A Linux distribution for smartphones that has been abandoned by their manufacturers, postmarketOS, has introduced internal upgrades.
Alpine Linux is a very minimal general purpose distro that works well on a low-end kit like the Reg FOSS desk found when we looked at version 3.16 last month† postmarketOSs – pmOS in short – version 22.06 is based on the same version.
The project is very different. It uses the mainline Linux kernel and a default userland to support a wide variety of devices. The theory is that not needing a manufacturer’s outdated firmware or drivers means pmOS can use more current components, straight from the various upstream Linux projects. Own project wiki currently lists more than 200 supported devices, including phones, tablets and e-book readers, back to the venerable Nokia N900†
However, not all of them are equally supported. Most can boot, many have Wi-Fi support, but currently only two real phones work like telephones: the open source hardware PinePhone and the Purism Librem 5† But even when you say that the ability to connect to Wi-Fi and use an old device as a pocket terminal can make outdated hardware useful again.
Since it looks like a regular desktop Linux, postmarketOS can run both X.org and Wayland, and a choice of users interfacesincluding a plain text console or the Xfce desktop.
These may not be very useful on a touchscreen handheld device without a pointing device, so more importantly there is a choice of phone interfaces including the GNOME based fosho and the KDE-based plasma mobileas well as the less ambitious Simple X Mobile of sxmo†
This is not something you can put on an old phone and give to your grandma. It is still relatively early, but it is a promising project. It is in a way reminiscent of the arabic projectwhich aims to keep old single-board computers usable after manufacturers stop updating them.
Mainstream Linux on phones has a long way to go before it is as usable as it is on a desktop or laptop. (Stop whining about that: it really is.) Just like the open source way, there are several rival environments and applications, all working towards the same goal – but being open source they can interact with each other. helping others, sharing code and information and documentation.
While it has a (very old) Linux kernel at the bottom, Android itself isn’t very Linux-like: everything above the kernel, from the bionic C library and toy box userland to the Java-based app runtime, are very different.
Most of the time, though, the hardware is quite capable. As long as you can unlock and re-flash the bootloader — and you know how to do that, or are willing to learn — it’s great to see a viable alternative use for retired tablets.