Will Purism get with Librem 5 what OpenMoko never got?

More than 10 years ago, something similar to what Purism attempts was attempted. We know it as OpenMoko.

Although I am a critical user, I wish with all my heart that Librem 5 will succeed. I want Purism to do things well, that the phone works well and that we can all enjoy this community for years.

I wish that after so many years in the world of mobile telephony I can find a place to stay. I know that my site was not Android, Windows, BlackBerry, iOS, etc. I have gone through many operating systems (I think more than ten) and I want to take root, have a house and start a family: I hope it is the Librem Family.


I very much second that sentiment.

Having used a Windows version on my consecutive phones for over ten years, I am facing the demise of this environment by the end of this year. If there would have been a viable way of switching to Linux/Ubuntu, I would have probably done so years ago. But I guess the introduction of a PureOS phone coinciding with the death of Windows for phones is sort of timely.

Since I never owned an iOS or Android phone, and I would not touch the likes of them with a ten foot pole, I am hoping the Librem5 will be the start of something good, and that it will last for years to come.


It is hard to know whether Linux/Wayland/GTK+/Phosh (or Plasma Mobile) will become a viable mobile platform, but there are a number of factors that should give us hope that the Librem 5 and mobile Linux will succeed, whereas previous attempts to launch a new mobile OS and app ecosystem failed in the past.

The most important factor is that Purism appears to be a viable company and the company is fully committed to the project and the ideals of free software/hardware and user rights and privacy.

OpenMoko failed because it didn’t have much incoming revenue and the phone never worked well enough to attract more than a couple hundred tinkerers.

Ubuntu Touch failed because Canonical wasn’t fully committed and wasn’t willing to take the risk. It also failed because Canonical had no experience producing hardware and the costs of designing phones was much more expensive in 2013 than they are today. Canonical estimated that it needed $32 million in crowdfunding to make the Touch viable and it only got $12 million, whereas Purism is taking advantage of today’s lower costs of hardware design in Shenzhen, China and only needed $1.5 million in crowdfunding to commit to the Librem 5. Canonical convinced BQ and Meizu to produce a few Ubuntu Touch devices, but they were geared toward the low-end of the market and never reached the enthusiast market.

Firefox OS failed because it didn’t have a viable market. It focused on low-end smartphones that enthusiasts didn’t wanted to buy, and Google destroyed that market when it launched Android One. The typical low-end smartphone buyer wanted all the functionality and apps of Android and doesn’t know enough to value the freedom and technological innovation of Firefox OS based on the open web. Mozilla tried to avoid producing its own hardware and partner with companies which had experience selling phones, but those companies weren’t committed and didn’t promote Firefox OS once Android was redesigned to run on lower spec phones. CaiOS repurposed Firefox OS as an OS for feature phones and IoT, where it has had notable success in countries like India.

Sailfish OS still exists, but it lacks a good hardware company to promote it and it doesn’t have a killer feature to convince users and companies to adopt it.

Samsung’s Bada and Tizen couldn’t compete with Android’s Play Store in terms of the number of apps, and Samsung was only interested in the mass market, so it gave up once it discovered that it couldn’t compete with Android. There was no compelling reason (“killer feature”) to convince developers to create apps for the Bada and Tizen platforms, when Android and iOS were so much bigger markets.

Microsoft’s Windows Mobile / Phone / 10 Mobile failed for similar reasons as Tizen. Like Samsung, Microsoft lost millions developing its own mobile OS and it couldn’t attract very many developers to its platform to develop apps. Microsoft finally hit on the killer feature in Windows 10 Mobile with Continuum, that would allow a phone to be used as a desktop PC, but the idea arrived too late and Satya Nadella had already decided to convert Microsoft into an advertising company like Google and the best way to do that is to get its apps onto Android and iOS, rather than develop its own mobile OS.

Purism avoids many of the pitfalls which caused previous mobile platforms to fail:

  1. Purism has an ongoing revenue stream from the Librem 13/15 to sustain it, unlike OpenMoko, so it is less likely to fail for lack of funds. It has built up experience producing laptops, so it less likely to produce a phone that simply doesn’t work like OpenMoko. If Purism runs into major technical problems with the Librem 5 like the OpenMoko Freerunner experienced, Purism can survive those setbacks and keep going.

