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<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<html newsdate="2022-07-12">
<version>1</version>
<head>
<title>A PC in your pocket: Librem 5, a Free Software phone</title>
</head>
<body>
<h1 id="a-pc-in-your-pocket-librem-5-a-free-software-phone">A PC in your pocket: Librem 5, a Free Software phone</h1>
<p>
Librem 5 runs the fully convergent PureOS, which means you can take
your desktop with you within your phone. Its dedicated graphical
environment, Phosh, is becoming a popular option for Linux phones.
Guido Günther, one of Purism’s main developers, reveals details of
Librem’s software development in this interview.
</p>
<figure>
<img src="https://pics.fsfe.org/uploads/medium/7dc839ec11961ef684d5f5e6eb6b1b88.png"
alt="Connecting a phone to a laptop"/>
<figcaption>
Pure OS offers convergence, the ability to have almost the same OS both on your phone and your laptop.
</figcaption>
</figure>
<p>
Having a Free Software phone gives you control over your device. You
can gain a higher level of privacy protection, and you can finally
avoid apps you were stuck with before. It also means you can often
keep your device for longer, and <a href="/activities/upcyclingandroid/index.html">protect the
environment</a> by reducing e-waste.
</p>
<p>
When deciding on your switch to a Free Software operating system, your
options are installing a new system on your current phone or
acquiring a phone with a Free Software operating system
pre-installed.
</p>
<p>
The latter is clearly the easier route, and Purism’s Librem 5 may be
the solution for you. By default, it runs PureOS, a Free Software
operating system that comes with Phosh, its polished graphical
environment. Projects like postmarketOS, Mobian, and Debian have
picked up Phosh too, putting it into use on other devices and
contributing patches.
</p>
<p>
Guido Günther is one of the main developers of Phosh (and an <a href="https://my.fsfe.org/donate">FSFE supporter</a>!) and he kindly
agreed to tell us about the software, how it fits within the Librem 5
ecosystem, and its advantages.
</p>
<p>
<strong>Fani Partsafyllidou</strong>: I would like to start with a basic question,
what do you do at Purism?
</p>
<p>
<strong>Guido Günther</strong>: That is not easy to answer, but here goes: I am mostly
working on the Librem 5 phone. I was involved with the initial board
bringup of making Linux work on the device by writing device drivers
and user space components. Since we needed a graphical shell and
compositor, I worked with others on the team on that too. That is how
Phosh was born.
</p>
<p>
I also work on improving PureOS, the Debian based Linux distribution
that runs on the phones and on the laptops. Our aim is to improve the
Free Software ecosystems for mobile devices (like smartphones) in
general, and the Librem 5 in particular.
</p>
<p>
<strong>Fani</strong>: Librem 5 runs PureOS, right?
</p>
<p>
<strong>Guido</strong>: Yes. Like all of Purism&#39;s products, the Librem 5 runs
PureOS, which is a Debian-based operating system that is customized
to fit Purism&#39;s devices so it is convenient for end users. It
also has <a href="https://www.fsf.org/news/fsf-adds-pureos-to-list-of-endorsed-gnu-linux-distributions-1">FSF’s
endorsement</a>
</p>
<p><strong>Fani</strong>: And what does Phosh do?</p>
<p>
<strong>Guido</strong>: Phosh is the graphical shell, the environment you interact
with on the phone. It is built up from multiple components:
</p>
<ul>
<li>
the Wayland compositor, phoc, is responsible for drawing things on the screen, it leverages the wlroots library for that;
</li>
<li>
then there is an on-screen keyboard called squeekboard;
</li>
<li>
finally there is the shell itself, which is responsible for things like the lock screen, notifications, the GUI elements on the top and bottom bar, quick settings, etc. It is based on the gimp toolkit and other components of the GNOME desktop. Here is an <a href="https://honk.sigxcpu.org/con/phosh_overview.html">overview</a>.
</li>
</ul>
<p>
Initially we were only going to call the graphical shell itself
“Phosh”, but the community latched on to the name and identified the
whole mobile experience that it is based on (phosh + phoc +
squeekboard + all the GNOME components) as “Phosh”, so the name
stuck.
</p>
<p><strong>Fani</strong>: Which phones run Phosh?</p>
<p>
<strong>Guido</strong>: While Phosh was initially developed for the Librem 5, it is
also being used by all kinds of mobile devices that can run Linux,
like the original Pinephones and the Pinephone Pro. It&#39;s also
used on devices that formerly ran Android but can now also run Linux,
like the OnePlus devices. People are also using it on tablets and
laptops running Linux. The main use case is certainly smartphones
running Linux, though.
</p>
<p>
It is worth noting that Phosh is not restricted to PureOS.
PostmarketOS, for example, ships it. It is in Debian, and, as far as
I know, also in Fedora, Manjaro, and many other Linux distributions.
</p>
<p>
Very often when you see screenshots of phones running Linux, they will
be running Phosh. Here is someone running it on a <a href="https://twitter.com/xmlich02/status/1519966989116133376">cutiepie</a>,
and here&#39;s someone running Phosh (using postmarketOS) on a <a href="https://twitter.com/calebccff/status/1510930222757158917">Poco
F1</a>, which was an Android phone before.
</p>
<p>
Phosh is very often used by people who use their Linux-based phones
as a &quot;daily driver&quot;, basically as their only smartphone. We
are very happy about that.
</p>
<figure class="no-border">
<a href="https://docs.puri.sm/Librem_5/Disassembly.html">
<img src="https://pics.fsfe.org/uploads/medium/a9325aa93933ce04d74a380a884862d9.png" alt="Librem 5 opened"/>
</a>
<figcaption>
You can disassemble Librem 5 using just a screwdriver. An easy to
repair phone is a sustainable option.
</figcaption>
</figure>
<p>
<strong>Fani</strong>: I have seen references about sustainability in Librem5. At the
FSFE we are also dealing with sustainability in software. What do you
understand as a sustainable technology? What do you see as its main
challenges?
</p>
<p>
<strong>Guido</strong>: For me, technology that has been produced with sustainability
in mind allows the user to replace software and parts, as well as
repair the device over a long period of time without special
equipment.
</p>
<p>
There are multiple challenges. For example, on the software side, you
need to make sure your kernel and userspace do not include any
non-free components, which is also worthwhile for privacy reasons.
Otherwise you might hit the end of life of your product because you
are not able to update to the newer, security-supported versions.
This happens every so often to Android devices. Users find they
cannot move to a newer kernel as the non-free, binary-only bits that
are needed to run the device are only available for older kernels.
</p>
<p>
Finding or writing Free Software drivers can be very challenging,
especially when it comes to complex things like the GPU, as these are
very complex devices. Similarly for software components in the camera
stack. But having free drivers is a requirement for sustainability.
</p>
<p>
On the hardware side, you want to make sure parts are easily
replaceable, that as little as possible is glued in and parts can be
replaced with mostly a screwdriver. <a href="https://docs.puri.sm/Librem_5/Disassembly.html">This is true in
Librem 5</a>.
</p>
<p>
There are limits to sustainability. For example, to decode videos in
a power-efficient way your hardware needs to support this, as doing
it on the CPU takes way too much battery. When a new video standard
emerges on the web, you cannot always decode it in an efficient way.
The device will keep working but it might just not be as useful.
</p>
<figure>
<img src="https://pics.fsfe.org/uploads/medium/2236e84e0cfd0534e58c122968ce6cc9.png"
alt="phone side with switches"/>
<figcaption>
With kill switches, you can physically disconnect the WiFi,
Bluetooth, cellular signal, microphone and camera.
</figcaption>
</figure>
<p>
<strong>Fani</strong>: Moving back to Librem 5 users and software adaptability: What
are the best hacks people came up with when using a Librem5 phone?
</p>
<p>
<strong>Guido</strong>: The thing that comes to mind is not something I would call a
hack, as it is an intended use case, but one of the most amazing
things is that <a href="https://puri.sm/posts/librem-5-laptop-mode/">you can turn it
into a &quot;laptop&quot; by using a dock</a>. So basically you carry
your phone and can attach it to a projector -- I have given talks at
conferences like that. Or you can hook it up to a &quot;dock&quot;
and it becomes a laptop-screen+keyboard, then you can add a usb-c
monitor and turn it into a &quot;full&quot; PC.
</p>
<p>
People have used their Librem5 as a mobile hotspot to supply the
whole house when there was an outage on their cable line, or as a
loudspeaker as their laptops had bad audio quality, and have rerouted
the laptop audio to the phone via pulseaudio.
