I think that Purism has already found the best model by trying to make a version of mobile Linux that needs the least independent development, and is closely tied to desktop Linux, where there are well-funded companies and big communities already doing the work. Canonical and Mozilla failed because they tried to create a mountain of siloed code without any outside help.
There should be a strong niche market for people who are willing to pay a hefty premium for privacy and security which is user controllable, just like people pay a premium for gaming phones and rugged phones. Purism can use those higher prices to pay developers, and we can see how quickly Phosh is getting adopted and outside contributors are already testing and adding to Phosh, so I think that the development of Phosh will be sustainable in the future.
The problem as I see it is that the Phosh ecosystem and the Librem 5 does yet have good enough software to attract many users who aren’t committed Linux geeks, and most Linux geeks aren’t willing to pay much for their hardware, especially when it is underpowered. There is a sizable market for people who want privacy or need transparent security, but Purism has to get Phosh, its apps and the i.MX 8M drivers to a good enough state to be able to tap into that larger market.
It will probably be another 2 years before the Librem 5 has good enough software to appeal to non-technical users without a background in Linux, so the question is whether Purism can keep financing development during that time period when it is getting few new orders. Purism has done a poor job of explaining why the development of Phosh was necessary for the future of mobile Linux. This is a delicate issue, because I don’t think that Purism can talk too much about the deficiencies in the other Linux interfaces without causing serious problems with the UBports and KDE communities which have collaborations with Purism.
In order for FOSS to work well, it needs both a core of paid developers and wider community of volunteers. The current involvement of Mobian, postmarketOS and the GNOME community in the development of Phosh is largely the result of the good sales of the PinePhone and the fact that Purism has worked hard to make Phosh compatible with the existing GTK/GNOME ecosystem and to contribute to it, so its existing applications will run in Phosh.
I see an overwhelming desire for mobile Linux, which is evidenced by the fact that there are still people who desperately want their Librem 5, and so many people have bought the PinePhone and are working on developing for it, despite its underpowered hardware.
There is a growing public awareness about the risks of surveillance Capitalism and the data shows that people are keeping their phones for longer which means that they are bumping up against the planned obsolescence in Android, and I think that both of those factors will fuel the desire for mobile Linux. Mobile Linux empowers ordinary people to fight for their right to privacy and avoid the potential for 1984-style government surveillance in the future. With China becoming an Orwellian surveillance state and the Snowden revelations about Google, Microsoft, Dropbox, Yahoo! and Apple sharing people’s personal data with the NSA, I think that people are starting to see the risks, but it is very important to have a functioning alternative to show policy makers and to prevent companies like Google from becoming too abusive because they fear losing users to mobile Linux.
Desktop Linux has a number of big companies funding its development, but that won’t be the case with mobile Linux as I explained in the parent thread. Only 16% of the commits to the Linux kernel between 2007 and 2019 were done by people who weren’t being paid (11.95% by people with no affiliation and 4.09% by people with unknown affiliation). If you check who develops Firefox, the vast majority of the commits either come from paid employees of Mozilla or pieces of code that were made by paid developers of other projects. 20.6% of the commits to LibreOffice come from unpaid volunteers and the majority of the commits come from just 21 developers who make more than 200 commits per year. If you check who contributes to Python, PHP and PostgreSQL, you will find that a lot of the developers work for companies that use these tools and they are being paid for their work.
Commits to LibreOffice between 2019-08 and 2020-09
|Organization||# commits||% commits|
|Gov’t of Munich||114||0.7%|
What company is going to pay for the development of mobile Linux? It is wishful thinking to believe that companies are going to appear to pay for mobile Linux’s development because there is no business model to justify it. What you are going to get is projects like Plasma Mobile, which has been in development for twice as long as Phosh, and is considered to be less usable than Phosh by most users.
I don’t mind people opting for slower, 100% volunteer development, just so long as they are very clear eyed about their choice and its significance. I can’t foresee Plasma Mobile ever reaching mainstream users due to its slower development and the focus of its developers, whereas Phosh has a shot in my opinion. The principal question is whether you want mobile Linux to ever be able to reach a mainstream audience or are you content to have a system that just appeals to Linux geeks.