A Linux distro for smartphones discontinued by their makers, postmarketOS, introduced in-place upgrades.
Alpine Linux is a very minimal general-purpose distro that works well on low-end kit, like The Reg FOSS office found when we reviewed version 3.16 last month. Version 22.06 of postmarketOS – pmOS for short – is based on the same version.
That in itself is distinctive. Most other third-party operating systems for smartphones, such as LineageOS or GrapheneOS, or the old CyanogenMod, are based on the Android core itself.
The project is quite different. It uses the mainline Linux kernel and standard userspace to support a wide variety of devices. The theory is that not needing outdated firmware or drivers from a manufacturer means that pmOS can use newer components, straight from the various upstream Linux projects. The project’s own wiki currently lists over 200 supported devices, including phones, tablets and e-book readers, dating back to the venerable Nokia N900.
However, not all of them are equally supported. Most of them can boot, many have Wi-Fi support, but currently only two phones work as telephones: the open-source hardware PinePhone and the Purism Librem 5. Even saying that, however, the ability to connect to Wi-Fi and use an old device as a handheld terminal could make the outdated hardware useful again.
As it looks like normal desktop Linux, postmarketOS can run both X.org and Wayland, along with a choice of user interfaces, including a plain-text console or the Xfce desktop.
These might not be very useful on a touchscreen handheld without a pointing device, so more importantly there is a choice of phone interfaces, including the GNOME-based Phosh and the KDE-based Plasma Mobile, as well as the less ambitious Simple X Mobile or Sxmo.
Lomiri’s smartphone user interface, formerly known as Ubuntu’s Unity 8, is also represented in an external branch of the postmarketOS project.
It’s not something you can put on an old phone and give to your grandma just yet. It’s still relatively early, but it’s a promising project. It’s reminiscent in some ways of the Armbian project, which aims to keep older single-board computers usable after their manufacturers have stopped updating them.
Mainstream Linux on phones still has a ways to go before it’s as usable as it is on a desktop or laptop. (Stop heckling in the back: it really does.) As with open source, there are various rival environments and applications, all working to try to achieve the same goals – but as they are open source, they can help each other. others, the sharing of code, information and documentation.
Although it has a (very old) Linux kernel right at the bottom, Android itself isn’t very Linux-like: everything above the kernel, Bionic C library, and space Toybox user until running the Java-based application, is very different.
However, the hardware is usually quite capable. As long as you can unlock the bootloader and reflash it – and either know how to do that or are willing to learn – it’s great to see a viable alternative for retired tablets.
The British Computer Society has previously lamented the impact of product life cycles on the environment. According to the United Nations, 53.6 million tons of electronic waste was generated in 2019. ®