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postmarketOS Pursues A Linux-Based, LTS OS For Android Phones (liliputing.com) 111

An anonymous reader quotes Liliputing: Buy an iPhone and you might get 4-5 years of official software updates. Android phones typically get 1-3 years of updates... if they get any updates at all. But there are ways to breathe new life into some older Android phones. If you can unlock the bootloader, you may be able to install a custom ROM like LineageOS and get unofficial software updates for a few more years. The folks behind postmarketOS want to go even further: they're developing a Linux-based alternative to Android with the goal of providing up to 10 years of support for old smartphones...

Right now postmarketOS is a touch-friendly operating system based on Alpine Linux that runs on a handful of devices including the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Google Nexus 4, 5, and 7 (2012), and several other Samsung, HTC, LG, Motorola, and Sony smartphones. There are also ports for some non-Android phones such as the Nokia N900 and work-in-progress builds for the BlackBerry Bolt Touch 9900 and Jolla Phone. Note that when I say the operating system runs on those devices, I basically mean it boots. Some phones only have network access via a USB cable, for instance. None of the devices can actually be used to make phone calls. But here's the cool thing: the developers are hoping to create a single kernel that works with all supported devices, which means that postmarketOS would work a lot like a desktop operating system, allowing you to install the same OS on any smartphone with the proper hardware.

One postmarketOS developer complains that Android's architecture "is based on forking (one might as well say copy-pasting) the entire code-base for each and every device and Android version. And then working on that independent, basically instantly incompatible version. Especially adding device-specific drivers plays an important role... Here is the solution: Bend an existing Linux distribution to run on smartphones. Apply all necessary changes as small patches and upstream them, where it makes sense."
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postmarketOS Pursues A Linux-Based, LTS OS For Android Phones

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  • Another almost dead project!

  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Sunday August 20, 2017 @07:47AM (#55051725)

    The phone market today seems akin to the PC Market back in the early 90's where they are just starting to settle down on what people want and what can be made, but are we there yet?

    early 1980 PC's were made with a bunch of processors and OS's they were some systems, that were compatible with each other, but they were considered ripoffs and often would fall into legal problems.

    Late 1990 Phones. Were made with a bunch of different systems and every new model was like a new phone.

    late 1980 PC's Battle lines are being drawn. Apple vs. IBM (What we now call a PC) Amiga holding on.

    Early 2000 Phones. Black Berry, Microsoft Mobile, Palm were fighting for the smart phone market, while Nokia, Samsung, LG, Motorola were fighting for the consumer market.

    Early 1990 The IBM PC won with its compatibles with Microsoft being the true victor as with all the Hardware in fighting, Microsoft was expanding the winning side, to be entrenched in the next battle.

    Late 2000 phones. the iPhone came out, and Android was under serious development. Apple and Google have been playing behind the scenes of the smart phone war realizing the smaller Consumer Models were not going to make it.

    Late 1990 The PC were no longer connected to IBM and all the IBM Compatibles were fighting for the better selling PC. Microsoft really holding onto the market share

    Early 2010 Phones, Apple is the dominate player and Google putting a good push on Android, However the phone makers are trying to make their phones better selling then each other.

    Early 2000 PC's Are more or less getting boring to the market Apple had a resurgence for this decade, due to the Halo effect of its iPod line and Microsoft not doing much with XP and delays on the new OS. But in terms of PC's we got use to using them more as a general tool, then something cool and a status symbol.

    Late 2010 Phones. Well this is where we are at now. Are we getting ready for a life of boring mobile devices where we don't really care about them any more, they are just a tool, where LTS makes a lot of sense because we won't be needed to update our phones any longer barring failure or damage.

    As I type this on my 6 year old Thinkpad, which still is fast and seems to do things just as good as the newer PC's barring high end video. Where before I was getting a new PC every 3 or 4 years to keep up with the times, now it just a tool, I could get a smaller lighter and faster PC.... But what for? It does what I want and I am not having any problems keeping the software up to date, or finding new software for it.

    Is the mobile market getting to this point or are their going to be some twist and turns that will make LTS OS a wast of time, because we will be using out of date and usless phones.

    • by DuckDodgers ( 541817 ) <keeper_of_the_wolf&yahoo,com> on Sunday August 20, 2017 @10:27AM (#55052231)
      Is the mobile market getting to this point or are their going to be some twist and turns that will make LTS OS a wast of time, because we will be using out of date and useless phones.