  2. The only way for a new mobile OS to emerge in today’s market is for the same company to produce both the hardware and software and to market products with the OS to the right audience. Sailfish OS and Firefox OS failed because they focused on just producing the software, and they didn’t have good hardware partners that were willing to market phones to the right audiences. Canonical failed with Ubuntu Touch because it didn’t have experience designing and selling hardware. Sailfish OS and Firefox OS also failed because they focused on the low-end market, rather than the enthusiast market, so its consumers didn’t appreciate the benefits of an alternative mobile OS and it can’t compete with Android in that market.

  3. A new mobile OS has to have a “killer feature” that will make the early adopters willing to suffer the privations of a new platform. Early adopters of Linux phones have to accept a device which is costly, and has much fewer apps than both Android and iOS. The hardware in the Librem 5 which currently costs $699 will be comparable to a $200 Android phone. It will come initially with 5 apps, compared to 2.6 million in the Google Play Store and under 2 million apps in the Apple Store.

Early adopters of the Librem 5 are willing to pay the extra cost and suffer the lack of apps, because the Librem 5 will have the following killer features that no other company is offering:

  • 100% free software and the first phone certified by the FSF
  • A tinker’s phone with a circuit board and case which is open hardware.
  • True integration to turn a phone into a desktop PC. Samsung Galaxy S has offered this for a while, but Android and its apps are poorly designed for the desktop. It remains to be seen whether Purism can make this work well and it probably won’t work perfectly at first, but Purism won’t require a proprietary dock like Samsung and GNOME is a better desktop OS than Android
  • Better security than any other smartphone in the world, with 3 hardware kill switches and a business model and corporate mission based on user rights and privacy which no other company can match. Android and Windows are based on harvesting users’ data and in order to monetize it. iOS is based on locking users into the expensive Apple ecosystem, so it denies rights to its users and provides no transparency. The NSA has secret agreements to access the servers of both Google and Apple and both companies play ball with the Chinese government as well.

Unlike devices running Firefox OS, Tizen, Windows Mobile and Blackberry 10, which required that developers create new software, the Librem 5 will be able to tap into the large number of existing GTK+ applications for Linux and adapt them to work in Phosh with libhandy. Because those applications are free software, an army of enthusiastic volunteers can make this happen, even if the original application developers aren’t willing to do it. In other words, the lack of apps in the PureOS Store may not be a problem for long.

The Librem 5 will tap into a number of enthusiast markets–Linux users, free software advocates, tinkerers and people who need security and privacy. Each of these communities of enthusiasts are willing to pay a premium and endure quite a bit of hassle and privation to use a phone like the Librem 5, which is exactly the kind of customer base that Purism needs to succeed. The Librem 5’s three hardware kill switches have a coolness factor that appeals to enthusiasts. I personally don’t care that much about security, but I’m already anticipating showing off those kill switches to my friends just for their novelty.

We are living in a more favorable context for a new secure mobile OS to arise than previously, because the general public is more aware than ever before of how companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft are monetizing their data and how their privacy is being violated. It will probably be a while before businesses and intelligence agencies which care about security are willing to switch to the Librem 5, but if Purism can demonstrate the basic functionality most tasks that smartphone users need, there could potentially be a sizable business and government market for the Librem 5.

Many device makers would love to get out from under the thumb of Google, so if Linux becomes a viable mobile OS, it may be able to attract a number of phone and tablet makers, which will create a snowball effect. Most phone makers barely break even or even lose money selling Android devices. Google puts heavy-handed restrictions on how they can modify Android and makes them pay for access to Google Mobile Services, so they might be willing to start producing Linux mobile devices which have no restrictions on customization and zero licensing fees if Purism can establish Linux as a viable mobile platform.

Finally, Purism has the advantage that the Librem 5 is vital to the core mission of the company and its CEO and employees are wholly dedicated to it succeeding. Even if the company loses money in the short term, it is clear that Purism sees the Librem 5 as its raison d’etre. In contrast, Ubuntu Touch and Firefox OS were important, but ultimately side projects for Canonical and Mozilla, so they could be dropped when setbacks were encountered.

Unlike Microsoft’s Windows Mobile and Samsung’s Bada/Tizen, Purism doesn’t need to reach the mass market in order to be successful. Because mobile Linux is based on a whole ecosystem of free software and a community of enthusiasts, the Purism doesn’t have to develop nearly as much software and can rely of volunteers to do much of its work for it. Purism has much lower development costs than Mozilla and Canonical, because it is not developing nearly as much new code as found in Firefox OS and Unity with desktop convergence.

