back to article Samsung to let proper Linux distros run on Galaxy smartmobes

Samsung has announced it will soon become possible to run actual proper Linux on its Note8, Galaxy S8 and S8+ smartphones – and even Linux desktops. Yeah, yeah, we know Android is built on Linux, but you know what we mean. Samsung said it's working on an app called “Linux on Galaxy” that will let users “run their preferred …

  1. thames
    Linux

    El Reg: "Yeah, yeah, we know Android is built on Linux, but you know what we mean. "

    I think you mean "GNU/Linux". That distinguishes it pretty clearly from Android/Linux.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      I think you mean "GNU/Linux".

      I'm not sure that many distros are exclusively GNU these days.

    2. theworm123

      It's not GNU/Linux, Linux contains the greater contribution to the combined OS. So it's just Linux or Linux/GNU (if you want to be pedantic).

      1. FIA

        It's not GNU/Linux,

        It is.

        GNU is the non kernel bits, Linux is the kernel. The whole is called GNU/Linux, as distinct from GNU/kFreeBSD for example, or the mythical GNU/Hurd. (I only ever saw one once; shot it; it's HEAD now hangs on my remotes/origin/wall).

        1. AdamWill

          well, up to a point.

          I think the OP's point is that "GNU is the non kernel bits" doesn't really hold any more. Back in the late 90s / early 2000s when we all started arguing about this (jesus christ), yes, 'Linux distributions' *were* more or less a Linux kernel and a userland that was almost all GNU bits.

          These days 'Linux distributions' are a Linux kernel and a userland that comes from all over the place - *certainly* not all from GNU. So do we have to call it 'GNU/Freedesktop/KDEproject/GNOME/Google/600GithubProjects/Mozilla/etc/etc/etc/etc/etc/etc/etc/Linux' now?

  2. James 51 Silver badge

    If it can run WINE then it will be very interesting to see this in action. I am assuming though it will be versions compiled specifically for the phones or ARM processors rather than a HP Elite x3 access windows desktops over the Internet type of thing.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge
      Mushroom

      It's emulators all the way down... powered by a Samsung battery.

      1. Toastan Buttar

        "It's emulators all the way down..."

        WINE Is Not an Emulator

    2. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

      Wine?

      Why wouldn't it, but more importantly why would you want to do that?

      In any case, it will not be a big change for me, I've been running GnuRoot Debian on my stock Android for ages, to do some network management and other offsite stuff. Better at local file management, too. Pretty much the only thing it can't use is the phone function, but who still uses that, amiright?

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: Wine?

        Just think of it as a docking station: less shit to carry around.

      2. patrickstar

        Re: Wine?

        You could, if someone adapted WINE for ARM Windows, but there isn't a lot of applications available for that. You'd probably want an actual CPU emulator (QEMU or whatever) instead so you could run x86/64 applications.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Wine?

        Did not know about GnuRoot Debian - very cool!

  3. frank ly Silver badge

    So, 2018 ....

    .... The year of Linux on the palmtop?

    1. Tigra 07 Silver badge

      Re: So, 2018 ....

      I prefer the year of Linux on the bus...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Graphical X and C libraries?

    I can't help but feel excited by the prospect of full on Firefox, Wine, Gimp and everything else but somehow I feel it will all come to nought in useful regardness.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Graphical X and C libraries?

      You can already run InkScape on Android, and it loads up some sort Linux-y desktop environment before itself... But it is a pig to use on a phone, as you would expect.

  5. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    Hoo boy, another attempt to make a PC out of a cellphone?

    1. P. Lee Silver badge

      > Hoo boy, another attempt to make a PC out of a cellphone?

      Or maybe the chance to strip out the snooping software and just run a few trusted applications?

      I've got an old iphone and I'd like to be able to copy a stack of media over onto the device at home and listen during the day.

      I don't want itunes to manage it, I just want to do it myself.

      I don't really trust Android vendors either. I'd like to be able to upgrade that bluetooth stack...

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: > Hoo boy, another attempt to make a PC out of a cellphone?

