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

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