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+
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?
[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]
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)
- Psion – The last computer: Secrets of the Sony we never had by Andrew Orlowski, The Register, 26th June 2007
- Symbian, The Secret History: Dark Star by Andrew Orlowski, The Register, 23rd November 2010
- Symbian’s Secret History: The battle for the company’s soul by Andrew Orlowski, The Register, 29th November 2010
- Symbian’s Secret History: Davis on what went right (and wrong) by Andrew Orlowski, The Register, 12th January 2011
- Nokia’s Great Lost Platform by Andrew Orlowski, The Register, 21st November 2011
- Devices (Nokia Internet Tablet)
- There is still an active community at maemo.org.
- July 2007 to April 2009
- See moblin.org.
- OpenMoko FreeRunner development canceled, staff slashed by Nilay Patel, Engadget, 6th April 2009
- There is still an active hacker community at openmoko.org.
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)
- The Elop nightmare, Burning platform, switch to Windows Phone, etc.
- Nokia Ships N9: First, Maybe Last, MeeGo Smartphone (27 September 2011, PC Mag)
- What is Next for MeeGo? by Imad Sousou (27th September 2011)
- Intel Ditches MeeGo Mobile OS for HTML5-Centric Tizen by PC Mag (28 September 2011)
- The Story of Nokia MeeGo by Sampsa Kurri
- Nokia history series, by Anonymous Ex-Nokian
- Finnish language books:
- 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?)
- LiMo Foundation and Linux Foundation Announce New Open Source Platform, Tizen, 27th September 2011
- Scott Apeland talking about Tizen at Intel Elements 2011 (4th October 2011)
- Samsung Gear 2
- Samsung Gear S
- Samsung Z1
- Samsung Z3
- TDC 2012 in San Francisco, 7th to 9th of May 2012
- TDC 2013 in San Francisco, 22nd to 24th of May 2013
- TDS Korea 2013 in Seoul, 11th to 12th of November 2013
- TDC 2014 in San Francisco, 2nd to 4th of June 2014
- TDS Shanghai 2014 in Shanghai, 20th and 21st of October 2014
- TDS Bengaluru 2015 in Bengaluru, 30th and 31st of July 2015
- TDC 2015 in Shenzhen, 17th and 18th of September 2015
- Tizen was just a continuation of SLP, with Bada-compatibility API added for 2.0, and then removed again between 2.3 Alpha and 2.3 Beta
- The Tizen Project is broken. We will be spending some time apart by Bob Summerwill, 13th August 2014
- Tizen In Memoriam / Tizen in Optimism by Anonymous ExNokian, 21st and 22nd August 2014
- Silent murder of OSP between 2.3 Alpha and 2.3 Beta, 14th October 2014
- Kitsilano Software joins the Tizen Association, 20th October 2014
- Tizen – The Emperor has no clothes by Bob Summerwill, 25th June 2015
- Samsung sells a million Tizen Z1 Smartphones in less than six months, more models coming soon by Ash Nazir, 29th June 2015
- Tizen 3.0 First Milestone. What does that mean? by Bob Summerwill, 16th September 2015.
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.
- 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.
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.
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
Plasma Mobile announced late July 2015
https://twitter.com/BobSummerwill/status/621282941075767296 – H5OS now announced.