If I say that Open Source mobile OS are ruling the world of mobile devices, it won’t be an exaggeration. Though many don’t consider, Android is still an open source project. This is another thing that the devices you use come with a bundle of proprietary software along with Android and hence many people don’t consider it open source.
So what are the alternatives to Android? iOS? Windows? May be but I am talking about open source alternatives to Android. Not one, not two. I am going to list five open source Linux based mobile OS that you may use even when I write this article.
Top Open Source alternatives to Android
Let’s see what open source mobile operating systems do we have. Just to mention, the list is not in any priority or chronological order.
1. Kai OS (partial open source)
Kai OS is going to be the world’s third largest mobile operating system. Chances are, you haven’t heard of it.
Not your fault really. KaiOS was only released in 2017 and yet it is powering a huge number of mobile phones in just under two years.
So, what’s the secret here? Unlike other mobile operating system, Kai OS doesn’t target the high-end, touch phones. Instead, it provides smartphones like functionalities to the featured phones.
Feature phones or basic phones are inexpensive and having smartphones like functioning make it an attractive and affordable device.
Kai OS is based on Linux as it is a fork of a fork of
Apart from Linux Foundation, Tizen project is supported by tech giants Samsung and Intel. Initially slotted for late 2013 release, it was only in January’15 that the first Tizen phone, Samsung Z was released in South Asian market. Unfortunately, Samsung Z failed to get much attention in a competitive Indian market.
Despite being based on Linux, Tizen OS has been marred with security issues. Quite frankly, I don’t see a bright future for Tizen OS. It is just a matter of time that the plug is pulled off this project.
3. Plasma Mobile
The OS is in the development phase and can be tested on a few devices like LG Nexus 5.
The idea is to provide 10-year life cycle to smartphones. You probably already know that after a few years, Android or iOS stop providing updates for older smartphones. At the same time, you can run Linux on older computers easily. postmarketOS wants to achieve the same on the mobile platform by tweaking Linux into a touch optimized platform.
Don’t get too excited. postmarketOS is in very early phases of development and it is most likely that you won’t be able to use it like a regular smartphone yet.
Ubuntu’s convergence efforts did not materialized but this has not deterred others from their convergence dream.
Convergence in simple terms is the same operating system running on desktop, tablet and smartphones. Ubuntu tried it and abandoned the project. Windows also failed at it.
Security and Privacy focused company Purism has its own PureOS Linux distribution. They are also working on a Linux-based secure smartphone called Librem5. Purism claims that PureOS is convergent and Librem smartphones will run on it. Apart from PureOS it can run GNOME and KDE with Debian, Ubuntu, SUSE, Fedora and even Arch Linux.
Moto of Librem is to be a “phone that focuses on security by design and privacy protection by default. Running Free/Libre and Open Source software and a GNU+Linux Operating System designed to create an open development utopia, rather than the walled gardens from all other phone providers”.
It’s more of a Linux-based smartphone rather than a Linux-based smartphone OS but I believe that the convergent PureOS should be able to run on other devices with some tweaks.
6. Ubuntu Touch by UBports
The king of desktop Linux world, Ubuntu decided to expand its territories with its open source mobile operating system Ubuntu Touch. Keeping convergence in mind, Canonical (parent company of Ubuntu) ambitiously launched $32 million crowdfunding campaign to build the first Ubuntu Phone, Edge. Though it failed to get the destined amount, it still set a new record with over $12 million pledged in its campaign.
After the failed crowdfunding campaign, Canonical tied up with some device manufacturers to launch Ubuntu Phone. Spanish manufacturer bq became the first device running Ubuntu Touch in February’15. It was soon followed by Chinese manufacturer Meizu. It is too soon to gauge the success or failure of Ubuntu phones because these first few devices aim at developers. This is the reason why I advised to not buy bq Ubuntu Phone just now.
Two years and a few Ubuntu-based phones later, Canonical finally decided to call it quit on mobile OS. However, UBports is still trying to keep Ubuntu Touch alive.
With UBports’ efforts, Ubuntu Touch recently saw OTA 9 update. There are a handful of devices that are supported by Ubuntu Touch. You can see the list here.
7. /e/ (previously known as eelo)
Previously known as eelo, /e/ is a non-profit project started by the developer of Mandrake Linux. It is an Android distribution and the idea is to have an open source mobile operating system free from Google.
/e/ replaces Google services with its own services with the promise to not track you or sell your data to advertisers like Google. /e/ will also utilize open source alternatives as much as possible.
/e/ is in active development and you can try to install it on a range of devices already. You can even buy refurbished devices preinstalled with /e/. That is one of the several ways of supporting the /e/ project.
LineageOS and Replicant (open source Android distributions)
LineageOS was created after the much more successful Android distribution CyanogenMod was discontinued. LineageOS is a fork of CyanogenMod.
Though Replicant was founded back in 2010 by a couple of Free Software groups, it now uses the source code of LineageOS as the base. You can see the list of devices support by Replicant here.
Sailfish OS [Not Open Source]
When Nokia decided to ditch the MeeGo mobile OS project, few unsatisfied Nokia employee decided to keep MeeGo alive in the form of Sailfish OS. Their flagship product Jolla has met with moderate success and has dedicated fan following. MeeGo was supposed to continue by Linux Foundation in the form of Tizen but over the time Tizen evolved on its own and cannot be termed as MeeGo derivative anymore. The same is true for Sailfish OS, core OS of which is based on Mer project which itself is based on the work from MeeGo.
While Sailfish OS created some buzz among early adopters thanks to Jolla devices, the company seems to be struggling.
Note: Sailfish OS is not open source. However, you could consider it as an option when you are looking for a mobile OS other than Android, iOS and Windows.
Firefox OS [Discontinued]
Firefox OS was an open source project from Mozilla Firefox, the parent of famous open source web browser. It created quite some ripples with the announcement of Firefox OS based smartphones that cost only $25. The aim was to target the emerging markets like Brasil, India etc.
Unfortunately, the low price tag alone could not make Firefox OS the Raspberry Pi of mobile devices and like Tizen, Firefox OS too did not get any success with its ZTE devices. Firefox now plans to shift its focus from low cost device to user experience with Firefox OS.
What do you think?
When I first wrote this article a few years ago, I was hopeful of these alternative mobile OS. However, the scenario is gloomy and I don’t think any os listed here is going to make a mark. It’s not like I don’t want them to be a success, I am just being honest here.
What do you think of these Android alternatives? Do you think these Linux based mobile OS will leave their mark or will they struggle for a decent market share like desktop Linux? Do share your views.