Thursday, September 22, 2011

The State of Linux on ARM

Linux was designed to be a platform with freedom in mind. This freedom created in the computer industry something all humans should have - the power of choice.

ARM is often touted as one of Linux's largest successes. Thanks to Google's Android platform it is true that a penguin powers at least half of the world's mobile devices today.

Is this a bit of a hollow victory though?

Even with Android being as rampant as it is, if you have been by my blog here before you know I am not a fan of it.  Earlier this year I described six reasons why I believe Android is fairly separated from Linux.

It appears I am not alone in my line on thinking here. Richard Stallman, the father of free software, himself appears to also agree (at least somewhat) with me:

"Google has complied with the requirements of the GNU General Public Licence for Linux, but the Apache licence on the rest of Android does not require source release. Google has said it will never publish the source code of Android 3.0 (aside from Linux), even though executables have been released to the public. Android 3.1 source code is also being withheld. Thus, Android 3, apart from Linux, is non-free software, pure and simple."

I said earlier Linux is all about choice though - so there have to be other mobile choices right? Well... There are some. In fact over a year ago I wrote why I was hoping for the Meego platform to take off.

Some thirteen months later it appears that the Meego project is waning in supporters though. While Nokia will be releasing the Meego powered N9 (not to mention the N9 is deb based, so its not fully Meego), they have basically abandoned free software for the long haul. The other partner behind Meego, Intel, appears to be splitting their focus as well.

So where does that leave Linux on ARM? As far as production devices go, it doesn't leave much of anything. Debian, Ubuntu and even Bodhi have ARM builds, but we have yet to see any of these options taken and mass produced successfully as of yet.

Only time will tell where Linux will end up in the world of mobile devices. It is fairly obvious though if you are a true free software supporter - You should not be one of the people hoping for Android to dominate.

~Jeff Hoogland


  1. Android is about as close as we're ever going to get to see Linux dominate the market at anything. It's sad but true. People don't care whether their devices are running open source or proprietary software, they care whether it works or not.

    Linux will never be more than a niche product and to be honest, that's fine with me. Let the ignorant continue on with their expensive proprietary inferior systems. Let the geeks enjoy paradise without the pollution that comes with the mass adoption.

  2. I'm quite keen on the Replicant project:

  3. great post jeff,

    like kevin said, we probably shouldn't care all that much "ignorant continue on with their expensive proprietary inferior systems" and help those who care to listen, with whatever we have like Debian,Ubuntu,yours Bodhi and even fedora folks had a few releases for ARM (i think it stagnated and after death of Meego , i'm not hopeful)

  4. ARM itself is the open hardware platform, or at least more open than any other system allowing for a lot of innovation. However due to patent concerns and other factors people are cooperating as well as they could be, and thus access to the driver code is lacking in a way necessary to really let Linux shine.

  5. This is unfortunate for linux users like me who are looking for a productivity based OS on tablet/
    mobile devices and not wanting Windows 8, DRM, and typical Android. You would think there are more progress or interest for ARM devices by some linux entities or even be ahead of Microsoft in this parts. I have an Android tablet, but even with a USB port its such a toy when trying to do anything productive, and for me, having to implement all kind of anti-spying measures.

    I'm not up to idea of buying a Windows 8 device and having to wait for the community find ways to crack its DRM bios and all that to put in a distrobution. There are only some hacks to put Ubuntu on Android tablet, but these are not officially endorsed and supported, and not real practical solutions. I'm not a technical, but it seems even if ARM is open in anyway, they are licensed off, linux developers are still at the mercy of proprietary hardware makers.

    They don't want linux in the consumer mobile market. Seems like for now you have to stick with old x86 platform to install linux, with their ineffiecient power consumption and heftier price (tablets). Bottom line is Google isn't going to be the savior for linux users on the mobile platform.

  6. Seems to me the next step is for the 'Debian of smartphones' to come along.

    The cellular arena would not be free until we have a platform and distro run by the community and not run by a company.

  7. Nice post, although Android is now the OS is phenomenal but that does not mean necessarily leave linux. I use ubuntu linux to perform activities of internet connection on my laptop, currently until a few years to come I guess ubuntu is still the OS that is friendly to Internet users