      I would argue we reached the point of diminishing returns on hardware upgrades two or three years ago. A full HD screen, 2GB of RAM, and a three year old multi-core ARM processor runs Android 7.x just fine. Upgrades are nice, but most people that don't have a six figure income would prefer to have phones that keep working and keep getting security fixes for five years or longer.

      But the industry is trying to ride the planned obsolescence wagon as long as possible. In addition to the lack of software updates, we have a rarity of removable storage and greater rarity of removable batteries.
      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        But the industry is trying to ride the planned obsolescence wagon as long as possible. In addition to the lack of software updates, we have a rarity of removable storage and greater rarity of removable batteries.

        And yet the worst offender there is best in class when it comes to OS support. I had the iPhone 4, it had 51 months of support (and they have in the past issued at least one security patch for EOL devices). It looks like 4 years [iossupportmatrix.com] is the main standard, you start with one iOS version and get four updates. Three if it's a late cycle product. From iOS 11 onwards it's all 64 bit / ARMv8 processors though, the iPhone 5s is already 4 years old next month and it's supported in iOS 11 that's still in beta so at least

        • I absolutely grant that iOS is better than Android in this respect. But even if it's a royal pain in the neck to get LineageOS or some other Android Open Source Project fork onto smart phones, at least it can be done. There's some interaction with open source. The iOS may provide longer product life, but you are locked solidly to Apple.
          • I absolutely grant that iOS is better than Android in this respect. But even if it's a royal pain in the neck to get LineageOS or some other Android Open Source Project fork onto smart phones, at least it can be done. There's some interaction with open source. The iOS may provide longer product life, but you are locked solidly to Apple.

            I'm also "locked" to Apple since my iPhone integrates so well with my iMac and provides many features within that integration.

            But this "locked" word. I do not think it means what you think it means. My using an iPhone doesn't stop me from using and enjoying other Operating systems. I have Linux on a number of computers, a W10 laptop, and a couple Android tablets. Even a Chromebook. Full disclosure, I recently converted the Chromebook from ChromeOS to Gallium.

            I missed out on the Ford versus Chevy grou

            • Yes, locked. Can you take the movies you buy on iOS and legally transfer them to your Linux or W10 laptop? Can you buy any laptop you like and put MacOS on it? When your iPhone stops receiving security updates from Apple, do you have any choice other than "trash it" and "run without security fixes"? When Apple decides to change some core feature you don't like, can you fork the code - or pay someone else to fork the code, or take advantage of a fork someone else made - to go back to the old behavior?
              • Yes, locked. Can you take the movies you buy on iOS and legally transfer them to your Linux or W10 laptop?

                I don't care.

                Can you buy any laptop you like and put MacOS on it?

                I most certainly do not under any circumstances have any desire to do such a thing. Dunno how old you are, but my Windows uber allies frinds used to com to me all ablush about how thy had such a myriad of choices for their computers, making it so superior to my Mac, with it's limited choice of boards and all. Now, they use the excues that they have so many choices, and that's one of the reasons they fail on updates. That the Mac's limited number of choices makes it easier to update.

                Short ver

            • P.S. I try to avoid brand groupthink too. I guess we're both stupid.

              And I should have added, I am not condemning you for your choice. I respect it. I'm kicking around the idea of making the same choice with respect to mobile phones, since my Motorola Android device hasn't received some major security fixes since it was all of nine months old. I wonder if the FSF would send back my dues if they knew. :) I'm just saying that it's bad for all of us that the freedom-respecting choices are so rare an
    • by Noishkel ( 3464121 ) on Sunday August 20, 2017 @10:54AM (#55052347)

      One thing that a tech people don't realize is that not everyone wants the latest phone every year to begin with. A large portion of the market will never used ANY of the advanced features that Google tries to add with every generation of phone. I do repair and salvage of these various devices, and one of the greats complains I hear is that NO ONE want's these new features that Google keeps pushing with each version of their hardware. None of them give a damn to integrate ANYTHING with their google accounts and mostly just want something that'll play video. And none of them I speak to EVER buy anything on the Play store.

      Hell, right now I'm sitting on a 50 pound box of older phones from the past 5 years. I don't do repair of these things a primary job, but even then I've got such a back log of spares that I'm mostly just chucking a good half of what I get because I've got too many. Even the place in town that does this for a business has the same problem.

      • by JohnFen ( 1641097 ) on Sunday August 20, 2017 @11:09AM (#55052399)

        One thing that a tech people don't realize is that not everyone wants the latest phone every year to begin with.

        I'm a tech person and I don't want the latest phone every year. What I want is a phone that meets my needs. I have that now, and will keep using it for however many years that it continues to meet my needs. A lot, hopefully.