If Purism sells a couple thousand Librem 5 phones, then it will be a viable business because each phone will have a high margin over its hardware costs, so Purism can survive on a small enthusiast customer base, whereas other companies needed much higher sales to succeed. Simply existing as a viable alternative and establishing the principal of user freedom and privacy will make the Librem 5 a success, even if only a few thousand phones are ever sold. Purism has far more achievable goals than previous companies did, and Purism is unlikely to kill off the Librem 5, even if it only has a small user base.

None of these factors automatically guarantees the success of the Librem 5 and mobile Linux in general, but I think they all give us reasons to be hopeful that this project will succeed, whereas others have failed in the past. Even if Purism ends up going bankrupt, Phosh, libhandy and the rest of the software being developed by Purism are small enough projects that they could be carried on by the community, so we are unlikely to ever be abandoned as users even if Purism doesn’t exist 5 years from now.


The root cause of FirefoxOS failure was the lack of support for some key app(s), not the HW. If you target the mass market, the OS is almost a commodity and what matters is “can I use X?”. If Mozilla’s management had been a bit more resilient, they could have done what KaiOS is doing: getting the market traction with the content (app) partners on board to solve this chicken and egg issue.
You would be surprised how many actors in the mobile world are unhappy enough with the iOS/Android duopoly and will support alternatives - but it’s hard to tick all the right boxes if you don’t target a niche market like the Librem5. Success has nothing to do with producing your own hardware and software (though it’s better).


hi there! :slight_smile:

i believe that a very important factor in the success of l5 is the marketing, however that is kinda much always an expensive stuff. therefore i ask everyone around, to target all of ur favourite forums with some hidden ads - like i mean talk about it, make it become a phenomena, and make everybody know about it! the most important channel is that the ppl are talking about their stuffs, no matter if they like it or they just stucked there, but that will rise the interests the most. and actually this is free :slight_smile:

the other thing, is some ux for the main site, it needs to lead ppl even much easier than currently to all the dev-zones and resources they need… it took me much time to discover most of the related places, but hey, the community is the bigger half, not the corp!

just a gratis is this forum… its a broken window currently ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broken_windows_theory ) - not in the sense of crime, like what wiki talks about, but its a long time now that the default avatars gone, and it gives the impression, that something is wrong here, and its more about hype than quality… these issues are more than important actually… the installer issues are somewhat related to these, as those give the wrong 1st impression, and the forum and the os will be the 1st 2 points where ppl will think its a bad deal, cuz they can see these for free, so before they would buy anything, most likely they will take a look around… btw, about the forum, only the default images are broken, and if im right, then those are separated from any custom avatars in the discourse, cuz in the related options i can still choose my broken default. so i think they must be isolated, and this makes possible an automatized partial regeneration for the broken avatars in the worst case, however i didnt even try to do anything, cuz its about the deployed app, and the ecosystem, where security and privacy matters, and ive never played with ruby, but i just checked out its source, and it doesnt look like a complicated stuff, or at least the avatar related stuffs are kinda well isolated, but the oop approach makes it kinda hard to track down the actual happenings for me, as i cant see/find the “wires” between the objects… uhmm never mind, i hope i could help any much with these infos :smiley:

bests! :slight_smile:


I never used Firefox OS, so it hard for me to evaluate it, but from what I read, the companies who used it kept demanding all the features and apps of Android.

KaiOS has succeeded because users of feature phones don’t expect an app store with hundreds of thousands of apps and they don’t expect all the options of Android, so Firefox OS with a little modification turned out to be perfect for feature phones.

Another factor that worked against Ubuntu Touch and Firefox OS is that they were competing against each other. If there had been just one alternative at the time, then it would have been easier to unify into one alternative mobile camp, but the existence of two operating systems meant that neither gathered the critical mass of support in the industry.

Mobile Linux has a better chance of gathering industry support, because there literally is no other mobile game in town, except Sailfish OS, which has never garnered much support.

Fundamentally, Ubuntu Touch failed because no company sold it in high-end device to enthusiasts who wanted convergence to be able to use their phones as desktop PCs. B&K and Meizu primarily market to the Chinese mass market, and they didn’t try to sell it to the high-end Western enthusiast market. Firefox OS had the same problem, that it was sold to the low-end mass market in developing countries, where most people just wanted Android. For these reasons, I recommend that we need a company like Purism that understands the enthusiast market and can produce both the hardware and software to sell to that market.


No, people wanted Whatsapp. They don’t give a damn about the OS. It’s sad, but true.


