, we need customer demand to demonstrate to the phone makers that there is demand for the Linux option and people will pay for it. Although we probably won’t care for that first phone with a Linux option which is offered by a company like Sony, OnePlus or Fairphone, we need it to sell well.

It will be an extra cost to support two OSes, and phone makers won’t continue offering mobile Linux as one of the options if they see others failing at it. That is why is is so important that Phosh be ready in a couple years time when a phone maker like Sony or OnePlus takes a chance on offering it, because if that first phone maker fails at mobile Linux, it will scare the others from trying Linux as an option.


Personally, I think that getting mainstream vendors to adopt Linux (by which I mean GNU/Linux) on mobile is an incredibly difficult task.

In my view, many phone makers want:

  • A pre-made solution to put on well-defined, existing reference hardware with the minimum of effort.
  • A user interface that can be themed to fit a brand, and extended with value-added software, like apps and maybe a custom launcher.
  • An operating system that is fairly restrictive, partly for lock-in, but also to prevent users from messing up their phones.
  • A licensing situation with the fewest obligations.
  • A development model that pushes most of the work upstream.

If that sounds like a very negative analysis, then consider how many mainstream laptop vendors provide GNU/Linux as an option.


Librem 5 or any combination of Linux phones.

The bottom line is that seeing is believing.

Seeing that someone else has done it successfully takes some of the risk out of doing it.

As Purism hasn’t really done it quite yet, ask again in six months.

However you can have Linux without having complete purity. So there are shades of grey regarding what another company might strive for.

For the next 3 years, I’m also skeptical that any of the incumbents will make a Linux phone, for exactly the reasons that you laid out. The most likely companies to offer a Linux option are Fairphone or maybe SHIFT, because it will be much easier to update a Linux phone to support it for 5 years, so they can see the environmental benefits.

However, once Linux/Phosh gets more polish and more apps, there are solid reasons to be hopeful for more adoption of mobile Linux. There was never a compelling reasons for the big PC makers to switch to Linux. Microsoft gave the tier 1 OEM’s great discount pricing, that helped their profits. Microsoft may have been controlling, but it was never a competitor to the PC makers like Google has become with the Pixel and Microsoft’s goal wasn’t to keep driving down prices and commodify PCs in a way that sucked the profits out of the industry. Many phone makers want to escape the Android commodity trap. I don’t remember Dell or HP ever feuding with Microsoft the way that Samsung currently feuds with Google. As I explained in the FAQ, phone makers have strong incentive to escape Google’s iron grip over what they can modify and customize.

As for consumers, they have strong reasons to prefer Linux phones, since they offer the “killer features” of privacy, longer lifespans and convergence. Linux laptops never had a killer features which made non-technical users desire them. We will see what happens, but I do foresee a sizable market for Linux phones as surveillance Capitalism increases its reach.


But the convergence is with a linux PC, so by this logic, it is not such a great reason for a non-technical user. Just nitpicking.


Especial with all the restrictions the White House puts on the use of American controlled OS’s a drive to a free OS (not owned by 1 party) like Linux is eminent.

Every sanction to a country (friend ore foe) is an extra endorsement for a Linux phone. So is an Apple / Google store payment dispute.


In theory I agree with you. It is a logical direction. However I think that will work best outside of the US.

But the convergence is with a linux PC, so by this logic, it is not such a great reason for a non-technical user. Just nitpicking.

I think this raises a good point about convergence as people like us imagine it, which is to turn a phone into a portable desktop. For “normal” users that’s perhaps not as compelling as, say, hooking the phone up to a TV, or even just making it a device on a home network that shares its resources via services.

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Hooking the phone up to a TV should work. One is going to want to lock the phone in landscape mode though.

Starting up this topic again, in the What of the 180 day lead-time? topic, @amosbatto writes:

Because Phosh was designed as a thin overlay on top of the desktop GTK/GNOME ecosystem, it should be significantly cheaper to maintain and develop than the other mobile Linux interfaces, and unlike Plasma Mobile which has almost no corporate support, the GTK/GNOME ecosystem is supported by every single one of the large Linux companies (IBM/Red Hat, SUSE, Canonical and Google), so Phosh can take advantage of the dev work being done by those companies.

Building upon well-funded efforts is the way to go. However…

Maybe I am wrong about the financial situation of Purism, but what I am sure about is the fact that none of the big Linux companies care about mobile Linux and are willing to pay for its development. If we decide that we don’t need a company like Purism to pay for software development, then we are choosing to rely solely on volunteer labor to develop mobile Linux, which is going to be slow and unlikely to create a mobile OS that appeals to ordinary users who don’t have technical skills.

So, the big companies we rely on don’t care about the mobile market, and many of them are software and service vendors, anyway. It’s clear that relying on volunteers isn’t going to deliver the devices that some people want, otherwise we would have them already. Relying on one small vendor isn’t going to do it, either, because it’s too much to expect and everything depends on their success.