        Changing phones is disruptive. The less I have to do it, the better.

        • Yeah that's one thing I didn't think to mention, but that is a valid point and a real problem for the mobile industry. Constantly having to relearn the ins and outs of an OS is frustrating as HELL and puts off a lot of the consumer market.

          To go along with that line of thought; as I said I don't do phone repair as a primary job. Just as a second job since i have a lot of skill in electronics repair. No, my primary job up until very recently was a local route Truck driver. And there is nothing more INFURI

      • one of the greats complains I hear is that NO ONE want's these new features that Google keeps pushing with each version of their hardware

        It doesn't help that most of the new features seem to be there for the benefit of Google and other ad-slingers, not the customer; they require Google accounts, location reporting, trackers running all the time and so on. I may be more privacy aware than other people, but I have pretty much stopped adding more apps (pretty much all require too many permissions), and am only using the phone for basic tasks, like voice calls, contact list, calendaring and light web browsing (contacts and calendar items get syn

        • My next phone will either be a basic feature phone or maybe an iPhone.

          Just as a point of interest -- it's totally doable to have an Android phone that does not contain or use any Google apps whatsoever, let alone phone home to the Google mothership.

    • I've been running an LTS for years!

      Well, sorta. My approach is to jailbreak the damned thing an put my own OS on it. Then I don't have to rely on a manufacturer to provide software updates (and don't have to tolerate the bastardized versions and crapware that the manufacturers provide). If I can't jailbreak or there's no decent OS for a phone, then I don't buy the phone.

      I've been doing this for years now, and it's been very, very good.

  • by lkcl ( 517947 ) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Sunday August 20, 2017 @08:07AM (#55051783) Homepage

    this is basically what a very small team behind handhelds.org did with the openembedded project. bitbake - the build system behind openembedded - became an extremely powerful tool as a result, empowering that small team and part-time contributors to quite literally manage the build for something mad like over a hundred different hand-held devices... including some smartphones.

    i don't exactly know the full history but i *think* that most of the team behind handhelds.org were employees of Compaq, and the employees weren't too happy that all of Compaq's PDAs ran Wince[ouch]. when Compaq lost interest in PDAs (even the ones with phone capability) thanks to the huge success of HTC's very first few phones like the Blueangel and Universal (a brilliant clamshell microlaptop in effect) it wasn't long before handhelds.org went down the tubes as well... which is a real serious pity. a *lot* of critical history - and source code - went down with it. i vaguely recall there being some sort of fight over the domain name... gaah this was all over 12 years ago now so it's all a bit fuzzy.

    anyway, various... idiots since.... have lambasted bitbake and the entire openembedded project as quotes being too complex quotes and have come up with quotes simpler quotes systems such as buildroot. not realising that the complexity behind openembedded and bitbake is *there for a good reason*. along similar lines you end up with even more idiotic things like forking an entire distribution on a per-manufacturer basis, just as the OA describes.

    the point is: it's a great idea for a small team to offer support for a wide range of devices, but they'll need appropriate infrastructure to do it. bitbake - and its ability to hybrid-combine python and shell-code with regular expression pattern-matching to manage toolchain downloading, toolchain compiling, patches, configuration, cross-compiling, cross-compiling using qemu to run the compilation and configuration "native" (yes, really! bitbake can run a native compiler via a qemu headless configuration in order to handle the proper cross-compiling of an entire OS!), parallel builds, cacheing and a bucket-load more, would be a good starting point for them. anything else - once you get into the details - quickly becomes a total nightmare, and that's what things like buildroot's developers totally fail to understand.

    • I used to run Familiar Linux on an iPaq H2215 with a Sandisk 128MB CF+WiFi card and I loved it. It was really useful in the same way that an Android phone is now useful. I could ssh and so on, as you might expect. Having nonvolatile storage of some kind was mandatory because PocketPC of the day didn't come with any. My PDA had a 400 MHz PXA255, which was actually pretty darned peppy.

      However, OpenEmbedded has always been a nightmare. No matter how scrupulously I have followed instructions, I have never got a

      • However, OpenEmbedded has always been a nightmare. No matter how scrupulously I have followed instructions, I have never got anything of any complexity to actually build. It would take a long while to convince me that it was worth the time and effort that's been spent on it.

        I'm sorry you've had that experience, but I can say that whilst we do indeed have a complex system, many, many other users by now have been able to use it successfully, from new users to small consultancies right up to large corporations. I'll also say that if the last time you tried it was more than a few years ago you were probably using something quite different from what we deliver today - it has certainly improved leaps and bounds since the handhelds.org days.