I still remember a television advertisement bringing this up:

It was the year of 1996. As for some of us just ended something authorities named The Homeland War I believe you can imagine the right meaning of it as well. Please don’t judge Whatsapp without accepting what digital communication brings and means to the people. Technology for the “Greater Good” article from NOKIA CEO brings adequately the same and likely preferable rules of engagement: “This includes not just the economic potential, but also the personal and social benefits: making life better, preserving our planet’s resources, and giving people more time and freedom to connect with each other and the things they enjoy.”


One of the good things is that Purism doesn’t have to convince very many people to buy the Librem 5 to make Linux a viable mobile OS. Of the 1.5 billion smartphones that are produced globally every year, if Purism can capture 0.001% of the market, it will sell 15,000 phones per year and be a commercial success. If Purism can simply demonstrate that mobile Linux is a viable platform, I predict that other manufacturers will follow once there are apps that cover most of the basic functionality.

Smartphone buyers haven’t really had a viable choice to choose a phone that protects their privacy and digital rights and doesn’t monetize their personal data, so it is hard to know how large the market might be.
Most people just want Whatapps, as you say, but I would guess that at least 1% of smartphone buyers, and maybe as many as 5%, do care about these issues and would be willing to buy a Linux phone if it comes in a convenient package and is easy to use.

My parents just want a cell phone that receives phone calls, has maps and can take basic photos. My parents would be content with a Linux phone, running Open Street Map and Pidgin, because they don’t expect much from their phones.


“the rest is technology” … yeah proprietary technology and snooping for the most part …


But still, emphasis (It is about) from Ericsson was on communication between people and as such will forever be something that matters (especially when help needed). Now we have Purism and similar communities that are doing their best to ensure/allow space for the free (technical) communication between loved ones’. Life without communication (talk between each other) is just poor life (like during wartime) … sharing knowledge throughout/about our history, writing down important life learning lessons (sharing those with young ones, other cultures), developing medicine that is able to save lives is something that I see as communication between those that can help and those that are in need (and therefore is good will, besides technology, needed). To those that just spy on someone (and not helping) I wish that they have had better education (looking at to find some proper kind of knowledge) about what matters in real life. As well, I have doubts that Snoople can proof that he’s the better man than myself (even if he might have more money in his pockets).

snoople is not a man ! :sweat:

it’s a global conglomerate similar if not identical to what is E-Corp in Mr.Robot … yes they do contribute to open-source heavily because it doesn’t stand up to their agenda … merely goes along with it …

Even if not (all involved are considered innocent until their guilt has been proven), he is still having friends: “but not even AT&T managed to come to terms with its monopoly tradition.”
P.S. “Judges ruled that such arguments could not whitewash any personal guilt.”

Well, Openmoko was a subsidary of the big firm FIC so there was plenty of operating income to cross-subsidize development. There was a) not enough will to actually do that and b) people were not willing to invest a few hundred (or thousand) €$£ for a mobile phone.

b) has changed a little, phones commonly cost 600 upwards, whether a) financial firepower and stamina is big enough we’ll see.
I doubt it will ever move beyond a small geeky market niche unless on of the big mobile phone producers picks it up.

And yes, I also own an OpenMoko and a N700 :smiley:.


I was prepared to suffer through quite some heartship.
The OpenMoko also had its issues, but it took me six months, before I decommissioned it.
After six weeks with the Librem 5 Birch, I removed the SIM and put it back into my five year old Aquaris Ubuntu edition. Text messages started working a week after I received the device. Audio calls started working 4 weeks after receiving the device. The battery run time is a big issue, but I could find my way around that.
What was too much for me, is that the phone rarely runs for more than five minutes before freezing.
In the month since, I switch on the Librem 5 every second day and install the updates. Just to find out that it still freezes soon after. I like the Librem 13 which runs really well, but the Librem 5 is little more than an an expensive hand warmer.
With every update I hope that this will be the one, to put the SIM back into the Librem 5.


Sorry if it has already been answered elsewhere but did you work with support on this freezing issue? It doesn’t seem like a common issue of the batch/platform, so to me it rather looks like some HW deffect (perhaps some wrong RC pair leading to skewed clocks at some component, or wrong dram training).

I feel for Ya. When I get my phone, I plan on using my Android most of the time and getting a prepaid sim for the Librem 5 and I’ll try and find issues, pain points, and submit bugs and feature requests.

Will the Librem 5 succeed? We’ll have to wait a year after all the backers get their phones to see if the community is viable.

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