        "Or maybe the chance to strip out the snooping software and just run a few trusted applications?"

        That's the question. It's one thing being able to move over into "real" Linux when you want an app that's not on Android. Can you also do that when you don't want an app that is on Android?

  6. alain williams Silver badge

    Does that mean that I can get a root shell

    on the 'phone and remove all the rubbish & spy-ware that I do not want? Or will I still need to replace the Samsung supplied OS to do that ?

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Does that mean that I can get a root shell

      If you stripped out Samsung's Android build, where would you get your drivers from?

      Maybe in the future, with Google's efforts to make Android more modular (easier to roll out updates for) you might be have more joy, but that time is not now.

    2. ah umaway
      Coffee/keyboard

      Re: root shell? More like chroot jail. Blobs are not drivers.

      Don't count on it. There are about 200 governments and 500 fortune 500 companies. All of them want your telemetry, all of them have either the clout or the legal power to secretly embed some crapware. All of them are doing it. Most of them are playing dirty. If you have "blobs" instead of drivers, what kind of control do you really have? Exactly the kind you're supposed to.

      Now that we actually have great free and open source software, we could use more free and open hardware. We're building a hell that would have Orwell shudder.

  7. Field Commander A9

    What about the warrant?

    Does running sudo in that Linux void your warrant just like rooting your Galaxy phone?

  8. RockBurner

    Hmm - be interesting to see just how much the hardware can take... Nested VM's on a nested VM anyone?

    Is there going to be any way that the phone can stop you? (apart from simply not being able to do it).

  9. tony2heads

    Query

    Is this more than Lil'Debi

  10. Hugh Pumphrey

    Some if this is already possible ...

    ... by using GnuRoot Debian ( from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.gnuroot.debian&hl=en_GB ). I have installed python/numpy and R on my phone, just because I can. Doing anything useful on a phone's touchscreen keyboard is like pulling teeth, of course, even if you install the excellent Hacker's keyboard ( https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.pocketworkstation.pckeyboard&hl=en_GB ).

    1. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

      Re: Some if this is already possible ...

      Same setup here. It's still not as good as a physical keyboard, but it's at least usable.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Some if this is already possible ...

        There's some 3D printer files and instructions somewhere online for a microwriter-style chorded keyboard case for phones... Respectable typing speeds can be achieved after only a few days learning, so I'm led to believe!

    2. Keith Smith 1

      Re: Some if this is already possible ...

      +1 on Hackers keyboard. Typing on it now. . . Now if we could just disable the right mouse click android insanity. . . For 20 years left mouse select, right mouse operations. Not effing exit/close/back.

  11. Joe Montana

    Nothing new..

    It's been possible to run a full blown linux in a chroot on an android mobile for years, it's just that until now no major vendor has marketed the idea or packaged it up in an easy to use way.

    Someone should have done this years ago!

    For some things a desktop form factor is simply better, so having the ability to hook your phone up to a large screen and use an external keyboard/mouse is great as a phone is far more portable than a laptop.

    1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

      Re: Nothing new..

      Agreed.

      If you can run a full Linux/BSD/Windows distro on your cellphone, and just need to dock it to a screen+mouse+keyboard then you'll have a winner.

      The problem is with the docking system. Proprietary stuff does not work wonders.

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Nothing new..

      I think the DeX stuff just makes the whole thing a lot easier to work because there is proper hardware support. But I suspect we should reserve judgement until it's actually available.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Nothing new..

        Wouldn't it be less faff to just stick an ARM SoC into the 'docking' hardware?

        If you've gotta carry a dock (and mouse and keyboard, unless you find them at your destination), you might as well carry a discrete headless computer. It could act as a wireless router for your phone, throwing up a local VPN between itself and your phone for the purposes of syncing files etc, and bridge it to the wider net. Or summat.

        Or maybe it's just me.

