The goal of postmarketOS 22.06 is to bring old cell phones back to life

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The theory is that not needing a manufacturer’s outdated firmware or drivers means that pmOS can use more current components, direct from the various upstream Linux projects. The project’s own wiki currently lists over 200 supported devices, including phones, tablets, and e-book readers, ranging back to the venerable Nokia N900. They’re not all equally supported, though. Most of them can can boot, many have Wi-Fi support, but currently just two actual phones work as phones: the open-source hardware PinePhone and the Purism Librem 5. Even saying that, though, the ability to connect to Wi-Fi and use an old device as a pocketable terminal could make obsolete hardware useful again.

The Alpine-based distribution works on Android-based phones that have been abandoned by their makers. Alpine Linux is a stripped-down general-purpose operating system that works well on low-end hardware, as The Reg FOSS desk discovered while testing version 3.16 last month. Version 22.06 of postmarketOS, or pmOS for short, is based on the same version. This is unique in and of itself. Most other third-party smartphone operating systems, such as LineageOS, GrapheneOS, and the previous CyanogenMod, are built on Android’s core. The project is quite unique. It supports a broad range of devices by using the mainline Linux kernel and a standard userland.

Highlights

  • The Lomiri smartphone UI, formerly known as Ubuntu’s Unity 8, is also represented in an external branch of postmarketOS project. Thunderbird is coming to Android – in K-9 Mail form. Open source ‘Office’ options keep Microsoft running faster than ever. openSUSE Leap 15.4: The best desktop on the RPM side of the Linux world. Apple offers improved Linux support in macOS Ventura. This isn’t something you can put onto an old phone and give to your grandma just yet. It’s still relatively early days, but it’s a promising project. It reminds in some ways of the Armbian project, which aims to keep old single-board computers usable after their manufacturers stop updating them.

  • As it resembles a normal desktop Linux, postmarketOS can run both X.org and Wayland, and a choice of user interfaces, including a plain text console or the Xfce desktop. These might not be terribly useful on a touchscreen-based handheld device without a pointing device, so more importantly there are a choice of phone interfaces, including the GNOME-based Phosh and the KDE-based Plasma Mobile, as well as the less-ambitious Simple X Mobile or Sxmo.

Mainstream Linux on phones has some way to go yet before it’s as usable as it is on a desktop or laptop. (Stop heckling at the back there: it really is.) As is the open source way, there are various rival environments and applications, all working away trying to achieve the same ends – but because they’re open source, they can help each other, sharing code and information and documentation. Although it has a (very old) Linux kernel right at the bottom, Android itself isn’t very Linux-like: everything above the kernel, from the Bionic C library and Toybox userland up to the Java-based app runtime, are very different.

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