Samsung has announced some progress on the “Linux on DeX” project which in principle allows running a desktop Linux on a smartphone which, when tethered to a suitable dock or screen, would allow you to use it as a full lightweight computer.

If they had done it with Windows, I could see cynically how this would be a “neat idea” (CPU architecture difficulties aside); but they’ve done it with Linux, and this simply ruffles my FOSS fur. I’ve wanted the full Linux desktop experience on an ultra-portable device like a tablet for a long time, but this is not it.

In this setup, a GNU/Linux distro sits inside an Android/Linux space, and by the looks of it, you download a specific Ubuntu image from their own store - with who knows what bundles inside. You know that “crapware” that Windows users have to put up with? There’s a gateway here to that.

Install the Linux on DeX app. A secure container will be created within the app and you can add an Ubuntu Linux image to run it.

– from the website front page

This is not what I’m interested in. If I just wanted to do server monitoring and development from my tablet or phone, I can already do that with Termux.

What I want is for manufacturers to focus on making money from good hardware and excellent support and to stop messing around with software lock-in. Sell me a phone, and sure, include a stock operating system, but don’t prevent me from installing alternatives. Don’t monetize me through crapware, surveillance, and advertising. Sell me a damn device and leave me to my own devices. (Har har.)

What I want is to keep my freedom as a user to run what I choose. You know those applications that you just can’t uninstall? And if you deactivate them, the next system update reactivates them? So that they can harvest your identity, and sell it to people who they know will definitely not be good custodians of it? Screw that.

Google is particularly bad for lock-in and prevention, as they essentially tell manufacturers, “if you want Google Services on some of your phones, you must have Google’s Android on all phones, and ignore any competitors, company or community alike.” This makes it impossible for manufacturers to explore alternate systems on the side, certainly, but that should not mean that they are required to prevent users themselves from making a post-purchase choice. We’re at a point where the FOSS alternative LineageOS is stable, and F-Droid provides a solid framework on which to further build manufacturer-independent app stores, from the hard work of the respective communities behind these projects, and these are perfectly viable choices for people who so wish to use them. The only thing preventing users from getting these is manufacturer lock-down.

I’m waiting patiently for Purism to release their Librem 5 phone, and to get on with working on their Librem 11 tablet (which presumably is still on the back burner, waiting to return to the fore), with the hopes that perhaps they, at least, will do things right: build a great, long-lasting device, and let users choose what they want to run in the end.

So whilst Samsung will probably get some ways with this, I don’t see it being a major success. They’ll likely sell a small few, and conclude that “people” just aren’t interested in Linux on phones after all. The way I see it, there are essentially two kinds of Linux-on-phones advocates: power users (who will likely just buy an ultrabook in the end), and freedom advocates. And my money is on Purism for now - because they are offering devices that don’t mess with my user freedom.

Edit: I commented out some wild commentary on amortisation through privacy-erosion as being the cost of the Googlt-tax, but I realized I didn’t have the info to back it up. It’s in the page source if you want.