  12. peedrr

    What I've been searching for... almost

    I'm going to be in the minority here but I've been researching this exact scenario and I can see its potential. Premium phones are now up in the £1,000 territory and they are completely over-spec'd for the vast majority of users: the OnePlus 5 Midnight Black has 8GB of RAM! If we're paying so much money for so much power, let's put it to better use.

    I can imagine a few scenarios where it would be useful to quickly plug in a screen, roll out the Bluetooth keyboard and do 20 minutes proper desktoping. But Samsung's announcement fails in one significant area: DeX.

    The S8, S8 Plus and Note8 all come with DisplayPort Alt Mode via USB-C. This allows the phone's very capable GPU to directly drive an external monitor. The phones also have Power Delivery over USB-C so they can even POWER the monitor. Carrying something like the ASUS ZenScreen ( https://www.asus.com/us/Monitors/MB16AC/ ) means you literally need a single USB-C cable and a Bluetooth keyboard and you're up and running. This setup keeps your mobile mobile. But, at present, the ZenScreen will only mirror your phone's screen and, due to the 18.5:9 phone screen, you'll get some significant black bars top and bottom.

    To get the full-screen, full desktop effect, Samsung wants you to use DeX. And DeX requires wall power. And DeX only has HDMI out so your monitor also requires wall power. That's a whole heap of unnecessary cables to achieve the same thing. You can't just dive into a coffee shop and get up and running in a rush, you've got to search for that illusive wall socket and then spend 3 minutes cabling it all together. No one is going to do that.

    I welcome Samsung's announcement to support Linux but instead of force-feeding us DeX, I would like Samsung to recognise that these are MOBILE devices and any desktop experience needs to be mobile as well. The technology is all in place - the powerful device, the true potential of USB-C - we just need the monitor to behave as it should without requiring DeX.

    1. Baldrickk Silver badge

      Re: What I've been searching for... almost

      I don't know that you will get much battery life if powering a PC monitor from a phone...

      I could see a mains powered monitor that also powers a phone over USB-C though

    2. Ian Joyner

      Re: What I've been searching for... almost

      No, I disagree. It is the wrong approach. See my response under "You are right!"

  13. GrumpyOldBloke

    Linux without software updates - can't wait.

  14. Irongut

    I'll probably install this and play around with it when it is available. I may even find something useful to do with it but that won't be coding on a 5" screen. I won't write code on a laptop if I can avoid it, two 24" screens is my minimum setup for decent productive work; more and larger would be preferred.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And what do telcos think about this?

    Can't see them overjoyed at the prospect. Can't see how they will allow it.

    1. patrickstar

      Re: And what do telcos think about this?

      Why would they care what you do to the phone as long as your are not hacking up the radio and interfering with other customers because of that?

      (N.B. This is an actual question, not snark!)

  16. Ramazan
    Pint

    And a special guest is invited to this fest ... ta-da! Patrick McHardy, please come in and feel yourself at home. I mean, fuck Samsung hard.

  17. David Roberts Silver badge

    One problem

    You have to buy the new phone.

    I would quite like the Pan newsreader on a phone or tablet, and perhaps Thunderbird for email and even Chrome with an adblocker plugin. But I have better things to do with £1k and already have a working phone.

    4 years time perhaps.

  18. Ian Joyner

    You are right!

    From the article:

    >>Your correspondent imagines that plenty of Linux users will enjoy the chance to run their preferred distribution on a smartphone. But the notion that developers will code “on-the-go” using Linux on a five-inch screen seems largely fanciful. Laptops are pretty good these days, as are the Android emulators that run on them. One of you will doubtless prove me wrong in the comments.<<

    No, you are quite right. We have many useful devices and computers are useful in the implementation of these devices. The fact that they use computers at all should be transparent to the user. Computers have become ubiquitous.

    So why this fetish with trying to make every device that runs a computer into a development system, or a system you want to play with different operating systems on? This is ridiculous. Development systems should be kept far away from user devices. Samsung is quite wrong in trying to make these devices into computers for computer hobbyists. Most people want useful devices, not computers – those who want to play with computers (like myself) are now a small minority.

