Why is it so hard to support alternative (FLOSS) OSes?

It sounds easy. But please bear in mind that every OS needs to have:

  • Documentation (both in the box and online)
  • Software Support for updates and security fixes
  • Trained (support) staff on settings, installation, setup, apps etc.
  • Signed contracts for all the legal stuff
  • Payment procedures for the licenses
  • A procedure how to deal with issues: if you have five OS’s and something is wrong, how do you define if it is software or hardware related?
  • A flashing procedure for new phones
  • A flashing procedure for refurbished phones
  • Development time every time a new module is released/updated/altered

And then comes the whole dependence from upstream developers: we are already dependent on both Google and Qualcomm for updates for Android, just imagine what it will do to your workload if you add Ubuntu, Jolla, Mozilla, LineageOS etc. etc. to the mix…

and probably I forget a few things because sometimes I, even though I work at FP, do not see all the parts and logistics.

There are many ideas that make ideologically sense, but that run against the hard brick wall of economics. There will have to change a lot before we can run an economical healthy phone company based on another OS then Android GMS.


I drafted a reply and deleted it, because douwe made a much better summary above. I really think all of the effort mentioned above would able to kill the company. No one succeeded in establishing a economically working third OS, even Samsung, Microsoft, Palm/HP and Cyanogen failed. Only Sailfish OS survived, although it might be quite a niche OS, it’s amazing how they do that.


thnx @ben.

I want to add that this is also not how I would like to see things. I share the dream of having all the OS’s.

And, thanks to the community, this dream is almost here already. Surely an officially supported OS has its benefits, but all the community OS’s out there are very empowering. People learn a lot from them, enjoy them and they prove over and over again that you don’t have to wait for economical sense to kick in before you can achieve something.

So let’s also not stare blindly to companies and expect them to do the work a well organized community can also do themselves.
(provided there are a few very bright people like @mal and @chrmhoffmann :wink: ) .

Most of what we want is already here!


I am very sympathetic for all these OSes and have very much respect for everyone working on them, too.


Cyanogen basically lives on as LineageOS. It died because of internal conflicts.

Why did they all fail? Because of the chicken/egg problem that users require apps but app developers require a user-base for a platform to be economically feasible.

Apple/Android were able to succeed (and take the market from e.g. Symbian) because of a shift in mobile market (the capacitive touchscreen).

So we need another revolution (“big change”) in the market. What will it be? Can the GDPR be a driving factor? Is Microsoft rooting for a coming back eventually? Perhaps PWAs are going to allow better cross platform apps since that lowers the gap of entry?

I specifically meant Cyanogen, the company, the OS still thrives, I know.

That’s probably the most realistic reason, but I’m not sure we really know why they failed.

1 Like

They all failed because of capitalism. And (its derivated) network effect.


Well, almost everything can be rooted in capitalism.
But where’s the sense in programming, updating and further developing an OS, when there is hardly anyone willing to support it, let alone buy it. If even Firefox OS, having the support of a rather big community did not make it, that 's an indicator.
There are already two popular OS, doing the trick for almost everyone, making it hard to get a foothold for newcomers. Even data-protection to most people seems not relevant enough an aspect to turn their back on Google or Apple (not to mention fb etc.).
And - yes, that’s capitalism - software developers have to make a living as well. Even if they are doing it in their spare-time for the fun of it, they will be needing some reward, like appreciation and users for their software. If there’s a lack of this, most people tend to loose interest in further spending time on programming.

So, yes, ultimately it might be capitalism, but under what conditions would sailfish or firefox os have had a chance to survive?

To be clear, I fully agree with @ben


Hey, @BertG, I fully agree with you, don’t get me wrong.

What you’ve described there it’s called “network effect” and I mentioned it after the word capitalism in my comment above.

Furthermore, my comment was pure criticism to this model. We suffer the struggles of network effect because globalization (the culture of being a universal one, ultimately being contrary to diversity) has awarded so much power to the market (a.k.a. capitalism). And technology nowadays is pure market, unfortunately.

For me, this is why Linux on the Desktop hasn’t overcame Windows or OS X and the same reason why Firefox OS/Ubuntu Touch/whatever alternative mobile OS have failed (lack of apps, not because of developers, but because of companies not supporting yet-another-OS). It’s not because of themselves. It’s because they don’t attend the rules of market (and when they do, they betray their own physis, e.g. the Cyanogen case). Even Sailfish OS, which has quite good support on Eurasia because of political and social identity reasons, needs to have support for Android apps.

(For clarification, I’m a supporter of independent and libre software and culture, including alternative OSes I’ve pursued and contribute to their ecosystems, like the defunct Firefox OS. And thus I absolutely relate with @ben’s quote.)


Yeah the network effect is what I attempted to describe. It is why Facebook and Twitter are so popular and why it is so difficult to “get rid of them”.


Sure, the network effect is (an important) part of it.
Another - in my opinion not less important - aspect is peoples persistence with something they are used to (most likely out of laziness).
When buying a first phone, the network effect might be most effective, as almost everyone you are asking is recommending either iOS or Android. Prior to this forum I never ever “met” someone using another OS. If you are not really doing some research, you will have a hard time stumbling over Sailfish or the like.
And once you are accustomed to Android or iOS and have learned all the tricks how to make the most of it, it usually takes some really good reason to make you change.
My guess is, that such a reason is hard to find, when it comes to functionality, as Android and iOS encompass years of developement and tuning.

