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Debian Wants To Play In The Mobile Space Too

Debian

Published on 14 July 2012 04:20 PM EDT
Written by Michael Larabel in Debian
5 Comments

Besides Android as the dominant Linux-based mobile platform, Ubuntu, Tizen, Maemo/MeeGo, webOS, Firefox OS, and various other Linux platforms have aspired to compete in the mobile space. In addition, Debian wants to remain relevant in the mobile space.

On the last day of DebConf 12 in Managua, Nicaragua, there was a mobile session this morning. The purpose of the session was how to "keep Debian relevant for mobile devices."

The Debian mobile initiative isn't brand new, but is an increasingly uphill battle. There is the Debian Wiki Mobile page that documents some of the mobile-related Debian efforts. Among the recent work in this space has been:

- Pulling the latest Enlightenment Foundation Libraries (EFL) into Debian. EFL is being used by the Tizen mobile platform, is already running on Wayland, and generally is sought after by mobile/embedded devices as a nice set of libraries.

- Upstream FSO (FreeSmartphone.org middle-ware) got its recent release in Debian.

- A few Debian developers actually got new hardware to play with.

- There's a Debian Mobile mailing list and IRC channel, albeit largely inactive.

Meanwhile, the mobile work happening in the Linux space outside of Debian that the developers noted included:

- GPU reverse-engineering on ARM Mali, Qualcomm Adreno, PowerVR, and FIMG. (See Major Open-Source ARM Announcement Coming.)

- Android Linux kernel changes slowly being merged into the Torvalds' mainline tree.

- The KDE community came up with Plasma Active and are working on a Vivaldi Tablet.

- There's GTA04 / OpenPhoneux as basically the successor to OpenMoko.

- The Debian-based Canaima is working on a mobile platform.

- Mozilla started Boot To Gecko / Firefox OS.

- The MeeGo community was closed and Maemo de-funded by Nokia.

- Tizen was opened by Intel and the Linux Foundation with Samsung.

- HP is freeing WebOS as an open-source project.

The developers at today's Debian mobile session acknowledged that "mobile is important to keeping Debian relevant." However, they have many concerns still like how to deal with binary blobs (drivers) for phones, what user-interface(s) to support, etc. They're also considering a Debian chroot approach atop the Android kernel to avoid hardware support/driver issues or by taking advantage of CyanogenMod.

Debian developers also feel that Tizen and webOS are "reasonably designed platforms" for basing Debian mobile work, but further investigation is required to see if either mobile platform would be suitable for any re-use.

Other expressed Debian Mobile points were that E17 might prove to be interesting in this space, getting changes back into the mainline Linux kernel still takes a while, kernels outside of Debian in a PPA-like manner might be needed, and that embedded Debian into VirtualBox/Android or other framework might speed time to market.

It was also mentioned that the government of Venezuela might be investing in a Debian-based mobile operating system and that there's connections to Chinese manufacturers.

A lot was talked about during this 45-minute session, but similar to the Debian Game Team, they don't have a clear and concerted focus. Come DebConf 13 in Switzerland, they'll still likely be in the same spot with very little progress on the mobile front.

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