    In fact, Linux should be locked up in rooms for secure servers run by professionals and not for end-user devices. This comes from the view of the world that computers are for computing people. Well that is not true anymore and has not been true for a long time. Linux really isn't secure enough for end-user devices. End users require security to be taken care of automatically for them, whereas servers operate in secure environments. Of course the debate about Linux security has been going on for quite a while:

    http://www.cs.vu.nl/~ast/reliable-os/

    http://www.oreilly.com/openbook/opensources/book/appa.html

  19. Peter X

    Slight tangent: compute module!

    Slightly off topic here, but DeX was mentioned so...

    The whole idea of using just one phone to fit my entire computing needs just seems a bit pointless given that computers aren't really all that expensive?

    Surely the reason high-end mobile phones are expensive is largely down to the R&D costs of squeezing lots of high-performance components into a ridiculously small package and then optimising the software to switch most of it off most of the time in order to save power.

    It's clever, and brilliant... but I don't feel any great need to only have one CPU/data-storage device. That only really makes sense if you're trying to sell expensive phones and can try to justify the cost by saying "yeah, but you can also use it as a computer", like some how that makes up for it.

    The down-side is I'm going to be even more screwed if I lose/break my phone because now I can't even use my computer!

    However, what I *do* want is the SoC from one of these high-end phones, in a box, with high-bandwidth ports available. So imagine a Samsung Pi (for want of a better name); it would have a high-performance SoC, but with a heat sink on it so it can run in Full-Beanz mode for sustained periods. It would have display-port and USB-C for decent bandwidth peripheral connection. It would have at least SATA 3 for SSD connection.

    And then I can buy that *AND* a phone!

    What's in it for Samsung? Well, if I can run Linux on something like that, then really that can happily be my regular desktop (I don't personally need Windows apps), and so presumably lots of other devs/nerds would think like-wise. And that would likely mean people would actually develop specifically for that platform.

    ... So pretend I'm from Samsung and I'm taking orders; who's in?

  20. sisk Silver badge

    Samsung's announcement suggests developers will “code using their mobile on-the-go and with Samsung DeX

    Code on a phone? Not if I have a choice.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't most Linux distros have a watered down 'Live CD' version?

    With some UI tweaks, I can see that being installed on a smartphone.

    1. hayzoos

      Re: Don't most Linux distros have a watered down 'Live CD' version?

      More than some UI tweaks. The 'Live CD' versions are generally for x86/ia64, not smartphone processors. Most of the 'Live CD' versions I have seen are not watered down either, but smartphones do not need a watered down version. They will need very good power management but a lot of that is app dependent, not just an OS function just like the smartphone OS/app combinations.

      I am able to use a combination of a bluetooth keyboard and a chromecast to do what the dex is doing. I used the smartphone screen as a touchpad, but a BT mouse or USB mouse works for pointing. I haven't done the Linux thing on my current smartphone, but have on an older one. I still use a laptop for my computing needs.

  22. Fred Tourette
    Meh

    Another Case of Just Because We Can...

    ...do we really need to?

    I could ride a horse to work, but I have a car.

  23. Jelle

    Finally!

    I for one applaud this. Granted, mobile phones as we know them are hardly the most useful hardware platforms for a full fledged Linux due to limited screen size and the lack of keyboards. However, those are the limiting factors. Add a whiteboard and video projector, bluetooth keyboard or any other set of hardware to overcome these limits and you could actually do some development work on them. Use them as portable workstation, notebook replacement and whatever. It will finally be usable as a computer, without the need to root the thing in a somewhat precarious process. Finally real power in your pocket.

  24. czarnajama

    Important for air travel

    Laptops face ever more restrictions on aircraft, and it is quite likely that they will be permanently banned from both checked and carry-on luggage. In that case, smartphones will have to take their place, and having a true Linux-capable smartphone will get around the problem, especially if airlines make the seat back monitor usable with a smartphone (the whole smartphone screen can then be used for a keyboard). Such a laptop ban will very quickly lead to the minor modifications needed to make the phone substitute for a laptop.

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