</p>
<p>
Since you&#39;re not restricted by any means and you can install any
software, there are unlimited possibilities. I&#39;m so used to
everything being possible that I currently have a hard time thinking
of &quot;cool&quot; things as everything feels so natural already.
</p>
<p>
<strong>Fani</strong>: How does convergence, that is, the ability to have almost the
same OS in phones and laptops, as in PureOS, benefit software
development?
</p>
<p>
<strong>Guido</strong>: Since we are reusing lots of existing components, we benefit
from the stability of already existing Free Software solutions, as
well as being able to contribute back. For example, the libhandy and
libadwaita libraries are now part of GNOME and used by lots of
applications.
</p>
<p>
Using mostly the same components across devices helps avoid developing
the same things twice, one for mobile and one for desktop. It allows
people with knowledge of desktop Linux to find their way around right
away, especially when it comes to configuration. It also allows them
to contribute more easily as it is the same technology stack.
</p>
<p>
Developers, users, and sysadmins can use the very same
trouble-shooting tools they know, such as wireshark, perf, and
sysprof, across devices. And, if you find a bug and fix it on one
side, the &quot;other&quot; side benefits directly. It is really the
same software coming from the same source tree. As for users,
switching becomes very easy, as they will already be familiar with
the software.
</p>
<figure class="no-border">
<img src="https://pics.fsfe.org/uploads/medium/dc77572897682c7acf4321f856a77959.JPG"
alt="Group of people"/>
<figcaption>
Debian Groupware meeting.
</figcaption>
</figure>
<p>
<strong>Fani</strong>: On a side note I would like to ask you about Bonn. You have
been active in the FSFE Bonn local group for many years. Do you
recall any fun local activities there?
</p>
<p>
<strong>Guido</strong>: In fact, one of the recent fun things is when we switched to
BigBlueButton meetings due to the pandemic. We had old friends from
Düsseldorf in the meetings who otherwise would not have made it to
the local meetings due to the distance.
</p>
<p>
The FSFE booth in FrosCon, a social event often staffed with people
from the Bonn group, is usually a highlight. I am glad this FrosCon
is on site again. However, I am not super active in the local group
at the moment, mostly due to time constraints.
</p>
<p>
The local FSFE meetings often had a short talk about different topics
which is usually the best part since it pulls in more people, and
very often brings in new people. I hope we resume these when the
pandemic situation has settled down. Many people, including myself,
feel less inclined to prepare talks when it&#39;s &quot;only&quot;
online.
</p>
<p>
<strong>Fani</strong>: You work in Free Software development, and you are involved
with the FSFE. What keeps you motivated when it comes to supporting
software freedom and the FSFE?
</p>
<p>
<strong>Guido</strong>: It is really motivating for me that we can get to a point
where people can use a Free-Software-only device as their main phone
or laptop. Improving that keeps me motivated on the development side.
We cannot have free democracies without Free Software, hence doing
anything else is not time well-spent. It is also a reason why the
FSFE is important, as telling people about it and nudging decision
makers to embrace it is key.
</p>
<h2 id="free-software-initiatives-for-phones">Free Software initiatives for phones</h2>
<figure class="no-border">
<img src="https://pics.fsfe.org/uploads/medium/a0da43aac80cf4d611b0a45e2e6a925f.jpg"
alt="Upcycling Android"/>
</figure>
<p>
If you would like to explore more options on Free Software phones,
check out:
</p>
<ul>
<li><a href="/freesoftware/freesoftware.html">What is Free Software</a>?;</li>
<li>How you can <a href="/activities/upcyclingandroid/howtoupcycle.html">upcycle your phone</a>;</li>
<li>Our community-led <a href="https://wiki.fsfe.org/Activities/Android/OtherInitiatives">wiki</a> with Free Software initiatives for phones;</li>
<li>Our interview with <a href="/news/2022/news-20220323-01.html">Plasma Mobile developer Bhushan Shah</a>.</li>
</ul>
</body>
<tags>
<tag key="front-page"/>
<tag key="sustainability">Sustainability</tag>
<tag key="upcyclingandroid">Upcycling Android</tag>
<tag key="local-group">Local group</tag>
<tag key="interview">Interview</tag>
</tags>
<discussion href="https://community.fsfe.org/t/881"/>
<image url="https://pics.fsfe.org/uploads/medium/7dc839ec11961ef684d5f5e6eb6b1b88.png"
alt="Connecting a phone to a laptop"/>
</html>