Back in November of 2009 – nearly three years ago – Nokia launched the N900, a phone with a complete, Debian-based Linux Distro on which you could install full desktop environments and office suites. KDE, Open Office, Firefox… you name it, it could be installed. This was a complete Linux desktop PC, right in your pocket.
And, as it turns out, that is a very particular itch that needed scratching. It may not be as important for most of the known universe but, dammit, if I can’t "sudo apt-get install" on my cellphone, I’m just not a happy boy.
Unfortunately, Nokia killed off that line of phones. Luckily they introduced another (almost identically named) Linux-powered phone: the N9-00. That’s right. Nokia’s two big entries into the “Awesome Linux on a cellphone” market were called the “N900” and the “N9-00.” That’s an important dash.
Then Nokia killed that line of cellphones too. So where does that leave a Linux nerd? What cellphone should we seek out to scratch that ever-so-important "Desktop Linux in My Pocket" itch?
In the olden days (2006) there was a project called Openmoko which was, in essence, a Linux-based phone Distro that utilized Enlightenment as the desktop environment. This was very cool. Unfortunately, the phone hardware itself was antiquated by the time of launch… and it was nearly impossible to find somewhere to actually buy the darned thing. Depending on who you ask, the project is still limping along for those who want to tinker with it. But, for most of us, Openmoko isn’t a viable option.
There is, of course, Android. But that’s a bit…different. It’s not really a desktop Linux experience (even with some seriously heavy tweaking). It’s more a "phone-first," Java-centric software stack that sits on the Linux Kernel. The same really goes for WebOS. Both are awesome, but don’t really fill that void in our nerdy, little lives.
Right now it seems like the best option for a "Linux PC in your pocket" phone is to buy an end-of-life’d (or long-since shelved) device and simply be happy with it. Which, I suppose, isn’t terrible. There are worse things in life than picking up an N900 on the cheap and enjoying the power of running a complete instance of OpenOffice on the go.
[Side Note: There is a company called Jolla that was started by ex-Nokia employees looking to release a Linux-powered phone. And, I’ll be honest, I’m hopefully optimistic. But, until we see physical units shipping, I’m always a tad skeptical.]