Data protection/privacy can be a reason; although it’s not for too many people, as social media usage, the fate of Blackberry and many more things are proof of.
Frustration or negative experience with a device or the OS might be a reason as well (but hardly so on a large scale).
Factors like environment, fairness etc. are good reasons as well.

In my opinion Fairphone clearly shows this problem. Although it is more easy and even advertised to switch the OS on the FP2 - at least ot FPOOS - it’s a minority of users doing so (myself included). Why?
It’s “work” without any functional gain in the end (if you are not a geek in need of a rooted phone or functions like twrp etc.). There’s always the fear of losing data, malfunctions and trouble in general.
The network effect in this regard - at least for me - is of minor or no importance, as all apps would stay the same.

Well, I tried to switch to Ubuntu Touch but I failed, no matter how hard I tried. In the end I decided to stick to FPOS and maybe give it another try later on. I know, it’s totally nonsensical, but that one (multiple) failed attempt in switching the OS has done it for me for the time being. Right now, I don’t feel any urge to go for FPOOS, Lineage or any other OS.

1 Like

During the weekend I debloated a Samsung Xcover3. It only has 8GB of storage, which were full, and when I was done removing Google and Samsung bloatware it had 5GB free storage space. Of course, I also deleted cache and the download folder, but just removing all the updates that Google pulled (e.g. Google Framework is ~25MB at first, but then it goes to 150MB, when it gains network access – downloading a lot of additional stuff).

In conclusion, I wish Samsung had a debloated Open OS available… :stuck_out_tongue: Of course, FP2 won’t run out of storage as soon with its 32GB, but after taking many pictures and transferring your music collection, it might come close. Then Google apps are just a hindrance anymore.

PS.: If you are interested, this is a list of all the bloatware found on an Xcover3: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1WeyXkVvvbnePv_mqO1pggHvXxG_tdree2sj5fY1a-qg/edit#gid=2048344649


As a lover of Free/Libre and Open Source
Software I agree with many of the arguments in this topic.

From my experience of honorary helping people with computers I can
concentrate the difficulties with Free Software to 2 main items:

  • People do not know much about existence of software other than Microsoft, Android and Apple.

  • People fear left out in the rain with (in their opinion) „exotic“ software.

For me the main question is:

What can we do to promote FLOSS ?

My opinion:

  • More info and more institutions working with FLOSS. München is not a good example as Linux failed and most people do not know that the reason was a political one.
    Good example: https://digitalcourage.de/suche?keys=linux+install offers Linux install party.

  • More assistance to people starting FLOSS. Even after installation. There should be assistance in a similar way as our Fairphone Angels do.


Bielefeld? @ElKrasso! #fairphoneangels :smiley:

BTW, Extremadura, a region in Spain, also have a successful GNU/Linux project called LinEx, with a team of ~30 salaried programmers supporting it, and it also was also a fail because politicians: the following local goverment asphyxiated the project reducing the team and after that closed the project calling in “insufficient”. There’s a project here in Madrid —MAX— which aims to reach the good status LinEx had, based on what they told me in a meetup I went to some months ago (also I learned the Community of Madrid use a lot of FLOSS on their public educative platform, including NextCloud (!) and Moodle).

Which all these projects teach us is that some kind of official support needs to be given for libre software projects to success in the public.


Vienna (German: Wien) tried it too between 2005 and 2009:

There is a nice article in the free Software Magazine trying to reason, why it failed:


Tony Mobily says they simply should have gone for Ubuntu or CentOS as a municipality cannot (as in: it was a “mixture of madness, boldness and sadistic intentions; or, maybe, just lack of experience”) maintain its own Linux distribution. And of course it was also the fault of Microsoft’s pressure. (Aaand we reached this topic again: Microsoft “goes Open Source” (= acquired GitHub) .)

1 Like

I know this is a hard process, but the UBPorts team made lots of improvements lately. There is now a dedicated telegram group for helping people installing UbuntuTouch on their device: UB Welcome & Install :slight_smile:. From my own experience, main tips are to check that ADB is functional before starting the installer, and on linux to launch it with “sudo”.

1 Like

no, thanks :wink:
(20 chars)

1 Like

Still, they might be interested in Fairphone stuff… :grin:

Sorry, but if I get it right, you don’t even touch @Douwe’s points.
What he explains, are the reasons, why FP as a company does not support all kinds of FLOSS OSes. He answered the question, why the shop does not offer to ship FP with an OS of choice.

As FP already supports the Google-free FP-OpenOS and the possibility to root the phone, all your requirements are already met - if I haven’t really got it wrong.

Shipping just a rooted phone without any OS preinstalled would ultimately end in FP going bankrupt. In my opinion this is not for the common user, but for the tech-geek; and there are not enough of them out there to be enough for a healthy business.
Look at the crowdfunding project “kite”, that did not manage to raise even 38,000 $ of the needed 941,000 $ for their modular phone, that was aimed at the tech-geeks.

So, Fairphone already offers a rooted phone to tinker with; Lineage, Ubuntu Touch, Sailfish and DIY extensions especially by @Cherry97 are proof of this.
Difference is just, that, instead of requiring every user to install what he wants and needs, it require the techies to take some steps to get what they want and need.
Sound reasonable to me, as the tehies should be way more comfortable doing so (and they are - in my opinion - a minority among smartphone buyers).