[WORK IN PROGRESS] Mobile Linux State of the Union – August 2015

Brain dump which will become a series of articles on the history of mobile Linux, plus a “State of the Union”.    Possible split of content into 3 articles?

  • Part 1 – The Golden Age – 2005 to 2011
  • Part 2 – Misery and despair  – 2012 to 2015
  • Part 3 – Renaissance? – 2015+

Introduction

The battlefield of mobile Linux has essentially been in a state of misery and despair mingled with phony war since 2012, but the tide is starting to turn.   TODO – Need a single characterization, not two.

How did we get here? Where are we going?   Will a true mobile Linux rise up to form a third eco-system to compete with Android and iOS?

See Mer and mobile operating systems (SVG) and MeeGo and co timeline (SVG).

[Caveat – the author’s own personal involvement in mobile Linux development began in 2014, so this history is all second-hand.   Feedback, corrections, observations on alternative perspectives, etc. are all exceedingly welcome]

Prelude

In the beginning was Embedded Linux.  The Linux Kernel is a good fit for small form-factor devices without realtime needs because of its small footprint, the fact that it can be customized easily, and the fact that it is free of licensing fees and other up-front costs.  There is a clear lineage from embedded through mobile to wearable and Internet of Things.   These devices are all just small form-factor computers, with a variety of input and output devices and connectivity options.

What is the difference between an embedded device and an IoT device?   Not a lot, other than IoT implies connectivity (Bluetooth, WiFi, other), where embedded devices would usually be standalone.

What is the difference between an embedded device and a mobile device?   Again, usually the answer is just connectivity, with the connectivity in that case being a 2G/3G/LTE modem.   Dumbphones and smartphones aren’t so different either, other than that smartphones often split the modem functionality off onto its own baseband processor, and support app stores.   The OS on the application processor is usually updatable too.

What is the difference between a wearable device and an IoT device?   Nothing much in the case of “smart” wearables, other than the form factor.  Both categories are usually just small form factor computers with connectivity.

The overarching trend is actually a convergence of different technology categories, where all devices are becoming more powerful, connected and over-the-air updatable.    The smartphone was a particularly successful early example of that convergence trend, as it replaced many of the functions which were previously served by multiple devices.

See Linux for mobile devices on Wikipedia.

Psion and Symbian (non-Linux predecessors)

Maemo

Moblin

OpenMoko

LiMo Foundation

Founded in January 2007. Renamed as Tizen Association in 2011.

Open Handset Alliance announced 5th November 2007 and the same time as Android was revealed.

SLP (Samsung Linux)

Bada

MeeGo

Meltimi

  • Anonymous ExNokian says – First of all: This lacks Meltemi. That is not to be surprised, best and only description of the project I know comes from book “Operaatio Elop”, which is not available in English. There people who were involved with the project said the phones would have been rady to shopes on 1H2013 at earliest and that the project had severely overgrown to a replay of MeeGo, i.e. large, complex and ineffective.

Tizen (same mistakes as MeeGo?)

Mer, Sailfish and Jolla

  • Mer was the only true successor, because Tizen was really just a continuation of the earlier SLP project.
  • Find those archive.org postings announcing the reboot of the Mer project.
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jolla_(mobile_phone)
  • Jolla Phone was originally going to be built on ST-Ericsson chipset and would have been a Qt4 device, with Qt5 coming later, before that vendor went bankrupt and they were forced to pivot.   New vendor was Qualcomm, with a simultaneous technology jump from Qt4 to Qt5, X11 to Wayland, all within a 6 month period and unaltered ship date.   Amazing.
  • Jolla unveiled details of their Jolla Phone on 20th May 2013, and it was shipped on 27th November 2013. Since then it has been launched in various further markets. Jolla also started a crowdfunded tablet project. That is still in progress.
  • Say something about Sailfish Alliance, and about Mer and Nemo and Sailfish versus Jolla, and about proprietary OS.
  • Sailfish Porting
  • Q – Does Sailfish OS include the Silica proprietary bits? Android support is Jolla Phone specific. Jolla branding will be Jolla-specific, so where does the line fall on “What is Sailfish OS?”
  • Company split announced.
  • Sailfish 2.0 release.
  • Delays on Jolla Tablet.

The Mobile Linux Phony War (2012 to 2015)

Firefox OS and Ubuntu Touch are unrelated to MeeGo and LiMo, and were migrations of desktop Linux technology onto mobile.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ubuntu_Touch

Ubuntu Touch was announced by Canonical on 2nd January 2013, and the first device, the Bq Aquaris E4.5 went on sale in Europe on 9th February 2015. The second device is the Meizu MX4 Ubuntu, which went on sale on 25th June 2015, but it is Invite-only.

https://developer.ubuntu.com/en/start/ubuntu-for-devices/porting-new-device/

https://developer.ubuntu.com/en/start/ubuntu-for-devices/devices/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firefox_OS

Firefox OS was first publicly demonstrated in February 2012 and the first public handset was the ZTE Open, released by Telfonica in Spain in 2nd July 2013. There are now a lot of devices, see

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_Firefox_OS_devices.

https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/Firefox_OS/Developing_Firefox_OS/Porting

https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/os/devices/

Plasma Mobile announced late July 2015

http://www.mobilelinuxnews.com/2015/07/plasma-mobile-announced-a-free-open-linux-mobile-platform/

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9947146
https://www.reddit.com/r/linux/comments/3ejo62/plasma_mobile_a_free_mobile_platform/ctfmhn7

https://twitter.com/BobSummerwill/status/621282941075767296 – H5OS now announced.

3 thoughts on “[WORK IN PROGRESS] Mobile Linux State of the Union – August 2015

  1. First of all: This lacks Meltemi. That is not to be surprised, best and only description of the project I know comes from book “Operaatio Elop”, which is not available in English. There people who were involved with the project said the phones would have been rady to shopes on 1H2013 at earliest and that the project had severely overgrown to a replay of MeeGo, i.e. large, complex and ineffective.

    Second: Tomi’s “what if Nokia bought back” post has some unfortunate disconnections to reality. Mostly because he is not aware how extensively Microsoft has laid off “non-Lumia” workforce already. What would be there to buy is not what Nokia would want.

    1. Thanks for the feedback! Yes, I had seen mention of Meltimi, but like you say there is precious little public information, and because there were never any devices, I didn’t bother to mention it. Where do you think the best written English information on Meltimi is? Your articles and those of Sampsa Kurri?

      RE: Buy-back. Yes, that is just a fantasy. I think I only have the link because I was jotting down some of these initial notes around the time of that posting. It’s transient and needs killing.

      Another other URLs of things you think I should read/reference? I’ve kind of ended up with a list of references and footnotes here as the starting point for the prose which I haven’t written yet 🙂

      Any further feedback you may have as I work these notes towards more tangible articles would be much appreciated. This was going to be a quick blog and is turning into a multi-week labor of love.

      Are you aware of any existing series of articles or books which seek to give an overview of the history of mobile Linux in this way? Not just MeeGo. Not just Nokia. The lot?

      I can see how people end up writing books by accident. This lot could easily turn into a book if I really started expanding on all of the aspects of the story!

      1. I think the most informative public leaks about the Meltemi project come from MyNokiaBlog. They don’t have a category fully used but the search works fine:

        http://mynokiablog.com/?s=meltemi

        They have e.g. leaked images of the prototype and some additional insider info. “Mythbusting” – series (which I think is supposed to get additional posts?) is aligned with the Meltemi chapter of the book “Operaatio Elop”.

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