    • A colleague and I recently had to get into bitbake stuff to build Yocto, and we both hate it. So it doesn't surprise me that a guy who spells "quotes" instead of just using them really likes bitbake.
  • So, in a nutshell, I should trust blindly a small company/organization to provide me with free support for 10 years, no string attached? Man, few open source communities can do such crazy support without any kind of funding.
    And do not tell me about Debian, Slackware, Arch, LineageOS and so. Either they got clear ties to well defined corporate funding or they get upstream patches from open source software funded by companies.
    Get real. Unless there is a real paid subscription, a programmed hardware obsolesc
    • What company? It's one guy with a donate page, which might pay for the cost of hosting.

      The rest is community-driven, where contributors are encouraged to port the base system to their device.

    • So, in a nutshell, I should trust blindly a small company/organization to provide me with free support for 10 years, no string attached?

      Why would you blindly trust any organization to provide you with support (free or otherwise) for 10 years?

      • by damaki ( 997243 )
        Isn't it the sale pitch of the said phone? I mean, if the support is not provided because the company or the company crashes, there is no point in buying this phone.
  • Android is Linux. They want to put GNU/Linux on the smart phone. This is not new either. I find it quite uninteresting.

  • Great. A telephone that cannot be used to make telephone calls. With a five-inch screen that makes the Kaypro I look generous. No real keyboard, only a touchscreen emulation of a keyboard with microscopic key-targets so you can type perhaps as fast as five words a minute before realizing everything you entered was silently changed to be nothing like what you intended to write. Of what possible use is such a device?
    • No use to you, obviously. But personally, I find it very useful to have a powerful computer with me everywhere I go.

  • Firefox OS (Score:4, Interesting)

    by brianerst ( 549609 ) on Sunday August 20, 2017 @01:21PM (#55052871) Homepage

    Why not just fork and develop Firefox OS? It actually works, is based on Linux, CSS and HTML5 and has actually been deployed by a handful of phone manufacturers, primarily in India. I don't even think it's truly dead, as a couple of small Indian firms appear to still be developing it.

    Sure, it was a waste of time for Mozilla but no need to reinvent the wheel.

    • by r0kk3rz ( 825106 )

      Why not just fork and develop Firefox OS? It actually works, is based on Linux, CSS and HTML5 and has actually been deployed by a handful of phone manufacturers, primarily in India. I don't even think it's truly dead, as a couple of small Indian firms appear to still be developing it.

      Sure, it was a waste of time for Mozilla but no need to reinvent the wheel.

      Why not just do something completely different? Well FXOS is based upon Android and these guys don't seem want anything to do with Android. I wish them the best of luck but getting decent mainline hardware support out of modern phones is a serious undertaking, there's a reason why all recent efforts (firefox os, ubuntu touch, sailifsh os) use various hacks to re-use the android based drivers.

  • my galaxy note 2 hardware is still quite ok (microphone problems, but using it as a phone never was a priority), but CM is non existent and samsung stopped to deliver update a long time ago.... I would be a bigger fan if they would have based it on debian, but ok...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      LineageOS is the new CyanogenMod.
      Version 14.1 (Android Nougat Equivalent) is available for Galaxy S2.

      https://download.lineageos.org/i9100

  • There's good reasons why it's easy to install Linux on 10yo PCs but Google can't update Android even on its own phones for more than a few years, and those are all down to device drivers. PCs have well-documented processors, standardised BIOS, common hardware interfaces, and nearly all the main hardware APIs are open and well-understood (notable exceptions include high-level 3D graphics acceleration chips). Anyone can write something that will boot and run on nearly any PC (or VM) in the last 25 years.

    That'

  • Perhaps it is time to re-read Why Openmoko failed [vanille.de]

  • Smartphone OS support for 10 years is pointless.

    If battery life is measured in charge cycles, then a 1000-cycle battery can most optimistically last 3-4 years. In practice most have trouble getting past 30 months without being significantly degraded, and that downward spiral of battery life makes the last 3 months miserable. Snap-on external batteries or Qi chargers to give more and more convenient recharging opportunities don;t offer much of an enhanced experience. Battery life cycle duration is the real l

    • This is the primary reason why I refuse to buy any phone that doesn't have a replaceable battery.

  • I hope all the best for them fully knowing it's an uphill battle...
    How many projects with similar promisses we've heard about in the past?

    I'd really love to use older smartphones as a Linux box of sorts, even if there are downsides to it... put it to good use instead of turning it into eWaste and all.

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