The question is: how can mobile Linux be sustainably funded? Perhaps, lurking beneath that, there is also the question: is mobile Linux actually what people want?


For some people there is an incipient realisation that there is something wrong with the business model of the Apple / Google duopoly, relying on or encouraging as it does the rampant plundering of your privacy and freedom. Open Source is a means to that end, and Linux is the obviously available Open Source answer (but not necessarily the only answer).

I contend most people don’t care what the OS is not whom “owns” it as long as they can do the things they want to do. So until mobile Linux can do the things people want to do it won’t be what they want.


The obvious answer is that people need to put their money where their mouth is. Software development is expensive no matter how “free” it is.

The problem as I see it:
Linux users like doing things different. Many of them feel special simply because they know how to use Linux. Others because they are more intimate with its inner workings, etc. But they all have different opinions about what is good and what is bad for Linux. All of them feel entitled in their opinions, and seem to take great pleasure in tearing down anything that doesn’t absolutely and completely conform to it. It is very dog eat dog.

I know of NO organization within the Linux world that is held lofty by all Linux users. None! That has been, continues to be, and looks like it will be the problem for Linux for as long as the eye can see.


The magic is going to be either:

  • Purism figures out a subscription model that allows them to make money off of an established clientelle in perpetuity, for which a smartphone is a perfect target.

  • Purism figures out the app store for their established clientelle and makes reasonable margin on it.

THE MOMENT anything along these lines happens is the moment blood hounds show up and start providing competing offerings.

I can see other roads to success:

  1. Support from foundations (similar to signal);
  2. Governments mandating the use of open source to protect the national interest. Sensitive personal data in the hands of foreign, private companies should be very troubling to politicians and government officials.

In the short term, I think it is going to be a small, relatively wealthy elite that will support mobile linux. I would hope that there is enough interest and wealth in this group that mobile-linux companies can make a reasonable return on effort to keep development moving forward.


I don’t see governments promoting open source. US government is lobbied by big tech, which cares about control, not about people, and US has influence in very large part of of the world. EU has the same lobbying problem as evidenced by recurring ACTA in various disguises. On another end there’s China and Russia - totalitarian states, and they care about control over citizens, not their liberties. So either way, there’s no motive for governments to promote open source in hands of citizens.

Edit: Open source is bad enough for governments, but free software is a total outrage for them.


Mobile Linux will be significantly funded the same way that any other Linux gets significantly funded.

When I started learning Linux, Redhat 4 was the latest version of what now has become Fedora Core 34, and is still evolving now. But back then, Windows 95A was popular. I had to partition my 5 GB hard drive in to three logical partitions because at the time, Windows 95 couldn’t read or write to a hard drive larger than 1.7 GB in size. People said a 5 GB hard drive was way too much. Who could ever use that much hard drive space? At the time Linux had no hard drive size limits that I knew of. Linux was primitive then. If you didn’t like a bash prompt, you were mocked as weak by most of the Linux community. No self-respecting coder would build ‘training-wheels’ kinds of apps and GUIs for those who were unwilling to learn a command line environment and how to write their own code. The internet wasn’t very helpful back then to help you with the command line information. You were on your own for the most part. That’s how the Linux community liked it back then. If they needed a new feature or program for themselves, they would re-compile the kernel if necessary, to make their own apps work for themselves. Everyone else had to use windows or learn to code or at least, live most of their lives at a bash prompt, completely held hostage by their own lack of programming skills.

The latest version of Fedora Core now is 34. You don’t need to know anything about Linux now if you can put a live CD or DVD in to your computer, and answer the questions that are presented to you in the Beautiful interface on your screen. Eventually, you click “ok” to reboot and you’ve just successfully installed Linux on to your PC. From there, most distros give you an operating system with GUIs that rival or beat the latest version of Windows. The command line may be helpful. But if you want to use ‘training wheels’ (GUIs) and never learn a command line for the rest of your life, that works too now.

Somewhere between those earliest linux versions (long before Redhat 4 and even long before the first version of Windows), someone had to do continuous improvements to Linux. Who paid who to make Linux what it is today? Is the development going to stop if we quit paying those people now? If you answer these questions correctly then congratulations ! Add another zero to your paycheck for your own most recent contributions to Linux. Because if you get paid zero to begin with, then my adding another zero to your paycheck is very affordable to me. In fact, while you’re at it, add two zeros. I am feeling especially generous today. Either way, Linux is going to continue to grow, whether or not you or I ever contribute even one line of code to it. Someone always will. That goes for Mobile Linux too. As soon as its value has been established in a phone, the development from that point forward is like free energy. No one will need to get paid to improve Mobile Linux after that. Will work for Kudos.

Richard Stallman used to say that open-source is “free as in freedom of speech, not free beer”. But the Linux operating system itself is definitely more like the free beer for most of us.


Nice link. How are you framing this to be relevant to the discussion here?