If the question is, ‘Can you install GNU/Linux on a phone?,’ the answer is yes. It is possible to install and enjoy openSUSE on a Pinephone.
This is a english translation provided by a follower of this blog (thanks a lot Tim) of an spanish article I published days ago and you can find here.
If you are a regular or occasional reader of this blog, I assume you have an interest (perhaps a passion) for GNU/Linux, free software and hardware, and are interested in using this OS in as many devices as possible.
Perhaps you haven’t yet managed to install it on your smartphone, but probably not for lack of desire! The solution is getting closer. First there was Ubuntu Touch, followed by UB Ports.
It is difficult to find compatible hardware, but Pine64’s Pinephone terminals offer hackers a device that can function with many GNU/Linux distributions.
By chance, I met the other day with a hacker who installed GNU/Linux on a Pinephone: specifically, openSUSE with the Xfce desktop. Adrián Campos Garrido (aka. hadrian) is a fellow Spaniard, so I decided to conduct an exclusive interview for this blog.
Vhck: Can you tell us a little about your background. How did you get interested in hacking?
Adrián: The word ‘hacking’ might not be the most appropriate. I started in the GNU/Linux world at the age of 17 (in 2006) and I liked the OS so much that I started to study how it worked. That led me to collaborate on the creation of the Wifislax distro, which is quite well known to the community.
I advanced little by little in system administration, and I learned on my own by dedicating many hours to different projects. I now work as a Technical Architect in BBVA Next Technologies, and like to continue trying new things in my free time … including the installation of openSUSE on a mobile phone.
Vhck: This blog focuses on GNU/Linux, specifically openSUSE. The other day I saw pictures you shared of your Pinephone running openSUSE with Xfce. Had you already installed other GNU/Linux distributions on this device? Why did you choose openSUSE?
Adrián: I have been using a device compatible with Ubuntu Touch as my main phone for some time, and created some APPs that allow other users to change to Ubuntu Touch more easily. However, I didn’t consider trying to port another distribution until Pine64 announced the Pinephone.
The Pinephone may be the turning point that allows us to use the desired OS without dependence on proprietary drivers. I knew the Pinephone would be important as soon as I read the specifications, and saw how much could be done with it.
A port of openSUSE looked like an attractive alternative. openSUSE is widely supported in the community, and has great support from SUSE. Perhaps in the future, the Pinephone could become a mobile suited to business use, while maintaining the open source spirit.
Vhck: Can you go into the technical details? How did you manage to put together an image to be installed in this device?
Adrián: I’ve left the creation of an image ready to be done automatically. We now work with the base that openSUSE created for the Raspberry Pi, but modify the kernel and the U-Boot to work with the Pinephone. Finally, we have to port the packages that are not adapted for small screens.
Then you have to make the appropriate modifications to make calls, for the audio, for the accelerometer. Sometimes you have to create configurations and specific services on the system, and other times you need to make kernel patches.
I ported the package through OBS to make it functional in openSUSE. I had to use a server to recompile the kernel and enable support for the F2FS file system, which is not usually enabled in the default distributions and is necessary to mount the image and chroot the appropriate modifications.
Vhck: Is it difficult to install openSUSE on this device? Are there technical issues that will take longer to resolve?
Adrián: The Pinephone is the best mobile device for a Linux installation, as almost all the components are in the GNU/Linux mainline kernel.
The biggest setbacks came when adapting the interface for mobile use, as well as all the components that don’t usually exist in a PC, such as phone calls, SMS, GPS, etc. I’m still struggling to make these last components functional.
Vhck: Is a Pinephone with openSUSE fully functional?
Adrián: The Pinephone is not now fully functional with any distribution, and openSUSE is not an exception. However, I am working with a minimally functional system that allows me to use the Pinephone as a daily mobile device.
Vhck: Will the Pinephone accept the installation of any openSUSE software available from the repositories?
Adrián: You can install any software that exists in the repositories, but that doesn’t mean that everything will work. The vast majority should work, but the most functional will be those that can be adapted to a mobile screen.
Please bear in mind that we are using a mobile with four cores and two gigabytes of RAM, which will limit the use of some applications.
Vhck: How can we install the image you created on our own devices? Is it compatible with other devices?
Adrián: You can install it the same way you install it for a Raspberry Pi, with a simple dd of the image to an SD card or using some image writing software like Etcher. The images are currently being uploaded to a repository to be available for everyone.
The images I’m generating can only be used in the Pinephone, because an abstraction layer (Halium project) is necessary to support drivers from other platforms. I don’t now have a roadmap to port to other devices.
Vhck: As a KDE community Plasma user, I am personally interested in Plasma Mobile. Do you have any experience with this project?
Adrián: I have been testing several systems, including Plasma Mobile. I see lots of potential, but function is not as smooth as it should be with the load that the interface now carries. It may be an interesting interface to test in the future.
An advantage is that integration should be simple, as we only would have to port the existing package to openSUSE, then install it as we would on a computer.
Vhck: There may now be people who want to contribute their knowledge, time and dedication to this project. What knowledge is needed? How can we collaborate?
Adrián: Knowledge of systems and the desire to keep trying until you get what you want. If you want a functional GPS, you have to try to get it. Supports can also collaborate by publishing blog articles or by creating software. In the open source community, everyone is welcome.
Vhck: Have you contacted anyone from the openSUSE community who has been interested in your project?
Adrián: The project is still in the incubation phase, so I haven’t thought it appropriate to present it formally to the openSUSE community. That said, I do have friends in SUSE Spain who are aware of the project’s progress.
Vhck: Thank you very much for your time. The last word is yours; please say whatever you’d like in closing.
Adrián: First of all, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to present this project in your blog. Anyone who wants to collaborate or who has questions is free to contact me through social networks or by email. I hope that our work will advance a project that will interest many and be widely used.
This was my interview with Adrián. It was personally interesting for me, and I hope you have found it interesting as well, given the Pinephone’s potential.
I am glad to see emerging alternatives to Android, particularly based in GNU/Linux, and that hardware exists to support these alternatives. Perhaps you can do your part to make the project bigger and better.