Folks have been finding way to run GNU/Linux distributions on smartphones for years. But it’s only in the past few years that phone makers have started to produce phones designed to run operating systems that use a mainline Linux kernel.
So projects like Halium arose to simplify the process of getting a Linux-based operating system like Ubuntu Touch or KDE Neon to run on an off-the-shelf Android phone like a Google Nexus 5X by providing a bridge that allowed the operating system to communicate with a phone’s hardware using the Linux kernel provided by phone makers and Android services.
But that method involves using some proprietary, closed-source “blobs,” which limits the amount of control developers (and users) have over the hardware. So now that some of those phones, including the Purism Librem 5 and Pine64 PinePhone are shipping, some developers are shifting their focus away from Halium.
Moving forward, the developers of the KDE Plasma Mobile user environment for Linux phones, for example, say they’ll drop support from Halium and focus on phones running a mainline Linux kernel.
The move means that soon some older devices may not be able to run the latest versions of Plasma Mobile. But it also means that the developers will be able to use the same tools to build their mobile Linux user interface that developer use to develop the KDE Plasma environment for desktop computers.
In addition to the PinePhone and Librem 5, you may be able to run Plasma Mobile on some off-the-shelf devices that originally shipped with Android. You just won’t use Halium to do it anymore.
The Plasma Mobile team points to the mainlining work that developers of postmarketOS have been doing to replace the vendor-provided kernels for many phones released in the past decade with a Linux kernel that’s closer to the mainline Linux kernel. This mainlining project is still very much a work in progress, but there’s at least some hardware support for a number of chips from Allwinner, Rockchip, Qualcomm, Samsung, NVIDIA, and Intel, among others.
If you’ve gotten this far into the article and you’re still wondering what Plasma Mobile looks like, here’s a video I shot in November showing KDE Neon with Plasma Mobile running on a PinePhone: